When doing some practice or ritual, if one is a Thelemite then one must always ask this question:
How does this help the fulfillment of my Will?
Too many times do Thelemites perform ceremonial rituals and yoga practices for some aim other than the fulfillment of their Wills.
Thelema often speaks of Initiation, the Great Work, Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, Nothing/ Naught/ None, union of opposites, etc. which represents the attainment of the “consciousness of the continuity of existence” wherein one becomes “chief of all,” insofar as one becomes identified with the All. The Universe and the Self are understood as one Thing, a state of non-duality. This unity is called “Nothing” because it is continuous (see Liber Al Vel Legis I:22-23, 26-30). This is the First Step or the Next Step. One’s Will is the dynamic nature of the Self: if you don’t fully know the nature of that Self, then one cannot fully express that nature.
Therefore, attainment of “the consciousness of continuity of existence” must be every aspirant’s First Aim. “There is a single main definition of the object of all magical Ritual. It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or, in the language of Mysticism, Union with God. All other magical Rituals are particular cases of this general principle. . .” (Magick in Theory and Practice). If one seeks the Will of the True Self, one must attain to that True Self. “The True Self is the meaning of the True Will: know thyself through Thy Way” (“The Heart of the Master“). In this way, all Acts must be done “To me,” with the intention of the attainment of Infinity in one’s mind.
Once one has attained to “Naught” (Solve), then one’s task is the formulation of that Divinity in motion (Coagula). The True Self has been attained, now it must express itself in the world. “To me” now takes on a new meaning: All Acts must be done as an acknowledgment of that Infinity, as a fulfillment of one of its Possibilities. “To me” means treating all Acts as sacred. . . as participation in the Joyful Sacrament of Existence. Further, since the Higher (the attainment of unity of perception) has been attained and solidified, the Lower must be consolidated. The mind and body must be fortified and enhanced by all means. The Book of the Law says “Wisdom says: be strong! Then canst thou bear more joy.” The mind and body are the means of manifestation of Divinity in the world; they are the means by which the All may become self-aware of itself in the Many. Therefore just as a polished diamond may reflect light more clearly, so must the mind and body be “polished” to reflect the Supernal Light more purely. One must “Contemplate your own Nature,” “Explore the Nature and Powers of your own Being,” and “Develop in due harmony and proportion every faculty which you posses” (Duty). The body must be strong and healthy, and the mind must be elastic and ever-expanding in its limits & knowledge. Not only must one’s faculties be strong, but one must always “exceed! exceed!” You must “Go… unto the outermost places and subdue all things” (Liber LXV) and “Extend the dominion of your consciousness, and its control of all forces alien to it, to the utmost” (Duty). This must always be done with the fulfillment of one’s Will in mind as the impetus; whether one is attempting to attain to Unity or attempting to fortify the mind and body to fashion a suitable vehicle for Divinity to manifest is up to the individual.
We’ve seen that all ritual, yoga, or any workings must be towards the end of the fulfillment of the Will. First, “the consciousness of the continuity of existence” must be attained, and secondly one’s mind and body must be strengthened, fortified, explored, contemplated, and their dominion extended. The former might be called the Mystic Half of the Path, and the latter might be called the Magick Half of the Path. Either way, both the Higher and the Lower must be attained “For Perfection abideth not in the Pinnacles, or in the Foundations, but in the ordered Harmony of one with all” (“Liber Causae“). If an Act is not made “To me,” either as a desire of one’s spirit to unite with All Things or as a rapturous love-cry coming from the joy of participation in the World… “if the ritual be not ever unto me: then expect the direful judgments of Ra Hoor Khuit!”
“There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.”
©2009 by IAO131.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
IAO131 is the creator and editor of the Journal of Thelemic Studies and author of many essays on Thelema, magick, and mysticism including a short treatise called “Naturalistic Occultism.” You can find his blog here.
Yule — the wheel of the year turns; yet everything appears to stand still in the frozen, icy world. Thoughts during this season turn to the past as we examine and reflect on everything that has happened — from joys to disappointments.
We make promises to ourselves, New Years’ resolutions aimed to fix the flaws and invigorate the positive within ourselves.
Timing is everything. That is probably the greatest lesson to be learned from the year’s successes and failures.
In the realm of magick there are many considerations to make, such as when to work magick, when to pause and when to plan. We can examine our natal charts to determine trends, consult calendars that tell us the cycle of the moon and what sign the sun is in. We can divide the day and night into planetary hours, seeking some kind of insight as to when a given event is auspicious. Timing is everything, but in the practice of magick there is little said about when we should or shouldn’t work magick. Are there auspicious times? Does it even make a difference?
With all of these factors to ponder, we ignore one important consideration and that is the personal cycle or wheel of fortune of the magician performing the magick. Even the most optimal and auspicious signs and portends will avail magicians nothing if they ignore important factors about their own waxing and waning material fortunes. Magick done during a weak trough in the personal fortune of the magician may produce nothing or it might even cause losses and misfortune. Perhaps the most important knowledge that magicians can possess is that which will enable them to work magick on their own material circumstances, and knowing their own timing is critical to that kind of working.
In the many years that I have worked magick, I have discovered purely by accident that certain times of the year are better for materially based magick than others, and that there is a pattern to this cyclic process.
What I discovered is that there is a personal wheel of fortune that systematically turns so that half of the year has the potential for material gain and the other half is better used to plan and position oneself for more optimal times, when action can be met with success. The year is cut in half, and one half fosters increase and the other, decrease. It may not be that the poorer half of the year actually experiences losses or setbacks, although this certainly can occur, rather the richer half of the year seems to effortlessly assist one in the pursuit of material gain and personal advancement.
It’s analogous to breathing — inhalation represents internalization and re-grouping, and exhaling represents external activity and successful outcomes. Both are required for the cycle of breathing to be complete. This is also true of the wheel of fortune.
The simplest way to determine this wheel of fortune is take one’s birthday and add exactly six months to it. So if you were born on January 5 as I was, then your halfway date is July 5. So the two most important dates are the natal return and six months later, which would be a point where the sun would be 180 degrees from its natal position. I am a Capricorn according to my natal sun sign, so my annual halfway point is under the sign of Cancer.
I have found that my time of increase begins after the halfway point in the year. From there it proceeds to climax at my birthday and then declines until the halfway point is again achieved. For me, the best time to plan and reorganize is during the winter, after the holidays and before the summer. After the summer vacation period, I am ready to start putting into action everything that I have learned and determined in the previous six months. This is how my wheel of fortune works.
A few years ago I experienced a terrible economic downturn and the resultant massive debt almost forced me into bankruptcy. However, with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it took to legally regain my fortune, I performed a large series of Elemental magical workings, starting in June and proceeding for three months. At the climax of these workings, I also invoked and charged several items with the talismanic elemental, Jupiter of Earth, during the lunar mansion called the Star of Fortune1. In addition, I put together a list of specific material objectives that I wanted to accomplish and crafted them into magical sigils, which I charged. In the intervening months, I was able to accomplish all of my objectives.
All of these events helped me to completely transform my financial situation. In fact, the magical workings still continue to aid me, often from unexpected sources. Because I worked this magick at the most important pivotal point in my wheel of fortune, it had a profound and incredible effect on my material situation. Once I discovered this pattern and realized it, I decided that it was the most important piece of self-knowledge that one could possess.
How do you determine the greater wheel of fortune for yourself and learn about your own important personal timing? The first thing that you do is to find that halfway point in your yearly cycle and note it down.
Then look at the past several years and see if you can see a pattern as to when important material advancements occurred for you. It won’t be perfect, but I think that you will find that one of those half year cycles is more auspicious than the other, which is better for planning and regrouping.
The period from the halfway point to my birthday is the most important time for material advancement. However, for others it may just the opposite, from their birthday to the halfway point might be auspicious. I don’t believe that one pattern should fit everyone, but you should at least examine all of the things that have happened to you in the past and make some kind of judgment as to what part of the year is better for advancement, and that will reveal the time that you can work magick to aid that advancement.
An astrological examination of the transits of the Sun to the natal chart Sun show that a conjunction aspect for the birthday and an opposition aspect for the halfway point are clearly delineated as auspicious points in one’s astrology. The Natal Sun is compared against transiting positions of the Sun in the paragraphs below.
Transit Sun conjunct Natal Sun
This is the Solar Return, when the Sun returns to the position that it had when one was born. This aspect represents new beginnings, the ability to perceive the whole year ahead as if one were standing upon some metaphorical ascent and looking across time at the events for the coming year. It is a time of receiving new impulses and perspectives as the old year gives way to the new2.
In some ways a birthday is a lot like a personal New Year’s day, symbolizing the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year.
Transit Sun opposition Natal Sun
This aspect represents energies in life reaching a culmination, events causing realizations, revealing a critical point of success or failure. Situations judged to fail now appear to fail. The way to success opens up and is revealed. It is necessary for one to change course or redirect oneself3.
The halfway point is a place of judgment and evaluation, where one thoroughly examines all of life’s activities, especially those that bear upon one’s fortune. Those efforts that are failing should be either drastically adjusted or ended. Those that appear to be gathering momentum for success should be steadfastly continued. New opportunities may also arise that will need to be judged as to their worth and a change in course may be called for to take advantage of them.
If one reads these two aspects correctly, then my cycle of the wheel of fortune would seem to fit them. However, it would also fit if one experienced the greater fortune on the first half of the year instead of the second half. It really depends on the individual to determine his or her own personal cycle, and once realized, it should be used to one’s greatest advantage. What is clearly indicated is that these two points in the calendar are very important to working material based magick.
- Al Sad Al Su’ud (#24 The Star of Fortune) Capricorn 25E 51N — see Celestial Magic by Nigel Jackson, pp. 82 – 96
- See Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living by Robert Hand, p. 55
- See Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living by Robert Hand, p. 58
- Hand, Robert (1976) Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living Para Research Inc., Gloucester, MA
- Jackson, Nigel (2003) Celestial Magic: Principles And Practices of the Talismanic Art Capall Bahn Publishing Sommerset, UK
©2009 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.
Use any preliminary ritual you like —
Banish, Create a Circle, Meditate.
By the light of a dark indigo candle
place The Devil Card of any tarot
(The Thoth Deck is recommended)
in the Center of your altar.
There should also be tokens of Kali —
a simple inverted triangle, a cup of dark wine, dark incense, etc.
Sit in ½ lotus upon an animal skin or black wool cloth.
Surround yourself with appropriate objects of power.
Meditate deeply on the card.
Raise your right hand up;
with your left touch the ground.
Visualize the Image of an Eye
Manifesting before you. . .
You are in a dark forest
About you are cowled figures with torches
Silently going to the Sabbat
You follow them through the underbrush
Until you come to a rocky clearing
There is a cave entrance
A cleft in the black rock
Vines clinging about it
You and the others squeeze through the opening
One by one
Coming to a large stone circle
Surrounded by many torches
In the center a bonfire
And an ancient graven image
Here the celebrants strip
Rubbing sweet-smelling ointment on each other
Naked they begin to dance
And weave and laugh and caress each other
Banging drums as they stamp and dip
You go to the center
And stare up at the stone image
With flowers, fruit, and eggs piled at its feet
It is horned and horny
with erect phallus and yearning vagina
Hairy face and breasts
Killing, healing, fucking, and giving birth
Great beast and Dark mother
There is blood on its head
And a huge smile on its face
and someone whispers, “Baphomet”
and faceless hands blindfold you
and a voice whispers, “Do you wish to know?”
You nod your head and are being lifted up
You kiss the image
and are suddenly overcome
with every sexual fantasy imaginable
Through the gate of orgasm
You see a glowing eye
And flow towards it and enter it
Suddenly you are on a desolate plain
Dead grass, black night, howling wolves
You are in a graveyard
Surrounded by bones, smoking pyres, and ashes
Suddenly walking corpses appear
Also ghosts and skeletons
Monsters and ghouls
They all walk to the center of the graveyard
and you follow them to a fire
and the monsters begin to dance
Howling and pounding skulls
and before you is another ancient stone image
And it is almost the same as the last
But the vagina is larger
The ribs are showing
and the breast are shriveled
and human flesh, blood, and hair are there
A scarlet flower sits atop her head
and a cold, bony hand grabs you
and a ghost gibbers, “Do you wish to know?”
You nod your head and are being lifted up
You kiss the image
and suddenly are overcome
with every horror death nightmare imaginable
Through the gate of death
You see a glowing eye
and flow towards it and enter it
You are in space
Staring at the Earth
Green, blue, white, and beautiful
Then you see a giant hand of light
Reaching up and spinning the globe
You see birth, life, work, and play
Animals and plants swirling
Breeding, swarming, spreading
Forming, destroying, joining, and splitting
All the pain, bustle, action of life
Then you see another hand
large and black
reaching down to the Earth to spin it
Then you see death, decay, and hunger
Things ending, drying, hiding
life energy sinking, dispersing, and fading
Keeping the swarming masses of plants and animals
from overwhelming each other
from devouring the planet completely
Delivering the sick and unwanted from suffering
and the dance of life and death
swims and flows across the Earth
In spirals and leaps and twists
You become fully aware of a giant figure
Dancing in shadow behind the Earth
and both hands seen were from this Being
and it is slowly dancing
and with each movement
life and death shift on the Earth
and suddenly you move back
and see the figure
horned and full breasted
Skin black as night
long hair shakig
Wearing a snake and bones
beating a drum
Keeping the balance
The chant “JAI MA!” echoes
On and on and on and on. . .
It is the rule of the world
The initiator of the mysteries of life and death
The guardian of the left
This glowing awesome figure smiles at you
and a cold wind caresses you
And the black one murmurs, “Do you wish to know?”
and you nod your head and are being lifted up
You kiss the ruler of the world
and suddenly are overcome. . .
and you are giving birth
and you are grieving a death
and you are healthy and fit
and you are dying of disease
and you are full and energetic
and you are starving and listless
and you feel and see and experience
the life and death of every person on Earth
and you see yourself in the midst of the crowds
contributing to the flow
of life and death
by your every action, every meal, every thought
You see psychic chains
attached to you
from everyone you know
from everything you own
people and things you love and hate, use and discard
and the biggest chains
are held by the master of the world
who is laughing and crying
“NOW YOU KNOW,” SAYS THE GOD-DESS
“AND KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.”
AND YOUR THIRD EYE OPENS
AND AS HE/SHE DANCES
IT GIVES THE CHAINS INTO YOUR HANDS
AND YOU KNOW THAT THE WORLD
AND ALL ITS THINGS
AND ALL ITS PEOPLE
AND ALL ITS OBSESSIONS
AND ALL ITS TEMPTATIONS, HORRORS, AND PLEASURES
IS THERE TO TEACH AND LIBERATE
OR TO ENSLAVE AND ENTRAP
THE DECISION IS YOURS
YOU SEE A GLOWING EYE
AND FLOW TOWARDS IT AND ENTER IT
AND YOU ARE BACK IN YOUR TEMPLE
AND YOU FEEL YOUR THIRD EYE CLOSE
AND THE VISIONS END
BUT THE KNOWLEDGE REMAINS
End the meditation by chanting
JAI KALI MA!
JAI KALI MA!
JAI KALI MA!
SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI!
Earth the energy. Banish.
©2009 Aion 131
Edited by Sheta Kaey
A while back, I went to see a movie after my piano lesson, mostly on a whim. Feeling virtuous for forgoing the nachos (how can something so nasty be so tempting?), I settled into my seat and after silently judging the previews (“yup,” “cool,” “no way,” “Western civilization has officially collapsed.”), I watched my film.
In it, the two heroes fought, first with each other. Eventually, one of the characters, tamed partially by the love of a woman, joined up with the other hero and together they managed to thwart a mighty foe. One hero offers peace to the foe, and the other objects. The foe rejects the peace offer, and is destroyed.
I’ve seen this movie before. In fact, it’s a pretty old movie — it first played in a Sumerian scribe’s head about a thousand years before the common era, and the earliest written version we have is from the 7th century BCE. In that version, the first hero was Gilgamesh, the second was Enkidu, and the monster they defeat is named Humbaba. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times since, or parts of it. This film is the first time, however, that Enkidu was a Vulcan.
Every movie borrows some plot from some ancient story (although, to be fair, some use more modern myths as well). And you don’t need a degree in literature to recognize it. With or without a literature degree, audiences are rarely surprised by plots. After all, who really thinks that the hero will die before achieving his or her goal? Even the surprises of movies famous for them — The Sixth Sense, The Crying Game — has little to do with the plot. The goals and outcome would remain the same whether the surprise were there or not, although the surprise does complicate them. The simplest plot outline — a hero tries to regain faith in himself after failure; an enemy soldier finds himself struggling with his duty — would remain intact with or without the twist. And everyone watching expects the action to play out in these predictable ways.
We expect our stories to have these mythological structures because we know that all stories are built of the same stuff. The building blocks of stories — I’ll call them “mythemes” — are the fundamental particles of character, personality, motivation, setting, and action. They’re not forces of nature; we learn them as we learn to speak. They’re the parts of our first stories, and more importantly, the parts of our culture’s stories. Each mytheme comes prepackaged with expectations, so that if the author invokes the mytheme of “sea,” we know that we will deal with isolation, travel, and exile. If the author invokes the mytheme of “mountain,” we expect revelation and hardship and struggle for attainment. When the author places a trickster in the story, we know that seemingly random actions will lead to life-changing results. When the author paints a character as a knight, we know that the he or she will fight with his or her superior, feel guilty for neglecting family. In other words, we know what’s coming because we know all these stories in their fragmentary parts already.
The magical bit comes in when we realize that what we call our lives is a movie that we play in our own minds. When we do magic, we are not flinging about energy to push stuff around. We’re redefining the universe in which we find ourselves. Magic is a much more radical practice than most magicians realize: every time we do magic, we destroy the entire universe and remake it in our own image. Of course, no one notices — except that our lives change, and we seem perhaps more fortunate than others.
Whether magician or not, we define events in our lives as mythemes in our personal stories. An argument at work is a rebellion against the king. A missed bus is a disaster on par with Ulysses’ lost ships. Sometimes, this tendency to tell stories about the events in our lives can get us in trouble. Your secretary not collating the report properly can become Brutus stabbing you in the back, if you let yourself imagine that it is. On the other hand, even those who do not know magic benefit from arranging their lives into stories. We can make sense of events by seeing how their mythemes fit together. This story-making can save us cognitive effort. Similarly, although sometimes it is useful to resist story-making, it can also be useful to engage in it more consciously — and this is one definition of magic.
Our magical goals are the mythemes of ancient stories. Love, money, happiness, even self-actualization, are all the goals of particular heroes whose archetypes we can wear like a coat. If we wish to go home but cannot, we are Odysseus. If we wish to shift and react to events with cleverness and skill, we are Taliesin. Imagine, for a moment, that you are heading to work in the morning. How different is the experience of stop and go traffic on the Dan Ryan (or whatever other route you take) if it’s a desert you must cross out of duty, a slow stream carrying you into a mysterious forest, or a mountain you must climb to achieve wisdom? You can manage your mood — and, magically, the result of your work day — merely by telling yourself a different story.
One way of seeing magical ritual is as a deliberate rearrangement of mythemes in order to revise the stories of our lives. In this view of ritual, when we pick up the athame to make a circle, we are Gilgamesh and Romulus and every other warrior who ever defended a wall in battle. Similarly, to pick up a wand is to become, for a moment, the mytheme of Ruler — it’s the scepter of the king, the thunderbolt of Zeus, and the magical rod of Enki all at once. We don’t necessarily think consciously that we become these archetypes, but they’re so ingrained in the way we arrange our experiences in story, that we cannot help invoking these archetypes. And, in fact, we live our lives as archetypes. It’s worthwhile (do I really need to put this in an “exercise” box?) to take a few moments to think and maybe write about which archetypes — what characters — you play in your life. You needn’t worry about giving them the “correct” names, of course; you could even rely on names from contemporary fiction. Are you always Spock at work, logical and rational in a society that reacts precipitously, or are you Scotty, fixing the impossible to fix? If you hate Star Trek, you might prefer to ask yourself if you’re Harry or Hermione, Ulysses or Telemachus, Mr. Darcy or Edward Casaubon, Jane or Mr. Rochester?
I’m not arguing that all magic is just psychology, and the only real effect we have on the world is in our own mind. I think we do affect, first and foremost, the mind — but I think matter is a side-effect of mind. By changing the stories we tell ourselves, we change the world we live in not just in our perceptions (although that’s easiest to notice first), but in the world of matter as well.
The Obligatory How To Bit
First, it’s important to have a conscious, rather than the usual unconscious, vocabulary of mythemes. The best way to achieve this vocabulary is by reading the myths, but of course this raises the questions of what myths. It is important to choose myths whose mythemes resonate in our psyches. For most Americans, no matter their background, these are the myths of Greece, Rome, and Iceland. These are the myths that inform most of our culture. Of course, if you feel like an alien in Western culture and frequently find yourself confused at movies everyone else seems to enjoy, perhaps you have a different vocabulary of mythemes. I find anime confusing, for example, because I don’t know the mythemes. (Why is his nose bleeding? What does that have to do with having a crush on someone?) And I didn’t get Xiu Xiu until one of my Chinese friends explained it to me. You can best start with making your unconscious perceptions of patterns more conscious, but it is also possible to become bilingual in myth. The more fluent we are in myth, the more we can understand not just the stories we tell ourselves, but how those stories fit together.
Mythemes aren’t building blocks that fit together any old way; like words, they have a grammar. They fit together in some ways and not in others. You’re more likely to find a sage on a mountain or in a desert than on the ocean, because the grammar of myth fits some mythemes together than others. The grammar of mythemes already encode the likely conflicts in our desires. For example, if we wish to become wealthy, we need to look at some of the mythemes of wealth. Croesus had great wealth, but his overwhelming pride and failure to attend to wisdom led to the fall of his nation. Midas had great wealth, but nearly died because of it, by turning everything he touched to gold. Clearly, if we wish to be rich, we must be aware that our ambivalence will spring from fear of our own pride and greed. We might be led to think of wealth differently then: rather than an acquisition of items of value — real estate in Croesus’ case and gold in Midas’ — we can begin to see wealth as the wisdom to use resources. Hunting around for a story that we can use, we fall finally on Philemon and Baucis — two poor but pious people who, when visited by Zeus disguised as a stranger, offered him the last of their food and were rewarded for it. Now we have a ritual structure: an offer of generosity as an act of faith.
It helps to study not just the myth, but also theories of myth. Joseph Campbell and Robert Graves aren’t exactly regarded highly by contemporary anthropology, but they go a long way to defining an abstract grammar of myth that is invaluable in the study of magic. Campbell, for example, reduces all myths to one ur-story, which simplifies the process of learning the grammar of myth. Instead of memorizing a lot of Greek names, we can start with a framework and use it to hang the names on later. Similarly, Graves’ work is often an unsung and uncited influence on much contemporary Wiccan theology. A reader needn’t accept their theories in the academic sense to find them useful for magic.
Second, it helps to have a system. A system will take the story and translate it into action. For example, if our myth calls for a journey most of us can’t take off a week and travel on a pilgrimage to Greece. But walking about in a circle — circumambulation — is an accepted symbol in Western magical systems for a journey. Fortunately, several convenient pre-made systems of mythemes already exist. If we must represent a figure of authority, and we use either Wicca or Ceremonial Magic, we can grab our wand, no matter what particular device was used in the original myth. Similarly, perhaps Perseus uses a sword to kill the Gorgon, but we can use our athame as a mythemic equivalent in a ritual to confront our own paralyzing fears.
Incidentally, I’ve had good luck using a system as simple as a tarot deck (and in a pinch, a deck of playing cards). Similarly, some magicians do all their magic using systems like the runes, so that drawing the rune tiwaz invokes the whole of the myth of Tyr, with all the attendant strength, victory, and sacrifice, depending on intent. A magical system needn’t be complex, and in fact, one could take one’s favorite myths and reduce them to symbols to create a own magical alphabet of mythemes.
Third, a ritual requires a structure — one that is not, incidentally, noticeably different from Aristotle’s structure of a story. A ritual has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, the magician separates himself or herself from the world. Most western magicians do this by drawing a circle around oneself, but even actions such as fasting, changing into robes or special clothing (or going nude), and ritual baths serve to separate the magician from the world. Once separate, the magician is free to refine the story. The ritual’s middle consists of ritual actions, symbolic reproductions of the story the magician wishes to tell. Inspiration, especially verbal, can be taken from the myths themselves, and symbolic action can be quite abstract. No one needs to slay a serpent to reenact the myth of Apollo’s winning of Delphi. Finally, a ritual ends by reintegrating the magician back into the story of the world, usually by reversing the actions that led to the opening, and often by a quotidian act like the eating of food or drink.
Even outside of rituals, having labels for the habitual patterns in which we find ourselves can help us break out of those patterns, which is of course one of the aims of magic. If you find yourself a lonely, antisocial writer, realize that the “lonely” part of writer is part of the writer mytheme, and not necessarily part of the reality you can live. Similarly, if you are a “struggling artist,” an awareness of the stories of our culture helps you to see that “struggling” need not go with “artist,” but usually does because that’s the story we tell.
The stories we tell as a culture, or myths, may therefore master us or be mastered by us. The magician masters myth, chooses the mythemes of his or her life consciously, and lives deliberately. Many other people simply follow the script written for them, for good or ill. Magic can teach us to revise that script, and have a more meaningful life — and perhaps become contemporary Taliesins and Apolloniuses ourselves, founders and characters in a unique life story.
©2009 by Patrick Dunn.
Minor edits by Sheta Kaey.
Patrick Dunn, author of Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics is a poet, linguist, and writer living near Chicago. He maintains a blog at http://pomomagic.wordpress.com/.
Amongst all the various names for magical practices, the word necromancy is probably the most foreboding and sinister. No doubt that such a practice was diabolical and associated with the blackest forms of magic. Popular folklore and belief defines necromancy as divination performed through the conjuration and manipulation of the spirits of the dead. The most outrageous form was the exhumation and reanimation of a corpse, which many often think of today when defining this term.
Necromancy has a long history, but during the Christian era it became confused with the conjuration of demons, which was called nigromancy or black magic. Christian leaders believed that since only the Lord had power over the dead, sorcerers who performed necromancy were actually conjuring demons. After a time, the two were used almost interchangeably, which caused the practice of necromancy to lose its meaning. However, spiritualists and mediums who sought to contact the dead and gain from them information about the future were actually unwittingly practicing a form of necromancy. Yet no one ever called them necromancers, which would have meant that one was evil personified. This confusion has not helped to clarify or define this system of magic; instead it has become something of topic of horror stories and low budget films.
The origins of necromancy occurred in the far distant past, long before the time of antiquity. It was a system of divination that was ultimately derived from the pious observances paid to the dead at their tombs. It isn’t hard to imagine a person going to the grave site of some great kinsman and in addition to giving offerings and oblations, to ask for assistance with some family crisis. So the practice of necromancy probably stemmed from a natural desire to seek help from one’s departed ancestors. Thoughts about the value of advice or prophecy given by the dead varied considerably in antiquity. Some believed that the dead had resources beyond the ken of the living; others (like Homer) believed that the dead knew no more about things than when alive. Necromancy may have been derived innocently enough from funeral observations, but it’s also likely that it had a separate shamanic origin.
Necromancy in antiquity, although not considered a legitimate public procedure for gaining intimate knowledge, shadowed the greater centers of divination, such as the Oracle of Delphi and the Temple of Asclepias. It was based upon a procedure that was well represented in folk tradition and literature, going back to Homer’s Odyssey. We will briefly look to the Odyssey for a classic example of a rite called the nekuia.
The Greeks had terms for this kind of magic; they called it nekumanteia (rites of divination from the dead) and psuchomanteia (divination from souls). From the Greek word came the Latin version, necromantea, from which we get necromancy. Typical places where these rites were conducted were tombs, cemeteries or even old battlefields. Such locations were called psuchagogion, which were drawing places of ghosts. Individuals who summoned ghosts or shades were called psuchagogoi, or evocators of ghosts1.
Greeks and Romans believed that the spirit or shade departed the body at death. It wandered around the burial site, visited places habituated in life or ended up in the underworld of Hades or, more rarely, the Eleusinian fields. These visitations of the dead to places of the living occurred only at certain times of the night, when most of the populace had gone to sleep. People of antiquity loved life, so the perception of death was dismal, lonely, a heartbreaking end to everything good. Shades of the dead often were harbingers of gloom and doom, sometimes directed to curse other living people with their unhappy blessings. The most accessible of the dead shades were those who were prone to restlessness, such as the ghosts of untimely or violent deaths.
Archaeological traces have been found at certain locations where necromancy was practiced as a kind of permanent oracle. These special places were called by the Greeks, nekuomanteion. They were usually located in places such as natural mephitic caves or lakes where water and brimstone appeared to mix; offering clues to an intrusion of the stygian underworld. Four famous locations were Acheron in Thesprotia, Avernus in Campania (Italy), Tainaron, which was located on the Mani peninsula of the southern Peloponnese, and Heracleia Pontica, located on the south coast of the Black Sea. Two of these locations had caves, but Avernus was a deep lake formed by a volcanic cone and Acheron was a lakeside precinct with indications of vulcanism. Both lakes were reputed to be without birds, since the mephitic fumes would have killed or driven them away.
Petitioners who visited an oracle of the dead would undergo certain kinds of rites performed in dimly lit caves or at night next to turgid lakes, guided by a leader who would conduct the rituals and speak the incantations. Offerings were given and the petitioner would spend the night in that place to obtain what he sought through incubation, by dreams, visions, or a ghostly visitation. The guide also had the responsibility to explain the dreams and visions later on, helping the petitioner to understand their meaning. However, incubation was one of many different ways of contacting the dead.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, book 11, a classic rite of necromancy is performed by Odysseus under the direction of his lover, Circe. Odysseus and his men dig a pit with their swords, around it pour libations consisting of milk, honey, sweet wine, water and then sprinkling barley over the mixture. He prays to the dead and sacrifices a pair of black sheep so the blood collects in the pit. The carcasses of the sheep are flayed and burned, then he prays to Hades and Persephone. He and his men ward the pit with their swords keeping out any unwanted spirits who are drawn to the offerings. They allow only those to whom Odysseus wishes to speak receive a draft from the fresh blood. After drinking it, a shade can assume a temporary visible appearance and converse with the living. Odysseus talks to several ghosts, but the real purpose of the rite is to consult with the dead prophet Tiresias, seeking to learn the future and the way home. Circe is Odysseus’s divine guide and instructor in the necromantic rite; she assists him in analyzing and deciphering the experience, acting as the archetypal witch. Also, the location of the rite is important, too, for it resides next to a cave leading into the underworld.
This tale was followed by other examples, but it would seem that the necromantic rite, as described by Homer, was already fully formed and traditionally established. By the 5th century, there were professional necromancers who were called goetes — sorcerers, derived from the Greek word goos, which was the mourning wail of the dead. Such individuals were reputed to have the ability to conjure and manipulate ghosts. Pythagoreans also had a reputation of being a kind of shaman who not only used necromantic spells as their stock and trade, but could travel to the underworld themselves. Another kind of magic that was practiced and related to necromancy was a divination called lecanomancy, which was a ghostly scrying into a bowl of liquid.
The Greek Magical Papyri also had some representations of necromancy, particularly papyrus PGM IV (Paris Papyrus), which contains a group of spells associated with an individual called “Pitys.” These spells extracted prophecies from corpses or the heads of corpses, bringing to mind the kind of magic performed by the classic witch. Such an individual might have had skulls or heads that talked, animated by trickery, one’s familiar spirit or a ghost.
Finally, the actual description of necromancy as a method of reanimating and interrogating corpses was first introduced by the poet Lucan, who made it part of the repertoire of the evil Thessalian witch Erictho. She uses it to gain information from a hapless dead Pompeian soldier. Erictho first pours hot blood and a concoction of herbs into the dead body, and then conjures the shade of the soldier, forcing it to enter the corpse to question it. This was a fictitious literary work, and it was followed by others, most notably Apuleius and Heliodorus. However, there seems to be little evidence that this type of working ever really occurred, that oracles of the dead and necromancy usually had much greater respect and veneration for the deceased than what is depicted in these satirical stories. Later on they may have become the primary impetus for judging the necromantic art as nothing more than the conjurations of demons. It passed into the Christian era completely debased and more the stuff of horror stories or propaganda against the practice of witchcraft.
- These and other quotes and information were distilled from the book Greek and Roman Necromancy, most notably from the introduction. Ogden, Daniel (2001). Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
©2009 by Frater Barrabbas
Edited by Sheta Kaey
A few years ago occult students and practicing magicians became enamored of the old grimoires and began to purchase newly translated and annotated copies of them. This may be due in part to published books written by Steve Savedow, Joseph C. Lisiewski and Aaron Leitch. All three authors recommended using the old grimoires in a literal fashion, and seemed to encourage the evocation of Goetic demons. Chaos magic has also lately latched on to Goetic demons, as if the faux gods of H.P. Lovecraft weren’t enough to keep them occupied. So now it’s quite stylish to use the Goetic demons in various workings, and everyone seems to be getting on the bandwagon to engage in this kind of magical working.
I have no intention of engaging this new fad, since my system of magic always had the evocation of Goetic demons as an included part of its overall strategy for magical theurgy and evocation. However, where I differ from the crowd is that I don’t work with these entities individually and in isolation. In a word, I don’t conjure anything without using a very tried and true context. This is because I believe that spirits don’t exist in a vacuum, that they have a very specific hierarchy and I use that hierarchy to work with spirits in combination. So that means that I don’t evoke Goetic demons in isolation, as seems to be the fad out there — instead I work with them as part of a hierarchy that includes the archangels of the 12 zodiacal signs, the angelic rulers of the 36 decans and the 72 angels of the ha-Shem. So if I sought to evoke one of the Goetic demons, it would only be after a series of theurgic workings that would include the archangels and angels that are part of its hierarchy.
The 72 demons of the Goetia have their counter-part in the 72 angels of the ha-Shem, and I would never evoke one of the demons without also invoking the matching angel of the ha-Shem. In this fashion the evocation would be controlled and balanced between light and darkness, which would protect me from potential demonic obsession and allow the dark aspects of my inner self and the inner planes to be worked out through the powers and the intercession of the ha-Shem angel. Pairing Goetic demons with angels of the ha-Shem isn’t new, since we have a record of this methodology found in the book, The Goetia of Dr Rudd. Where I part with tradition is that I choose to build a complete spiritual context using the angelic rulers of the decans and the archangels of the twelve signs as part of the hierarchy of spirits that I engage when working theurgy and goetic evocation. It’s my understanding that the Golden Dawn had proposed this kind of hierarcy, Aleister Crowley hints at it in his The Book of Thoth, and Carroll “Poke” Runyon uses a variation close to what I use. So there is some precedence for this hierarchy — but it’s likely to be recent and is not to be found in the tradition of the old grimoires, as far as I can tell.
If one were to perform the evocation of Goetic demons without use of the above hierarchy, then another hierarchy would implicitly come into play, and that would be the Infernal Hierarchy of Satan and the organization of Hell. This hierarchy is also part of the tradition of the old grimoires, but the demonic hierarchy would not be approached without the power and wisdom of the Holy Guardian Angel to aid and protect the magician. One would assume that because the magicians of the previous epoch would not have attempted to invoke a demon servitor without first going through the infernal hierarchy, then we shouldn’t consider these spirits in isolation either. However, because I am not a Christian or a Satanist, I believe that the infernal hierarchy is kind of contrived and represents a dualistic spiritual philosophy, which I don’t think is workable as a witch and pagan. I also don’t have a deity in my pantheon who is like the devil, even though the Horned God does come close — except that he continually dies and is reborn, which is not a good quality for an angelic adversary. I do believe that the concept of demons does work in a pagan and Wiccan spiritual environment, and I will attempt to explain this theory.
So exactly what are demons, anyway? If they are merely personifications and agents of evil, why would anyone want to traffic with them? One could assume that either magicians want to control the chaotic forces in their lives and apply them in a constructive fashion or they have a perverse desire to engage in malignancy and the exaltation of their own darkness. Others who traffic with them may be doing it out of curiosity, boredom, or because they are jaded and want some kind of new kick in their lives.
I see demons as spiritually negative, but more like a natural negativity — the dark Yin to the light Yang. Angels are like the agents of control who maintain the spiritual status quo, and demons are the agents of chaos who break up the status quo and counteract the laws of nature, including, perhaps, even the physical laws of nature. Where one could see angels as a kind of masculine force, demons would be feminine. They symbolize the archetypal opposition of light and darkness in nature, but without the connotation of good and evil. Angels represent the perfect mathematics of Euclidean space and Newtonian/ Einsteinian physical laws, and demons would represent the curved and distorted intricacies of Non-Euclidean space and the convolutions of Quantum mechanics. One can see by this comparison that demons are an integral part of the natural spiritual world, and that if one works with angels, one should also ultimately work with demons as well — to maintain a holistic approach to magic and spiritual mechanics.
Since demons of any kind represent the opposite quality of angels, then we could assume that they would represent chaotic, disruptive and even stochastic spiritual forces and intelligences. Obviously, we would want to engage such forces and intelligences in a very controlled environment, but conversely, such entities would be useful in breaking through old patterns and dealing with internal flaws within the psyche, or even engaging in processes that would be considered outside of the normal space time continuum. Such a controlled use would require either the assistance of the Holy Guardian Angel, a hierarchy of archangels and angels, or a combination of both.
I have used demons in the past to specifically address my spiritual dark side, to realize myself as a being of light and darkness, and to learn to harness and empower my dark side so that I might be able to master myself. I believe that this is relevant because the physical and social worlds that we live in are neither light nor dark, but rather a balanced gray. Demons help me to determine my limitations, flaws and weaknesses — something that angels would not be capable of doing since they are programmed to aid and assist humanity. Sometimes things need to be broken or even destroyed in order to ensure continued spiritual growth. Magicians, like everyone else, can allow habits and limiting opinions trap them. These habits can carve deep ruts in their lives that seem almost insurmountable. Drastic measures may be required to eliminate them. I believe that demons can do this quite adequately. Similarly, demons can also allow for the incursion of the impossible, assisting one in attracting totally new and completely unrealized possibilities into one’s life.
In the magician’s search for wisdom and power, no stone should be left unturned, and this is also true for the evocation of demons. However, I maintain my argument that one should never evoke demons without also working through the hierarchy and also, hopefully, having a powerful guide such as the Holy Guardian Angel to assist.
©2009 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 — Foundation and Mastering the Art of Ritual Magic — Grimoire. The third volume in this series, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Greater Key will be published soon. You can contact him at the email address email@example.com and his website is at www.fraterbarrabbas.com.
Energy. It powers our bodies, forms thoughts in our heads, helps our vehicles move, and affects every aspect of our lives in some way. Most forms we use come from the resulting reactions between two or more things, such as between sparks and gasoline in a car, though this is overly simplistic. In much the same way, the Shiva and Shakti energies of Kundalini operate in Kundalini exercises: the Shakti-energy that travels up the energy centers unites with the Shiva-energy, producing an altered state of consciousness.
What happens when this process of energy is stalled or blocked? A car eventually burns its engine out when you don’t change the oil, and similarly, people get “burnt out.” Energy work, or at least the healthy communication of energy within, is like an oil change. I recommend you maintain an energy flow and perform unblocking exercises every so often, or you could burn out. But does energy work have to be Reiki, a Kundalini awakening, or another esoteric practice? No, not necessarily. It can be something as simple as talking to someone and sharing an aspect of yourself with them, even your latest obsession or general interest.
Energy communication happens with and within all things, but it is the active engagement of the world around us, as I see it, that makes the difference in how our energies balance. It is one thing to give your car minimum maintenance; it is a whole other thing to take your car in for engine work. For us, having to be rung up at your corner store is like the minimum maintenance, whereas allowing ourselves to become more in tune with or closer to others is the engine work. Communicating with other people allows transference between our energy systems, just as does sharing a meal, having sex, or giving a hug.
There’s always the possibility that your problems are superficial, maybe the result of too much stress or old conditioning needing correction. In my view, humans are a continuous work in progress. That progress can’t be made if we ignore the whole self, and only concentrate on the subtle energies, or on the physical world. Many of us simply ignore our “lower needs” in lieu of “higher things,” whether its denial of sex for purity, denial of food for an impossible body image, while overindulging in another area to fill a hole inside.
I ignored my lower needs for a while, and in the process of doing that, found myself enjoying life less when I thought I should have been enjoying it more. Denying yourself is still denying your Self. I denied myself food and so, had less energy for the things I wanted to do. I tried to fill this hole by drinking energy drinks. I denied myself connection with others, and felt isolated from the world. I tried to fill this hole with work. For every energy I denied myself, I looked for a way to replace it. I found my problems solved when I learned to moderate how much food I ate, by giving myself private time, and time with people I cared for much more equally. By letting others share their energy with me and vice versa, I found a better balance in my life.
Let me blunt and upfront: energy work, energy healing, Kundalini release, and so on will not fix your issues overnight, and will not pay your bills for you. There is, as with any mystical or magical undertaking, a practical aspect that you must initiate. However, I do not feel this means that our subtle energies do not affect us; on the contrary, I think they can be of great effect.
I have had my own experience with energy healings done for me. In general, what I see they do is work within the natural order of how your body is supposed to function. If I am sick and someone does an energy healing for me, it is to help power up my body, mind and/or spirit, as much as it is to help wipe out the virus, sickness, bad habit, etc. Sometimes the greatest thing a healing can do is give you the kick in the ass you need to get over something on your own.
You might ask, “Wait, what about attaining enlightenment or talking to your Holy Guardian Angel or whatever?” Sure, energy work can help you get there, but if you can’t even let go of the world around you, or work within it, what enlightenment would you receive, and what good would come of it? Energy work can help us align with the ideas of enlightenment, whatever yours happen to be. I stress the practicality of energy work not because enlightenment is not important, but because I feel that people should align their lives to better allow that communication. I also stress it because far too many people I know go in search of enlightenment through asceticism and energy work without taking care of the physically real work that needs to be done to allow such a thing into their lives.
In order to host a party for new guests, one needs a clean home, stocked with food and drinks, and have enough space for the guests. Allowing Deity, enlightenment, or what have you into our lives is no different; we should have prepared for it in some fashion, even if every time we go for it we are not at our peak. Not every party goes as planned, or is planned for that matter. Life would be pretty bland without the spark of chaos in it.
For instance, this writing has not gone how I had planned it. I had planned to extol the virtues of working deep within yourself, on how meditation could unwind your mind and let your energies flow more freely. I had planned on writing about how good it can feel to do energy work and healing. It would be partial bullshit, because there’s a balance.
Energy work and healing isn’t always a good thing. Too much and a person runs to it to solve all his problems. Sometimes energy healings touch places with deep, harsh wounds that take a while to resolve, or bring out memories, feelings, anxieties, pains, and traumas that seemed better left alone. And sometimes, healing simply doesn’t work, disheartening the practitioner and recipient alike. Energy healings can take so much out of those involved that they may cause issues to develop, or a co-dependency to form between them. There are just as many pitfalls as there are benefits, more if you go in with rosy-colored glasses about the whole affair.
Despite all the potential problems, work can change perspective, heal us from within, help us move beyond our issues, maybe even enlighten. Just recently, I had an energy healing done. I had been keeping back a lot of anxiety from my loved ones, holding back the stress of losing a job and of not being able to find another. I held to my old conditioning, and didn’t talk about or let it out. On top of this, I had trust issues rearing their heads in my relationships, especially with my girlfriend. My sex drive was all but dead, and much of my enthusiasm for life was gone. My root and sacral chakra were spinning, but the energy wasn’t going anywhere. I had blocks.
I wasn’t thinking about that when my girlfriend asked me to let her do a healing ritual for me. I thought it was the standard “recharge the batteries” work that would get my juices flowing a little. It was a simple ritual, with bells rung about each of my chakra centers to help clear the energetic space there. The effect was dramatic and immediate. I could feel arousal, I could feel that indescribable zest for life, that feeling of “life is good and going to be okay” that I had not felt in months. Was it just a psychosomatic reaction? Was it because of the healing? I’m not a doctor, a researcher or scientist, but whatever it was, it worked. It had a practical end result that pushed me to open up, not just sexually but as a person, and to listen to my intuition. Things have been improving in our relationship and in my relationships with friends and family. I’ve reconnected with people who I otherwise would not have, and have found my “ground” again in life.
This brings with it many challenges that I have and will continue to face: past conditioning, self-image issues, the lack of listening to my instincts, helping old relationships get back on their feet, and maintaining current ones instead of shutting down when things get rough. For you, the work you do with subtle energies may be more or less significantly less challenging, or more, or less utilitarian. It may challenge your views, your long-held habits, maybe even beliefs about yours or the world. I think that is one of the real joys of working with subtle energy: like everyday life, it is unique to us and our experiences.
©2009 by Sarenth
Edited by Sheta Kaey
I’m pleased to offer myself as a regular columnist on these august though entirely electronic pages. As those who have read my books or know me personally know, I’m an academic through and through, and so my conversations have a tendency to turn to lectures, and my dinner parties often become seminars. This column therefore will play to my strengths. My goal, ultimately, is to trace the connections between occult practice and schools of academic thought. I’m hoping to make this less boring than it sounds on its face, and at the same time offer something practical that the working occultist can take away.
It’s fitting that this first column begin at the beginning, the foundation of most Western occultism. Many people will tell you that Western occultism began in Egypt, and even the ancients thought so. But really, most of western occultism began in a cave, and not even a real cave but an allegorical one.
Socrates was perhaps the first professor. He liked to walk around and profess his own innocence and ignorance, and ask probing questions that quickly revealed that everyone around him was just as ignorant. He was eventually asked to kill himself, possibly because he was tedious at curriculum committee meetings. One of his students, Aristocles, a jock who no doubt offered a letter from his wrestling coach every other Friday excusing him from class, ended up rising to the top and writing quite a few books of his own. We know him by his wrestling nickname: “Fatty,” or, in Greek, “Plato.”
Now, Fatty had a problem, aside from an embarrassing nickname. He couldn’t figure out perception. It was common knowledge, of course, that we perceived the world by engaging it with our senses, but Plato had learned from his old professor to question common knowledge. And in doing so, he dug up a few problems that have plagued philosophy ever since. For one thing, he realized, we can’t really see the whole of anything we look at, touch, taste, or smell. We get only a momentary perception. Sure, we could turn a pot over and over in our hands really fast, but how do we know that the side away from us doesn’t turn another color, or even disappear entirely? Common sense, of course, but how do we come by that common sense, and how is it that everyone has it?
Plato said, or rather reported that his teacher said, Imagine a cave. In it, you are chained next to a group of like people, all facing a wall. You grew up in this cave, chained up thus, and no, Xenophon, it doesn’t matter how that happened, just shut up and listen. Now, behind you is a big fire, and people walk between you and the fire holding objects. But you are chained such that you cannot see behind you, so all you see are shadows. Now, being raised in this cave, all you know of the shape called “elephant” or “horseshoe” or “vase” are the shadow shapes on the wall, and if you could be freed and look suddenly at the real thing, you would be amazed that it looked as it did, not to mention how they fit an elephant into the cave.
This allegory describes perception. We seem to see things, but really we see their shadow, and another, more perfect world than this contains those real items. So we know that the pot continues around to the other side not because we can perceive that it does, but because we remember the ideal pot, the Form of pots, of which all other pots are mere shadows. And that’s how we can also recognize the pot-ness of a squat pot, a tall pot, a wide pot, a purple pot, and a blue pot. We know that they are all pots because, just like the shadows on the wall, much depends upon how we look upon that ideal.
Plato had a student of his own, Aristotle, who threw the whole thing into the soup by saying that there was no such perfect, ideal world. Aristotle argued that we know the Form of pots only because we have seen a heck of a lot of pots and called them all “pot.”
Thus began the epistemological (meaning, the study of knowledge) split between magic and what would eventually become empiricism. But I’ve written about that before, and so will let it go for now.
Aristotle opened a school and wrote some deeply influential books of his own, and eventually we hit two interesting fellows who founded much of what we now imagine to be magic. Conveniently, these two figures stand as symbols for two paths of magic, two ways of knowing the unseen, ideal world. We call them “Neoplatonists,” because they began with Plato’s idea that there was such an ideal world, a world of Forms, and pushed it to its natural edge: if such a world existed, and we could perceive it, could we also perhaps interact with it? Could we, in fact, use it to change this world? Could we reach behind us, as it were, and grab that elephant and yank it around, so that we could make its shadow in this world dance?
Plotinus answered, essentially, in the negative. That ideal world was perfect, and perfection by its very nature cannot change. But what we could do, according to Plotinus, is change ourselves to rise up to that world, and thus gain a clearer image of ultimate reality. If we understood what was going behind us, we could manipulate things in this world of shadows more sagaciously.
For Plotinus, and his student Porphyry, the way to do this consisted of contemplation. Sadly, we lack descriptions of what to contemplate specifically, but we can reconstruct some of it by understanding what he taught. He taught that all reality, this world of shadows, was an emanation from a perfect reality. The highest perfect reality was the One. This One was beyond all characteristics, because all characteristics imply their opposite. If the One is big, then it’s not small and therefore not perfect — by which he meant something closer to “complete.” It has to be beyond bigness or smallness. From the One comes the Nous, or Mind. This is the first thing that can be given characteristics, and the characteristic it has is “goodness.” From Mind comes the rest of the world of shadows in a successive series or ladder of emanations.
This contemplative approach survives in a lot of practices we might regard as Eastern. One contemplation, in the spirit of Plotinus and Porphyry, would be to take one’s perception of oneself and begin deleting things. For example, try to remove your sense of physical position by sitting very still. Then try to remove your emotional feelings. Then abandon mental activity and remain as pure awareness. In other words, we climb the ladder of emanations back upward to the One.
We also see Plotinus’ influence in the contemporary understanding of the Qabala, and there’s some convincing evidence that the Qabala was Neoplatonic before it was strictly Jewish. Whether you believe that or not, it cannot be denied that a ladder of emanations really does describe most understandings of the sephiroth. And the practices of traditional Qabala — recitation of names, permutation of letters, and so on — smack of the contemplative practices of Plotinus.
On the other end of the teeter totter we have Iamblichus, one of Porphyry’s students, who suggested that contemplation was fine and good, but also difficult and impractical. Most people, he said, are so engrossed in the shadows that they simply can’t get anywhere with contemplation; it’s like trying to grow eyes in the back of your head. Better, he suggested, to turn around, and the way we do that is through ritual action. That ritual action, of course, was accompanied by contemplation, but contemplation alone could never apprehend what was not rational. If you tried the previous contemplation, you may have found it incredibly difficult; Iamblichus would say, “exactly.” Ritual provided an easier way.
Ritual action for Iamblichus consisted of recognizing the symbolic relationship between ideas. After all, if we can recognize a picture of a pot as a pot, it must be partaking of some bit of pot-ness from the world of ideas. If we manipulate this symbolic image, we can begin to train our minds to perceive and perhaps manipulate the ideal Form as well. How this worked exactly we don’t really know, but certain objects were thought to embody the ideal more intensely than other objects, just as a profile of an elephant is easier to recognize in a shadow. These objects or symbols included such things as the tools of ritual sacrifice, as well as — probably — various objects held sacred to deities. By ritually manipulating these objects, one could gain a clearer view of the ideal world.
A ritual in the style of Iamblichus might involve a series of ritual sacrifices of bread or wheat, each of which represents a return of some faculty to the One. So we might symbolically enact a sacrifice of our passions so that we can more easily contemplate the One as an Ideal without passions. Of course, we don’t know exactly what Iamblichus’s rituals looked like, but we can imagine that they looked quite a lot like the ordinary religious rituals of the time, but accompanied with appropriate contemplations.
Now, of course, most occultists mix these two approaches, the contemplative and the ritual. But the old argument between the two schools still exists. Some contemplatives talk scornfully of rituals as “crutches,” for example, an idea that might well have come out of Porphyry. And even those occultists who do not profess an ideal world of forms still engage in ritual actions in which a concrete object (the athame, say) represents a mental idea (will, or defense). Finally, most occultists will decry mindless ritual for ritual’s sake. We are to remember, as Iamblichus would argue, that every ritual action is an action in the world of Ideas as well.
No matter which approach you take to magic, whether you regard it as a contemplative practice or a ritual one, you are — if you’re involved in the western magical tradition — a Neoplatonist. Of course, chaos magicians might argue that there is no actual world of ideals, and a postmodern magician might argue that ideals are just clumps of self-referential symbols, and not meanings in themselves. Yet every school of western magic must situate itself in regards to Neoplatonism; they must begin by affirming or denying the central insights of that chubby wrestler.
The root of the whole endeavor of magic is in Plato, as is the root of all Western philosophy. Magic, then, rather than being a fringe effort of a few strange men and women, is a branch of philosophy itself, with its own epistemological and ontological claims. We diverged from philosophy in the same way that chemistry and alchemy diverged, or where mathematics and engineering diverged. Where philosophy began to dedicate itself to the analysis of ideas, we began to learn the practical arts of manipulating them. In future columns, I hope to explore some of those issues of knowledge and being, with an eye toward the practical implications of the philosophical positions we take.
©2009 by Patrick Dunn
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Patrick Dunn has written two books on the occult, Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic Power Language Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics. He lives near Chicago, where he teaches and writes. You can find his blog here.
Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts
Donald Michael Kraig
Llewellyn Publications (1988)
Reviewer: Sheta Kaey
As this book is typically the first book recommended to anyone interested in learning ceremonial or ritual magick, I thought a review here was appropriate, if only for the purpose of having it in our archives. As a primer in high magick, Modern Magick is not bad. It has its faults, however.
Mr. Kraig sets up the book as a series of lessons (hence the subtitle) meant to take the budding ritualist from complete novice to someone with a clue within twelve months. It can do it if one is prepared to stay focused, but not many people do. The book is designed to teach largely via negative consequences, and since so many novices are already uncertain, this can drive them to abandoning their studies almost as soon as they’ve begun. However, the student won’t discover the negative consequences unless he or she is smart enough to uncover his or her mistakes via crosschecking with other sources. Most, therefore, may continue along blithely unaware of how foolish they are to place their trust in Mr. Kraig or to assume his honesty.
Mr. Kraig takes the student (you, for the course of this review) through basic lessons in learning to control the four elements, not in the ways you might think (i.e., you don’t learn to summon storms), but in terms of energy and its effects on you. He also teaches the methods for creating the ritual tools for each element, as well as additional tools that comprise the standard ritual altar. The early sections of the book also teach the basic rituals that not only are the standard beginnings in any course of ceremonial magick, but which also serve you as needed for the rest of your life. The most important of these is typically agreed to be the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
A word of caution, however, and here’s where we look at that presumed honesty: Take nothing for granted in Mr. Kraig’s book. Nothing. Or, so help me, you’ll be heartbroken when you discover that all the energy, work, and pure heart you applied to his instructions has been wasted due to the blinds he quite deliberately puts in his instructions. Double check everything against other sources before you spend time, energy, or money for things he instructs you to do. Blinds, or deliberately placed errors and code words designed to trip you up and make you learn the hard way, are everywhere in ceremonial magick works, and Mr. Kraig’s use of them could therefore be viewed as a blessing — learn early, so that it’s ingrained in you to check your sources, check your definitions, read between the lines, assume nothing. It’s good advice, and it’s a hard lesson to learn that a tool you’ve made with your whole heart is useless because it’s been inscribed with the wrong symbols, and so on. But in spite of its pragmatism, it sticks in my craw that a modern writer — in an age when oaths are rarely taken and even more rarely kept — would take advantage of the trust of someone who gave him money to learn from him. I’m in the minority, though, I think. Various ceremonial friends of mine hate it when I give away the blinds, so I’m not going to tell you where they are, but there are several and they start early on.
Aside from that most irritating and admittedly effective technique, which is used early and often in this book, Mr. Kraig provides a solid foundation in the basics of ritual arts. The book is recommended to novices, with the single caveat that they take care in validating the information at hand, especially when they might find more convenient to just take Kraig’s word for it. He makes clever use of his misinformation, adding it where it might seem unlikely and keeping it real where he might be assumed to set traps. Keep a sharp eye, and learn the lesson well — but hopefully without too much pain in the end.
Four stars out of five.
Review ©2009 Sheta Kaey
Egyptian Revenge Spells
Claudia R. Dillaire
Crossing Press (June 23, 2009)
It’s no secret that the original pagans were no stranger to curses. From tribal shamans to priests to everyday people utilizing folk magic, part of most magic-workers’ arsenal was curses and other maleficio. The Egyptians weren’t an exception to this, and contemporary examples of magic that would make white lighters’ toes curl can still be found today. Of course, “black magic” being antithetical to the Wiccan Rede and many other neopagan ethical guidelines (or, at least many neopagans’ interpretations of said ethical guidelines), curses can sometimes be a subject that gets skirted around — or subjected to flame wars.
Kudos, then, to Claudia Dillaire, for writing a book on something new for a change! In this case, it’s revenge that’s the topic of the day, whether dealing with a jilted lover (including those with stalker-like tendencies), ruining someone financially, or simply messing with someone who has already messed with you. There are dozens of incantations, spells and rituals for multiple uses — and while some of them are most definitely for revenge, there are also some for more benign forms of protection, reflection spells, etc.
This isn’t a book of old Egyptian spells, but is instead a collection of modern Wicca-flavored spellcraft with some Egyptian influence. There’s a decidedly Wiccan feel to them, with the common inclusion of candles, crystals, common “witchy” herbs, and incense, and the fairly standard spoken portions. While they do incorporate calling on Egyptian deities, in some ways this could be any of a number of spell books.
I’m not entirely sure how the author interprets Egyptian neopaganism in the first few chapters, where she’s establishing some context for the spells. Sometimes it seems like she’s comparing “Egyptian magic” to Wicca (in particular, as opposed to general neopaganism); other times, it’s as though she’s trying to differentiate between them. Given that the spells themselves are pretty heavily Wicca (or at least witchcraft) flavored, I would have hoped she’d be a little clearer about how much Wicca and witchcraft influenced the unique brand of Egyptian magic she compiled from research and practice. In fact, if there’s anything seriously missing here, it’s a better explanation of where, exactly, she’s coming from. I was left a little unsure as to where the connection is between ancient Egyptian religious practices that spanned several millennia, and her personal practices today.
I’m also not a Kemetic pagan, and Egyptian religion and culture aren’t things I know a whole lot about, so I can’t speak too much to the quality of research. There was nothing glaringly wrong, and the bibliography had a mix of scholarly and practical source material. I could have hoped for in-text or other citations, especially for the historical information, but it’s a bit late for that now!
If you’re looking for some inspiration to unleash some wicked magic — or at least vent some frustration creatively — this is a good book. Don’t pick it up as an example of historically-based Kemetic paganism, however; it’s rather too eclectic for that. It’s a unique creation of the author, and gripes aside, I think it’s a nice change from the usual strict adherence to “Harm none.”
Four pawprints out of five.
Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey
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.