It’s late, I’m tired, and my body is creaking from the day’s work. I sit down on the edge of my bed, stretch and feel my back crack. I look up and there is a see-through old man, standing, with tears in his eyes. He wears a button up white shirt, black pants, and his face is crinkled with age lines. He asks “Can you help me?” I want to sleep, but I stay awake, listening to him as he describes a long, hard life with kids who all but abandoned him when he was on his deathbed.
Spirits aren’t always on our time schedule. Sometimes they come to us when we least want to see them. Other times, they make come when we need them, but we refuse to recognize it. And yet some others may simply come to people because they are bored and are looking for company. Too many people react to the latter two kinds of spirits negatively, without analyzing what is going on and what may have prompted a visit. It is like me coming to your house and asking for a cup of sugar, only to be screamed at and bounced out.
I propose that we treat spirits, human or not, more humanely. Have a weird, eerie spirit that lurks around your closet? Maybe it likes the energies you put there, like my books and mementos. Maybe it wants you to notice something about yourself, your surroundings or your life. More than likely, in my experience, it wants you to notice it.
Here we can find several questions: What kinds of spirits come to call? What should we do when they come to call? How will I know if I am dealing with a spirit or something else? If I don’t want spirits in my place, what should I do?
To answer any of these will require you to have an open mind about the existence of spirits, whether earthbound former humans, elementals, or just that eerie sense of a presence. If you simply can’t believe in spirits, it’s likely that most will leave you alone. If you’ve closed yourself off to them, your energies will tend to be inaccessible, and there’s not much in you to attract them. While there are exceptions, you generally have to be open to a visit to receive one.
For those whose spiritual, religious, or metaphysical outlook can include spirits, your experiences reflect how you view the spiritual world itself. If you think that most spirits are out to get you, then that is in no small part what you will attract, or at least see everywhere you look. If all you are looking for is an external enemy, someone to blame for your problems, or a fight to be had, that is all you’ll find, because you’ve narrowed your focus and energies to accept only these into your life.
If you are to more than simply throwing spirits off your spiritual front porch, I would recommend a more balanced approach, one which engages the spirits around you. There is a knowing that you have boundaries which are not to be crossed, but still allowing them to be crossed when you know a spirit is not intending ill will to you or loved ones. There is also temperance in the treatment of the spirits that you allow across that boundary, knowing that one experience with a certain kind of spirit may not translate to another. Just as humans are individuals so, too, I have found, are spirits.
What kinds of spirits come to call? Depending on you and your personality, as well as that of the spirits, a wide range may come. I’ll give some basic archetypal names, definitions, and examples that I have experienced to help give common ground.
- Earthbound Spirits
Definition: Spirits that once had a living body on Earth. Ghosts, specters, and many haunting human spirits are attributed as Earthbound Spirits, but they may also be animals and plants that once inhabited a space. Their “age” can range from the recently deceased to the ancient dead.
Example: An old man who had died recently came to me just as I was about to lie down, wanting to tell me about his life. He was “passing through” and stopped by to pay me a visit. He scared the hell out of me; I almost threw him out of my place because he didn’t know to “knock” on my boundaries (more on this later).
- Ancestor Spirits
Definition: Spirits that are related to a living person by blood, familial, or metaphysical ties. These spirits tend toward guiding, guardianship, or simply part and parcel of being part of a family. Experiencing ancestor spirits tends to depend upon one’s view of blood relations, family, and whether metaphysical ritual do or do not place one into a lineage or spiritual family.
Example: I have blood relatives that contact me, especially my sister who passed on before I was born. She does not guide me or guard me in any overt way, but we speak on occasion.
- Elemental Spirits
Definition: Spirits that are tied to the elements, such as gnomes (earth), sylphs (air), salamanders (fire), and undines (water). I know that some look on these aforementioned archetypal spirits as faeries, but I differentiate the fae from these, the former being a kind of spirit all unto Itself.
Example: The woods near my home have several spirits of earth that reside there, both in the ground and trees. Some prefer to be called tree spirits, noting that while they may rooted in the same element as earth spirits, dirt is not a tree and vice versa. These tend to be communicative when I am quiet or dead silent, and I “listen” with intent.
- Spirits of Place
Definition: Spirits that are the overarching spirit of a place, a being composed of the various energies of an area. Spirits of Place can be a grove of trees as much as they can be an entire city. City blocks, even if the city has an overarching Spirit, may have its own Spirit of Place. Similarly, it can be seen how neighbors contribute to the spirit of a neighborhood, whether by their attitudes, how they treat their homes, how safe people feel there. Like with an environment, even the decor of the place can influence how the spirit of the area is formed, or what parts of a spirit of place people interact with.
Example: The spirit of my nearby grove of trees is peaceful overall, concerned with keeping its area clean and growing. The spirit of my town is concerned with a growing drug problem, its streets having more homeless on it, and its degrading streets and sidewalks because of reduced work on them. The former is part of the latter, but is autonomous, existing within the energy pattern that forms the spirit of my town.
- Spirits of Purpose
Definition: A spirit that exists to perform a specific function, such as protection, guidance, etc. These spirits can be sent from a God/dess, be part of another spirit.
Example: As an example, spirit purely of growth exists to make things grow for good or ill, whether it is a tumor or a patch of grass. Another example would be a spirit of blight, who feeds on and seeks to expand it within its area.
- Constructed Spirits
Definition: Spirits who are specifically constructed by magical practitioners. These tend to have specific functions, but there have been efforts made to create whole spirits who have personalities and motives all their own.
Example: I have created a spirit to protect my car and its occupants from harm, fashioning them out of my own energy. A great example of creating a spirit was carried out by the Toronto Society for the Paranormal (TSPR), “The idea was to assemble a group of people who would make up a completely fictional character and then, through seances, see if they could contact him and receive messages and other physical phenomena — perhaps even an apparition. The results of the experiment — which were fully documented on film and audiotape — are astonishing.”1
- Totemic Spirits
Definition: Spirits that are the overarching spirit of an animal or entity that is revealed to a person. It can be representative of the qualities humans see in the being, or may inherently possess the qualities dependent on the spirit and human involved.
Example: A totemic spirit of the Dung Beetle came to me a few months ago in a meditation and has worked with me on rolling the “poop” in my life up and making use of it. In this role, it guides me and helps me out, and I honor it by giving offerings and listening to his wide range of bad poop jokes.
- Spirit Companions
Definition: A spirit that develops a deep connection to a human by intent of the human or spirit. It does not necessarily mean a romantic connection; it can also be a friendly or specific purpose-driven connection.
Example: Calling up a spirit, befriending it, and no longer calling upon it. Being able to call to it and speak with it, and vice versa, and letting it go when it wishes.
- Deity Spirits
Definition: A spirit sent by or representing a Deity.
Example: This could be something like a fae messenger from the Tuatha De Danaan. Alternatively, it could be something like the Metatron or Hunin and Munin from Norse mythologies, who are the spirits of Forethought and Afterthought that sit upon the shoulders of Odin.
So now that we have some definitions to work with, what do you do once you and a spirit meet? Well, be cautious unless you absolutely know the spirit and where it comes from. Essentially, treat it like any other stranger you would. Ideally, with respect, caution, and a give-and-take conversation until you know each other better. But how would you even talk with a spirit?
To start spirit communication, you should be able to do a few things first:
- Be able to ground your subtle energy, center it and your focus, and direct your subtle energies reliably.
- Be able to mark out spiritual space for yourself, such as casting a magick circle, or creating an astral temple.
- Having some method by which you can interpret abstract input / stimuli or input / stimuli from outside yourself; not everyone uses vision for this, though this method dominates most books. Some people “hear” the spirit world, whereas some may “feel” it. I use quotes because many rationalize or have translation from their subtle body/astral body into physical sensation so they can process what occurs in the spirit world. It differentiates from physically seeing an object in the spirit, to spiritually “seeing” it.
- Have a person or people with which to share the experience. Sometimes the best thing to have is a sounding board for your experiences. They can not only keep you grounded, but if you are stuck, can suggest ways of working with your circumstances, and help find solutions to problems you may have down the road.
- Be willing and able to set boundaries. Spirits should not feel they can wake you at all hours of the night, nor should you feel obligated to let them. You should also know when not to communicate with the spirit realm, and when too much is too much.
With that out of the way, what about some actual methods for spirit communication?
- Communication on the astral plane. If you know how to do this, you can project yourself into a protected neutral space and carry on a conversation. For tips on how to do this in depth, I would recommend picking up a guide such as Ted Andrews’ How to Meet and Work With Spirit Guides, or Christopher Penczak’s Spirit Allies: Meet Your Team from the Other Side.
- Communication by talking board. One of the most maligned ways of communicating with spirits, but in my opinion, in can be one of the most effective if you use it right. Using it wrong is calling out to any spirit with no protective magick circle or knowledge of how to clear out entities from a working space, and accepting whatever the spirit says to you, with this or any other method, as gospel. Using it right would be spiritually cleansing the area where you will use the board, casting a magick circle for protection and guarding you in the circle, and having items for a quick clearing spell for the circle on hand.
- Communication by fire, smoke, water, or similar means. Perhaps more abstract than the previous two, I have found this method works best when you elementally align it with the spirit in question. This is because, in my experience, beings like elemental spirits might be more apt to respond via a physical representation of their element. Simply lighting a candle and gazing into it may draw out imagery that you can interpret for yourself as to the intent of the spirit.
- Communicate via a medium. Someone who can help interpret the spirit world can be a great aid, or a great detriment. Open and honest communication (i.e. you respecting their boundaries, they not sugar-coating messages) can empower a great working relationship that can deepen both parties’ spirituality and depth of experience.
- Communication by manifestation. This may sound odd at first, but think of it like this: you want proof the spirit you think is reaching out for you is real. To prove to you that something is trying to communicate, you ask the spirit to give you signs and coincidences that speak to you that others may not catch. Although this takes a bit of open-mindedness and practice, the results can be very interesting. I will caution that this way is probably the hardest and has the slowest way of bringing out results from working with or communicating with a spirit. However, when deity spirits have gotten in contact with me with this method, the messages have been unmistakable and direct, placed in such a way that I know for me that it is not my subconscious.
There are far more means of contacting spirits than I have listed here. Almost every culture has had some way of speaking with the dead and other spirits; even Catholicism appeals to saints for a wide variety of reasons, from protection to selling your home.
The greatest challenge you may have once you open this door is learning to close it. So long as you have established boundaries, such as making sure spirits know what times are off limits, and keep to them, most spirits should leave you alone as you ask. Let’s say for the sake of argument that a spirit won’t stop coming around at bad times for you, or is trying to intimidate or control you; what do you do?
Take a passage from Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Don’t panic.” The worst thing you can do is feed into the spirit’s ego, or empower it by giving it your energy by freaking out. There are some tried and true methods I have used to make spirits leave if they will not do so of their own volition.
- Rebuke them. That’s right; the power of Me compels you. Or the power of your God/dess, your dishsoap . . . anything that gives you the feeling of power and control of the situation. Using an empowered object by your Will, magick, what have you, and projecting energies that assert your authority, in my experience, are highly effective. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Whatever you do, it just needs to either remind the spirit (or yourself) that you are in control of your body / place / etc., and / or that it has no power over you. The rebuking itself can be as strict as a demand followed by a spiritual boot to the ass to leave, to a simple “No, this is my space.”
- Calling on deity / spirits / etc. Don’t be afraid to call in family, friends, and / or allies to deal with a spirit that refuses to respect you and your space. From something as simple as wearing a grounding stone to bed or placing it beneath your pillow, to fashioning an egregores to take your “calls,” you have a wider range of options with help. It is not weak to ask for it, and it is not weak to say “I can do this much, and no more.” In fact, that is oftentimes harder, and better for all involved.
- Using a sigil. Sigils are shortcuts, graphics that can be word amalgamations, random scribbles, or made from a standard sigil creator. It can give you a direct line to the spirit involved, especially if a spirit “gives” it to you in telepathic communication or automatic writing. A sigil can empower your Will against or with the spirit it is of, or aligning your energies much more naturally with it because you are engaged with its symbol. This works like a sympathetic link, much like having someone’s hair, or an image of a person, one more way of energetically connecting to a person or thing. I have found the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians to be an effective method for making sigils, as I have combining letters into a graphic. For instance, TBL for Table, as shown here:
- Cleansing. From a shower to a full-on ritual with a censer and aspergillium, the rite is to cleanse a place or person of spiritual ties or excess spiritual energies. A shower can double as a cleansing area, whether you perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram in it or visualize the excess energies dripping off of your body as you clean yourself. The specifics of it are up to you; if you want to rectify or keep the relationship with the spirit, don’t cut off all ties with the cleansing, but target the rite to help cleanse the relationship itself. Again, using the shower method, you can visualize your connections as colored cords connecting you to the spirit, washed clean but not washed away. If you plan on having a long-term relationship with a spirit, this may simply be good spiritual hygiene on your part.
- Putting up “walls” / empowering your “shields.” Putting up shields is projecting protective energy to make a barrier, preventing contact you do not wish to have, and accepting that which you do. I tend to meditate every day on my shields, through visualization, meditation and other practices layering them up or performing upkeep so they continue to work the way I want them to. Putting up walls is intentionally arranging heavy amounts of your energies, and / or energy body, to block reception and oftentimes the giving off of certain energies. For instance, if you do not want any kind of spirit communication from the outside world, putting up walls (again, through visualization and the like) will block any and all spirits from contacting you. Think about this: you are effectively cutting yourself off from a form of communication. Before putting up walls, weigh the pros and cons. What are you cutting yourself off from? What are you allowing in? What are you keeping in with your walls?
Should you decide to communicate with spirits, your own experiences will tell you best how to do so. This text is just a beginning primer to get your ideas flowing, to ease you into spirit communication, and give you some solid ground to lift off.
- Wagner, Stephen. “How to Create a Ghost”
©2010 by Sarenth.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
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.
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
Note: This is my last column for the Occult Author Spotlight. While there are many other authors to discuss and I hope someone will take over and write about those authors, the demands of several of my own ventures as well as some changes in my spiritual life prohibit me from continuing.
I was first introduced to Bill Whitcomb’s work when a friend bought me The Magician’s Companion for my birthday one year. I immediately saw the usefulness of this book as a compendium of information about various magical systems, symbols, archetypes and other information that could prove useful if you needed to quickly get information on a particular subject within occultism. I’ve used it on a few different occasions to improve the efficacy of my works, and it remains a book I consult on a regular basis. The book looks at both western and eastern systems of magic and discusses succinctly the elements of those systems, while also providing reading lists for people who would like to go more in depth with the materials. Another added benefit is that Whitcomb lists the systems by their use of numbers, so you’ll see a few systems with the number seven. Reading through the entire book can be quite novel and useful.
I met Bill shortly after I moved to Portland and became good friends with him. During that process, I learned about his second book The Magician’s Reflection, which had gone out of print some time ago and didn’t look like it would come back into print from the original publisher. With some wheedling on my part, he eventually got the rights back and decided to republish that book with Megalithica books.
The Magician’s Reflection is an instruction book in how to create your symbol system for magic, with an encyclopedia of possible choices you could make for that. Naturally you shouldn’t limit yourself to what is presented in the book, but the various examples that Whitcomb provides can provide useful inspiration as you develop your own system of magic. Whitcomb also includes the alphabet of dreams, a magical language with its own cipher, and an appendix about a system of time magic called Nar, written by a friend of his, which utilizes different patterns and colors to help a person manipulate possibilities in time. Both the alphabet of dreams and Nar provide some intriguing ideas about where a unique system of magic can be created and developed. The Magician’s Reflection provides you your own key for doing that as well.
Bill is currently working on the Dream Manual, which is a book with art and some phrases to be used for meditational purposes. If you go to his website you can learn more about this project. He and I are working on another book together, which is a best practices of magic book. It’s still very much in the rough draft phase, but will be available at some point in the near future.
- Whitcomb, Bill. (1993). The Magician’s Companion: A Practical and Encyclopedic Guide to Magical and Religious Symbolism. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications.
- Whitcomb, Bill. (2008). The Magician’s Reflection. Stafford: Megalithica Books.
©2009 by Taylor Ellwood
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.
I intend to describe in this article a fundamental technique of Hermetic Theurgy that I have developed over the last 20 years, and with any luck the reader will find in my words something of value for themselves. It’s probably best to describe it as “active imagination” as Carl Jung coined the term. Jung noticed that he could find revealing and non-self-gratifying imagery just below the surface of the mind, by making a suggestion to himself and then sitting quietly to see what might develop in his thinking. He found that if he did not steer his thoughts in any particular direction, merely sat as a passive viewer of what his mind might show him, many wondrous things would arise, including solutions to troublesome problems, intuitions, insights into his own nature (and those of others), often with a wash of curiosities that would set him to further pondering. Stillness, of course, is they key. While I have not meditated as often as I probably should, I have heard stories from others using Transcendental Meditation and related techniques about this very thing. Of course, most meditation practices of an Eastern flavor tend to warn against following these story lines and vistas too far, as they are a hindrance to the stillness of mind the meditator desires. I propose that these stories and vistas of imagination can be a key to unlocking the inner area of the deep mind and a conduit for conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel (HGA).
I do not say this lightly. About 22 years ago I had a long and intense conversation with the being who is very much in charge of my destiny, and I took the time to write down what I can remember of it in my book Biting Through. What was then a very direct conversation with what seemed like another, infinitely wiser intelligence is now little more than a memory that from time to time provides me with the most startling of insights and memories, typically when I need them the most. It stands to reason that other folks can access this part of their consciousness too, and so long as one doesn’t take it as gospel truth (the revelations are often highly symbolic), one shouldn’t get into much trouble. The caveat here is to keep an open mind and try not to decide that a certain experience means this or that thing. One should merely observe, keep an open mind, and look for the full depth of any possible truths as they might arise later.
We’ve lightly brushed on the key of it here — the suspension of judgement. I once read a book called Applied Imagination, which recommended a nonjudgmental approach to creative problem solving, as it seems that instant judgement of a thought or an idea is enough to derail it from its true course. This book told of a group of problem solvers in a highly productive think tank atmosphere and noted that these people wrote down all ideas that occurred to them, regardless of how silly or inappropriate they might have initially seemed. By this method, they were rewarded with a greater number of creative solutions that might have gone unnoticed had they been squelched promptly. It was as if the free-ranging creative process needed impropriety, silliness and whimsy to operate correctly and to arrive by whatever crooked path at useful solutions. It is much the same way with active imagination — one doesn’t discard the odd bits of imagery or data that float by the mind’s eye; one merely accepts it and remembers it long enough to write it down later. There will be both signal and noise, to be certain, and often layers of meaning that are not initially apparent and that will require the passage of time to understand in greater depth. Much of it will resemble poetry, with unusually linked ideas or foreshortened concepts that seem important pieces of an incomplete picture. When it’s really happening in a big way, and one has the ability to surrender to it and simply write or speak what comes, as it comes, one is directly in the groove, as they say.
This technique has direct application for magical practice, especially with the meditations that happen in connection with the Star Rites or with the Contact of the Power Deeps in the matter of Planetary Magick. The ritual serves to formalize the business of being on the receiving end of a transmission from the deep mind, just as the invocation serves to focus its content. It’s a simple formula really — magically clear the space by casting a circle or setting the wards, tune your mind to the frequency of the matter by invocations and orisons, then still your mind to the degree that somewhere between the chatterings of the “monkey mind,” other data emerge. With time and practice and patient retrospection at a later date, story lines can emerge. While entertaining, these story lines say a whole lot about what is happening inside of one’s head, and in a way not normally encountered by ordinary rational thinking.
Speaking of ordinary thinking, it is good to know that sometimes this data comes in large packets . . . It is difficult to describe exactly, but I’ll say what I can about it. “Normal” creative problem solving (at least as it happens in my mind) typically proceeds from one concept to the next in more or less straight lines, each idea depending in some way upon the one before it. Occasionally, one has a Eureka! moment where some intuition allows one to assemble observations and facts in a very different and productive way, not unlike the story of Archimedes at his bath. For those that do not know the story, it is sufficiently illustrative to retell here.
The regent d´jour of Archimedes’ time was having a royal crown made and he did not trust the maker completely, so he beseeched Archimedes to find a way to learn whether or not the maker had made the crown from the all of the gold supplied to him for the task and had not transferred some of it into his pocket. Of course, weighing the initial gold and the resulting crown would seem a ready test, but it’s quite possible that, say, lead could be used, then gilded such that it would not be noticed without sawing into the crown and looking for it. Puzzling over how this might be accomplished, Archimedes slipped into a hot bath to soak for a while, and noticed that the water rose a bit more than it once did, doubtless due to the dreaded middle-age spread. So far, so good — he had all the data he started out with for this equation, but he suddenly saw it in a different way. He realized that the initial gold displaced a certain amount of water and would do so whether it was formed into a brick or a crown. If lead was introduced (and gold subtracted from the crown) it would displace a different amount of water, even though care may be taken to make it weigh the same. It was at this point that the cry of “Eureka!” sprang from his lips and he ran naked into the street to shout about it, the story goes.
This eureka moment may happen from time to time in creative visualization, but I’d like to introduce the reader to a slightly more bizarre concept, the story-all-at-once phenomenon. The only other time I’ve even heard of the notion was from the late Ben Rowe’s (Josh Norton) web site accounts of his scrying into the Enochian Aethers. He wrote that sometimes he would receive discrete packages of information of which reception he was aware, that would unfold over time and present entire catalogs of information to him, seemingly all at once. The analogy I like to make to describe this thought process is this: Imagine you have a large collection of small, symbolically interrelated objects in a simple, starchy sort of handkerchief, corners held together as a loose bundle. You drop it on a table and it lays open all at once, exposing the objects. Imagine too that you instantly apprehend not just the meanings of the individual objects, but also perceive how they are interrelated with each other and even what sort of relationship they have with each other in Time. Clear as mud?
In terms of the active imagination this articles tries to describe, it’s a bit like drinking out of a firehose. Imagine that, for a moment, you can be behind someone else’s eyes, experience the observations of their senses, reach into the their memories and the swirl of emotions that lurk just beneath thought, the hopes and fears . . . This information from the active imagination can sometimes take that shape, just as certain rich and deeply integral dreams can. The following is an excerpt from Passage D´aur (annotated), a book of writings that describes one such instance.
For ever so few moments, I felt as if I were in the mind of a court minstrel, called to a place to play a sort of role-playing game which was instituted by the Comte of that Court, and which was resounding in a social way throughout the land. Parties were held, ranging from summer picnics to gala balls and it amounted to us poor lads from the neighboring villages and shires, who were sufficiently schooled in the arte musicale to make this calling, going there as a seeming wooing of the ladies that were presented to us. This was no Pagan feast of flesh, I assure you!
This game had rules and had a framework in which these rules might be bent with a perfect cover to a real expression of the game, happening in it’s midst, as it were. While we were most of all boys and young men of no greater fortune than our poor academies can produce, some were young men of foreign courts (or so ’tis said) who come to gaze upon their prospective.
There is a dimension of this game that is just beginning to dawn on me. I was told but I did not understand at first. They say that a man’s soul is female and that is why Botticelli and others paint in the obscure symbols they seem to prefer. They further indicate that praise of the Soul is praise of God and so we are acting in a kind of mummery with song and dance to praise our very Souls, as played by the young ladies of the court and whatever Great Aunt’s Handmaiden might gift her way in. It not only made men of us, but made men of others, by hearing our songs, borne of the praise of the most ancient of Beauties, ever expressing itself in the flower of the present, and filling in those short spans of time between songs sung of War, daring-do and the generally mad howling of apes that otherwise constitutes the music of our streets.
Annotation: It was very real and very personal but nothing like the contents of my ordinary life. I felt as if I were in another’s mind for the space of a few moments and that I had access to everything they knew about the world around them and the moment they were soon to face. Of course, as a bit of a minstrel myself and with an interest in the courtly traditions, I’ve read about some of this, but the depth of what was there to see and feel was breathtaking. Of course, it is an extension of a discussion I’d had with [someone] about being in touch with my anima which I had countered with an illumination about the feminine nature of the soul, as viewed by Dante and his ilk.
Ultimately, these words are but an impoverished sketch of what took place in my mind for those very few moments, for I could hear, taste, see and feel my surroundings and I could think back to my not-so-happy home in a village an unknown distance away. I could almost hang names on dozens of faces of people I’ve certainly never met in this life. Have I touched upon a past life, I wonder? Or is my deep mind wrapping up an answer in fairy-tale clothing with an astonishing depth of scenery? I still don’t know, but am open to any possibility, including attempting to dig out some corroborating evidence of an equally dodgy nature via past life regression hypnosis. Of course, this proves nothing but can add dimension to the study of a given story, by which one might unravel the reason it was presented in the first place.
Another time I beheld a story the setting of which seems close the A.S. current, even if only for its perceived ancient Florentine location:
I enter a chamber at a friend’s or relative’s house and I observe a chessboard. I know that the arrangement of the chessboard is not a game in progress as such, but it represents the deliberate arrangement of pieces in such a way as to describe a situation that he has called me there of which to learn. It is likely that he has guests of some sort and his are the sort of guests that do not need to hear of our news as they are far too central to its power and promise.
Our Uncle is the Duke, and his wife the Duchess, so I expect to see them as the King and Queen of the color opposite the doorway into this room. Their adviser is the Abess of (. . .) who came to this court from the Duchess’s family, so she is the Queen’s Bishop of course. I see that both knights are on the King’s side of the board and that they oppose the other side’s King’s bishop and by that I learn that Charles and Rodney are at odds with the Bishop of (. . .), but I also see that the opposite Queen holds the King in check, and that was what I was there to see. There is a curious pattern of [rooks] that suggests they are moving to cover their Lords, but I cannot discern more without some clues. Ignoring guests, I select a pawn and move it one step to the lateral edge of the game to show that I understood most of what was being presented to me, then I repositioned the knights in such a way as it seemed a whole lot more natural than the result of the tour upon which they had been supposed to ride. It is a game to fight the spies.
I don’t really know who I was in this story, only that my uncle was a powerful and rich man and that my loose lips might sink their ship which necessitated that my cousin (whom I was visiting) and I played a code-game upon the chess set that resided in the drawing room of this mansion. The pieces represented different members of our extended family and showed their current political relationships. My movement of the pieces indicated that I understood the message. I felt as if my cousin could enter the room at any moment and we might play a few turns to provide cover for our communications.
Nikito and Eshabirodja
These scenes are but deep moments in a reverie, but the storytelling function can take on a large scale, offering key moments in the history of a whole life, it would seem. Such is the tale of Nikito and Eshabirodja. Fair warning: this story is terribly personal and rather sad. It has features I’ve never encountered before in my active imagination and they are well worth pointing out. Like much of Passage d’Aur, this story came in direct response to my seeking a greater depth of information in my real life, for I had come to hold a deep and unexpected attraction for someone I have known for many years and was aware over the entire course of time (in which we came to deal with it productively) that there was a pronounced spiritual or karmic dimension to it. Naturally, I wanted to explore that and I felt that my exercises in active imagination might open up some new vistas. I was not disappointed. Bits and pieces of this story came to me over many months.
This place was black almost all the time, else black on gray with some fitful snow. We kept a hearth going on every hour of every day and the aroma of our scat fuel permeated everything and seemed to do so for generations into our past. There was a gentle slope to the river and our living was made from that river, but I can only guess how . . . fish maybe . . . and there may have been beaver or other furs . . .
I think it was a summer camp, an ancestral place where we stayed in that season. It was the only time we had alone. At our other home we lived in the lodge with all the others. On our bitter cold journeys by the river, I came to know you as I know you now. You were called Eshabirodja, for the delight you brought to our repast.
We kept to that way as we grew very old and were venerated, then taken for granted, then ignored. We did what we said we would do and spent ourselves to our last days giving the Salmon to the Family.
This is the first time I ever really felt I got more than mental pictures from this exercise. This time I heard the wind blow, smelled the smoke from turd-fires, and heard her laughter and someone call her name as she came down the lane towards me. It sounded Russian and I thought the caller said something that sounded like “Siberia.” I listen carefully and the name was repeated with different stresses, but still sounded oddly familiar. When I wrote down the name the way it must be spelled and puzzled over why it might be so, I quickly discovered that an actual person’s name was buried amongst it, the letters appearing in exactly the same order as they do in my love’s real name, and that this was the person I was asking about. Typical stuff from the puzzle-maker of my unconscious mind, come to think of it. Thinking about it later, I sorted this out into 2 boxes, one being labeled “past life, mine or someone else’s,” and one being labeled “symbolic story from the unconscious.” I still have no good tools to figure out which words to put in which box. In no event do I believe that the puzzle of the name is anything but my deep mind telling me that this story is about her after some fashion and I’d better pay it some attention. I didn’t know how far it would go. I kept drilling away at it, trying to get some sense of my own name or the name of this place or of my tribe or time but all I got was a collection of letters that could’ve meant anything: N . . . k . . . i? Nicholas? Nikita? It took awhile, but I think I came close.
We sat at the edge of the river and dropped our stakes. I thought about how you are and how you look and that made me think about how I see. Uncle Shadow-vision told me something a long time ago about how he sees, part in color and part in black and white, and I wondered if something like that could make people see different faces on others or maybe not be able to tell anyone apart? I told him that I once mistook someone else for him and called him by that name, but he just said, “I ain’t yer ‘Uncle Scatter-vision.’ Scram!”
After awhile, I get up to pee, and I see that it is I that has put your line out for you, even if you are not here to tend it. When I got back, I rolled up a bomber and sat smoking it while the bats started to come out of the trees that hugged the wide bend in the river. The tops of them were touched with the same pink fire that licked across the ragged horizon.
Nikito is back on the river with Eshabirodja here, but it changes to a memory of my own, seen through the eyes of another. The bomber seems like an invasive thought, or just my word for Nikito was doing.
The moon wasn’t up yet, but when it did come up, I knew I would be reminded of a certain thing. I once actually talked to someone who knew what I was talking about — the sight of the moon passing from cloud to cloud and drawing a silver veil over the things you see so that they seem to change. I remember the night I had my first woman, I held her on the couch where the window was, so we could both feel the restless wind that breathed there in the hot summer, the only cool place just then. She had blond hair and blue eyes but she didn’t look bad at all for a White woman. I did not look at her for very long just then, but even as I did for just a short time, I saw that her face looked a lot like another girl I knew when I was in The School at Madras and again like someone else, a teacher I had. For a minute or two it seemed like she could be just anybody . . . anybody. What a blessing, I thought.
It’s worth pointing out, as I have done in the annotation above, that there is indeed signal and noise and one cannot often tell which is which. If I have no word for what someone is doing or what sort of people they are, my unconscious mind will substitute something more familiar. Nikito and Eshabirodja seem to be primitive Eastern Europeans, but my mind persists in presenting them as Native Americans, probably because my knowledge of the former is almost non-existent and of the latter more familiar. I considered it a possibility that we have two similar stories cut-and-pasted together by my unconscious to illustrate a theme.
This reminds me of the Saki story called The Window. Nikito is very sad because Eshabirodja is gone, but I do not know until the last line if she has gone to pee, gone to town, gone to visit her mother for a year, or gone for good. I’m not sure if Nikito knows either, and there is a hint of madness or forgetfulness about it. His mind feels like a child who is left alone for a time and wonders if his guardian will ever return. Perhaps he enjoys lamenting for its own sake. It’s hard to describe exactly what it feels like to be in his head here, but it mostly feels very hurtful and sad.
These things were written chronologically, and this is the first bit where I realized (a few months later) that the river can be viewed as a symbol of life and death like the rivers Styx and Lethe (or the Jordan, for that matter). He “crosses over the river” and views his life from that side, then returns with a different perspective. Or does he go mad and flee to a hallucination? I sense other layers. Also, I sense that this way of life for him is an adaptation to something very big that changed everything about they way his people interact with the world. The world has changed in some big way and this life is part of his tribe’s adaptation to that change (and there’s a bit of a metaphor to that, too, isn’t there?). Maybe a freak storm changed the course of migrations, maybe a conquering people changed how he earns his keep. It seems to shadow everything he does and I wonder if he is giving Salmon to his people as a fisher might or is he giving this Salmon to traders, to Caesar, to Massah. Salmon, of course, is a Mercurial symbol associated with knowledge and communication and a pretty short trip from “Solomon.”
The face of the sun is hours away, but its light graces the river at my feet and lovingly sweats the fog off the crisp, slow waters. Ducks have been flying by in pairs and groups since there has been enough light to see them — maybe an hour. They don’t know where to go, for it is not warm anywhere right now.
I think you have been gone a long time now, for there is a hole in my wind where your words used to blow, where the scent of your perfume and the glint of eyes still glow. I keep talking to you as if you are there and I also know that you are not there and maybe I wonder if it matters any more. My ass is sore from sitting on the cold ground, but I can scarcely care enough to shift and stretch.
There is here a perfect picture of everything one could want from the great gift of the Spirit: The wide river of Life running through the wasteland of our new world, the knowledge of what needs to be done, who needs to do it and the honor of being one to so dare. Too, there is the further grace that my life and your love may intersect for such a time as they can and give to me this special melancholy moment. It is a hard and cruel diamond, but it shines.
I must have dozed. I pulled myself up and hauled on our lines. I put the fish above where the fire would be if I had remembered to actually build it. I hooked our lines across the limbs of the trees and inspected every knot, wiggled the tiniest scrap of meat onto every barb, then waded out to the log that I could walk across and drop it back into the waters. I decided then to sit on the opposite side of the river.
Things looked different here, aside from just being on the other side of the waters. I could look across the way and see our camp laid out in the pattern dictated by the fewest steps: there was our wanagan, our ramada, our fire, our snowshoes, our sledges and our shivering ponies. Mmm. For them I will build a fire! There is a lot of dry wood on this side of the river.
The fire has been warm now for an hour and the ponies would draw almost as near as I. Will the sun never come over the edge of the canyon? I think about how long you have been gone and I have to weep until I’m done. I cannot remember. I cannot remember anything but placing our lines, building our fire and taking the Salmon to The People.
Later there is a faint sound, as a bird leaping from a slight branch at the top of a tree, and it is at some distance. I hear the calls that come after and listen for what the wind will offer. It passes and is quiet again but only until I hear and feel a pat-pat-pat in the soil — almost, but not yet a sound. I stand, against all odds, against the frost that has frozen my blanket into a strange shape, and I lean against the tree to see farther down the path to our place beside the waters.
Eshabirodja . . . I see you come down the path home again.
Nikito’s last day on earth. He is either mad with grief or just mad period. Eshabirodja is gone and he doesn’t know or cannot remember why or to where, and he cannot cope with his grief. He ceases to care for himself and dies (I think) from pneumonia. His last words are actually a northwestern Native dialect, but it’s the only way I could say what he meant to say.
I do not know what is real, at least in the sense that the White man thinks of a thing as real. I think everything is real and that unreal things are misunderstandings; truth is everywhere and in every thing, but fear and monkey-shine make them seem to be less real than they are or make us so confused that we cannot connect with it and hear its words to us. I am no different than any other man.
Eshabirodja had been gone for such a long time that I did not know whether or not she was real any more. What made it hurt the most is that I did not know what happened to her, and I had to live with that unknowing until it drove me mad and alone into the place of the spirits. I think she went away because she did not like our life and wanted to do something she thought was better than [connecting] Salmon with [People]. Maybe there was a city and she wanted to go there, or maybe there was nothing and she just wanted to walk away, away and keep going away until she learned what else to do. I lived with the torture of believing that she had been savaged and killed on the road by bandits or that she had become a camp follower to give herself in that small way to the greater need. I was sick and I did not get better. I felt the frost on me like a gnawing animal, crouched on my chest as I lay in reeking animal skins. I think the ponies are sick and I haven’t heard the voice of one for all the time I have lain inside out of the snow. I find I have nothing to do but pray that the spirits will come and take me away from this terrible loss . . . spirit-helper have pity on me.
Spirit-helper have pity on me.
Again we have an illustration of a shift in language and content to show an unfamiliarity with what must be the actual language and content. The final phrase is a Siletz or Kallipuia Indian phrase I heard many years ago when I made a recording of two medicine men singing peyote songs at a gathering.
The truly odd thing about this story is that it doesn’t seem to portray in any sense the actual goings-on of my waking life. No one was leaving me (quite the reverse) and I was not terribly sad about the things I was going through. I reminded myself at the time that it is often useful to put myself in the place of other people in the story and try to see it through their eyes in order to gain a different perspective. It seems that these stories are reflections of real events around me, but told from different perspectives to help me see around corners in my mind. There is yet an even deeper version of this phenomenon.
From time to time, it will seem as if the storyteller pauses in the narrative and addresses me directly, offering words of wisdom, couched in the oddest of contradictory phrases. This is usually accompanied by a complete stillness of mind which slowly blooms into a sort of joyous weeping and a cathartic swirl of suppressed emotions. I can typically feel this shift in consciousness very distinctly, it seeming as if my creative faculties are suspended and I am just listening intently to what is said to me. When this happens, I signal it by the use of italics.
Sometimes, and on this occasion certainly, the ‘narrator’ of this story stops telling the story and addresses me directly. I can feel it happen. There is a shift in content, in word and meaning. It is as if a storyteller stops telling the illustrative tale long enough to tell me, the listener, what it means to me personally. These words almost always have many, many layers of meaning and interpretation and so, when I can identify them, I put them in italics. I don’t know whose memory this is, but I don’t think it’s mine. There is no electricity here and it happens at night by the light of glass lamps and fireflies. It seems like Nebraska in the ’30’s for some reason.
Not always in a lonely place do I behold you — sometimes it is at a café on a piazza I cannot name, sometimes on your grandparents’ farm where you held my hand under the table and asked me about the stars. You’d just heard about the pictures in the stars that were put there by the men who would tell stories at the gatherings. You wanted to know what I knew and I only knew about the pictures and I pointed them out to you, if I remembered them correctly. It was enough for you then, and made for us a simple moment to treasure.
As children of Earth and the Starry Heavens, our story is in those stars, forming a long way back in the bright spiral of time and calling out to our present ears as a collection of words upon the only Tongue that speaks the Word: I am your Heart. I am your Pain. I am the reason for your next breath. Thou art my life and I love thee. Your own love is a reflection of that and no more, but that is more than enough. Do not ever forget that.
I cannot read these words without tears.
I was mad at my wife, mad at the feelings I had in me and mad that I made the object of my love mad at me. I fell off the tobacco wagon and was struggling to climb back on. I held my wife in my arms and smelled Pall Malls distinctly, as if a cigarette was burning in the room and recalled that her mother died of cancer and that was her brand. It felt like a presence, a ghost. I don’t smoke Pall Malls. My muse speaks again and in that twisted and maddening ‘angel-speak’ that simultaneously enlightens and obscures.
You don’t need my words want my words reveal my words
Speak my words but hear my words you do in the deep of yrself.
Today I held you while we both cried and I felt your mother draw near.
Was it my own breath reeking of sticky yellow death or the touch of her love flavored by what she could not leave? Quitting is easier than this but the sea must be calmer than this I tell myself today
It cannot be every day that way
Dear heart, I suffer with you and in you
&you are every woman I have ever known
as I am every man I have ever been
Angel-speak w/o preamble. Possibly one of the most important insights I’ve received from this time. It is presented in an unusually clear fashion.
Listen to me, you had an important thought there: She (whoever She is) is the love of your life but cannot be your love of Life, dig? If I exist as a different octave of your being, it is proper to say that I am the Life of your love. This is a formula, and when you work it forwards you find Her. When you work it backwards you find Me. See again:
Life of your love . . . you’re love of Life . . . Love of yr life
Thee . . . Thine. . . Thou
Solve Coagula Est!
“Toluca” is your invocation
and you must know by now that you are but one more flower blooming in a bucket of shit
“Toluca” is a poem I wrote 20 years ago and it has always felt special to me. I’ve recorded it as a music & spoken word piece and performed it from time to time, and whether hearing it on tape or performing it live, the room is always very still. Here I am told that it is nothing less than my own personal invocation of my Holy Guardian Angel and I have since used it as such to solid effect.
There is an immense wealth of information available to us, if we’d only take the time to listen and to suspend immediate judgement. The rewards are as great as one’s patience, both with the process and with oneself. It took me many years to unravel “Toluca,” and it hasn’t revealed all of its secrets yet. Twenty years ago, my only clue that this poem was in any way unusual was the fact that, at some point, I began to quote verbatim the Bhagavad Gita at decent length. I have read the Gita, but I certainly have not memorized it and didn’t ever expect it to show up in such fashion. I shall close this curious essay with “Toluca.”
Toluca is home sometimes where you stare down the road with black and ancient and wond’rous eyes you see your soul entangled in mine but this you do not yet know . . .
Can these elaborately constructed forms differ so much from one another that no route can be see of forward-going-apace? The path of metamorphos-is is the path of divine light and also horror.
Thou art desire . . . thou art desire
Thy beauty is in my I
Thou art madness . . . thou art madness
Thy beauty is in my I
Thou art God . . . Thou art Goddess
Thy beauty is truth & lie
Both truth & lie
I hate my masque
Seven years of de-votion Seven years of backward motion
Had I but known the words I would have penned the song
“Voyage on your blood for it is love & no other”
The spiritual equivalent of the hydrogen bomb? Cum now be reasonable if you be know a sage then so shall it be — be not distracted that you do not perceive the slightest wisdom in what you are doing at this moment or any other who cares to seek for that perfect freedom? One man perhaps in many thousands then tell me how many of those who seek that perfect freedom shall know the total truth of my being?
Perhaps one . . . Perhaps every one
As we are all one and that one is all of us, who can it matter who among us would run to take the light?
(For it is all ours always was always will be) You have nothing in your I your I is in me of me it is me
I am you
©2007 Frater Auxilior Arti. Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Frater Auxilior Arti (nee Fr. Adsum Iterum) is an initiate of the Astrum Sophia, co-founder of the Companions of the Glyph and author of the Book of the Glyph and PRAXIS: The 2nd Book of the Glyph. A life-long student of the paranormal, he brings a scientific/Fortean viewpoint to the subject, a thing he feels is sadly neglected. You can find his Facebook page here.
Ever heard of the stereotypical “poor Pagan”? The one who barely lives paycheck to paycheck, drives a hunk o’ junk around because s/he has no credit, and never seems to get ahead? This stereotype, when it comes to money, is justified by the idea that being poor is virtuous. The rationalization is that it’s okay if you’re in debt, and/or don’t have much money — you’re keeping it real by not being too materialistic or capitalistic. But this virtue of being poor isn’t really a virtue at all. For many (but not all), it’s a rationalization for why a person is poor, so that s/he can feel better about his/her decision to stay poor. Pagans aren’t alone in this, but it seems that we are pretty good at providing reasons for accepting poverty over wealth. For those Pagans who are disabled or chronically ill, poverty may not be a choice, but instead an unfortunate reality that can’t be avoided. Even so I have a suggestion at the end of this article as to how we as a community can help the members of our community who aren’t as well-off because of situations radically out of their control.
While you don’t have final say on how much you’re paid at a job, or the social situations you’re in that can negatively or positively impact your life, you can decide what you choose to do with your money. Even the debts you pay were debts that you took on, whether it was to purchase luxury items on a credit card or to deal with an unfortunate situation such as a car accident. You may never have complete control over your life or the situations you’re in. But you do have control over your reactions and how you choose to deal with a situation.
You also have complete control of your attitude when it comes to money — but you might not learn you have that control until after you’re knee deep in debt and sinking further. The problem that many people face (not just Pagans) is that they aren’t educated in financial literacy, i.e. how money works. High schools generally don’t teach many classes on finances and other real-world issues and unless you decide to take courses in college about accounting or other related majors you likely won’t get the education there. At home, unless your parents talk to you about money and how they handle it you likely will only learn how they handle it from observation. (And, of course, if your parents don’t handle money well, chances are you won’t either if you use them as examples!) Most of us learn what not to do with money, and that through hard experience, which is the absolute worst way to learn about finances.
This is because you usually have to make costly mistakes to learn. Run up some credit card bills and you’re stuck with high interest rates and struggling to pay the debt off. Don’t put money away into savings or investments and you may find yourself working a fast food job in your eighties. Spend too much on books, video games, and other luxuries and you may not have enough money for the bills, therefore accumulating even more debt. Live paycheck to paycheck and when something big comes along, such as the transmission going out on your car, or an uninsured medical emergency, you’re not going to have any way to pay for it. None of those experiences strikes me as particularly virtuous or desired.
Pagans don’t have to be poor. I suggest, in fact, that we adopt the attitude that having money is a good thing. Money is good to have because it can insure relative self-sufficiency, and it can pay for unexpected situations, such as an accident or sickness. Money can pay for education and provide security for old age, and it can allow you to travel to other countries and experience other cultures at their source. Of course, those are just a few reasons why having money is good; I’m sure you can think of plenty of others.
We first need to look at our current attitude toward money. Take a moment and look at a bill or a checkbook or something else that’s financially relevant. Take a pen in your hand and on a blank piece of paper write down your initial impressions when you look at the financial artifact and think of your monetary situation. If you find yourself writing and/or thinking of money in negative terms then you need to adjust your attitude. The reason you need to adjust it is because your attitude about finances is sabotaging the conscious choices you make when you have money.
Because most people haven’t been taught financial literacy we usually have negative experiences with money. This negativity imprints and we soon regard money as an affliction or a problem as opposed to a means of offering potential security and/or freedom from bad circumstances. Certainly this was the case for me, up until recently. I always had some form of debt that needed to be paid off and yet no matter how I tried I just couldn’t seem to get ahead or feel confident that my money would last beyond the current paycheck. But one day, having complained about money for the umpteenth time, I happened to pick up a book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki. The core concept I got from this book was that I alone was responsible for how I spent my money and that my education about money and how I thought and felt about it greatly shaped my spending of it1. This seems like such an obvious point, but to someone who felt that money was an amorphous force that controlled his life, I found it to be liberating. No longer did money control me. Instead I could take control of it.
I suspect that many other Pagans, were they to examine their attitude about money, would come to a similar realization. Although this awareness is liberating, we still need to undo the negative attitudes we have. There are a couple of ways to start doing this and I’ve found both of them have really helped me get a handle on my financial situation.
Meditation, Magick, & Consciously Loving Money
My first solution involved meditation. I prefer using Taoist meditation practices that involve dissolving internal energetic blockages. These energetic blockages usually also have emotions, beliefs, and attitudes attached to them. By dissolving the blockages I can allow myself to feel those emotions, beliefs, and attitudes, and then consciously change them so that they no longer sabotage me2. However, any technique will do provided it allows you to enter into a state of mind where you are receptive to examining and changing your beliefs on a particular subject. The reason this is important is because our everyday mundane consciousness tends to operate on autopilot, which means we don’t always examine why we are doing what we are doing. By being contemplative and reflective about the problem we can see it from a perspective outside the everyday tunnel vision. This in turn can lead to conscious change.
Once you’ve examined the attitude and decided you want to change it, you need to determine what you will change it into. For example, I changed my attitude of money from dislike into love of money. I decided that I would love money and in return invite it to love me. Using meditation, I changed my memories of bad experiences with money into positive experiences where I learned to love money. I visualized myself in the various moments where I’d gotten negative imprints about money. I then visualized myself changing the actual occurrences into ones that were more positive in terms of how I handled money and felt about it afterwards. Through these meditations I was able to undo the negative imprints and create more positive ones that helped me feel more comfortable with handling money.
To reinforce this positive attitude further I decided to create an entity that would encourage my wife and me to love money and become more knowledgeable about it. My wife made a pouch out of blue leather (we associate the color with money). In the pouch we placed a couple of coins and other personal effects that represented our desire to change our attitude and approach to money. I then came up with a phrase: “I love money.” I took out the repeating letters, condensing the phrase into “Ilvmny”, which was now the name of the entity. To bring the entity to life we decided that the energy that would feed it would be both the spending and receiving of money. Every transaction would give the entity energy to perform its task, which was to help us cultivate better financial habits. Our first transaction was to go out and buy books on money management. After each purchase and every time we make a sale, deposit a check, or invest in stocks we hold the pouch and say, “Thank you, Ilvmny.”
Although my first solution was to use magic to help me change my attitude, I also knew I needed to learn more about money. It wasn’t enough to have a positive attitude about it. Something I’ve noticed in myself and many other people, Pagan and otherwise, is a decided lack of knowledge of how money works. Living from paycheck to paycheck illustrates this because it involves using money strictly for day to day survival with little preparation for the future. My second solution was to acquire financial literacy.
Financial Literacy: Making Money Work for You
When you live paycheck to paycheck, you’re working for money. This is what seems to happen to a lot of people. We go to work, we make money and we spend it, putting little, if any, aside for a rainy day or retirement. When a situation does come up we wish we had more money to solve it, even though it’s not really more money that will solve the problem — it’s making money work for you.
First, you first need to learn how money works. If no one talked with you about money and how to use it responsibly then what you need to do is educate yourself. This doesn’t have to involve evening classes at a college (and in fact that would probably be the most expensive and least successful way to learn about money in the immediate real world). Instead, I’d suggest going to your local bookstore or library and looking in the business and finance section. You’ll probably want to get several books on how to handle personal finances because you never want to get just one person’s opinion on any situation, let alone how to handle money. I’ll list a few recommendations at the end of this article, but you might also want to see what members of your family or friends have read about personal finances. Speaking of family, if you have kids, start talking to them about money as you learn. You can never educate your children about money too early. In fact, you may help them avoid mistakes you made and come out ahead when it comes to retirement and other financial matters.
Many people don’t pick up books on money because they think such books will be loaded with technical financial jargon and hard to read. But a good book will explain the different terms and principles in a clear and concise manner. They also may think that money management is boring. While it may not be as riveting as, say, a mystery novel, once have a basic understanding you may find that it’s actually an interesting subject to learn about. Even if you still don’t find the subject fascinating, it’s important to educate yourself about it. You don’t need to know the intricacies of the daily life of a stock broker, but knowing the basics of how money works and how you can make it work for you will make your life a lot less stressful.
Making money work for you means learning how to invest in stocks and IRAs, maximize your 401k plan, and getting the most out of your bank accounts. When you know how to make money work for you, it becomes its own magic, with the result being more numbers than you had before, provided you take advantage of the systems in place. For instance, with stock investment, you don’t have to invest stocks through a broker. You can invest in a company directly. This allows you to make your money work for you and know where that money is going. At the same time the wealth that is generated isn’t wealth you had to earn. Instead you let other people (i.e. the employees in the company) earn it for you. To use another example of making money work for you, there’s a lot more to a bank than free checking or savings. Do you know the interest rates of your account? Do you know the other options available to you at a bank? Do you know the differences between a bank and a credit union? Knowing the answers to those questions can impact how much your money works for you as opposed to you working for it3.
Ideally, when money works for you, you have money to pay your bills, some set aside in savings to take care of emergency situations and some applied toward investments for your eventual retirement. You want your money to grow in such a way that a lot of the money you make isn’t even money you had to work for. Your goal isn’t necessarily to end up rich (though that doesn’t hurt) but it is to end up financially secure, without having to worry how you’ll pay off your debt or take a day off work without pay or even retire. If you do want end up rich you may have to take some risks, and that involves a different level of financial literacy, which focuses on how to take those risks and hopefully come out ahead4.
Are We Getting Too Materialistic?
I suggested earlier that the poor Pagan stereotype is not virtuous, for the simple fact that being in debt and/or having to worry whether you’ll make your ends meet each week or month is never an ideal place for anyone to be in. But is having money evil? I think, in and of itself, money isn’t good, evil, or any other moral value we may place on it. It is however a force, one that must be acknowledged and respected because it’s one we interact with everyday. Even learning how money works won’t necessarily make you more or less materialistic, though it will help you become better informed about your spending habits.
Where the virtue (or lack thereof) comes in is with you and your choices. Once you know what your spending habits are you can choose to change them. If you find yourself spending most of your money on luxury items for yourself, perhaps it’s time to stop purchasing them. Find other uses for your money such as your child’s college fund or funding for that trip to Europe you’ve always wanted to take, but never had enough time or money for.
Another stereotype that Pagans are accused of is of not offering enough public services or charities that help the community at large. As Pagans become more successful with money this perception can be changed. When you have more money to spare you can put some of it toward the charity or public service of your choice. Better yet, you can help those members in your community who are poor and have no choice in it. Adopt a Pagan family or person who’s less well off. Donate money or food or other goods to help them out. Support your community and in doing so create a closer connection so that everyone can benefit. Remember though that money alone won’t solve the world’s problems or even that of a local community. Devoting some time to public service or giving some food to food banks or doing some other form of community work is equally valuable and worth doing.
Loving money doesn’t mean you’re a materialist and out to steal from the poor. Loving money merely means that you enjoy being prosperous and prefer it over other circumstances. You won’t turn into a yuppie or a snob by choosing to love money, unless you want to. For me, loving money isn’t about putting money before everything else; it’s really loving the idea that I don’t have to worry if I’ll be able to pay this or that bill or feel guilty because I wanted to buy the latest Jim Butcher novel. There’s enough to worry about in life. Security about money or bills or buying a book without clean out your checking account is something all of us can have provided we accept that having money doesn’t equal being materialist. Remember, it’s your choices that define how you think of yourself and who you are.
Money is a medium. Without it, we can’t easily survive. With it we can enjoy what life offers while establishing financial security for the rough times and old age. Remember that it’s not how much you make that insures a good relationship with money. It’s how you use the money you do make that determines if you have a good relationship with it. Even someone who doesn’t make a lot of money can still come out ahead by using the resources s/he has wisely. And you can always help other members in the community who aren’t in as good a situation as you are. None of us have to be “poor Pagans.”
- Kiyosaki, Robert T. (2000) Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! New York: Warner Business Books
- Frantzis, B. K. (2002) Relaxing into Your Being: Breathing, Chi, and Dissolving the Ego Berkeley: North Atlantic Books
- If you don’t know the answers I’ll leave it to you to do some research. It’s worth your time, trust me.
- More on this in a later article, as I’m still learning and researching!
- The Motley Fool: You Have More Than You Think : The Foolish Guide To Personal Finance by David and Tom Gardner
- The Richest Man in Babylon: The Success Secrets of the Ancients by George S. Clason
- Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner by David Bach
© 2007 Taylor Ellwood. Edited by Sheta Kaey
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at http://magicalexperiments.com/.
Meditation in Theory
Meditation is the foundation of all magical and mystical systems of all cultures. It may seem a bit beginnerish to spend an entire article on the subject, but I believe this topic to be important enough to cover over and over again. I don’t think that I’ll have to do that here, but I at least want to get out my views on the topic for the general reader.
To give an idea of what meditation is at its core, allow me the presumption of a crude allegory. Consider an unpolished block of marble. This is your mind, complete with rough edges, nooks, points, spines, and crannies of all varieties on every side. Thoughts (my ideas of which will be explained further in a moment) are as snowballs being slung at the marble block. With all of the rough spots, there is ample friction for the snow to stick, and more than enough nooks in which the snow can be caught. Meditation is a process by which we buff, chisel, and polish the marble until it is smooth. At this point, the mud can only stick for but a few moments, after which it simply slides off the nearly frictionless surface. Such are the thoughts that are thrown at a meditative mind.
As stated, this is merely an allegory. No thoughts of my own could possibly tell the whole story, but it gives you a good idea. This allegory, in my opinion, also answers a question that troubles many would-be magicians and mystics. Most of us are taught at the beginning that if we do not achieve complete mental vacuity, we have failed in our meditative efforts. While mental vacuity must be our goal, meditation almost always falls short of this ideal. We are not failures for this. A Zen practitioner friend of mine once told me in response to a question on this that no matter how many years you’ve been at it, there will always be a bit of mental chatter. The goal is to attain a state in which thoughts melt away as quickly as they appear.
Why, some readers may ask, would we want to achieve such a state at all? Isn’t thinking good? Of course thinking is good. Any extremist which tries to tell you that thinking is bad has entirely missed the point. Meditation is useful in numerous ways. The most practical use for most people is that meditation calms the mind such that thinking throughout the rest of one’s day is smoother and much easier to direct and focus.
Additionally, meditation puts one in touch in a very direct and open way with what we may term Divinity or The Source by way of the essential “emptiness” of all things. Meditation does not empty us, but instead aids us in realizing our own preexisting emptiness, or what William G. Graycalls “Nil.” Think of Nil as our essential Self, but likewise Nil is the essence of everything and everyone else, so it is our one true and complete means of unity with all other aspects of existence and even non-existence. For more culturally specific modes of expressing this idea, think the Kabbalistic Yechidah, or the Taoist statement that it is only by a thing’s emptiness that it is made useful.1 A wheel is only usable if it has a central hole for the axle, and a vase is only a vase if it is hollow.
For many magicians, the primary role of meditation in their practice is as a convenient and portable means of casting “spells” or “sigils.” After all, while sitting in your company’s lunch room it’s much easier to achieve a meditative state of mind than it is to jump up and do an ecstatic dance or perform a complete ceremonial invocation! Meditation is indeed quite useful for this purpose, based on my experience, but please do not make the common mistake of believing that this is the only ‘true’ goal of meditation.
Now for the question of the nature of consciousness. Without using any one system’s concept of the structure of a human’s subtle bodies and aspects of Self, I will provide my own theory based on my own experience from 5 years of serious meditation. I hope that it will give somebody a bit of insight into what meditation actually accomplishes and how it does so.
I recommend that everybody try the Neophyte meditation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.2 Spend several minutes performing rhythmic breathing in your preferred fashion. The Golden Dawn themselves suggested the Fourfold Breath (count of 4 in, count of 4 hold, count of 4 out, count of 4 hold, etc.) but this is not necessary as long as you are breathing in a rhythmic, relaxed, and thoroughly oxygenating manner. Now, consider a zero-dimensional point. Focus all of your attention on that concept the best you can. Consider the concept directly (no tangential thoughts, please!) for five to ten minutes, then note down your experiences and insights.
The demonstration this simple exercise makes is that consciousness is very much like that point. That point, in Kabbalistic terminology, is like your personal Kether. Kether is much like the Eye in the Pyramid: the Observer. Aha, now you know what the title of this article means! The Observer is my name for the essential consciousness of each person. The implications of this idea are simply astounding, and make more sense the more one meditates.
We do not create ideas, at least not most of them. We observe them as they float by us on the Mental Plane. Let that sink in for a moment. Read it again. We observe thoughts as they float by us on the Mental Plane. The Mental Plane is not limited by time and space, so when I say, “as they float by us,” I mean that only as a simplification. A proper clarification may be that we observe those thoughts that best catch our attention, this being dependent upon our personality and individual circumstances on the Astral and Physical levels. The untrained Observer is naturally drawn to any shiny and fun thoughts that happen to enter its field of awareness. Meditation is the best method by far for training the Observer; in other words, of gaining and mastering the ability to focus the Observer’s attention on any given idea in particular.
Curiously, I have observed that we can generate certain thoughts. In particular, we generate our self-reflections. These are developed mostly in our Mental Matrices rather than in our Minds proper. A person’s Mental Matrix is the energetic interface developed between the Spirit/Mind and the Soul/Astral Body. These thoughts are generated in the individual’s Mental Matrix, then projected “outward” (or “inward,” depending on perspective) to the Mental Plane at which point they become observable to the Mind-Observer proper. This allows us a more direct mode of self-reflection as opposed to waiting for ideas about ourselves to generate spontaneously in the Mental Plane.
If this seems like a lot of unnecessary theory, you may safely disregard it in your own meditative pursuits. I, however, have found these ideas to be exceedingly useful in my own efforts as well as the efforts of some others with whom I have shared these ideas privately.
Meditation in Practice
There are two major Orders of Operation for meditation, and which one you use is dependent upon your purpose for meditation at that time. For your initial efforts, until you have mastered the techniques involved, I recommend that you stick entirely with the first or ‘mystical’ method. After that, experiment with the ‘magical’ method and get to know the differences for yourself. The practical differences are slight, but the effectual differences cannot be overstated.
The Mystical Method should be the starting place of all Initiates and Initiates-to-be. It can be found in many systems of training worldwide, from Yoga and Tantra to Franz Bardon’s Hermetics. Here, I’ll be using Franz Bardon’s descriptive titles for the steps in the method, and explaining them in my own words.3
- Thought Control is not the literal control of your thoughts. That comes later. It’s more the control of your conscious focus and awareness. Do not attempt to grab one thought and hold to it entirely. That also comes later. Your goal here should be learning how to let go. Simply observe your thoughts as they flow by. Do your best to keep track of them, but don’t fall into the trap of focusing on any of them alone or in groups. Merely let them flow and ‘watch’ them as if on a movie screen. Continue with this step alone until you are able to maintain this state of mind for five minutes consistently. Twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, is best. Then add the next step to your routine. Do not replace one with the other, as they are both still important.
- Thought Discipline is the next step, and is what most people generally associate with the term “meditation.” In this step, you must determine yourself to focus on one and only one thought, be it of any type of sense-input soever. Each person will find thoughts associated with certain senses to be easier or harder for them personally. For me, thoughts in the form of internal sound (internal dialog, a song stuck in your head, etc.) are much easier to hold than visual thoughts or olfactory thoughts, for example. For you, it could be very different. In this exercise, training our other internal senses is not the goal, however, so feel free to stick with your strongest in order to accomplish your present purpose. If you choose the sentence, “God is in us all,” repeat the sentence mentally for as long as you can without allowing your mind to wander even to tangentially relevant thoughts. Similarly for if you wish to focus on an image (a cross, a circle, or any other simple image is best) or anything else. Work on this exercise immediately after the first one. Do not move on to the third exercise until you are able to maintain this state of mental focus for at least five minutes.
- Mastery of Thought is the third and final exercise in mastering the mystical method of meditation. Immediately following Thought Discipline, relinquish the thought you had been focusing on and allow your mind to remain clear. As I said before, there will always be some level of mental chatter. Simply allow this chatter to dissipate. Do not force it out, because that force will merely create further distractions. You will know well when you have succeeded in this exercise, as it is quite unlike any other mental state that you have experienced. Work on this exercise until you are able to maintain this vacuous state of mind for five minutes consistently.
I must emphasize that when I say to work up to five minutes with each of these exercises, I do not mean to limit yourself to that duration by any means. In fact, Bardon suggests ten minutes as a bare minimum before you can consider the techniques to be mastered, and even then do not neglect them, but continue to increase your ability with them by deepening your state of consciousness and advancing your durations. Before moving on to any more advanced techniques of magic or mysticism, a bare minimum of ten minutes each (30 minutes total) should be a consistent standard. We will always have our highs and lows, so do not be disappointed if you usually are capable of the full 10 minutes with an exercise but have a few days during which you cannot go more than two minutes without losing focus. These things happen; simply carry on with your daily work and you will soon find yourself better for it.
The Mystical Method of meditation as described above is mystical insofar as it is a self-sexual process of conception and birth of our own goals for ourselves on the Inner Planes. The thought control exercise can be considered a sort of generation of our Mental Seed. Thought discipline is the conscious choice of one among the many Seeds we have at our disposal and the implantation of it within our Inner Womb (Deep Mind, unconscious, etc.). Thus, the Seed or thought chosen for this second exercise does not have to be of a profound or spiritually abstract nature, but it should be a thought or symbol with which we would wish to inseminate the egg of our own Future Selves. Thus, statements of our ideals, important ideas from our chosen magical⁄mystical system, statements of personal goals (as long as they are compatible with our spiritual growth and do not run contrary to it) are all suitable. We are not truly enchanting for these things, but simply planting the seed for them. Future magical work involving these goals is liable to come to fruition much more easily as a consequence. Finally, the mastery of thought exercise is much like the gestation of the fertilized egg within our own psyches. We are allowing ourselves to become for a few moments (with the goal of eventually becoming on a more permanent basis) our true Inner Selves and to simply ‘be and become’ within the emptiness of our Inner Womb. The Observer may observe purely and without bias toward any one thought or idea.
The Magical Method is very similar, but not identical. It involves a different Order of Operations, but using the identical exercises described above. It is important that the practitioner master the exercises in the Mystical Method before moving on to the Magical Method. We require a handle on our Inner lives before we can hope to strongly influence the Outer with any safety and effectiveness. Power over yourself is more challenging and more rewarding than power over the outside world, and is ultimately the foundation of any healthy outer lifestyle.
The Order of Operations which follows is that used by Peter J. Carroll in his Liber Null & Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic.4
- Thought Control is described in Carroll’s book as the physical act of motionlessness, which is accurate insofar as it resembles zazen, or “sitting meditation,” the goal of which is a gradual stilling of the mind by relaxing our eyes and minds on a plain, solid background. This state requires at the very least the ability to stay mostly still and relaxed rather than tensely forcing ourselves to focus.
- Mastery of Thought is switched here. We begin from a state of mental vacuity that we may act first as the womb into which we will implant our desire.
- Thought Discipline is the final step. In the Magical Method, it acts as the impregnation of our previously empty Inner Womb with our desire.
The basic difference is obvious insofar as two steps are switched, but the functional difference is more subtle. In the Mystical Method, we work toward our essential silence, while in the Magical Method, we invoke our silence in order to more strongly make Inner contact and impregnate our desire into the Inner Planes. This is the secret to all magic, and goes beyond a mere altered state of consciousness if properly understood. An altered state of consciousness can only be an aid to this state. Once meditation proper has been mastered, such methods become redundant (though sometimes still fun).
The simplest magical usage of a meditative state is to spend the third step focusing on an appropriate sigil or mantra.5 This method is generally slow, as your desire must be ‘brought to term’ and born like any other offspring (outspring?). A way of speeding up the process, or at least adding power to it, is to utilize the process of Step 3 to first invoke the aid of an appropriate and friendly god or spirit, drawing the entity into your own emptiness as a means of close communication. Once this entity is fully invoked, or invoked to the depth of your present ability, you may request of it your desire. Do not try to force a god or spirit to do as you say. Ask it if it believes that your desire is wise and, assuming that it is, ask it to bring the desire about for you by adding its own power to yours. If the entity believes your desire to be unwise, ask its aid in reformulating your desire in such a way as to be of actual benefit. This, of course, is only the simplest of magical methods, but one that can become central to your overall practice. It can form the nucleus of larger ceremonies, or stand on its own for more basic wants and needs. It is especially well suited to acts of illumination and behavioral modification, but its power is definitely effective for Outer ends.6
No matter how advanced you get in magic and mysticism, basic meditation as described in this article must not be neglected. It is more difficult for some than for others, but is a worthy use of time and effort for everybody. I have on occasion had people ask me what single practice is most important for a person with limited free time. My answer is always daily meditation. Once daily is good, twice daily is better. Most people can find 60 minutes out of every day to devote to this practice, and those rare few who cannot find such time may surely find 15 or 30! Unfortunately, we are not God with the power to create time when needed, but we do have the power to clear some time from our schedules in order to improve ourselves and open up Inner and Outer opportunities for ourselves and, by sympathy, all of humanity and perhaps all of the Cosmos.
- For more on Kabbalah, please see Israel Regardie’s A Garden of Pomegranates, available from several publishers. For more on this Taoist idea, read Tao Te Ching (Skylight Illuminations) by Lao Tzu (Lao-tzu, Lao Tze, etc.) and available in numerous translations and editions.
- Available in the First Knowledge Lecture in Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, Llewellyn Publications.
- Franz Bardon’s book Initiation into Hermetics is, in my opinion, the single finest training manual in practical and mystical Hermetics. It is available in a new translation from Murker Publication Company (2001).
- Weiser Books. This book is definitely a must-read for anybody who has not already encountered it. No matter what system or tradition you belong to, you will find something useful.
- See Liber Null & Psychonaut again for practical information on sigils.
- For more on basic magical and mystical practice, please see my own book, The Four Powers: Magical Practice for Beginners of All Ages from Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press.
©2006 Nicholas Graham. Edited by Sheta Kaey