Saturday, October 3, 2015

Thoughts About the Elusive Golden Age of Occultism

Beware of Fools as Prophets

Some have said that the 1960's was the start of the Occult Revival, and that the subsequent decades of the 70's, 80's and even the 90's represented some kind of golden age of magic and occultism. I might agree with that depending on how you define a golden age. Now some folks are saying that where the past decades were the golden age, the whole movement now is in obvious decline in the second decade of the 21st century. I am, of course, referring to yet another “counter intuitive” whining rant from Nick Farrell on his blog of personal propaganda and self aggrandizement.

Having lived through this period, particularly the 1960's and 70's, I think that I can weigh in to declare that the supposed golden age wasn’t much of a golden age, and that while things are changing, the immanent decline of public occultism and magic is not really occurring. In fact, all we can really say is that things are rapidly changing and where they will ultimately lead us is something that cannot be predicted right now. I know it’s fashionable to make declarations of doom, but if we can cut the drama out of our considerations and really look at how things have changed, we will see that there is both good and bad with the current state of the practice of magic and occultism in our post-modern world. It’s a grey world out there, and it has been a grey world for quite a long time, probably since the beginning when hominids climbed down from the trees.

Another problem I have with the trope of the “immanent decline of public occultism” is that the words “public occultism” represent a kind of oxymoron. Are we talking about what people are doing (or saying that they are doing) on public media? Can we make any kind of generalization about these various individuals who are supposedly occultists, or at least promoting themselves as such? Occultism is by definition a study and practice of things that are hidden and inexplicable, and the kind of operating environment that occultists have used since the advent of the modern age is one that is cloaked in secrecy and discretion. Or perhaps I could say it more appropriately, they are doing the work and don’t have time to build up a proper contextual linguistic architecture to talk about it to those who would otherwise neither know, care nor understand.

True and sane occultism, as well as the art and practice of magic, has always been the proclivity of a very small minority of seekers. When something is popular and in-fashion it gets talked about, sometimes excessively by the masses; but that talk is mostly just gossip mixed with misinformation and the constant rehashing of urban myth. I think that it’s true that there will always be a small fraction of the population who have the necessary critical thinking skills and the gravitas to adopt a regimen of study and discipline in order to function as occultists and magicians.

What I am trying to say is that things weren’t rosy or golden during the period from the 1960's through the 1990's as far as magic and occultism were concerned. I should know this simple fact because I started my occult path in the very late 1960's, although I didn’t actually start to do any real occult work until the early 1970's. I know what it was like back then because I lived it. Books were scarce and expensive, there were a lot of “pulpy” pocket books being cheaply printed that packaged misinformation along with a lot of plagiarized material from other sources. The only version of Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy that was available in English was the late 18th century re-printed to death plagiarism entitled “The Magus,” which, as it turned out, was a very poor copy of the original. 

There were a few grimoires that were available (Key of Solomon, Lemegaton and Abramelin), some early renditions of the Book of Shadows (Lady Sheba’s “Book of Shadows”), and some obscure publications of books written by Regardie, Butler, Knight and Gray along with some republished Crowley, Mathers and Levi. The double hard-cover edition of the Golden Dawn was quite expensive for many to purchase and own, and other materials, such as swords, daggers and church incense were hard to find.

Occult bookstores were rare and only existed in some large urban cities, and it wasn’t unusual to either travel to these distant places to buy supplies or take a chance on some cheap mail-order catalog. Teachers and knowledgeable individuals were also rare and usually lived in either the West or East Coast, or in the UK (which was far from where I lived). We would write long letters to those authors who were still alive and beg them to reveal some of their experience and unpublished knowledge. It was a time when there were very few local organizations, teachers, or even materials. Most of the available books had very little information about how to actually organize, develop and practice ritual or ceremonial magick. It was a time where many had to experiment, almost extemporaneously as it were, and most of the magicians I have known from that period failed more often than succeeded. Those who lived near a functioning occult lodge or coven and gained admission were the very lucky few. The rest of us had to persevere with very limited knowledge, experience and guidance. Many of us were self-made magicians and occultists because we had no other choice.

Most of the pulpy occult books from that time have thankfully passed into oblivion, but there were quite a few of them. (I know, because I certainly bought quite a number of them, and later tossed them aside.) I can also remember buying cheap paper bound reprints of various occult articles, the chapters from some book no longer available, or one of Crowley’s articles taken from the Equinox, a collection of books which was also prohibitively expensive when it was republished by Weiser in 1971. Those of us who were keen on occultism and magic made do with what we could find or afford, and from this sparse collection attempted to cobble together some kind of magical system that worked. There was a lot of experimentation going on at that time, but more people probably gave up and left the so-called movement than stayed on.

By the 1980's another group of people had appeared on the scene as the New Age became popular and fashionable. There was more information and material available than previously; but once again there was a lot of junk being published and a lot of people were only marginally interested in really doing the work and adopting a discipline. People got involved for a while, then they got frustrated or bored because the discipline of magic and the occult requires a persistent regimen, many years of practice and lots of experimentation, and they dropped out, too.

Over the decades I have seen the public get interested in magic and the occult, become superficially involved for a while and then drift off to do something else. The next “shiny” thing became all of the rage, but I, and a few others, were steadfast in our study, work and practice. We were a small minority then and we are still a small minority today. Nothing has really changed in regards to the number of people who seriously study and practice these disciplines. This is true in other areas of religious or mystical practices as well. Mass culture is diffident, fickle, constantly changing, superficial, and driven by urban myth and motivational reasoning. This hasn’t changed much in the decades since the 1960's, and it probably was also true in earlier periods of the modern epoch. Public occultism of any depth or seriousness has never really existed, and so to say that it is in decline is a ridiculous assessment. How can something decline that was never really a factor in the slow, steady development of these arcane subjects?

For me, ironically, the current times are a kind of golden age for occultism and magic. I make this bold statement simply from the standpoint of a ritual magician who has been studying and practicing for over 40 years. When I started out there was a paucity of material to study and examine, now there is a plethora, although as always, much of it is worthless to me. My studies have matured and branched out over the decades. I seldom read occult books these days, that is true, but my reason is that there is so much good academic material recently written about the history of magic and how it was practiced in the middle ages and the early renaissance. The historical study of magic is only a recent phenomenon, but it has made many obscure and unknown grimoires and other source material available that didn’t exist back in the 1970's and 1980's.

There is so much excellent written material out there that I don’t have time to read it all, and much of it is becoming freely available on the internet. I can’t tell how you important the internet has become to my studies and research. It saves me a lot of time from having to request books from interlibrary loan or to travel to university libraries in order to perform my research. This is what the advent of the information age is doing to all of the intellectual disciplines. Thinking about it makes me excited and takes my breath away. I only wish that I had another fifty or sixty years to see where this new wave takes our modern world.

Therefore, from my perspective, there is more quality information today about magic and occultism than at any previous time. It is also available on the internet, and this allows me to retrieve information without having to leave my house. If anything, I believe that things are getting progressively better for me and all of the other serious students and practitioners, and those who are too young to realize what an ordeal it was to get quality information in the past have no idea how lucky they are. What is still required are critical thinking skills, the ability to manage one’s time and resources, and the discipline to maintain some kind of on-going practice at all times.

Still, there are things in this information age that seems to perpetuate the ignorance, intolerance and bad manners that have also become a hall-mark of our age. Some of these points are made by Mr. Farrell in his article, so I don’t need to list them here. Perhaps one of the biggest changes that I have seen in the public arena is the erosion of any kind of formality, social rules or decorum. We live in a world of a callow disregard for authority, seniority, class, personal dignity and privacy. This was a phenomenon that started in the 1960's and has only grown stronger over the decades since. I learned the slogan “trust no one, question everything” back when I was a teenager, and it still resonates today, perhaps even more so. 

Therefore, anyone who has achieved any kind of position of respect or has seniority due to a long period of achievement can expect to receive little or no respect in this world. It is a time of the 24 hour news cycle where there are few heroes, and where everyone, high and low, is reduced to the common denominator. No matter what you have achieved or think is your due in terms of public regard, you can almost forget about getting any credit from anyone. People are often callow, self-absorbed, and they speak and behave without compassion or tolerance for other points of view. But none of this is something new or different than the way things have been since the last thirty years. Our heroes have been shown to be hollow and fake, and those who have espoused public piety and righteousness have been shown to be liars, hypocrites and shameless self-promoters. All of this has slowly infected western culture and it is now the rule of thumb. Americans seem to be the worst offenders, but then we tend to speak our minds without much thought or reflection.

What Mr. Farrell is complaining bitterly about in his blog article is nothing more than what has been occurring for decades in our public lives. Social media allows these excesses to be greatly amplified, giving cover to cowards and passive aggressive sociopaths who would be too frightened to express their misguided and obnoxious ideas, criticisms and declarations in a real public setting. The video screen along with a kind of comfortable anonymity and depersonalization gives such individuals the cover to behave in a truly despicable and outrageous manner. If someone were to behave this way in a public setting they would likely get the crap beat out of them, or at the very least, forcibly removed or evicted. Public media is a pretty rough place where all sorts of evils are perpetrated every moment of every day; but there are a lot of good things that happen, too. We just tend to hear about all of the bad things.

However, perhaps the most telling point in Mr. Farrell’s article is where he complains that experienced and knowledgeable teachers and occult leaders should be comfortably supported by their students and members of their organizations. This is the crux of his whining rant, that people don’t give him the respect that he feels is due isn’t so bad as the fact that he has to beg and borrow to function as a teacher. Oh my, the hardship of it all! It means that Nick has to have a career that pays his livelihood instead of being able to rely on the consistent generosity of his students. Here’s the quote, and in it you can hear the world’s smallest violin accompanying this pathetic, sobbing declaration.     

 “Teachers have a choice they either dumb down their message until they are just teaching New Age morons, or “satanise” [sic] the message so you are talking to gothic morons who want to scare their parents. Normally the teachers just never teach anyone. Orders find it difficult to get a enough money for candles and are meeting in people’s houses. Those who can meet a rent bill usually have large numbers who pay a tiny amount. Most of them rely on the cash and work of the leaders. ”   

It would seem to me that Mr. Farrell has created a new word, and it is “satanize.” He didn’t bother to start it with a capital “S” so I thought at first that the word was “sanitize,” but I digress. 

Still, of all of the ten points that Nick has made, and they all represent minor pitfalls for anyone who is seriously practicing their occultism or magic, this one caught my attention. What planet does Mr. Farrell live on? Has it not always been the responsibility of an occultist or magician to engage with the world in order to make his or her living? Doesn’t that represent, in a word, that such an individual has enough personal power to be able to fully function in the world, perhaps even contributing something remarkable in however a significant or humble manner? 

As for teaching others, that is a special calling that requires the would-be teacher to expect to serve at his or her own expense the public and inspiring that one or two students out of those whom they teach into becoming true seekers themselves. It is a thankless and unrewarding job, and those who pursue it with a passion and an unflagging selfless devotion deserve a great deal of credit and regard, even though they will usually seldom see the overall benefits of their work.

Conversely, those teachers who engage in it expecting to be financially rewarded or by receiving the accolades of their students and peers should consider doing something else. Because they won’t ever become rich or famous teaching occultism and magic unless they become supreme hucksters like Koetting, Zink or Griffin. Even then, it isn’t guaranteed that they will be successful, but to promote one’s tradition and persona like Donald Trump is probably the only way to make occultism and magic really pay. While it is commendable that Mr. Farrell doesn’t seem so inclined (yet) to sell himself in such a shameless, grandiose and ridiculous manner, it is disheartening when he appears to add to the overall disinformation that is already out there on the internet by saying something as meaningless as “Public Occultism is dead.”

Managing an occult and magical discipline is really difficult in the post-modern world. There are really wonderful things going on at the same time that there all kinds of distractions, sources of misinformation, urban myth treated as the gospel truth, and a large population of self-absorbed and callous so-called students who are relentlessly searching but never finding satisfaction. It is sometimes a cacophony of distracting noise, and I often find myself avoiding not only the public arena but also social media. If I want to do the real work I can’t be distracted or otherwise sidelined, so I don’t respond to every request via chat or email, and sometimes I can go days without looking at my Facebook account. That is the price we pay for living in the information age, but I prefer it to what I had to do decades ago when resources were scarce and libraries were the hallowed repositories of whatever information might be available for arcane and obscure subject areas.  

Frater Barrabbas

New Rules #3: Whatever Nick Farrell says online is probably not only wrong, but the opposite is true. There might be a small kernel of truth in what he says, but who has the time to find it? It is better to get your information from reliable sources, like tabloids such as the Enquirer, the Star, the Globe, or the Sun. At least then you know that you are getting entertaining disinformation instead of hypocrisy or a pretension of seriousness and fact.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gardnerian Snark Exposed

Snarky the Snark

Let me start by saying that I am a Witch initiated in the Alexandria tradition. I belong to a group of traditions that have received their foundational praxis from Old Gerry himself, whether through a direct lineage or one that is somewhat circuitous, but no less valid. There are a few fractious sectarians and traditionalists out in the public who think that their particular lineage is better than all of the rest, and sometimes the perpetrators of that conceit just happen to be Gardnerians. For some reason being a member of the BTW brings with it a certain amount of obnoxious conceit, and I have never liked nor agreed with that attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the BTW Witches that I have met are neither conceited nor sectarian in their approach to other Witches or the public at large. Many of these Witches are Gardnerians, and I personally know quite a number of them. However, I have always felt that we are Witches first and foremost, and how we got there is not particularly important.

It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anyone who was self-initiated, solitary or completely outside of the BTW venue. There are many paths in the greater religious tradition of Witchcraft, and if adherents remain faithful to their own path over a number of years and seek to learn and experience everything within their power to learn and experience, then I have no problem with them calling themselves Witches. They are sisters and brothers to me because they have practiced Witchcraft long enough so that it isn’t just a superficial fad or a kick.

In my opinion, all followers of this path have to undergo a period of solid practical engagement in order to really consider themselves to be credibly and reliably a Witch. Still, everyone has to start somewhere, and even when there is a local coven of witches open to new members that you might be able to join there is no guarantee that such an affiliation will automatically make you a Witch. The only verifiable way to be a Witch is to practice that faith and craft for a number of years, especially outside of the covenstead if you happen to belong to one. It takes time and a lot of effort to become a Witch, but then so do a lot of other things in life.

What gets under my skin are those who think that their tradition is superior, and that other Witches from other paths and traditions are considered to be just second-class Witches or worse. That kind of “snark” deserves a good kick in the teeth from those who are faithfully practicing their craft whatever their tradition, experiential duration or the nature of their path. I have decided to particularly punt the choppers of one rather blatant and obnoxious writer of an article that recently appeared on the “Gardnerians” blog. You can find that article here. Make certain that you look over the comments as well.

The title of this article is “Belief Does Not Equal Initiation,” which I think is actually quite an accurate statement. However, an initiation is not necessarily one that is given to a member of a coven by the covenstead. There is such a thing as “transformative initiation” that I hold to be more authentic and powerful. So, as I stated previously, it takes time to learn to be a Witch, and in fact, if one takes the approach of learning everything (even if it is at first from books) and then experiencing everything possible, it is very likely that such an ardent student will experience a personal transformative initiation, whether that occurs through the endowment from authorized coven leaders or whether it happens as a part of one’s personal and individual path. What we can’t do is to judge others who are not part of our various traditions by the same measure that we would judge ourselves or our lineage members.

Self-initiation, if it is accompanied at some point by a transformative initiation, is more legitimate (in my opinion) than if someone receives an initiation that has no more dramatic effect than any other mundane social encounter. Believe me when I say that I have met a few individuals with impressive initiatory pedigrees who have had all of the spiritual depth, sensitivity and magical ability of a common potato. An impressive lineage does not equal a powerful and capable Witch, in fact it sometime almost seems to be the opposite. So, belief by itself may not make you a Witch, but then again neither does a supposed proper initiation performed by an experienced coven. It’s really up to the individual to make any kind of initiation a profound and permanent change.

My experience over the decades has shown me that the first initiation degree of my Witchcraft tradition is quite provisional, and that a number of first degree initiates decide at some point to quit their faith, some sooner and some, later. Those who have a real fire in their belly progress to the next degree and take upon themselves a true dedication for the Craft. However, I have known second and even third degree Witches who quit practicing or engaging in their faith after several years. Perhaps the real test is if someone is still practicing after 20 years or more from the time of their initiation. For some reason, individuals who are self-initiated or who are not part of the standard BTW three initiation type tradition seem to have more solidity and steadfastness, perhaps because nothing is given to them and everything they possess was achieved through consistent study and practice.

This brings me back to the snarky article in the Gardnerians blog. I don’t know who wrote this screed or how much experience or knowledge they have, but from the tone and informative content of the article I will have to say that the individual is not particularly knowledgeable about their subject, despite the fact that he or she is an initiate. One the earliest quotes from this article, which caused me to nearly spew my coffee on the video screen, was this particularly juicy statement.

The sad thing is that these are usually the same people that don’t know that there is one Book of Shadows that is used in Wicca (in forms that vary slightly from coven to coven, dependent on whether you’re a Gardnerian or a Gardnerian-lite, aka Alexandrian, and where you are).

The comment “one Book of Shadows” has the tone and meaning that it is a holy book where there can only be one, true and authorized version. We have to ask ourselves, is this somehow the “King James” version of the Book of Shadows? Oddly, I get the feeling that the Book of Shadows is being passed off as “sacred writ” when it is only a repository of rituals. Witches are not people of the book! We have no sacred written texts. The mysteries of life and death experienced through nature are our sacred works. The authentic Book of Shadows of the BTW tradition is a spell book that is quite brief, rudimentary, and it is missing quite a lot of information that one would ordinarily find in a book representing the whole praxis of a tradition. Also, it is a fact that the Book of Shadows varies considerably from tradition to tradition (or even from covenstead to convenstead) particularly since it often contains the crib notes, ritual variations and other ancillary rites that a long-practicing coven would need in order to function.

I also found the comment that the Alexandrian tradition of Witchcraft is “Gardnerian Lite” to be quite ridiculous. It’s an obvious sectarian insult that deserves to be called out as such by anyone who happens not to be a Gardnerian. Since many Gardnerians these days seem to be a lot less inclined to work hard-core forms of ritual magick (such as spirit evocations), I might be so bold as to call the Gardnerian tradition “Alexandrian-lite,” but to do so would be just as foolishly inaccurate. If someone is fully engaged with Witchcraft, whatever their tradition, they are not a lightweight compared to anyone else, even if they don't have a so-called prestigious lineage and pedigree.

So, I think that my readers will recognize the droll snarky snark for what it is, and be able to dismiss what this author has said as sectarian, inflammatory and also quite wrong. I have already made my point that being a Gardnerian, Alexandrian, or some other vaunted traditionalist doesn’t automatically confer on one any kind of authenticity.

At the end of this article, the author of this screed declares their final rant against the multitude of non-traditional, solitary and self-initiated (or unwashed non-Gardnerian) Witches, attempting to put them in their place, somewhere far below the august elite of properly prepared and solidly initiated BTW Witches. You can see the quote chosen here, including the all-capital letters that emphasize the shouted message to all who might deem to read it. Unfortunately, that shouted exclamation couldn’t be more wrong!

Even though spellwork and magic are all about visualization and fiercely reinforcing your visualization with energy and intent [which, I might add, is very narrow definition of magic], THERE IS NO SPELL THAT MAGICALLY INITIATES YOU ALL BY YOURSELF IN YOUR HEAD OR YOUR MOM’S BASEMENT WHILE EVERYONE ELSE IS AT CHURCH. To be initiated, you must be put through the Wiccan initiation rite present in the Book of Shadows.” 

What constituted a Witch in antiquity was that she had in her possession a familiar spirit. The rule of thumb was that if a Witch didn’t have a familiar spirit then they probably weren’t much of a Witch. Books from antiquity (such as the PGM) abound with various rituals and techniques to acquire a familiar spirit, which would basically represent the fact that indeed Witches could be made by their own hand employing the art of magic. I believe that this is even more true in the post-modern era. A person, whether by accident or by deliberation, can trigger within themselves a transformative initiation, and that will make them an initiated Witch, if that is their spiritual and magical path. It also doesn’t matter where this event occurs, and yes, it could even occur in someone’s basement. 

To be an initiate doesn’t mean that you have to be initiated by a coven using the one and true Book of Shadows’ rite of initiation. So, the author of this article just “jumped the shark” to show us that he or she really doesn’t understand what the word “initiation” means or that the power of magic alone can confer an initiation on someone employing it. This is rather surprising to me because of the supposed face of Gardnerian legitimacy that the author presents to the public.

It is my hope that this Gardnerian author gets a good scourging and a passionate biting lecture by his or her elder. What we don’t need in our diverse community is someone representing a faction of Witchcraft and then spouting falsehoods and sanctimonious venom at the other traditions. It isn’t cute, comical nor even informed. It is just another form of bigotry, which is something that we should have a lot less of, particularly from our own co-religionists.

Frater Barrabbas

New Rule #2: If you are going to rant at the public about a particular issue then try to use proper spelling, punctuation, syntax and avoid using all-caps. It’s also a good idea to be certain that what you are ranting about is unequivocally true. Nothing says “stupid” so profoundly as saying something dumb or misspelled while writing it in all-caps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thelema, Magic, Witchcraft and Crowley

I decided to write this article up while I am recovering from contracting Lyme’s disease. Last month my lady got it, and late this month I have been the recipient. It’s been a summer of sickness interfering with nearly everything we wanted to do, but at least there are medical solutions and little possibility of permanent damage. Even so, exerting myself only marginally is quickly tiring, but I just wanted to post my opinions about the topics of Thelema, Magic, Witchcraft and Aleister Crowley. All of these topics fit together, particularly since they have been discussed on Face Book by various pundits and opinionators. Some of these opinions are quite off-base, so I felt I should publish some of my own perspectives responding to what I think are erroneous beliefs.

One of the first discussions that I wanted to tackle, and that has been promoted by various individuals, is that Aleister Crowley, far from being the be-all and end-all of the 20th century WMT (Wester Magical Tradition) was really a hack and not much of magician at all. It seems that it is now quite popular and fashionable to trash the founders of the various occult and magical traditions and thereby diminish their contributions to our present magical knowledge. If you want to get some attention from other internet occultists, just trash-talk one of their founders. It will get you lots of attention, oddly both supportive and also quite hostile. It also stirs up people’s emotions and sets up yet another controversy that is discussed endlessly to death - sometimes for months on end. When I see these kinds of inflammatory pronouncements, it leaves little doubt in my mind that some people have far too much time on their hands.

Dismissing occult and magical founders is a popular pastime, but it’s also where some folks get to rewrite history and enter into a world divorced from reality. Trash-talking founders is the equivalent of spreading misinformation about them, and for the authors of such obnoxious opinions a not-so obvious personal edification. The fact is that Crowley wrote quite a number of books in the first half of the twentieth century that are still being read, studied and used today. Many of these books are considered classics, even though they were written nearly 100 years ago.

Aleister Crowley was a controversial individual when he was alive, but to this day I feel that few biographers have ever really captured what the man was really like. Everyone who had known him (and either loved or hated him) “painted” a different picture of this man, and some of these descriptions were completely different or contradictory. He was a complex man who had many virtues and also many failings. Some have condemned him for his immorality, others have pointed to the fact that he died a drug addict. His followers have praised him as the prophet of the New Aeon and the greatest magician of all time. I am less sanguine about Crowley, but I do believe that he deserves a lot of credit for the current and on-going occult and magical revival.

It is my belief and opinion that Crowley is solely responsible for bringing the practice and study of magic from the 19th century into the 20th, which was no small feat. He also started a trend that led to the creation of the modern pagan religious revival. Those who would denounce his accomplishments should look to their own meager legacy and potential impotence. If I were able to at least produce a quarter of his literary output and have some impact on magicians in the next 100 years I think that I would consider myself quite accomplished. I will likely leave this world without achieving even that modest level of accomplishment.

Even though Crowley left behind a large and deep legacy of his occult and magical writings, his work stands as incomplete and lacking in certain areas. Of course, this is true of all founders, and it is up to those who follow afterwards to pick up this lore and expand it so that it becomes comprehensive and complete. The fact that this has not happened yet is only because it has taken many individuals decades to fully understand and master the legacy that he left behind. I suspect in time that many individuals will begin to write up the fruits of their years of study (if they haven’t already) and incrementally expand the knowledge and practice of Thelemic magic until it is a more thorough and complete system.

However, many of the Thelemites that I have personally met seem to have a grasp and practical knowledge of the entire spectrum of both thaumaturgy (low magic) and theurgy (high magic). Compared to many individuals that I have met or read about working other traditions, it would seem that Thelemites are more knowledgeable and capable regarding the arts of magic and the occult than anyone else. This is, of course, my opinion, but I think that Thelema and the OTO/AA have a better record of teaching individuals how to be real and functioning magicians than any other organization. Keep in mind that the teaching part is what naturally happens in an OTO lodge and is not a part of any official regimen. The AA, however, is a tradition that specifically trains individuals to be magicians. I have compared it to getting a PhD in practical and theoretic magic.

This brings me to the next controversy, and that is the criticism that Thelemites in general have to branch out and acquire other magical techniques from other sources (such as Hoodoo, the old grimoires and the PGM) in order to perform thaumaturgy or low magic. I think that I have touched on this topic in the previous paragraphs, but it still seems like an innocent observation that has some pretty damning ramifications. I guess the complaint is that Thelemic magic is somehow hollow, incomplete and missing the whole standard mechanisms for making magical changes in the material world and thus changing the outcome of one’s fortunes. I don’t know where this argument started, but it is specious and completely wrong.

I happen to know plenty of Thelemic magicians who can work magic on all levels, both thaumaturgy and theurgy without having to pillage from other sources. Crowley’s descriptions of Golden Dawn magic are probably the most cogent and practical explanations available, even in the present times. His writings on Enochian magic were less thorough, but in combination with them and the actual Dee diaries, a number of Thelemites have produced a comprehensive system of Enochian magic that is completely usable. Essentially, any magical system that has the mechanisms for Elemental, Planetary and Zodiacal magic should be able to perform operations that can impact the material plane.

If Thelemites have also been culling other forms of magic, such as the PGM, the old grimoires and other ethnic or cultural sources (Hoodoo, Voudoun, Palo, Tibetan, Hindu, Chinese-Taoist, etc.) it is because they are fascinated and engaged with all things magical. A truly gifted magician will leave no stones unturned in order to fully master the Art of Magic, and that is my interpretation of what they are doing. To promote an interpretation that discredits Thelemic magic because its members don’t remain within their own supposed traditional boundaries is patently ridiculous. All of the various systems of magic in use today have been borrowed, appropriated and modified from other systems of magic at some point in time. Some have kept the traditional exponents pure (as far as they know), some have invented wholly new ways and techniques, while others have pulled various rites and workings from various traditions together to build hybrid systems relevant to the individual, locale and the times. All of the these approaches are legitimate because they all work and achieve the desired results. So, I think that I have pretty much debunked that spurious opinion and showed that it is misinformed at best, and even malicious at its worst.

Now we come to the final point of this article and that is the relationship between Thelema and British Traditional Witchcraft. Some have persisted in declaring the urban myth that somehow Crowley wrote the Book of Shadows and was therefore, the author and godfather of Modern Witchcraft. This has been shown time and again to be completely false. While it is true that Gerald B. Gardner visited Crowley twice some months before his death, and he might have been given the rites and the permission to start up an OTO lodge, there wasn’t any further collaboration between them.

I also doubt that Crowley gave Gardner any rituals or an OTO charter, particularly since a few members of the OTO have shown that the charter owned and displayed by Gardner was likely a fake. Considering the terrible spelling and grammar errors in Gardner’s original work and those amplified in the Book of Shadows, I greatly doubt that Crowley had any hand in writing the rituals used by Gardnerian Witches. The two initiatory ordeals were obviously based loosely on the Masonic Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft initiations. I know this to be true because I did an in-depth analysis comparing these initiatory rites. Gardner needed prototypes upon which to develop his own Witchcraft initiations, and these two rites were perfect. If Gardner would have had copies of the OTO initiations in his possession he would have likely used them as templates instead.

The Great Rite, however, was based on the Thelemic Gnostic Mass, and in fact, Gardner rather shamelessly plagiarized the section where the priest adores and kisses the priestess residing on the altar. Later renditions of Gardnerian rites in the Book of Shadows tended to remove the obvious references to Crowley’s lore, but some of the original lore was still kept around for the sake of posterity. We can look at this lore today and see where it originally came from.Gardner had access to some of Crowley's writings, and he likely had a copy of the Gnostic Mass in his collection of papers at some time.

So, while the writings and lore published by Aleister Crowley had a powerful impact on Gardner, and that he sought to appropriate some of it for his own rituals, doesn’t mean that he either had in his possession the initiatory lore of the OTO or that somehow Crowley wrote up the rituals used in the Book of Shadows. I believe that had Crowley wrote up the lore for Gardnerian Witchcraft it would have been far more elegant and lyrical than it is today. (Certainly the spelling, vocabulary and grammar would have been impeccable.) What lyricism can be found in some of the lore of Modern Witchcraft was added a bit later by Doreen Valiente. This is just another case of someone being strongly influenced by Crowley’s published writings and seeking to use them in emulating their own magical and pagan perspectives. I think that many of us have done this at some point in our magical and occult careers.

One other point to consider is that Witchcraft magic is incompatible with Thelemic or Golden Dawn magic, even though Gardner appropriated the GD Opening by Watchtower rite to fashion his own circle consecration rite. Because he mixed antique pagan ideas about sacred space with the concise mechanism for opening a GD temple for magic, he produced a hybrid system that has a completely different perspective. Some GD magicians have complained that the invoking pentagrams in the circle consecration rite are performed incorrectly at the watchtowers and that the whole thing should collapse and be rendered useless because of the flaws in its construction. Of course, as in many cases the intent of the magician can trump a poor design, so even the Wiccan circle consecration rite works quite well although it is not as elegantly constructed or written as the GD version.

The purpose and function of these two rites are different enough that the rules of one doesn’t apply to the other, which is something that confounds a lot of the dialog between magicians and witches about magic today. Needless to say, if Crowley had written this ritual it would have been a lot more like the GD version, and the purposes for its use would have been analogous to the rite practiced by them. They are quite different, and that makes Witchcraft ritual magic and GD/Thelemic ceremonial magic quite distinct, at least in my opinion.

Frater Barrabbas 

New Rules #1: If you are going to advertise that you can teach and initiate magicians so that they may be elevated to an Ipsissimus (the highest degree possible: 10 = 1) then learn how to spell that word before you post the advertisement. Not being able to spell this word certainly doesn’t give your potential students (or anyone else) the confidence that you know what you are talking about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More Thoughts About Evocation and the Reality of Spirits

Recently, someone had a problem with my statement that encounters with spirits occurs in the imagination and can emerge into fantasies that make them meaningful and powerful. What struck them was when I used the terms “imagination” and “fantasy” as opposed using the word “real.” I think that there is some confusion when I use these terms in a magical context that causes others, particularly those who are not very adept at ritual or ceremonial magick, some confusion. This is because I am in no way devaluing these experiences by saying that they “appear” and “manifest” to our conscious senses through the artifice of our imaginations. What I am referring to here is the magical imagination, which is quite different although analogous to the imagination that all people employ.

The issue is that some folks think that I am saying that these spirits, whether earth spirits, angels, demons, or even deities, aren’t real. They are imaginary somehow because I have said that they are fully perceptible through the imagination. That means that I must believe that spirits aren’t real, and that relationships with them are not as fulfilling or meaningful as relationships with people. Of course this is not at all what I believe, nor is it what I have said in my various articles. Therefore, allow me to once again define what I think is a spirit.

Experiences of spirits are subjective experiences. They can only be objective to the point where other individuals can encounter them in the same context, which is typically but not always some kind of magical ritual or other kind of mind altering phenomenon. Even when the evocation of spirits are performed with a group of magicians, each one experiences something somewhat different. In some cases the experiences can be profoundly different, in other cases they are quite similar. Still, each person experiences the phenomena of spirits in a unique and different way. Such experiences are always subjective because they can’t be isolated from human experience and subjected to scientific proof or scrutiny. They remain in the anecdotal domain of subjective experiences. I have also found that an individual who is trained or naturally sensitive can have a sensory experience with a spirit under certain and specific conditions. Because of the consistency of these experiences and the fact that individuals can and do have encounters with spirits, we can at least state that such encounters are real. This is to say that from a subjective perspective such experiences are valid and represent a kind of objective reality.

However, the nature of spirits is that they are typically unseeable and unnoticeable until some kind of shift of consciousness occurs in a human being that allows them to be perceived. That perception, though, varies considerably due to the fact that individuals who do encounter them have certain capabilities to perceive spirits. Some individuals can see and observe spirits under certain conditions, while others can hear them and still others can physically sense them. Some individuals who are highly trained or naturally visually sensitive can completely observe, hear and sense spirits. 

Still, there is the problem that needs to be answered and that is whether spirits occupy space, have a material mass and exist in some kind of parallel world. My experience has shown me that the full realization of spirits is very rare for untrained individuals, and that in most cases the phenomenon of spiritual encounters is often subtle and barely perceptible. Only under certain conditions does a spirit seem to have all of the qualities of form and material mass, but such manifestations have never been objectively recorded by such unbiased means as a video camera. There are plenty of fake or mistaken apparitions caught on camera, but there have been no verifiable captured images of spirits. Why is this so? It’s because the very subtle nature of spirits can only become fully realized by a human observer when that user employs his or her imagination in a very focused and disciplined manner. This method of wielding the imagination in a disciplined and focused manner is what I call the magical imagination. It also indicates that spirits do not independently possess a material body that contains mass and location in space, or at least not in any way that has been objectively observed or measured by science.

Someone who has an accidental encounter with a spirit could be in a very unique state of consciousness that allows for a full realization of this spirit. This is an incidental occurrence, and it might also be considered abnormal for someone who is neither trained nor actively sensitive. For a magician (or a psychic), the cultivation of exalted states of consciousness is a requirement to consistently encounter spirits and even enter into their domain. This is because the phenomenon of spirit encounters is not a physical one, but one that is perceived through a shift in consciousness.

Spirits are not merely mental constructs or a product of our chaotic imaginings, they have a kind of objective reality in a subjective manner, and they also have a symbolic and archetypal component to their being. When asked if spirits are objectively real (like material objects), I will answer that spirits are both within our minds and also outside of us. They have a reality in our world of consciousness as disembodied beings wholly immersed and resident in that field. Some occultists have said that spirits (as well as magic) are all in our minds, except that our minds are far greater and vaster than we could possibly imagine. Perhaps this is a reference to the world of consciousness where individual points and collective clusters exist, as well as the union of all being that functions as the ultimate foundation and background. There is much that we don’t know about regarding consciousness, and I think that this is still one of the last great mysteries left for humanity to plumb. 

This brings up the next point of interest, and that is that spirits exist in a domain that is concurrent but distinct from our own domain. We live in a world that is filled with spirits of every different kind, but we are seldom aware of them because it requires an altered state of consciousness and a disciplined focused perception to even perceive them in a subtle and ephemeral manner. This parallel world is called the domain of spirit, and while it could be said that it occupies the same world that we exist in, we are only aware of it in rare circumstances. Those who can perceive this world readily and in a controlled manner have mastered their ability to sense the different streams of consciousness that are invisible to most people; those who can see this world without any self-control are judged to be insane by society. This is the subtle but distinct difference between magicians and madmen. A magician sees this world and perceives spirits in a controlled manner and at a set time, where otherwise he or she would not sense them.

Magicians apply the environmental stimuli of lamp or candle light, incense, consecrated robes, tools and specialized occultic regalia, various evocations employing foreign and barbarous languages, strange and exotic rituals, and hours or even days of preparation. Yet the one tool that is essential for a successful conjuring is the magical imagination and the foundational state of consciousness established by meditation and trance. If spirits were so easily perceived and encountered then why would a magician have to go to such lengths to summon and make them appear on command? It is because we live in a very mundane material world typically devoid of magic, miracles and spiritual encounters. We can break through the barriers of that world through a disciplined approach at mind control and the engagement of the magical imagination. The psychological power of possibility, the veritable “what if” has the potency to remake the world through the artifice of the empowered and unleashed magical imagination.

While it is true that we live in a world that is bounded by the limitations of physics and natural law, our minds are not so bounded, particularly when higher states of consciousness are achieved. Through inspiration, and particularly through ecstasy, we are able to breakthrough into the domain of magic, spirit, deity, myth and infinite possibility. This is because spirits and deities don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a colorful and emotionally empowered world that has a context of mythic and symbolic meaning. Where everything is connected together into a singularity of union - the One. Only because everything is connected together into a tight web of meaningful associations and thereby imbued with spirit is magic even a possibility. In the cold material and autonomous universe without life and consciousness, there can be no magic and no possible connectivity. Such a world is grey, flat, undifferentiated, disassociated and lifeless - but introduce life and consciousness into that world and everything profoundly changes.

In the Old Testament book of Genesis, it is said that Yahweh created Adam so that he might give all the things that God created a name - to fashion a meaningful semantic web that untied all things together. He thus created Adam to add consciousness to the universe, and thus bring the world to life through magic, myth, spirit, and the power of the word. Adam was not content to just passively engage with this world - he hungered for self-knowledge, in other words, to name and know himself. The original sin was therefore not really a sin, it was the beginning of the divinization of humanity that continues to this day. This is because the ultimate aim of self-knowledge is to know that within each human being is a Deity, the Atman of the Hindus. To fully realize that powerful Deity within is to become fully and consciously enlightened in life - to become like a God, and to defeat mortality when death finally takes the body but not the conscious deity within.

Therefore, the key to any kind of spiritual encounter is to know the deity within one’s self, since it functions as the Eye of Spirit that allows human beings to be fully aware of the spiritual domain and all that is within it. Attaining this level of enlightenment is certainly one of the ways that a magician could master the domain of spirit and not require any of the tropes or external mechanisms to summon a spirit or encounter one. He or she would live in both the material world and the spiritual domain simultaneously - there would no longer be any distinction. That, in my opinion, is the ultimate objective of the ritual magician. A magician pursues this objective so that he or she will become all-magic and fully conscious as a god-mind.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sexual Fantasy, Magic and Demonic Sex

One of my most popular blog articles of all time is one that I wrote on the Incubus and the Succubus. For some reason this article has gotten the most attention on the internet compared to any other, despite the fact that I have basically dismissed this kind of encounter as a poor surrogate for the real thing - sex with a human lover. I was bemused by this strange popularity and I couldn’t figure it out, until I found by accident that there is a whole cadre of lefthand path magicians (mostly male and typically young) who are advocating and even boasting about these kinds of encounters. Not being a Christian or a member of the Abrahamic faith (nor an avowed Satanist), I find these kinds of sidelines to be strange artifacts of a previous epoch. Really, if it wasn’t for the fact that we live in the post-modern age I would swear that the middle ages are alive and well.

So it seems that getting your kicks from an incubus or succubus encounter is something of a fad amongst some young LHP magicians, and it is even advocated and hotly advertised by someone with the stature of Eric Koetting. I discovered a rather hyped You-Tube video where Eric expounds on the topic of how to have sex with an incubus or succubus. You can find it here. There are, of course, plenty of other examples out there in the Internet (such as the Goetia Girls et al), but I will leave the gratuitous searching to those who are looking for amusement or titillation. This is a subject that doesn’t particularly interest me, most likely because I have found that “real” sex with a real woman is for me much more profound than engaging in some form of mental (or real) masturbation. I would also have to say that a long-term relationship is much more interesting and rewarding in life than some sweaty, quickie grope, grind and release. I am not against sex, and in fact, I am really quite in favor of any kind of “real” sexual encounter that is legal and based on mutual consent.

Don’t get me wrong, I am also a fan of erotica in its various forms, and in fact, my lady and I engage in the sharing and perusal of such media. However, we see it as stimulating fantasies not to be confused with the reality of human sexual relationships. I would suspect that this kind of reality is foundational to all persuasions and types of legal and natural human interactions. Sexual activity can be a great good, and it is also healthy for people to engage in it and thoroughly enjoy themselves. Sex can also be the means to higher states of consciousness, and there is such a thing as sacred sexuality. Since we all have within us an aspect of Deity, then consensual sex between loving individuals takes part in the union of Deities in sacred emulation of the One. That is how I see and personally define sexuality.

Fantasy, and sexuality in the mind, is an important and powerful component of physical sex, as well as many other creative endeavors, such as magic. It is often said that good sex starts in the mind where is it is empowered and amplified over time before it becomes a reality. Some fantasies, though, should probably remain in the mind and not be pursued in physical reality. I will leave that kind of judgement and discretion to the reader to ponder for themselves.

I do admit that I have had powerful erotic experiences in my magical workings, particularly when I have encountered various aspects and manifestations of the Goddess, to whom I am a spiritual and magical devotee. Most of those kinds of events occurred when I was younger and more sexually vital, but it is something that I have experienced in later times. However, that is an encounter with Deity, and the love relationship between the Goddess and myself is an important and powerful part of my spiritual and magical work. It can be inspiring, thrilling and it can even be terrifying, but throughout, it is a component of Deity that I can only experience through my own particular Godhead, or Atman. It is not a surrogate for a real human relationship, and it is not something that I can even talk about in any detail because it is so intimate and profoundly meaningful to me.

Perhaps that is what Eric and other LHP magicians are talking about when they get into discussing their sexual encounters with spirits. Angels and demons have a mythological history of cavorting with human partners, and there are many other examples in the religions of the world today. Still, without the same degree of reverence and sacralization, I doubt that these experiences are the same as what I have experienced. For me it is the conscious realization of the union of human and deity, occurring as it does through the medium of the higher self, or God/dess Within. I now realize that it is a manifestation of my Atman through which I have had powerful visions of sexual union. It produces in me a kind of exalted spiritual ecstasy. Through these experiences the poetry of Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz and others is powerfully acknowledged and realized. I am exalted by these occurrences, but I must also admit that they happen to me without necessarily being sought or pursued. The spiritual lover that Rumi discusses in his poetry is, of course, God, and it is the profound submission to this love that brings forth spiritual ecstasy and the visionary experiences of the highest states of consciousness.

Having had these kinds of experiences, I still sought for a life partner and life-long love, and I feel lucky and grateful that I found her. Receiving the love of the Goddess is a profound experience, but living in a loving relationship with a woman is a profound fulfillment of that spiritual connection. I believe that this is also true for anyone who is a lover, both on a physical and spiritual level, and their beloved, whether of the opposite or the same gender. Love is love, and the freedom to love is the greatest of all freedoms. Yet true love, especially the love of God, requires the lover to submit to that love in order to be exalted. It is a profound paradox, but it is also a great truth.

What I don’t see happening with the LHP obsession with the incubus or succubus is anything remotely like what I have experienced in magic or in life. I have received comments from readers telling me about their passionate encounters with spirits, demons, angels, or whatever, and yet they don’t seem to be exalted, transformed or even fulfilled by the encounter. It makes me sad to read these comments and emails because what it says to me is that there are some very lonely and desperate individuals out in the world who are seeking love and have only found it in their imaginations. They seem to project that imagination somewhat into the physical world, but it is not reciprocated by a real human lover - it remains a shadow of reality. 

I know what it is like to be desperate for love, and I know what it is like to be hurt and betrayed by false lovers. But I find this kind of encounter with a quasi fantasy spirit to be poor and meager fare for the body and soul. Maybe I don’t understand, that’s always a possibility, but maybe the world is full of a lot of lost souls who can’t find real love in any other manner.

Anyway, I can’t judge such individuals because I am not wired in the same manner. What I do believe is that what they are doing and experiencing is not even meaningful to me. It would be like having a romantic evening with a blow-up doll, and not a particularly good one, either. It is just ego inflating and seems like just a form of mental masturbation. I guess that I have failed the test to become a bad-ass LHP magician because I find this kind of activity to be silly and juvenile. Maybe others see it as cool and spunky, but to me it is empty and vain.

I hope some of the folks who have been avidly reading my article on demonic sex will realize that I think it’s not cool and awesome. It is, in fact, nothing more than some moronic juvenile activity that allows those who pursue it an excuse for seeking and obtaining a real relationship with a human being. I rest my case.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Another Look at the Purpose of Magic

[I took a sabbatical from writing over the last couple of months, and then I thought that I should at least write something on a semi regular basis so that folks don’t forget who I am or what I have to offer the erstwhile student of ritual magick. So, I decided that short articles are better than no articles, and I will try to write short articles on a more frequent basis. We’ll see how that plays out in the weeks and months to come.]

I have written on this topic previously, but it is something that I should discuss again because I often hear someone saying that they have achieved everything that they need from their magical system and there is no need to pursue anything further. This, of course, is referring to magical-based material acquisition or at the very least, control over (most) occurrences of one’s destiny. It is a form of self-empowerment that can deceptively put someone into a comfortable niche and then keep them from aspiring or gaining any new perspectives.

Whether magicians use forms of simple or complex elemental magic, planetary and zodiacal magic, invoking and evoking spirits or performing various forms of thaumaturgy (or a combination of all of these forms), he or she ultimately comes to that great stumbling block of complacency and inertia called comfortable self-empowerment. The logic behind this complacency is that when something works well and consistently then why change it?

When magicians strive to become proficient and they have the tenacity and endurance to over-come failure through a period of years, to research and analyze that failure and to start over, and do this cyclic process many times over, they will eventually develop a magical system and methodology that will gain for them some modicum of success. Ah, there’s nothing more dangerous and problematic as becoming a successful magician. Let me explain why I think that this is so.

After all, life is something of a gamble, and the only thing that one can say about it for certain is that good fortune and bad fortune are part of the process. Like death itself, the joys, sorrows, and yes, even the boredom, are all a part of life whether one works magic or not. If you are experiencing a long period of material and psychic stability, and you feel like you are in control of the various capricious elements of fate, then you are likely due for some challenges or even some misfortune. Thinking this way is not pessimism, it is just a matter of odds, of course. Yet truly, if you live in a stable and dull part of the world then it will be more likely that you will lead a stable (and dull) life. Living in an unstable part of world can increase the odds for adventure and excitement, but also misfortune for nearly everyone, even those practicing magick. Instability can be caused by natural phenomena or the hazards of man-made conflicts and destruction. Nowhere on the planet is there a place that is indefinitely immune to either human or natural causes of instability.

So, if you have achieved magical competence and you feel empowered and it seems like you are in control of your life then you might also be succumbing to hubris, complacency, inertia and even a bit of self-delusion. Why stop progressing when you have finally become competent, since that should be the opportune place and time when one’s spiritual process could accelerate and thereby bring one to greater ascendency? I guess the real issue is more general and even foundational in regards to the art and practice of magic.   

This brings me to ask the most important question that one could ask regarding magical techniques and systems, and that is, what is the purpose of magic? Why do we work magic, and what do we do after we achieve enough material gain to consider ourselves competent and perhaps, even content with our lot? This question had eluded me for decades because until the last decade or so, magic was often hit or miss. It wasn’t until I had practiced magic for nearly thirty years that I finally felt that I could accomplish whatever I needed to accomplish. My career was in great shape, I had money, the means to acquiring a successful relationship, and I was able to develop and practice any kind of magic that my mind sought to experience. I even wrote up my own versions of the Abramelin ordeal, the Portae Lucis ordeal and numerous others.

I was quite successful at performing invocations and evocations, and I had a system of magic that could be developed to accomplish nearly any goal I could imagine. It just took time and effort to research, develop and to practice, but nothing seemed outside of my ability or scope. However, all during this time, I understood that magic should cause psychic transformations and push the ritual magician into ever greater states of conscious being. My ultimate destination was to experience full union with the One, although it took me many years to understand that concept as clearly as I do today. That was the goal, but the foundation that I spent so much time on was developing one’s internal and personal godhead. Without that most important component, one would attempt to realize the One in vain, or even worse, in complete delusion.

Therefore, over many years, I had determined that the purpose of magic was to achieve union with the One, and that it required me to realize the most intimate aspect of godhead within myself. I was a God, fully and completely (as are everyone else), and I was a seeker attempting to realize that Godhead within myself, and to ultimately understand that it was one and the same with the Union of All Being, which I call the One. I implicitly and intuitively knew this from my earliest days, but I was unable to articulate this truth for many years. That is what I have come to believe, and it becomes an important consideration for me when I have reached and achieved that point of magical and material competence, since that is the starting point for achieving the highest level of spiritual and magical being. The object is there within grasp, if only we can extract ourselves from that most comfortable of ruts, which is magical and material success. 

Despite the comfortable place that I find myself in these days, I force myself to action and to not cease in my magical work. I must continue seeking to undergo magical ordeals that challenge me to the very fiber of my being from time to time, or else I will the lose the path that I have spent so much effort to build. My life’s work really doesn’t end until the very day that I die, but until then I must seek to realize the holy God/dess Within. Full realization of this internal Atman is the key to realizing full cosmic consciousness and complete at-one-ment with the All. I believe that it is the key to full enlightenment and also to a form of conscious immortality.

I believe that each and every one of us can attain this pinnacle of accomplishment in a single life-time. It is, in fact, our destiny, and it is one that we are all programmed to achieve, but only if we remove all of the obstacles in our path, especially the ones that we have placed there ourselves. As the old saying goes, we are our own worst enemies, and this is especially true when considering the highest forms of magical and spiritual attainment.

So next time you find yourself thinking how much you have accomplished or that you have all that you need as a practicing ritual magician, I would hope that you begin to ponder about your own complacency and hubris. Thinking this way just seems to invite adversity and calamity, as if the point of earned stability is just a calm period before another storm blows through. It is as if the Gods have an evil and pernicious sense of humor, and they don’t take lightly to anyone who thinks that they have it made.

I have previously written on articles on this subject, and I would urge you to examine them if you haven’t read them previously. The first is about the five archetypal trials found in the path of the ritual magician. What I have discussed in this article would cover trial number 3, which is Indolence. Trial number 5 might also apply, which is Hubris. You can find that article here. Also, I wrote an article some years ago where I discussed the relevance for working ritual magic in the post-modern world. It could also shed some interesting light on why we work magic and what we expect to gain from it. You can find that article here.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Without Any Teachers - A Way to Transformative Wisdom

Recently there has been some heated discussion about how the Millennial generation (and some members of Generation X) don’t have respect or the proper behavior towards the older, mature and supposedly wiser members of the Western Magical Tradition (WMT). It started out with Nick Farrell telling potential students that they should basically shut up and meekly listen and learn from their elders. Of course, Nick comes off as something of a dick, but he did give plenty of examples of his own past foolishness, and supposedly he is advising his younger audience to not act like he did many years ago. Still, others have chimed in giving their support to Nick’s premise or vehemently decrying what he wrote. It has created quite a controversy, and I have been loath to comment on it because I am unfortunately not one to talk about either the traditional role of occult teachers or the responsibilities of idealized students or followers. That is because I consider myself mostly a “self-made” man regarding my practice of magick and my approach to occultism in general. 

I have had very few experiences with supposed “great” teachers, but I have painfully learned to eschew the advances and self-promotions of anyone who is a charismatic leader or teacher in some established occult organization. Those few experiences that I have had revealed to me that “great” teachers are really a social mirage, and that those who promote a charming and attractive front are likely hiding egregious flaws and possibly even sinister motives. Many of us are suckers for the guru confidence game, but typically cold hard facts and the power of dispassionate and unbiased reason will reveal a fraudulent master teacher eventually.

Ostensibly, we are really on our own. We alone are responsible for what we achieve regardless of what someone else does for us or against us. We might be an initiate of some great magical tradition or perhaps even received the exalted teachings of some spiritual master, but what we ultimately achieve is due to our own efforts. Typically, membership in an occult organization can be helpful or even inspiring, but if students don’t attempt to take the teachings and knowledge into themselves then it is little more than a distraction at best, a roadblock or daunting trap at worst.

Instead of writing up a homiletic about teachers and students and how they should comport themselves, I can only reach into my own many years of experience and declare that it is actually better for one to be solitary than to belong to an established occult group. At this time in my development I have the considered opinion that the only group that I would bother to belong to is one that is either a loose confederation of fellow magicians or a Star Group. If neither of these types of groups are available then I am quite happy to continue my work alone and intensely focused.

What I don’t need is to be distracted or have my time wasted by some bloviating teacher who thinks he or she has a monopoly on truth. While I am willing to share my experiences and knowledge with others, I do expect people to reach out to me and also be ready to do the work by themselves and for themselves. If someone wants me to share my knowledge with them then they need to make an effort to arrange the time and the intentions for such a working. I refuse to beg people to work with me who won’t make their own effort to set things in motion. So, I am indeed willing to share what I know with others, but I have found very few that are really interested in what I am doing. No one is knocking on my door to gain whatever knowledge I supposedly possess, and I have my own work and efforts to keep me quite occupied. I need people to socialize with and to share my ideas and also to listen to what they have to say, but I don’t need a teacher or a guru.

It is for this reason that I strongly believe that everyone should be responsible for their own spiritual and magical progress. It is a personal responsibility that has nothing to do with anyone else. No one can do this work for you and no one has the answers that you are looking for. You might occasionally meet remarkable men and women on the transformational path of enlightenment, and at times, these people can function as teachers and mentors, but only temporarily and only if you are willing to do the work. However, only you can do the work and only you can discover the answers to the questions that you might have.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of Krishnamurti, but in some cases he had some of the best advice to give to those who were seeking the lonely path of self directed personal and spiritual mastery. I also admire the fact that he repudiated the heads of the Theosophical Society who tried vainly to make him into their vaunted world teacher, and then he forged his own path, developing naturally over the decades. He was a font of wisdom and was one of the brilliant few who bridged the spiritual practices and wisdom of both the East and the West from the standpoint of the East.

Here are some quotations of his where he talks about the solitary path of self-knowledge and self-directed spiritual evolution. His words seem to advocate a spiritual path toward truth that belongs to no one group, creed or organization, and I find them profoundly deep and meaningful.

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. ... The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth.”

Self-knowledge is not something acquired from a book or from a guru or teacher. Self-knowledge begins in understanding oneself from moment to moment, and that understanding requires one's full attention to be given to each thought at any particular moment without an end in view, because there cannot be complete attention when there is condemnation or justification.”

Self-knowledge has no beginning and no end. It is a constant process of discovery, and what is discovered is true, and truth is liberating, creative.”

First of all, each and every person has their own spiritual process and lifetime trajectory. They alone are responsible for whatever happens to them, most particularly on how they react to both good and bad fortune. As spiritual seekers we must ultimately follow our own trajectory regardless of those individuals whose paths we might briefly intersect. Our own evolving spiritual process is the great hidden teacher and master, but it is not someone or something exterior to ourselves - it is within us and it also transcends our egoic selves. Experience and experimentation help us to acquire self-knowledge that ultimately leads to powerful realizations and self illumination; so long as we avoid the illusions and traps that we or others might set for ourselves.

This individual path of self-knowledge has no beginning nor end. Whatever objectives we might start out with change over time and eventually become overall, meaningless. It is merely the sake of journeying freely on our own path of self-knowledge that is our one and only compensation. Understanding ourselves from moment to moment, and fully engaging our attention in this task is a powerful state of mindfulness that can lead to full self-realization. Even so, this path is neither quick nor is it glorious. It is a life-long process from spiritual adolescence to full maturity and self-mastery. It is full of joy and sorrow, ascent and decline, pain and pleasure, wonderful dreams and horrifying nightmares - the very stuff of life.

When I consider these thoughts and ideas it makes my feeble attempts to write and teach seem nearly useless and without merit. What impact or effect can I possibly make on the soul and life path of someone who is a spiritual seeker for truth? I can share a few moments of comradery and even intimacy, but in the end, that seeker moves on regardless of what I do or say. I don’t wish to distract anyone for too long or keep them from their appointed destiny, just as I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me.

In the end, all I can say is that I am merely a student and still in the process of learning and growing just like everyone else. There is little difference between me and the young beginning student, except that I am probably a lot more jaded, less curious and quite set in my ways. To some I might even seem to be rather boring and self-absorbed, since there is little that I can boast about or claim about my achievements without having to establish a meaningful context. While I might preen for a moment at all of the books that I have digested and the magical workings that I have accomplished and even the books and articles I have written, what I have accomplished in a life time of work seems diminished when compared to the totality of spiritual and occult knowledge. What we collectively know seems quite vast, and yet the last words haven’t been written on the subject of magic or occultism, nor will they be written for ages to come. Thus what I have managed to accomplish in my short and brief life is rather small and humbling, but I continue on my travels because life is still good and there is so much yet to experience and learn.

The path of the sorcerer is endless, without beginning nor end, and we few magicians travel its dimly marked path knowing that the adventure of traveling is our only compensation. There is no objective that is a permanent triumph and there is no final destination except exhaustion and death. The majestic vistas that we see along the way are beautiful and inspiring, but they all too soon pass away leaving us with fleeting memories as we endlessly walk in the twilight. Birth is a vaguely acknowledged beginning to our path, but death and its mysteries will be encountered while fully conscious and aware. I suspect that the personification of Death will be the final and greatest teacher that one could possibly meet, and also the greatest challenge. I am both fearful of it, and I also look forward to it, since it will either deify or destroy me, or probably both.

Frater Barrabbas