Thursday, December 31, 2015

Magic 101 Revisited Again


My previous article stirred up some interesting comments and produced some really engaging points of view. I am, of course, referring to the article “Beware Tilting Against Windmills” where I discuss how performing a binding ritual against a major world organization is probably the wrong kind of magic to use in such an endeavor. A binding ritual is an intimate type of magical working, and performing magic on a global level is much too broad for an intimate rite to have much effect. I also questioned whether one could establish an effective or reliable magical link to such a large and nebulous group of people. I never said it was impossible, but that it would be difficult to define a credible target when the group in question consists of an aggregate of individuals loosely organized under an idealized state apparatus. It would be better to identify specific key individuals, but still, a binding spell would require something intimate to make the connection to any targeted individuals. (Possessing Al-Baghdadi’s head scarf would probably be a good object upon which to base an intimate link.)

Additionally, these individuals are extreme religious fanatics who believe that they are functioning as the instrument of God as they perform various acts of barbarism and militarized terrorism. How any magician could think that their magic could intervene and topple such an organization is the height of hubris and specious thinking. Religious extremists would be protected by their zealous faith from any negative thought-forms or magical attacks, and thankfully, bullets and bombs do have an immediate impact. However, even a counter military force cannot eliminate the ideals upon which they are grounded. This is an implacable war of ideas, and as such, it can only be won when the hearts and minds of enough of the populace on both sides who support it are transformed.(Think Lebanon in the 1980's.)

Some of the comments that I received indicated that perhaps other forms of magic might be more credible; such as astrological based magic, directing one of the invoked Cherubim or Seraphim to intervene, summoning and directing one of the Enochian Governors of that locale to execute a curse or some other kind of working that would allow a remote target to be accessed without an intimate magical link. Another person seemed to think that I had suggested that such magic was technically impossible, and of course, that is not the case. I have previously stated that performing a combined binding and mirror spell would probably produce no discernible results. It could also produce a personal backlash. Another individual stated that based on the premises of Chaos magic that performing any kind of rite and then taking credit for any positive result was an appropriate response because it would affirm the magic and empower those who performed it. I found this kind of reasoning to be questionable, but only in the context of this magic. I think that when the scale of a working is global one must establish and state specific objectives for a specific period of time and then determine afterwards if it indeed actually obtained the results. Because of the numerous parties engaged in this conflict in both Syria and Iraq it is impossible to isolate anything that could be objectively given as proof showing that the magic was successful, especially when the objective is so general and not grounded in time.

Here’s an example of this kind of specious reasoning. Let’s say I perform a magical working in the next month or two, and my objective is to ensure that Hillary Clinton is elected president next November. I don’t do anything else to make certain that my magical objective is successful. I just perform the magic and then quietly wait for the outcome. If Hillary Clinton wins the election then I can claim that it was my magic that gave her the victory. Had I not worked my magic, she would have lost the election, so I am the defacto “king maker” who has changed the history of the U.S. and the world. Of course this is quite silly, and it would be difficult to prove that I was wrong in making such a claim, but it would also be equally difficult (if not impossible) for me to prove that my claim was true. From a scientific standpoint, I would be required to objectively prove that my claim was true, and failing that, my claim would be considered inconclusive at best, or nominally false. A real test would be if I worked my magic and then predicted that Hillary Clinton would win by 10% of the vote, and additionally, 80% of the down-ballot Democratic tickets would also win. If these conditions were met, my claim would be certainly more credible; but even then, I would have to objectively define the mechanism that linked my magical action to the expected results. There could also be other explanations for making such a successful claim, such as clairvoyance or possible insider information.

Don’t misread what I am saying. I do believe that magic can influence outcomes on a global level, but there is a mechanism for how such a thing could be done - it is not the same as working magic on yourself. I have always advised my students, and I have taken this advice into my own magical work, that material change of any kind always requires mundane steps to be simultaneously executed. If you need to find a job, you don’t work magic to find one and then sit on your ass waiting for it to materialize. You perform your magic and you also look for work, with the caveat that the magic will help bend the laws of probability so that you will be successful.

However, making something happen for yourself or a client, and making something happen in your community or even on a global level requires a very different approach. It still requires mundane steps, but they are orchestrated so that many hands join together for a worthy cause. The greater the scale of the magical objective then the greater the population of those assisting in making it happen. Witches and pagans who are connected with the ecological or progressive political movements (in the East and West coast areas) have demonstrated that combining magic with public activism is an excellent way of making things happen in both local and national levels. Let me give you a hypothetical example.

Suppose there is wilderness area not far from where you live that has been a source of pleasure and wonderful recreation for you and your friends for many years. Let’s say that a large multi-national logging and mining company has managed to secure the rights to logging and also fracking that area for natural gas. It is not a national or state park, but it has been public land for a long time. This corporation, along with state and local politicians, have cut a deal, and the press has reported that the company will extract these resources supposedly without causing much harm to the natural pristine area. This sounds a bit too good to be true, so a bit of research reveals that this company has a history of destroying the land that it logs and mines and has never had to clean up the environment after they were done. They have paid fines and quietly dealt with public claims, but they also have a number of politicians in their pockets to mitigate the consequences. This has allowed them to lucratively engage in their business without much in the way of consequences.

Of course, you are opposed to this company mining and logging in an area that you have personally enjoyed for years, and you decide to do something about it. You also happen to be quite good at magic and you are a practicing pagan. You decide to work magic against this corporation to stop it from proceeding with its proposed mining and logging project. If you perform a binding spell on the company’s logo (and do nothing else), do you think that anything will change? However, there is a way to tackle this objective using both magic and public activism. This is the basic magic 101 way to get something done on the material plane - do the magic and also the mundane steps.

The first thing that you do is to arouse your friends and neighbors to oppose this project. Maybe you write some letters to the newspaper, post some articles on social media, form some public protest events, hand out fliers decrying what the company intends to do to a pristine wilderness that everyone in the area has hunted, fished, camped, swam in the creeks, picnicked, and enjoyed for generations. You advertise and organize meetings and basically spread the word, getting the whole area talking about it. You also publicly disclose what the company has done in the past when they have operated in an area, and you might even post pictures that show how callous and corrupt this company really is. You have started a movement, and once started, it takes off and has a mind of its own. You continue to work magic, but you don’t just target the company. Instead you target key individuals in that company and the corrupt politicians who have supported them for campaign contributions and other perks. You could even host protest events at the residences of these targeted individuals immediately following such a magical targeting. You can also stage events at local and state offices, engaging in peaceful civil disobedience.

Of course the corporation won’t take this kind of assault lying down. They will look for dirt to publish about you and the members of your movement to try and discredit the whole thing. Their PR team will go into overdrive to try and change the direction of the public discussion and destroy the movement. Newspapers, the internet and TV will blare their message to everyone. They will also organize their own counter public campaign and create a fake grass-roots movement of their own. There might even be some investigations into the movement, false allegations made, lawsuits declared, and maybe even some underhanded blackmail or thuggery. It will be quite a nasty and vicious local war, but it will completely change everything from the way it was when everyone was quietly minding their own business. Whether you win or lose, the changes have been made and it is likely that the community will have a whole new perspective. Anyway, that is one way of taking on an organization and successfully defeating it (or not) using a combination of magic and public activism. Which technique, in your opinion, has a chance of success? Doing a binding spell or simultaneously executing a magical and public campaign?

As you can see, using the right kind of magic to effectively achieve an objective is a fundamental part of magic 101. You develop a tool box of different kinds of magic, and you determine, from a practical perspective, the correct magic to apply to a given issue or situation. That toolbox is developed over time, so an inexperienced magician will tend to use the same tool in all situations, and the resultant failures will teach him or her to expand and develop other techniques to deal with differences in focus, scale and scope. This logic applies to not only dealing with a corporation in a local community, but also effectively making changes on a global level.

If it is your objective to engage with the world and help to bring about peace to the middle east in whatever way you can then there are some obvious things that you could do. Since there is already a lot of warring factions engaging in battles and killing people, adding more negative energy, even in a partisan manner, would only make things worse if it did anything at all. Obviously, seeking peace is much more constructive, but a lot more difficult. Remember, this is a war of ideas, so promoting peace must start at a fundamental level.

The most obvious thing that one could do is to help the refugees. The second most obvious thing to do would be to support a cease fire and work within the UN to help make that happen. Another thing one could do is to promote a peaceful exposition of Islam that is completely counter to what IS-Daesh is promoting. In other words, help and assist the Muslims around the world to show that their religion is one of peace and religious tolerance. Try to eliminate public discrimination, misunderstanding and hatred towards Muslims in your local area as well as on the national level. Promote interfaith organizations that seek to help the public view Islam and other religions in a positive manner, and also show that religious extremism is a problem that affects all religions practiced in the world. While engaging in these activities, you could also work magic, alone and in groups, to help promote this idea worldwide.

Certainly, there is a constructive way of dealing with the problems of religious extremism that exists locally as well as globally. I would recommend that anyone who is serious about changing the way the world exists today by using magic would see that as an opportunity and a goal. Love is a greater power than hate, but often hatred seems to have the upper hand. It is far more difficult to look for positive and constructive ways to fix a problem that is threatening to engulf the world in an ideological war, but it is probably the only way that such problems can be permanently resolved.

To make large scale changes in the local and global arena, I recall an excellent slogan that I think works from a political activist perspective and a magical one, too. “Think globally, but act locally.”

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Beware Tilting Against Windmills


A ritual magician can be effective when working his or her magic on a local level, but does that also apply to working grandiose operations against or for celebrities, corporations, organizations or even nations? Can a magician perform magic upon a target that is remote, aggregate or famously known through the media without having some kind of actual and tangible connection? I would like to answer that question because it has been declared by a group of Golden Dawn magicians who have ambitiously claimed to have put a binding spell on the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State or Daesh. A few years ago, some famous Salem witches attempted to bind the actor and media star Charlie Sheen because he jokingly said that he was a warlock. Is this a serious claim, and can a group of magicians perform this kind of magic successfully?

What we are talking about is the supposed efficacy of a simple binding spell. For those who are not up on their thaumaturgic magic, a binding spell seeks to bind a target subject and make him or her incapable of any action, good or bad. It is a way of paralyzing someone, and any effort on their part to break the paralysis for any reason will, in fact, cause them harm. A good analogy is tying someone up with a good hemp rope so that they are immobile. If they try to fight against their bonds they will be harmed, either in a minor way, such as rope burns or circulation constriction to the limbs, or in a major way, such as falling down, choking, or even worse. The idea is that as long as someone remains relaxed and at rest, all will be fine. Of course, in real life, that never really happens. Like being tied up, a binding spell does cause harm to the target.

Another similar spell is what is called the mirror spell, which reflects back on the sender all of the negativity, violence and anger that is being emitted. These two spells are distinct and completely different. You would never use a mirror spell if you had cast a binding spell, since if someone was successfully bound it wouldn’t be needed. I guess where these two spells might be employed together would be a situation where the binding spell was too weak to work or could possibly be broken. When one spell fails perhaps the other will work, is what I would imagine the logic for grouping these two spells together. (For some reason the GD group claims to weave both together into a single spell.)

Whatever spell is deployed, the most important component to any such targeting magic is to have a good magical link. A magical link establishes the psychic connection to the target, and by the process of the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion, a magical link can be a representational simulacrum with a connection to the actual target. The Law of Similarity allows for a given object or person (the target) to be depicted in a symbolic manner (photograph, sigil, poppet, etc.). The Law of Contagion allows a link to be established through the possession of something that was in proximity to the target, such as a garment, hair, nail parings, blood, semen, etc. If a magical link consists of a combination of items that satisfies both the Laws of Similarity and Contagion then it is considered a strong link. Having just a photograph or a sigil of the target person’s name without any component of contagion would be considered a “weak” link. However, whether one has a strong or weak link, it is still the mind of the magician that associates them and thereby channels the generated magical power through the link. Other elements can be used to help generate a strong enough charge, such as the use of a godhead, spirit, elemental, planetary spirit, or just through the emotional powers drawn up from the magician’s reservoir. Additionally, this kind of magical link works best on a single individual or object.

A binding spell itself uses the Law of Similarity where the magician takes the established simulacrum of the target and uses charged and consecrated cords to tie it, therefore mimicking tying up and binding the target person. The resultant bound simulacrum is then buried or hidden somewhere where the target individual will cross or encounter it. The target’s home is considered the best place to put such an empowered fetish. It is also sometimes advised that the target be informed about the spell being been done so that the psychic impact becomes fully conscious and active. Still, the most important part of this working is to break the connection or link between the caster and the target. This can be done very easily if the bound simulacrum has been hidden in a place associated with the target. However, if the target individual discovers and takes possession of the simulacrum, he or she can take actions to reverse the spell and cause it to rebound on the one who cast it.

Binding spells are not perpetual spells because the target individual typically finds a way to break out of it, but not without a period of paralysis and the associated harm caused by breaking the bonds. A powerful binding spell could even cause someone to be greatly harmed or killed over time. It can cause a period of listless paralysis that can ultimately lead to complete physical neglect, causing bodily deprivation or deadly psychic-based illnesses. For this reason, binding is not considered a benign spell or one that can be cast for the sake of just immobilizing someone. The spell can be broken by the one who cast it, but that would require retrieving the simulacrum and cutting its bonds. Typically, the binding is allowed to last as long as it continues to exert an influence on the target, causing all sorts of maladies and collateral mischief as the target struggles to escape the bonds. 

As you can see, a binding spell is a very intimate type of magic that requires a close connection between the caster and the target. Even in the category of impersonal magic for hire, the target at least has some kind of relationship with the client, which makes the magic work. With that in mind, could such a spell work when the target has no relationship with either the one who is casting it or a client? Can a magician or witch cast a binding spell (or any kind of intimate spell, such as a love spell, etc.) upon a target where there is no pre-existing relationship? This question would include such individuals as celebrities, corporations, politicians, dictators, organizations, and even a rogue terrorist nation/organization such as the Islamic State.

I would propose that such a magical working would not be feasible. Could you imagine someone casting a successful love spell on Chris Hemsworth or Kim Kardashian without any prior intimate connection? I won’t say that such a working would be impossible, but it is highly improbable. The same kind of logic would apply to working a binding spell on Charlie Sheen or the Islamic State. Without an intimate connection upon which to build an effective magical link, it would be highly improbable that such a working would work. When dealing with amorphous organizations, such as corporations, nations and rogue terrorist organizations, there is the additional problem of identifying a single target upon which to focus the magic. Without a clearly defined target, it becomes obvious that such a magical working would fail.

Magical energy, which resides in the consciousness of the one casting the spell, cannot simply disappear or evaporate. It has to move somewhere, and without an intimate magical link or a clear focus, the magic will likely rebound on the spell caster. This can be either subtle or it can be magnified until it becomes a problem. The greatest enemy of anyone practicing magic, particularly spells of an intimate type, is obsession. If some ordinary guy were to work a love spell on Kim Kardashian, and really put all of his emotional power and desire into it, then I can tell you what would happen to him once the spell was cast. It would immediately affect his mind and emotions. He would become obsessed with the target of this magical working, and it is highly doubtful that Kim Kardashian would even know that he existed, unless of course he were to actually stalk her. The power generated by such a spell has to go somewhere, and it will find the path of least resistance, just like electricity. A spell performed in this manner will only end up in one’s own mind and be empowered by the imagination, perhaps even causing a significant obsession to occur. Such individuals will see any kind of unrelated public occurrence associated with the target as an indication of a successful outcome, adding a certain degree of delusion to the obsession.

This reminds me of the famous story about Don Quixote written by Cervantes. Don Quixote thought the windmills that he had encountered in the plains were giants terrorizing a village, and he attempted to defeat them by jousting with them. I will quote the passage in the famous novel to give you a better reference point in enjoying the irony.

    Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

    “What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

    “Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”
    “Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”
    —Part 1, Chapter VIII. Of the valourous Don Quixote's success in the dreadful and never before imagined Adventure of the Windmills, with other events worthy of happy record.

This was the famous scene that became known by the phrase “tilting with windmills,” which has the implied meaning where adversaries are misperceived and courses of action that are based on misapplied or misinterpreted heroic, romantic or idealistic justifications. It represents a vain effort against imagined adversaries for a vain goal. Of course such an effort when performed magically is not completely vain, since the target and the source are irreparable bound together within the mind of the one who casts the spell. It is just as foolish to perform this kind of spell within the context of magic as it is to “tilting with windmills” in real life.

So, for those Golden Dawn magicians who have performed a binding spell against the terrorist organization IS-Daesh and invited others to do so, what will be the result of such a spell? Since most of us in the U.S. perceive this organization to be a kind of boogeyman similar to how the former Soviet Union was perceived during the cold war, it could be stated that we are unable to clearly recognize and objectively understand the actual organization and the individuals who play a key part within it. None of us who are outside of this organization either knows or can grasp the nature of it, nor do we possess any kind of intimate link to key individuals. Focusing a spell on this organization to somehow bind it will do nothing but empower our own fears and feed the dark shadow that we have made of it. It could cause an obsession of fear and darkness that might have serious consequences.

The only reason that anyone would perform and promote this kind of magical working would be someone who was looking for the fame and attention that it would accrue. I think that this is the case, since anyone with even a small amount of magical knowledge and experience would realize that such a working would fail. The fact that this Golden Dawn group is touting the recent reversals in fortunes for the IS-Daesh organization and declaring that it is due to the binding spell that they and others have performed is not only ridiculous, but it is just the purest expression of hubris and vanity. It is another manifestation of the kind of “hucksterism” that we have learned to expect from David Griffin and his brand of the Golden Dawn. Not only are they promoting bad magic, but they are engaged in public expressions of delusion and credulity. I think that my recent declarations about David Griffin being a “milk-toast” Donald Trump-like salesman is quite true and on the mark. I think that we can now ignore him and his delusional ranting about how powerful and successful he and his compatriots are compared to the rest of us. In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before something dreadful happens to him, since this kind of magic is subtle and ultimately pernicious.   

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holidays and Calends 2015


Here we are, nearly at the end of the year and I have posted very few blog articles this autumn. You might be wondering why that is so, since I have been quite prolific in the past. In fact there are quite a few articles already in this blog covering a wide variety of subjects, which is probably what folks are avidly reading. I know this is true because the number of pages-read counter is still moderately high even when I haven’t posted for a while.

Winter is here, although it doesn’t either feel like a full blown Minnesota winter just yet. There is just a dusting of snow on the ground and the weather has been too warm for most of the month. We have gotten rain and a bit of sleet instead of a foot or two of snow. I don’t mind the mild weather, but it certainly puts a damper on the festive spirit that usually accompanies a white Winter Solstice. Parties are starting up this weekend and I have most of next week off from work. I have been working too many hours and not spending enough time on other stuff, unfortunately. There is too much to do in the coming days, both domestically and also magically. Because of my busy schedule much of this work has been left until now to complete.

[Of course, nature loves irony, since before I could post this article the snow has come and winter is now snow-bound, icy and normal.]

What I have been doing with my time outside of my job is writing another book. I submitted the manuscript to Llewellyn on the first day of this month so I wouldn’t have to work on it during the holidays. The irony is that I have to begin the revisions to this manuscript and produce a new version with corrections by February. No good deed goes unpunished, right? The book project is tentatively entitled “Spirit Conjuring For Witches” and my premise for writing it is that Witches and Pagans need to embrace the Spirit Model of magic and become formally engaged with the art of summoning spirits in order to really function like the legendary witches of the past.

Perhaps the most startling proposition that I am promoting is that I believe it is best to have some kind of supernatural intermediary to perform this work. Unlike the popular belief in familiar spirits as animal pets or merely as servitors that perform the will of the witch or magician like some automata, it is my opinion that the spiritual intermediary is actually the self as deity, or the inner deity. Some might call this the higher self. Others might compare or equate this entity with the Holy Guardian angel. However, I see it as the equivalent of the Hindu Atman, the godhead that resides in each and every person. Not everyone will agree with this interpretation, and there are as many opinions as individuals, with only some in solid agreement. This is a counter intuitive perspective, since most practitioners of western magic believe that the lone individual or the small group has the innate power to completely change their destiny - there is no real need for any kind of supernatural assistant, or is there?

What has propelled the art of magic for the last couple of hundred years is the optimistic belief that human nature alone, either by some kind of greater reservoir of psychic power or the undaunted human will, can be the source of miracles and the magical bending of reality to suit one’s interests. However, the existential curse of post-modernism has shown that modern humanity has little or no power, and that the individual can no more change the flux and flow of human destiny than he or she can change the weather. We see our modern history as the product of individual achievement, even though that achievement was more due to fortune and probability than actual individual genius. The world has always been blind and deaf to the anger, heartbreak or entreaties of the individual, but it is the masses either randomly or orchestrated by a cacophony of unforeseen events that moves mountains.

While I tentatively agree with the existential perspective concerning the powerlessness of the individual, I also possess the optimistic viewpoint that each of us contains within us a deity, and that godhead, connected and indivisible as it is with the One, gives everyone the potential to transform themselves and therefore, change the world. Of course this assumes that one can become fully aware of that divinity residing within one. In my opinion it is through that internal divinity that we have the ability to know God in an intimate manner, and to see the world through the “eyes of spirit.” It is through this frame of reference that I wrote my book, and it is what I am promoting as a way for witches and pagans to adopt a more spirit-based model of magic.

As I continue working on this book and pushing it to the more perfected version that will be published, I find that all my assumptions about the components of this process of summoning spirits are thoroughly tested. Writing a book is probably even more of a mechanism for fully learning a subject than just practicing and performing it as a regular discipline. There is nothing that forces a greater degree of objectivity from a teacher or author than attempting to either teach or publish a book about a given topic, since the feedback from such efforts are more valuable than the end-product itself.

Frater Barrabbas

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