Worth listening to:
I don’t know how people can look down on the devotional work involved in being a witch or on a spiritual path, that you have to at some point “move away from devotional work” … it can be exhilarating and who wouldn’t want to plug themselves into a kosmic circuit occasionally?
Wonderful afternoon. I decided to take advantage of the sun and head for the river to say my thanks to Pomba Gira.
I thought I would avoid “Suicide Bay” as I call it but instead be positive in moving forward and head for “Cow Cove” instead. But Cow Cove was full of people and dogs, so I headed off into the woods for Suicide Bay.
Rather more overgrown than my last visit in January, but I managed to find the path down to the river.
And it couldn’t have been more beautiful.
The sun reflecting iridescent green off the water reeds.
I sat down and placed my three red roses in front of me, my vanilla flavoured cigarillos, my new silver lighter (oh, it has two hearts engraved in the top!), and a bottle of water.
I am not a smoker. But I will do anything for the spirits and god-forms I work with. There are things in this sensual world that they cannot directly experience, and it is my job as priestess to facilitate the experiences for them in return for favours. It is not full possession that takes place, more a meeting of peripheries that allows them to taste and feel through me. I have always found it a very easy state to slip into.
So, to begin. Light cigarillo. Hmm. Now, the man in the shop showed me how the lighter worked… he did something with his thumb and there was a flame… is this fire magic beyond me?! Something is meant to slide open … I’m buggered from the start if I can’t even work the lighter … Ah. Ok. Got it.
And then the choking inhalation. I have smoked spliffs before but never a cigarillo which is a heavier hit of tobacco on the lungs.
I chanted, smoked and plucked petals from the roses tossing them before me as I sat in the sunlight by the river. At one point the river seemed to flow backwards …
Two topless men plus “hard-man dog” appeared from round the bend in the river; they had waded through the shallow waters. They grinned at me. “You look happy,” said the one. “I am!” I replied, and meant it. I felt totally content, and now bemused at what they really thought of this woman sitting plucking petals off roses while choking on her vanilla cigarillo and muttering under her breath.
On the way back I encountered another topless man (it is hot today!) with six-pack stomach (not that I was looking). The cougar in me purred. He jogged towards me to open the kissing gate at the edge of the field so I didn’t have to lift a finger. We had “a moment” and I walked on smiling … no, I think smirking and grinning like a Cheshire cat would be a more honest description.
I feel like I have managed to put something behind me. Ritual grounds me, makes me feel whole and connected. Devotional work – aligning myself with god-forms, patrons and spirits – it’s all a necessary part of connecting the dots.
My German family emigrated to America in the 1950s. My Oma (grandmother) became an educator (assessor of children’s learning levels and needs) on the Navajo Reservation, where my family also lived for a while.
In my late teens and early twenties I travelled from the UK to spend time living with my grandmother in an area called the Checkerboard because squares of land belong to the Navajo Nation (a dependent state existing within the independent state of America) and some squares belong to the Federal Government of the US.
While there I took up Navajo language classes and met a Navajo woman who worked for the Navajo Nation Government. Her work involved travelling hundreds of miles daily over the Reservation. She invited me to travel with her for four months and during that time she adopted me as her daughter, introducing me to Navajo or Hopi Native Americans as her daughter.
Native Americans are NOT Indians
Native Americans are NOT American Indians
Native Americans are NOT North American Indians
They are Native Americans because they are the original people native to that continent; any other name carries with it a shed load of political hegemony and implicit colonial abuse.
I learned a lot from my Navajo mother and her friends about what was considered acceptable to Native Americans, what were sore points, how their history affected them … how thousands were deliberately wiped out by white Europeans distributing plague-ridden blankets among them; how some native peoples have been completely exterminated. Their history is no less painful, political and rife for misunderstanding than the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Holocaust, to name but two.
After my time on the Reservation, I went to Germany where I spent a year beginning my translation career. There I encountered a heavily sunbedded female with a suede, fringed jacket, plaits and feathers in her hair. She “identified” with “Indians” [sic]. I felt sick to my stomach at her ignorance. No. Don’t give me any bullshit about naive enthusiasm: if you are truly interested in a Native Path then do your research, learn the history, the current politics and the current discussions around the misappropriation of native culture and spirituality, which continues to this day, and is felt by so many NAs to be a continuation of the colonial hegemony they have had to suffer for centuries.
Following on from this: the word “shaman” has become a word bandied around as easily as “witch” (I will deal with that another day). Banging a drum, chanting and speaking to imaginary spirits does not make you a shaman. Pretending that you “journey” every time you touch a rock does not make you a shaman, nor does it make your experience “shamanic.” The concept of “journeying” has also been watered down to be meaningless half the time.
There is no documentation of shamanic culture per se in the British Isles. If you refer to Celtic shamanism, the same point applies as there is no documented proof of exactly what the Celts did except for tales told by Roman historians, and the Romans defeated the Celts … we all know what history is like when written by the victors (blood sacrifice, baby-eating, water poisoning, with the odd truth thrown in – who can say what is true and what isn’t?).
I met two shamans/medicine men on the Reservation and they gave me none of the “foot in both worlds” bullshit, none of the “hang on, I’m just speaking to my spirit guide, Jack”.
If you look at shamanism as practised amongst Native peoples in America (there are many different peoples – different languages, different religious practices, although most will have a name for themselves that translates as “The people” – consider the Navajo word for themselves “Diné”), and if you look in particular at the shamanic practices still found in Siberia you will see a very different picture from the neo-Shamanic practices of British/European wannabes.
As a knowledgeable friend concurred, calling yourself a “traditional shaman” is a tautology shouting “fluff” because true shamanism is by definition “traditional”. However, the word “traditional” sells more books, doesn’t it? Kerching! $££$$£
Shamans are known for communicating with spirits, but again, this is not a running conversation with an ancestor sitting on your knee, your hand up its spiritual backside as you channel its wisdom. No. Communication with spirits is usually within the context of an ecstatic ritual, or within a ritual context that will suspend the natural (or more apparent) senses.
Be warned that not all is what it seems. I have met two shamans. One I had more contact with than the other. But they were not bullshitters.
If you are interested in Native American spirituality – remember that there are many, many different Native American peoples and that not all are the same. Have the courtesy to research their history and their current politics. Read authors such as Ward Churchill – academic historians; don’t just read people with fake names like Starhawk (who is a respectable neo-pagan but NOT a Native American).
And if you come across someone calling themselves a “shaman”, add “neo” in front plus a large pinch of salt. Don’t part with money. Trust your gut. And read around the subject.
Tip No. 1: Don’t try to write a blog post on the Egyptian continuum whilst simultaneously listening to Eddie Izzard doing a gig in French and English. Zut alors, ma tête est fucked.
I have been working with the Spirits of Lucky Hoodoo. The basic system is surprisingly simple, although I would personally say it is demanding in that it requires daily input and is not something you drag out of the cupboard at full moons and high holidays. I am not an expert, so can only speak from my experience which is that the spirits require, and deserve, a continuous relationship.
My path has always pushed towards a life focus, not a cherry on top of the cake approach to spirituality. It is not something I want to put to the side or commercialise. I don’t want it to be a high days and holy days affair; I want a daily, hourly love affair.
I have read David Beth’s book Voudon Gnosis (the first edition twice, the second edition – which is an entirely different book – twice), and done (done? is that the right word? practised… followed… ) two of the rituals in the back of his second edition book.
Firstly I read the rituals through and as happens each time I have read a VG text by David, every fibre in me says, “Yes! That’s right!” Whereas, for example, when I read Ford, I think, “What a prat.”
But when it came to following (!) the rituals I hit against an internal wall.
I read somewhere about how occult groups, when working together, build up and acquaint themselves with a particular continuum. They essentially learn (or create) a language which they use to communicate with, to command and bind themselves to that particular continuum.
I am not part of any group, but I have spent nearly the last ten years working with Egyptian deities. They are Home for me. They are the Dark and the Light. When I go off my path and start losing myself, I know because when I return to Them, I become whole and centred, at peace and focused – the feeling is physical and intense.
So I have spent a couple of weeks rewriting David’s rituals (still in progress); listening to the Neter/Neteru, incorporating my understanding of the Duat and the role of Osiris, Anubis, Maat, Apophis, Seth and aakhu. The fact is it fits! Nothing essential was changed, and it fits. It works perfectly.
Gnosis before Logos. The word must never be made from steel, but must bend to experience, and experience must bend again to further experience, ad infinitum.
One of the main issues regarding my interest in LHP has been that the fundamental objective of the Ancient Egyptian religion was/is to maintain Ma’at and avert chaos. There are complex rituals to empower Osiris in his battle so as to enable the rising of Ra again each morning – this was not a given, not predictable, but a battle on a knife’s edge each night. That dark realm of chaos and serpents which threatened Ra and life itself was something to be feared; even Osiris was not a sure bet to bring back the sun from the Duat, hence the rituals to aid him. So to attempt to work directly with those spirits that moved through the realms of “chaos” went contrary to everything I believed, and yet the compulsion would not cease.
But now I know the Duat slightly better and that there is a thin path there to be trod. The other day I walked up to town and saw everything resplendent around me in full summer glory – lush greens, blue skies, the light glancing off the river – and I saw death in it all, because without death life could not survive. Death is the base and the foundation from which life comes. There is indeed still a nightly battle to draw Ra up into the sky, but life is a battle and never comes without pain, screaming and crying; does that make pre-birth a bad thing, that to manifest birth there has to be pain? I know pain.
Today I wrote to a friend and said, “It may sound like a contradiction, but I have been considering suicide and also feel optimistic.” Although maybe my optimism is more concerned with the direction of my spiritual path than with Life per se. Synchronicities are like petals on a path leading me through it all.
I am aware that I, as a person with bipolar, am a liability and that most if not all magicians would run for the hills before working with me, which is fine. I have heard magicians and sorcerers say either in general or to me specifically: if you are ill it means you are a crap magician (I’m a witch anyway, so suck and swivel); and if you have mental health issues you must never deal with spirits (why? it just makes it harder not impossible, and in some ways I have the edge on someone who is sane and limited by the boundaries of their sanity).
It’s not about being gung-ho, as in my mind that is also a disrespectful attitude to the spirits and Neter you wish to work with, but I refuse absolutely and categorically to be told I should not work my Path as I do.
Who should I listen to? Magicians with a body-fascist tick? Or the spirits themselves who (so far) through answering and granting what I have asked for, give their blessing to the relationship I strive to establish with them?
Blessed are the Neter for their gifts of Heka and Akau. Blessed are the Aakhu. And blessed are the Spirits of Lucky Hoodoo.
p.s. Please refer to my Who am I? page if you have any questions regarding my personal affiliations, just so there are no misunderstandings.
She was nervous and arrived a little late. She had never been to an exclusively pagan gathering like this before. Of course she had attended pagan conferences and pagan festivals, but this was a private soirée held in the home of a woman who was but a new acquaintance. She had been surprised to receive an invitation at all.
“Darling, lovely to see you. Thank you for coming. Let me take your cloak,” said the hostess with the mostess… most of which was bulging over a medieval wench style corset that creaked at the seams from holding in so much bosom. Her chenille skirts glistened and crinkled in the candlelight. This was the first thing she noticed; no electric lights, just candles everywhere throwing mobile shadows while warming and softening faces so everyone looked at least a little beautiful, even if they were not.
She was given a glass of champagne, one of her favourite drinks but she really wished it was water. She loved the way the bubbles fizzed up her nose and gave her hiccupy burps, but looking around at this conglomeration of esoteric elites she was suddenly sure that none of them had ever, ever giggled over champagne burps and a tickly nose. This was a crowd of people she wished to remain sober around.
“Here, let me introduce you to some people. This is Edmund, he’s a druid, lives near Glastonbury.”
Edmund smiled though his eyes contained a tad of suspicion and distance. He wore a white robe and manfully juggled stang, drink and canapé.
“What are you?” he asked rather gruffly.
Before she could answer, Busty Corset said, “Seshat is a witch, dear.”
“Oh, I won’t ask what kind, just not interested in the politics. Stick to the land, the land will tell you everything you need to know.”
“Erm, thank you?” said Seshat with a questioning lilt as she wasn’t sure if she had been insulted or awarded the benefit of another’s wisdom.
Busty Corset took her elbow and propelled her to the far corner of the dark and flickering room.
“You must meet Cynthia, she communes with angels.”
“Oh Lordie”, thought Seshat, very ungraciously.
“Hello,” said Cynthia with a sweet smile that immediately made Seshat feel bad for pre-judging her. “I’m Cynthia. I see you surrounded by angels of light. You are so lucky. Would you like me to speak with them?”
“Erm, thank you?” said Seshat, again unsure whether this was a desirable thing or not. “I … if you like.”
“There is one beautiful angel with his hand resting on your head. He loves you, especially that one outfit you wear that has a split up the …”
“I’m sure Seshat doesn’t want to hear about that, dear. Let her commune with her own angels for tonight, okay?”
Cynthia, who had taken on a slightly predatory look and was licking her lips, looked disappointed.
“There’s someone over here you must meet. Michael, darling, this is Seshat. She talks to spirits too.”
“Do you see them?” asked Michael whose eyes darted from place to place like he was trying to keep track of fireflies.
“See who? Now you mean? Or in general? I…”
“Do you see, hear or feel them, or all three?”
“I, kind of, well, I don’t really like to talk about it much.”
A candle at Michael’s right shoulder exploded a bit of wax over his velvet jacket.
“Get away, I tell you. I won’t speak to you.” Michael started batting the air around him.
Seshat smiled, baring perhaps a little too much tooth and excused herself. She headed for the drinks table. Maybe she was going to need more than champagne to get through this evening.
She started chatting to a Hedge Witch at the buffet table. The woman seemed sane and normal, and soon they were discussing when was the best time to plant certain herbs. Suddenly, Seshat felt something large attach itself to her leg. She looked down and saw a man clinging to her leg like a koala to a Eucalyptus tree. He was moving up and down in a manner that looked suspiciously like …
Seshat turned to the Witch. “Who’s that? What’s he doing to my leg?”
“Oh, that’s Fred. He’s a sex magician, that’s just how they say hello.”
“Oh,” said Seshat, looking down. “Hello.”
The sex magician looked up at her and gave her a wink. “Alright?”
“Yes, um, fine. Please don’t ladder my tights.”
“I know Tantra, special techniques for avoiding that.”
Two minutes later he detached himself, winked again and walked off.
“What a, um, friendly man,” said Seshat as she saw him walk across the room only to attach himself to another person’s leg.
“Yes, awfully nice. Good in bed apparently. Has lots of practice so you’d bloody hope so, hey?!”
The Hedge Witch sniggered and Seshat smiled feeling entirely out of her depth.
A man with a fulsome beard sidled up to her. “Hi, I’m Phillip, I’m a lycanthrope.”
“Of course you are…” said Seshat
“I hear you’re a witch.”
“Just a witch. Nothing special. Nothing in particular. Not hereditary. Not entirely solitary, but not in a coven…” Seshat stared into her drink with embarrassment, she was good at saying what she was not but stumbled to say what she actually was. She felt that everyone at the party carried some kind of credentials even if it was just the recognised acceptance of the group that they were ‘such-and-such’. They had the certificates, the initiations, the handshakes (or leg-humps), the badges, T-shirts and car bumper stickers (“My other vehicle’s a broom” or “Satanists do it with horns on”). Phillip looked at her kindly.
“You don’t feel too comfortable here, do you?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“I felt totally on the fringe when I first started coming to these parties. You get used to everyone. They’re just very honestly what they are, you know? No hiding it behind a facade of administrator, personnel manager or social worker. They can just be themselves here. WE can just be ourselves.”
Seshat looked around. Everyone was in conversation … all with visible conversation partners except Michael who stood conversing with the shadows thrown by the curtain. There was colour, vibrancy and outright kooky weirdness. “Maybe this is where I belong,” wondered Seshat to herself.
“Fancy a walk?” asked the Lycanthrope. “There’s a beautiful full moon outside and a nice woodland just at the back of the house.”
“Erm, thank you?” said Seshat… She paused. A lycanthrope by moonlight in a forest… She downed her refilled glass of champagne in one and promptly burped at Phillip.
He grinned. “Good bubbles, huh?”
She smiled at him, suddenly sure of herself. “Great bubbles.”
Yes, she probably did belong just where she was.
This is purely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living, dead or other is entirely coincidental :-p
This is a brief summary of the Occult of Personality podcast interview with David Beth. I would recommend you listen to the full interview, as I will naturally have only picked out points most interesting to me, and there is plenty more to be had from the interview. My sincere thanks to David Beth for revising, editing and approving this summary.
Who is David Beth?
David Beth is Sovereign Grand Master of the OTOA (Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua) and the LCN (La Couleuvre Noire) and presiding bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna. The OTOA and LCN are originally Haitian Gnostic occult societies associated with each other, but which function separately. The OTOA works with a fusion of ancient Haitian and European Hermetic currents. The LCN is more specialised, with a focus on sorcery and direct spiritism. DB shares leadership in these groups with SGMA Courtney Willis.
DB is also involved with the Fraternitas Borealis, a hyperborean magick group with a cosmic tradition of magical exploration. The Gnostic church focuses on a more general transformation through the apostolic-gnostic sacraments and gnostic initiations and conducts esoteric research in a more classical gnostic sense. The Fraternitas Borealis achieves the same thing through experimentation with magical techniques and sorcery as well as basing itself on very specific transcendental ideals.
On the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna:
The EGA is an apostolic Gnostic church, where Gnostic attainment and liberation is achieved through the sacraments. The Church views itself as a continuation of the ancient mystery schools, a way of empowerment passed on through Gnostic Christianity. The sacraments are tools to provide the seeds of gradual enlightenment and development as Gnostic beings. It is then the initiate’s role to cultivate the seed to flower and fruit. Initiation is a combination of outside forces being given to you that also need to be fused alchemically with your own readiness. Occult spirituality needs nurturing.
Unlike the ancient form of Gnosticism, this is not approached as escapism or as a way of leaving the body and its associations behind; this Gnosis is Kosmic Gnosis, i.e. through the body and senses we can achieve a unified experience with the cosmos, hence avoiding dualism.
On the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua:
The OTOA was never a Masonic fraternal organisation as such, perhaps in the beginning and more particularly through its division into lodges. Building on occult haitian-voudoist roots, they took the essence and qualities of Masonry, stripping away the superstructure and further into the C20th the Masonic elements were gradually eliminated. In the 1960s the organisation was based in Chicago, New York and Haiti, comprising small groups totalling maybe 50 people. The OTOA presents a more abstract form of Voudon gnosis but still with a practical focus. There are a few group rituals although most of what is done is on an individual basis. Initiations are given from master to student. The OTOA provides knowledge of Voudon Gnosis (a basic preparation to approach the LCN) – you need the foundations of the OTOA first, and once the principles have been grasped then a student would be eligible to move on to the LCN, although not each student wishes to progress to the LCN because of the extreme character of the (spirit) work and the specific demands of the LCN subcults.
On La Couleuvre Noire and Bertiaux:
Bertiaux’s Voudon Gnostic Workbook is the main public teaching tool of the LCN, presenting a spiritist type of sorcery. The student first establishes contact with spirits, working “lucky hoodoo”, a simple but effective way of establishing spirit contact before moving on to more complex areas. There is a symbiotic relationship between the spirits and the practitioner. Whether the spirits are internal beings, Jungian archetypes or external realities is irrelevant as long as the relationship is effective.
A fundamental understanding of metaphysics allows us to incorporate esoteric Voudon into our own systems. Bertiaux drew parallels between systems; his was not a kitchen magick taking simplistic ingredients to make a composite whole, he goes deeper than that, drawing on the essential core which because of its bare-bones truth can be clad in the flesh of other systems.
On his book, Voudon Gnosis:
DB’s own book was published as an introduction and commentary but would only really be understandable to slightly more experienced occultists. It is not a dogmatic introduction to how people should study Voudon Gnosis although it contains some “official doctrine”; it is intended more as an introduction to ideas and perspectives. At the same time however the book, through its language and ideas, can work as an opener of inner gateways and dimensions and so takes on a truly unique magical character. It is a book to be read with your gut and soul open on multiple levels, not processed purely by the cerebral cortex. Topics cover Las Prise des Yeaux, Points Chauds, Spider Sorcery, Time Travelling, Elemental Sex Magick and The Grimoire Ghuehde, including two appendices on ‘Nganga and the Fetish’ and ‘A-Mor: an initiated analysis of Love’.
On the Merciless Path:
DB speaks of the Merciless Path which has complex implications within the Fraternitas Borealis and calls for a focus and dedication which should be observed by anyone with a sincere intent to study Voudon Gnosis or in fact any occult system; a dedication of their whole being to their spiritual and occult calling: this is a vocation. Occultism has become part of pop culture, a thing done in our spare time. A vocation calls for everything else to be submitted to the path, a kind of sadhu of Western Esotericism who sacrifices everything to focus on their spiritual development through occultism. It is called the Merciless Path because this type of dedication is self-critical; it requires constant challenging of our own status quo, and questions what our ideals and motivations are. It is a cruel look in the mirror everyday. People should continually move out of their comfort zones, and continue walking the thorny path even when it gets difficult. Instead, many approach their “spirituality” like an “occult supermarket” buying only those ingredients that fit their lives to build their own religion. Occultism as originally conceived in Gnosticism and sorcery is only for people with a vocation. It requires the student to take a stand against society, to face their fears and stand against the crowd in a secular society where spirituality is not highly regarded. The only spirituality that flourishes in mainstream societies such as America is the superficial spirituality of evangelists.
On membership, students and mentoring:
The OTOA and LCN have a very small capacity and are consequently selective in their membership. The aim is to create a smooth-running structure to facilitate the mentor relationships between student and teacher and to provide the best possible working environment; however, students must also display a suitable character to respond to such an opportunity to learn. The societies want people who work individually and have an experimental mind and approach (in particular applicable to the Fraternitas Borealis). It doesn’t provide a social group or environment like many other pagan groups. There is a focus on the individual and the burden of work falls on him or her.
Advice to students, the ‘Left-Hand Path’, sexual magick and esoteric love:
When asked what advice he would give to people interested in membership, DB said for the individual to question exactly what their motivation is in their involvement with occultism. What do they truly want? Materialistic powers? To overcome their outsider position in the society at large? Is it a vocation or supplemental to their life/a hobby? Their true motivations will soon be uncovered within the group. The would-be student must be ready to have his or her Self challenged and to break through boundaries. Lots of groups provide a sociological setting for people to have a devotional relationship with the divine where they can meet like-minded people and share in the odd ritual. People of the ‘Left-Hand Path’ (an inadequate and sorely abused term) need to challenge their own ideas, concepts and status quo constantly. They may need to do things they consider inappropriate, especially within the context of sexual magick. As a preliminary, they need to want to work with sexual energies and sexual magick in all forms in a way employed for spiritual advancement. If a person has some kind of extreme sexual tendency, such as masochism, they may have to act as a sadist in some contexts. The intention here is to break through the original framework and free the practitioner of such extreme constraints. If you work with sexual energies, you are also working on the liberation of self, without being dependant on an outside person (a Luciferian idea). In specific ritual contexts, the other person can act as a spark to ignite the inner fire of transformation. The risk here, however, is that the practitioner can confuse the other person with a full embodiment of the divine bride or groom.
The body is viewed as a temple, a tool to express the divine. Through experiences of the body, a person can experience the divine, and by employing the body in particular ways combined with a trained mind, it can lead to spiritual enlightenment. It is not about satisfying cravings for darker magick but about challenging what you think is proper for you. It is not an occult path that supports a person in maintaining the chimera of who they are at this moment – it strips that away and challenges it. The student must avoid interpreting things the way they want to, which is why the mentor relationship is so important, so he or she does not get stuck within their own prejudices and fantasies.
Myth conveys an esoteric reality; a form of collective memory clad in myth. The symbolism of myths communicates most to the cultural group it is closest too. Unlocking myths provides you with occult tools; such as Parsifal, the spiritual warrior, walking the Merciless Path, he sacrifices all to his cause. Myth provides us with a link to a living occult tradition; for example, the icon of Christ, the dying and resurrected man who through spiritual transformation obtained divine status. We must die to the profane self, crucify self on the cross of the elements and be resurrected in a higher self. In such an instance it is irrelevant whether Jesus was a historical figure or purely mythical, the message is still relevant against either premise.
On magick’s role in spirituality:
The spiritual journey per se is the path up the mountain; the magickal journey is the exploration of the mountain. Magick fulfils a searcher’s cravings for exploration and is a way to discover one’s own potential. Magickal work can support spiritual existence if employed as a supplement to spiritual development.
On the state of published occult knowledge today and pop culture:
Occult works are more prolific today as the fear of persecution has for the most part been removed. The question naturally exists as to what is authentic, and in particular with the use of the internet, one must consider the source.
The last 30 years of publishing have seen a plethora of poor quality material produced. New occult writers are bringing very little that is new to the circle, merely regurgitating the discoveries of the Old Guard. Nowadays fundamental research is missing, and people are instead looking for quick answers and quick-fixes. Superficiality is what glues people together today. There is no longer a desire for a Weltanschauung (a philosophical, conceptual understanding of the world at large), there is a greater desire for the “wild ride”, so occultism succeeds in popular culture as long as it is wild and interesting. People are a product of their society, a fact that infiltrates the occult community too. There must be a will to study and learn. The opportunities are there, but many don’t take advantage of them because they are comfortably ensconced in the society they live in; they neither have the capacity or the will to sit down and study properly. The purpose of true occult spirituality is to engage in a work that serves a higher purpose (which ultimately benefits the Self too). It cannot be approached as social group membership or in a consumer role with the wish to fulfil the aggrandisement of his or her ego.
On the future:
DB envisages a hope for the future where there is a chain of initiates who will carry on the work until the dark times of spiritual apathy are over, when a new consciousness will kick into action which will tear down the dualistic, exploitative and dehumanising structure we currently inhabit. The attainment of Kosmic consciousness for all of humanity will be sparked by this chain of initiates.
The problem of names and definitions rears its head all too often in the pagan community. I can’t remember seeing this much confusion in my brief contact with the Roman Catholic Christian Church; but there they had a 2,000 year old history to draw on (however rocky the foundations and censored the progression of that history), and there are very clear rites of passage to becoming a Christian, or more important (to them) a Catholic. My mother believes that non-Catholic Christians are as bad as non-Christians; they are all wrong and therefore damned. That’s a very clear definition and boundary.
There is no such clarity in paganism, and most certainly little clarity on the term ‘witch’. As we progress along our own personal paths our tolerance to fluffydom fades and is quickly replaced by frustration, because that’s not what ‘we’ are, and others may judge us by their standards: they “give pagans a bad name”. Maybe.
I think labels can be very disingenuous, but people want to know how you label yourself, so they can compare you against the list of their own criteria and see where you fit into their world picture. This is human nature. We like to know where we stand with other people; are we singing from the same hymn sheet? The greatest disappointment can come when we assume that a person is one thing, and then further down the line we realise they are everything we despise; the shiny copper glamour of the initial meeting turns a green patina against the ravage of our elemental criticism.
I have spoken a few times on the blog about what I am, what label I go by. Naturally this changes over time as I consolidate the tendencies of my path. Changing labels – that’s something people dislike even more than not having a label! Often people have kindly urged me to ‘just be’, to defy the definition. Maybe. If I were to live in a solitary bubble not engaging with other pagans and non-pagans, then that would be fine. But conversation and discussion means we have to have common words, we have to agree on our definitions or never get passed “Hello, you’re a what?!”.
I know that it can be extremely threatening to some people when others start bandying around pagan categories: this is what makes you Wiccan; this is what makes you a witch. The fear is that they will fall betwixt and between and not find recognition in ‘the community’. As pagans we are already outsiders; insult to injury if we are then labelled outsiders by other Outsiders!
However, for the pagan community to be solid, for witches of all shades to have a chance at survival, we need to start looking at definitions, and what makes us who we are. The discussion is being had in small gatherings and circles all over the world. Everyone has an opinion. There is little consensus, and the fact is, we have no pagan pope to lay down the law, and if we did we would probably truss him up with the law stuffed in his gob and fling him off a cliff … actually maybe I’m projecting; that’s what I’d want to do with him, other pagans would most likely sit around him in a circle and blow incense and loving thoughts at him in the hopes that his spirit be released from the constraints of dogma. Yech!
I try very hard to let other people self-define. Yes, I balk at the Pagan Dudes who equate paganism to music festivals; at the fluffies who do not think beyond a love spell and write Isis with two hearts as dots over the ‘i’s. Grrrr. I can feel my blood boiling as I write. But I had a discussion earlier today with someone I respect and love greatly, and he has shown me that, actually, yes, I am irritated by people calling themselves something they are not. I’m quite quick to see who’s a doer and who’s a talker. Sometimes the talkers talk because they are scared of doing; they want it desperately but words are the closest they get to it. It’s hard to walk the line of respect for another’s limitations; especially when you agree with someone else’s criticism. Half the time I sit and bite my tongue. It’s not for me to say who or what a person is.
I suppose the summary of the current state of affairs is: take every label with a pinch of salt: the labels that people give themselves and the label you choose for yourself. I am still unsure how to label myself: I practise magick, I perform pagan rituals, I worship the gods of Egypt, I talk to spirits alive and dead – does that make me a witch? I don’t know. I deliberately choose the word ‘witch’ because there is such disagreement over what one is, that I think I could slip past the bodyguards at the door and party with the rest of them.
Ultimately I may disagree with how people define themselves, but I can’t judge them and their path. It’s how they get through life. If calling themselves a witch or Wiccan helps to give them strength to soldier on; who am I to question that? As frustrating as it may be at times. I rejoice in communion and like-mindedness wherever I find it, whatever its name. The important thing is to know where I am going. I am dedicated to the Egyptian gods. And even though my experience is a neophytic speck of dirt compared to others I know, magick is my life and focus for my future. I’ve gone too far to ever go back. So would you call me a witch…?
© starofseshat 2008
Yesterday I attended the Thelemic Symposium in Oxford. My motivation was intensely personal. As such I took no notes, so my impressions of the speakers are entirely subjective, probably skewed and flavoured with my own biases and opinions (what’s new?).
Once we had got over our initial hilarity at the location, which was essentially a scout-hut with bar at the back of a housing estate, we soon realised what an absolutely perfect site it was: private, comfortable with bar and food, and no prying eyes of locals. Inside, the stage area was decorated with curtains and a beautiful arched painting of Nuit. She took my breath away and I looked at her often throughout the day.
Unfortunately the DuQuettes were absent, so the number of talks dropped to 6. First off were Peter Grey and his partner on Babalon. Each read their own incredibly evocative and thrilling interpretations of Babalon, the Whore, the Scarlet Woman. (I notice a discrepancy here in my understanding of their work, and TGW’s notes – this I think reflects my bias in favour of Babalon.) Their Babalon was a strong, indefatigable woman, independent and raw; she was the Babalon of two people in love; and the Babalon who challenged all preconceptions including those of Thelema. They called on Thelemites to reject dogma and to commit blasphemy to infuse new life into a partially degenerate philosophy that needed to change to respond and be relevant to the times. The raw sexual language was beautiful, challenging and ultimately deeply arousing. I later overcame my innate shyness to ask them for copies of their work because I very much want to read through both texts at my leisure.
A couple of talks later, this particular image of Babalon was shaken to its roots by Melissa Harrington who spoke about Thelema and The Feminine. (I would just like to say I admired her spirit and thoroughly enjoyed her talk. It’s only because she posed such interesting ideas, that I feel able to engage in discussion and disagree with some of her points of reference.) Her first words, though not unkind, were to Peter Grey and partner, saying, “Come back when you’ve had children and tell me again about Babalon.” I prickled at what I felt was a rather dismissive statement. Her talk went on to question the role of women in Thelema; that because the structure has been so male dominated since its inception, that there are not enough provisions made for women, either in a spiritual sense or practically in the form of crèches at rituals. She looked at the audience and marked everyone as a first generation believer, and wondered how on earth anyone could be expected to bring up a child in Thelema with the lack of structure and openness to families and children. This was a fair point, but one that could have been made in isolation. Instead she cited Crowley’s behaviour with a string of women, the drugs, the abandonment and death through negligence of some of the children. She found this an unacceptable basis for a religion; that women were essentially given sexual freedom but not the power to deal with it. This is true, and perhaps because I don’t see Crowley as a prophet, but more as an inspired madman, I have no issue in taking the good and leaving the bad: when you start talking about “religion” then people start wanting absolutes; they want their prophets to be flawless and their gods to be manifest in dogma. Untidiness irritates such people. And such people irritate me. Whether it is directly Crowley’s responsibility or actually a failure of responsibility by the women themselves, I find harder to say, and the discussion smacks to me slightly of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Are the personality flaws of Crowley then, still relevant now? Can’t we take the best of his work and just move forward with it? If we are looking to him as a cult leader, then his personality flaws certainly create stumbling blocks; but if he is an inspiration, in the true sense of the word as a source that inspires us to other things, then I don’t see that it matters.
Another thing that riled me slightly, was that all of these points could have stood strongly on their own without bringing in the image of Babalon. She said that Babalon was a whore, and a male wet-dream, that ultimately Crowley did not question the motivation of whores and the desperation that drove them to whoredom. A fair point to a degree. But she ultimately robbed Babalon of any power, citing her childlessness as indicative of the barren nature of her symbolism, and that consequently this barrenness was being expressed in current day Thelema by the lack of provision for women and children, and the concomitant outcome that no one at the conference had been brought up as a Thelemite. Two points need addressing here: one – I HATE the way women who have had children then interpret everything in their lives thereafter from the perspective of motherhood as the pinnacle of female achievement. I understand that to them it is the most momentous thing of their lives. But to invoke childlessness as an expression of barrenness, negativity, lack of self, lack of will, slavery to male sexuality is in my opinion entirely missing the point of Babalon. She is an independent woman figure desired by man. She holds tremendous power. I have seen so many women lose any sense of self and individuality to their children; so many merge and become solely the power engine for their brood. Rightly so. If you are going to bring a being into the world, it is your responsibility to give that being everything you can. I am not criticising this. What I criticise is the assumption that childless women are less because they do NOT sacrifice themselves for their children. (This was implicit rather than explicit in her talk; it was unaddressed and hence bugged me big time.) For me, Babalon is a powerful Goddess that represents the ultimate in freedom. Does feminist freedom always have to be entirely and utter split from men? Can’t we be free and still in relationship with men? And if it is right to sacrifice yourself to your children whom you love, why is it suddenly wrong to sacrifice yourself to a man you love? The second point is that my understanding of Thelema is that it is a spiritual path which requires a spiritual awakening: it needs you to make the realisation of will to undertake the path; it is not a philosophy that can be taught at Sunday school. It is the philosophy of adults searching for a way to the divine. By trying to force a familial pattern of parental guidance on Thelema, she is trying (in my opinion) to make a tomato out of a chestnut.
Her second partial criticism was how women often came to Thelema through a male partner, but that often the women remained in Thelema once that original partnership dissolved. She used this as indicative of the non-woman friendly feeling in Thelema. Again, I disagree and believe that the reason for this is perhaps slightly more complicated. Thelema, the Gnostic mass and other tenets, are very sexual; to an outsider they could appear (indeed in some ways ARE) sexually aggressive. In today’s world I think there are very few women who would feel comfortable entering such a scene on their own, however great their interest. So perhaps the fact that women often approach Thelema through a male partner is less about emphasizing the male dominance and male leadership in Thelemic male/female relationships, than it is about reflecting the sad status of our society, that women are often frightened of overt, public expression of sexuality and feel safer approaching it all through a male partner whom they trust will keep them safe (at least until they have gained trust and confidence in the community).
The second talk was The 5 Senses in AMOOKOS and Tantrik Traditions, by Mike Magee. This was a fairly basic introduction to the idea of Tantra; the balance of Shakti and Shiva, the balance of male and female internally. The only new bit of information for me was gleaned from a training level in the AMOOKOS tradition, where initiates were called on to practice sense focus for a period of 26 weeks: one week they would focus on sight and keep a journal about (for example) the different shades of grey they saw through the week; the second week focused on taste; the third on hearing; the fourth on touch; the fifth on smell and the sixth represented ether and was a week of meditating on the present, of grounding and feeling utterly in the moment. This sequence was repeated over the 26 weeks, by the end of which you would have an extensive diary of your sensory experiences, which often led to certain changes in the initiate and the integration of disparate memories and sensory experiences. An integrity of being seemed to be the ultimate focus, but the final outcome depended entirely on the initiate’s own experiences and it was up to them to apply interpretations and learn from their experiences. This is a practice I am considering working through, as it could be very useful for my Kundalini practice.
Following Melissa Harrington, there was a talk by Charlotte Rodgers on Taboo & Blood Rites. There was in my mind very little information on generic blood rites, and it was more of a personal journey using blood; this was fascinating and I warmed to this woman greatly. She discussed the difference between venous blood and menstrual blood. She cited personal experience, which I don’t think it is appropriate to go into here. She touched on the subject of Mayan yoga, as in Maya/illusion. Performing this type of yoga in front of mirrors covered in blood symbols draws out aspects of self. This encourages a splitting of self to enable working on manifest aspects of self.
After this there was a talk on Goetic Magick by Jake Stratton-Kent. His experience seemed focused primarily on the Grimoirum Verum. The content of his talk passed me by, the prime interest for me came in the question time where he talked more openly about spirits with whom he had what he termed a “marriage type relationship”. These relationships were concrete things that he worked on as any other kind of relationship. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way that he spoke about spirits. His relationship with them seemed more concrete than my own, but the way he spoke of them as such an integral part of his life – “I get along with some spirits better than I do with some people” – this rung true for me, and I felt he was speaking my language.
The final talk was given by a young German man, David Beth, Into the Meon – Inside Voudon Gnosis. His English was excellent, but unfortunately he assumed that everyone in the audience was privy to certain knowledge, that TGW and I mostly certainly were not. Consequently we were unable to follow the thread and missed out on learning much of anything. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for the more learned people in the audience. What did strike me was that in his tradition blood shares a cosmic essence with the “upper world”. The junction where these two essences meet in the adept is the hieros gamos. He also spoke of a concept called Las Prise des Yeaux, which is a form of esoteric vision of objects where you view the spiritual essence in all things animate and inanimate (another practical exercise in the offing).
This is a censored and curtailed version of the event, and hence the text at times appears a little choppy, for which I apologise. I took some hefty secateurs to it to make it publicly palatable Some things are not appropriate for public consumption, some things are too personal to me to convey. Let it just be said, that this was a hugely important day for me and I will definitely be going next year.
© starofseshat 2008