If you wish to copy this text, please link back to this blog and accredit me, the author. Thank you.
Nb: If you find two pagans who agree, you haven’t found two pagans!
A pagan is person who practises a spiritual path; he or she follows either an established tradition under the “Pagan” umbrella or takes aspects of paganism, which are meaningful to him or her, and creates a way of living. A pagan is not somebody who only worships once a week or at special times in the year; a pagan path embraces all aspects of living and is a philosophy as well as a spirituality.
So what comes under the “Pagan” umbrella?
There are innumerable pagan paths: some draw on native religions such as the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans; some look to history and “re-kindle” Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythologies; then there are the neo-pagan religions of Wicca and the eclectic lifestyles and approaches of Green Witches, Hedgewitches and Kitchen Witches. There are Discordians and the followers of the Feri tradition, modern-day neo-shamans, magickians, wizards and witches. But not every pagan is a witch!
Pagans can be monotheists (believing in one god or goddess), polytheists (believing in two or more gods/goddesses), polyentheists (believing that god/goddess exists in all things) or even atheists (no belief in a god/goddess).
Paganism can (although does not have to) incorporate occult studies, and indeed some occultists would not describe themselves as pagan, although some definitely would. The occult world includes Thelemites (who follow the religion/philosophy of Aleister Crowley), Satanists (Satanism as created by Anton LeVey in the 1960s), Luciferians, Gnostics, Qabbalists … the list is virtually endless.
Isn’t it a bit vague having so many different paths under one word?
Yes and no. It can appear vague and confusing when you first approach paganism, but once you start learning, studying and exploring you will be overwhelmed with the richness both of paganism and the diversity of the people attracted to it. One thing is key amongst pagans: to accept the path that the other person walks. There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
Is paganism a cult?
No, paganism is not a cult. There is no one figure who commands all pagans. Even though there are occasionally oddballs proclaiming that they are, for example, King or Queen of the Witches, this is something rejected by pagans and usually cause for much hilarity.
We abhor bullying and coercion in any area of life and this is something that goes very much against the Pagan Path. To reiterate the previous answer: There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
The word “cult” is often used as a slur word to disparage someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Often people using the word “cult” have their own agenda of conflict and negativity, rather than a true desire to promote spirituality and personal growth.
Are pagans devil worshippers?
The majority of pagans do not believe in the devil; Satan or the devil for them is a construct of Judeo-Christian religions and mythology. There is a lot of confusion in this area as the pagan image of, for example, Pan (who is the god of nature, hunting and revelry) has been subsumed into Christian culture as the epitome of “what the devil looks like”. Pan is by no means an evil god, and many pagans would even dispute the existence of evil itself, but would say that “evil” is energy just as “good” is energy: a gun is only a piece of metal until the gun-holder decides how to use it. This is a key point within paganism: there is no doctrine telling us what is wrong or right. We each carry a heavy responsibility as to how we use this “moral energy”. It would be easier if we were told what to do, but instead we have to cultivate self-awareness, respect of others, sensitivity to the environment, a knowledge of cause and effect and make our decisions bearing all this in mind within our spiritual framework.
Are pagans witches?
Some pagans are witches, but the majority are not. Many pagans do not practise witchcraft or spellwork. Witches can come in many guises: some are Wiccans, some Dianic witches, Green Witches, Hedgewitches, Kitchen witches, etc. Traditional witchcraft and Voodoo even draw on the spellcraft of Pennsylvanian Christian pow wow magic. Witchcraft is like a river with many tributaries feeding it – some of which lead to surprising sources.
What is a pagan ritual?
The answer to this will depend very much on which tradition you choose to work with. A pagan ritual in general will aim at focusing the energy of the person or participants (if it is group work); this energy can be drawn from themselves or from any of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether/Spirit, for example. Sometimes the energy is focused on sending healing to people, or on blessing the group, reconnecting with deity or many other things.
Rituals can be either in a group or worked individually. Rituals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. The main point, however, is to learn the basics and for that there are many good books and (through the Herefordshire Moot) willing people to teach and advise you.
Do pagans believe in Jesus?
Some do and some do not. Many pagans believe in a wide variety of higher beings. Jesus is one of these beings for some pagans. Some believe he was a great spiritual teacher, but not a god. Some have no feelings about him at all.
Who is the pagan god?
There is no single pagan god. As mentioned before, some pagans believe in one god or goddess, some believe in two or more and some believe in none. It depends on the tradition you are called to work with.
What do pagans do?
Pagans are just like anybody else. You will find pagans working in industry, in the military, employed, unemployed, well, sick, happy, sad, divorced, married, hand-fasted (pagan marriage) and other. Most pagans will work around the pagan year honouring the equinoxes and solstices, marking the new moon and full moon. Some will do elaborate rituals in groups or on their own, some will do nothing more than light a candle and internally connect with what is important to them.
Do pagans pray?
Some pagans pray in what would be recognised as a “traditional way”, others use forms of meditation, drumming, chanting or dancing. There are many ways of connecting with deity and pagans are pragmatic in that, if it works, they’ll try it!
Where are the pagan churches?
Most pagans would say that their church is Nature and that She is where they worship. Others might say that when they cast a circle (create a sacred space), that is their church. Since pagans believe that deity is everywhere, however deity is conceived, the idea of a fixed building in which to worship is unnecessary.
How do you become a pagan?
Try firstly to read as much as you can about paganism and its different offshoots. Meet up with pagans. Ask lots of questions! When you feel the time is right, you will know how best to dedicate yourself to your chosen path and deity or deities. Most people begin with a personal, individual dedication. Groups, such as covens (not all groups of pagans are covens), do not usually allow people to join them until they have shown a commitment to studying and learning about that particular path. A moot, however, is a social environment for meeting pagans: you don’t even have to be pagan to come along, just bring your interest and respect for others.
What do I need to be a pagan?
You only need yourself and a sincere interest to learn, a yearning in your belly that this is where you belong, combined with an open heart and mind for your fellow pagans. No one is going to judge you if you step on this Path and decide at a later date it is not for you. Our Paths can be winding ones, and each step teaches us something valuable.
Why do people say bad things about pagans?
People often ridicule what they do not understand. Hollywood has also created many damaging and untrue stereotypes. This is why it is important for people genuinely interested in paganism to inform themselves from reputable authors and to meet up with real pagans. You cannot teach your paganism by watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” or any other light entertainment. Paganism is a spiritual way of living that requires commitment, soul-searching, self-awareness and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easily, but the joy of finding yourself on the right Path with like-minded others can’t be overestimated.
In the first chapter of his book*, Ludwig Klages looks at different perceptions of the word love (Liebe) and the different meanings assigned to this word. In elucidating the different shades of ‘Liebe’ he highlights the inadequacy of this word for the purposes of his book (I will be writing something on each chapter, so you will find out his philosophical destination shortly after I do). For this post I want to share with you some of the different definitions of love à la Klages. Please bear in mind that I am translating these concepts from the German, and whereas they are beautifully, concisely and simply expressed in the German, they are slightly forced in English.
There is love as a spiritual/emotional quality, where we speak of a ‘loving person’, i.e. someone who has the capacity for love or where love is an integral quality in their personality.
There is love is a condition of taking continual or temporary pleasure (Wohlgefallen) in something. Such pleasure is made up of inclination (Neigung) and interest (Interesse), with the emphasis in interest on the love to a thing. In its extreme form this is expressed as an enthusiasm (Begeisterung).
Love is also understood as Christian love/Karitas – a duty-bound esteem or expression of mercy.
Then there is the ‘tendency’ of the heart (Herzensneigung), an inclination, pull or draw to certain things or to particular features and characters. Each arbitrary tendency of the heart establishes a selective and specific relationship between the heart and the object of its affection.
There is a love to particular parts and features of a person: hands, feet, smells…), which ranges from a purely habitual inclination up to a passionate pull towards the love object.
An impulse/drive/urge (Trieb) dictates the direction which it compels you to follow; an inclination (Neigung) dictates a direction which you would allow to manifest or not if the appropriate situation arose.
The various classes and forms of inclination are too weak however to convey a genuine urge for union (Vereinigungstrieb). The difference is expressed using its negative form as follows: if you experience a negative inclination against an object you will avoid it; if you experience a negative emotion from a Trieb-state (a state of compulsion ruled by an inner urge), such as hate, fury or envy, you seek out the object to deliberately break with it.
Since true union with a love object is not possible, the fulfilment of this urge is generally epitomised in the form of close physical proximity. The essence of such love is expressed in tenderness/affection (Zärtlichkeit), which in turn is manifest in its basic form as a mother’s love.
The need for affection (Zärtlichkeitsbedürfnis) runs through each person’s life and can also be satisfied with objects, such as feathers, velvet, fur … essentially any kind of sensual touch.
Then there is the urge/drive to engulf or devour (Verschlingungstrieb) which is only satisfied once the love object is devoured or consumed (e.g. food, drink, although I believe this concept could also understood in a metaphysical or abstract way). This type of drive is more than an impulse; it forces a situation into being where the urge is fulfilled. The words ‘passion’ or ‘enthusiasm’ are too weak for this type of love, in its extreme form it becomes ‘lust’ or an appetite on many levels of being.
Then there is the sexual drive (Geschlechtstrieb/Sexus). In this context the noun ‘love’ is used synonymously with the word sex and ‘to love’ or ‘to make love’ is used for the sexual act. This is an urge to copulate and is expressed in sexual activity; as such it can be subclassified into: different-gender sexual love, same-gender sexual love, sexual activity with animals, love of self-display (exhibitionism), sexual activity incorporating particular body parts (fetishism), etc.
Love in its extreme form is called passion when the love object is socially approved and an addiction (or also perversion) when it is not approved socially (e.g. extreme love of drink – alcoholism; extreme love of food – gluttony, etc.).
In summary, Klages lists a brief range of ‘loves’:
Love of an object
Love of self (i.e. egotism)
Love of our neighbour/enemy
Love for friends
Extreme, passionate love
Love of drink
Just this brief array makes it clear that a philosopher is walking a semantic minefield if he chooses to use the word ‘love’ to convey any concept. Consequently, for the above diversity of reasons, Klages decides not to use the word ‘Liebe’, as, he says, none of these definitions can even approach the true knowledge of elemental Eros.
So what does Klages want to tell us about Eros? Stay tuned for the next chapter on the concept of Eros in antiquity.
*Nb. Cosmogonic: pertaining to the branch of astronomy dealing with the origin, history, structure and dynamics of the universe
While reading W. E. Butler, I came across a chapter called The Kings of Edom in which he tries to describe evil. The premise for this chapter is that the magician must work on his [sic] character by rooting out the evil within. In order to root out the evil, one must know what evil is. It is a slim volume (entitled Magic, Its Ritual, Power and Purpose) so I wouldn’t expect the author to go into huge amounts of detail, but … yes, you’ve guess it … I don’t agree with a lot of what he says.
Firstly he states that: “The first type of evil is the innate resistance of form to force.” By this he means the concept of inertia or the restriction of free-flowing force, and here at least he admits that some kinds of evil are not evil at all. So, for example, Evil No. 1 expresses the restriction of force in the form of steam (force) in a steam engine (tool of restriction) producing positive results, which means it is not evil. Butler calls the results “useful work” … so any force I can harness that makes useful work is an evil which isn’t evil? This is therefore good? Oh, the grey fields of semantics that stretch before me…
Then, for Evil No. 2, he makes a rather extreme leap from the mundane example of a steam engine to the superlative metaphysical concept of “The Abortion of Space”, that space where “evolving life, finding no resistance, no fulcrum for its lever, may be absorbed and rendered impotent… ” (sounds like the town centre on a Saturday night to me). So I am at a loss to find a mundane example that would fit his idea of inertia that is evil… either it is a steam engine (useful and good) or an archetypal emptiness outside the bounds of description (bad).
Evil No. 3 he calls “unbalanced force”. He doesn’t seem to mean neutral forces that need a tool (magician) to be applied in one direction or the other; here, he speaks of a “perfectly good and useful force or energy [which] is displaced in space or time and the resulting out-of-balance is definitely evil.” Thinking that we might be getting the nitty-gritty of it, I read on to his next example… “The water in the bath is good, but the same water escaping from the bath and cascading down the stairway, is evil.” Now, call me pedantic, but I would call an overflowing bath an inconvenience or an annoyance but not evil. I understand the idea that he is trying to convey, but really … a bath. What about genocide, rape, child abuse, the petty emotional abuses between parents and children, between lovers and friends? Nope. A bath. How very English.
Under the banner of Evil No. 3 he also speaks of displacement of energy in time. He talks of modern civilised man regressing to a “lower and primitive level of human culture” (regression to the past), and of people trying to materialise in the present a state of civilisation only possible in the future (anticipation of the future). On a macrocosmic level I think that this could put a severe cap on progress, as how would any civilisation develop without those people who strive to manifest “higher concepts” now. He rags on pacifists (bearing in mind this was written shortly after WWII), saying that they are trying to manifest a future state of humankind in the present; i.e. we are not ready for pacifism so we should not attempt it. But this also presupposes that mankind would be capable of it in the future. Who is to say what state of civilisation is unattainable to us in the here and now, let alone in the future? This philosophy, in my mind, leaves no room for idealists, scientists, artists, inventors or even mystics.
Confusingly (to me) he states that these two shades of evil under Evil No. 3 are “positive evils” … but wait! There is also something called a “positive positive evil” which is manifest in “the existence of organised evil”. Here we touch on the “calculated beastliness revealed during the second World War”. Now the language may be anachronistic, but we know what he means. From here he moves on to say that, “All the old religions have taught of organised spiritual evil, and the Christian Faith has personified it as Satan.” After this he goes a bit “Atlantis”, a bit “Lemuria” on me, and starts talking about the psychic atmosphere around the earth becoming over-clouded with evil and that every two thousand years the Logos and Lord of Light transmutes the “evil conditions of the planet … into higher conditions and influences – a World Alchemy!” Naturally he is talking about Jesus, but I can’t actually remember any period of peace or goodwill following the supposed life of Jesus … war followed war followed persecution followed occupation followed crusade etc. etc. THIS is the world alchemy? THIS is the righting of balance? And since we are at that two thousand point of transmutation yet again … tell me, where are the signs for another such alchemical experiment?
Okay, so on a macrocosmic level, I think his examination of evil stinks. However, on a microcosmic level I can see some value.
Evil No. 1 (the evil that isn’t evil, remember?): The productive and creative harnessing of internal forces and energies to achieve some type of gain (financial stability, health, creative expression, happy relationships, etc.)
Evil No. 2: The uncontrollable abyss of anger turned inwards (an internalised abortion of space), the dark shades of depression, the feeling of futility in the face of a meaningless world.
Evil No. 3: In social anthropology taboo is defined as “matter out of place”, hence having sex in a Christian church is taboo but having sex in your own bed is not – in the former it is in “the wrong place”, in the latter it is in the “right” place (right and wrong as judged by the respective society you live within). So could Evil No. 3 apply to us when we are in the wrong place in life – the job we know is wrong but never have the courage to leave; the relationship we know is harmful but never have the strength to finish. And then we can also be in the wrong headspace: angry (which can be a misdirected expression of hurt or love or fear), afraid (sometimes an expression of the need for change against the overwhelming feeling of helplessness). So Evil No. 3 could be “matter out of place” mundanely, emotionally and spiritually and pushes us to question “Am I in the right place?”.
I also like the idea of regression to the past and anticipation of the future applied as evils to the microcosmic self. Briefly (because it is a simple idea), how often do we get bogged down in dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future without realising that the sands of time are slipping through our numb fingers all the while and we are not living NOW?
And as for positive positive organised evil … this is where I come unstuck on a microcosmic level. Maybe this is the meeting point between the evil within me as an individual and the evil within us as a social community. This is where evil steps across the boundaries of internal expression and becomes manifest in the larger community of mankind. Maybe this is where we decide whether to stay silent as so many did in Nazi Germany, to lock our doors against the screams, to turn off the television when the reports of war get too unpleasant. This kind of evil doesn’t need us to become card-carrying members of the Nazi party or to search websites on how to become a suicide bomber, all it takes is silence; the quiet consent. Here we encounter Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil”; a choice we encounter daily.
So, this is what I have squeezed out of Mr Butler, and since his premise was one of microcosmic application, perhaps it was more successful than I at first supposed. However, it is still a very unsatisfactory treatise on evil, but an interesting exercise nonetheless.
Now, excuse me while I go and check my bath, one can’t have beastly unrestrained evil flowing all over the floor, now can one??
© starofseshat 2008
I have been pondering over this post for a few days. I am in the middle of reading Arthur Versluis’ Egyptian Mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed his book The Philosophy of Magic and so was very hopeful when I started reading the Egyptian Mysteries. However, I have continually come up against his very strong Gnostic twist on everything Egyptian which I find inappropriate and misleading. My notes on his book have turned into a private rant and have taken my thoughts off in philosophical directions far from the original text (in that sense, a good book because it has got me thinking). My greatest bugbear so far with the book is his interpretation of Ma’at as Order and Harmony. This is a common interpretation and I am sticking my neck on the line by disagreeing with it.
[Briefly: Gnostics believe that we are emanations from a divine source, that the further away from the divine we are, the more lost and in darkness we are. The aim is to journey back to the source, to achieve that original unity with the divine which is a remote and distant figure. Dualist Gnostics believe that the material world is the furthest emanation away from the divine and is therefore innately bad. They strive away from the material (e.g. through sexual abstinence, fasting and denial of the 'worldly') in an attempt to bring themselves back to the divine, which is innately good. For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism%5D
I agree that the main focus of Egyptian belief centres around Ma’at. Ma’at is Order in the face of the chaos demons Apophis and Typhon (for example) – although not forgetting that the chaos demons are also integral to the Order of the worlds. She restrains the unrestrained and focuses energy and power that would otherwise wreak pure destruction. She is the outcome and the tool for harnessing our inner anger and self-destructiveness, for controlling (though not taming) the inner demons to become a driving force behind our own creative and destructive powers. In this sense you could perhaps view Ma’at as harmony: a balance between two extremes to enable us to control both the left-hand and right-hand energies to move powerfully forwards (although I would say that at times we need to lean more in one direction or another to progress; after all, pure balance of two points can also describe stagnation).
From an academic point of view, I find Versluis’ interpretation of Egyptian culture suspect to say the least. He posits that Egyptian culture derived from an earlier, ‘purer’ [sic] culture out of which both Oriental and Occidental traditions arose. Consequently, due to the lack of empirical evidence in respect of an Egyptian understanding of the world, he continually draws on the Vedanta in the Upanishads and the Tao Te Ching. He will start with an Egyptian concept and without any reference to Egyptian sources, interpret it based solely on a comment in the Tao Te Ching (for example). And naturally all interpretations are heavily slanted in support of a dualistic Gnostic perspective. I understand the principle of drawing parallels between religious traditions to understand archetypal concepts, but Ma’at (in my mind) is peculiarly Egyptian. His book would more accurately be described as a Gnostic perspective of Egyptian mysteries, rather than a book elucidating Egyptian mysteries per se.
I see his emphasis of the harmonisation aspect of Ma’at as a direct moral bias betraying his own starting point. BUT, in putting forth my own interpretation below, I am fully aware that I am doing exactly the same thing, and betraying my own left-hand leaning. So be it.
Firstly let me say what I do agree with, namely that to truly understand the origins of the Western spiritual tradition, we need to understand the Egyptian mysteries and tradition. I also agree that there are numerous parallels and influences between traditions old and new.
Secondly, there are some points made by Versluis that I like the sound of, although I have no credible proof or experience to back up his ideas. These are thoughts I would like to ponder further: He says that Egyptian religion and culture were marked by the personal responsibility of each person to unite any breach of Heaven and Earth. In this respect he implies that it is not just about maintaining the status quo and adhering to the laws of society, although by definition, the laws of Ancient Egyptian society would have been (even if only nominally) focused entirely on sustaining and restoring Ma’at. As many of you will know from my blog, I very much support the concept of personal responsibility; and in fact I see established religions, groups, covens and temples as being a sore testing ground for personal responsibility as in such contexts it is far easier for the spiritually lazy to be carried along by the majority (before anyone gets their knickers in a serious twist, I know that this is not always the case, but it is a relevant point).
Versluis also speaks of “…the strength of a traditional culture [lying] in its irradiative power, involving and unifying all people towards the realisation of their true nature [Will?] of the Divine.” I think this is a nice, if slightly naïve idea, although I think it is also a rather hagiographic portrayal of Egyptian society – again, on what basis (apart from wishful thinking) does he make such a statement?
Versluis’ writing is here very much coloured by the belief in that primeval Golden Age where Heaven and Earth were united. Through ritual and the enforcement of Ma’at the bridge between celestial and terrestrial is maintained. According to Versluis, “Only when this power is thwarted, when disorder and the anti-traditional behaviours begin to gain sway, ignoring and defiling the teachings of antiquity, does such a culture break down, fragment and disappear…” He goes on to cite the rise of Judaism and Christianity as pivotal factors in exacerbating this decline… I am highly suspicious of any attempt to raise any one culture or religion above others, and to claim that salvation of the world (no less) can be found in one direction alone.
However, the idea of bridging the gap between celestial and terrestrial struck me as a more meaningful interpretation of Ma’at, and something that tallies with my own experience of the Egyptian religion.
The concept of harmony carries with it a moral interpretation that I do not share. Ma’at as Order – yes. But what if perfect Order between the earthly and celestial realms does not necessarily involve harmony (in terms of balancing opposing forces). Indeed Versluis’ seems to contradict himself by citing the example of the myth of Typhon scattering pieces of Osiris’ body; at each place a temple was raised, a holy site where a Divine ladder extended upward between heaven and earth. These places (says Versluis) retained some of the primordial spiritual unity of the temporal and divine (the essence of that Golden Era of perfect unity with the divine that Gnostics are so fond of). To quote: “And in this vein, there can be little doubt that to this day certain areas resonate with primordial power – sometimes for good and sometimes not.” Ignoring his almost coy avoidance of the word ‘bad’ or ‘evil’, the question arises of how an area that retains the primordial unity can be ‘not good’ and yet harmonious and an expression of Ma’at by his own definition. I would say that ‘good’ and ‘not good’ (!) are just extreme aspects on a graded (possibly circular) scale from good to evil. There is no black and white dualism in my opinion (such desperation to split the world neatly into two categories of right and wrong, to me is a cry of fear from someone overwhelmed by the chaos and general muckiness that is life). It is not always so easy to assign a shade to an action or manifestation. Sometimes a thing just ‘is’: perhaps the essence of existing is in being connected both with the celestial and the earthly planes, that this is the actual manifestation of Maat. Hence, Ma’at would be not the balance of two realms, but the connection. Ma’at is (for me) the expression of True Existence when we are not just surviving in the world, but living and manifesting our true Will by the connection of both the celestial and the terrestrial within and without ourselves. What else is the magician but the creator and manifestor of such connections? The magician in her work with the nominally good and evil is the ultimate sustainer and embodiment of Ma’at; who else connects the celestial and terrestrial realms better than a magician who invokes and evokes the Other, the celestial, and manifests it on the terrestrial plane?
So, in my own biased and left-hand shaded interpretation, Ma’at is Order and Connection, and has little to do with the morally biased term of Harmony.
In this sense, may Ma’at be on your tongues, in your heart and manifest in your lives.
© starofseshat 2008
In Arthur Versluis’ The Philosophy of Magic he writes:
“There is one aspect of invocation that must be reiterated: the difference between expulsion of the demonic and invocation of the daimonic… the invocation of devic or celestial influences implies the expulsion of the lower, bestial or demonic creatures which ordinarily inhabit the mind of man – the demons of desire and hatred… Each time we manifest desire or aversion, we are bringing to life, signing a pact with, one of the demons of ego.
The reason the true magus – in the vernacular – ‘consorts with demons’ is to expulse those inner forms of ego. Every instant, every day that one lives without having expulsed those demons is a day lived in a tacit pact with them…For these reasons, the popular image of the magician as one who ‘consorts with demons’ is at once ironic … and accurate…”
This passage struck a chord with me, not least because it was a topic I was discussing with a friend not too long ago. He said that anything in your life which controls you instead of you controlling it, is demonic and calls for some kind of exorcism. That in itself resonated as I feel that I am undergoing an exorcism of my past at the moment which is freeing me physically and mentally. I know a couple of people who have confided in me that they are scared of their own alcohol intake that it is potentially problematic and yet they do nothing to change the situation – this could be classed (according to the above definition) as a form of demonic possession. Compulsive eating is demonic as the sufferer of this condition is most definitely under the control of the disorder, not the other way around. The uniting thread seems to be compulsion, a forcing of our will away from the middle path, often away from what we know is good for us: a compulsion to self-harm through excessive food, excessive alcohol, dangerous relationships or >insert your chosen ‘sin’ here<. Although I know that some people may get their knickers in a twist about me suggesting even indirectly that their ‘weaknesses’ are demonic and they are in need of an exorcism, I hope that they can overcome the knee-jerk response (which may indeed be the inner demon recoiling at being uncovered!) and consider the concept. I find the idea of almost personalizing the compulsions within very interesting. We can often recognise the compulsion, the end-product as it were, but not know the origins which is why we throw ourselves into therapy or compulsive repetition of our errors – so easily one demon can become legion within us if we don’t deal with the original intruder; after all, once demon number one has settled into the comfort of an entrenched ego, why wouldn’t he send out a general invite to his mates?
Yes, I am being flippant, but the concept still holds and it is helping me compartmentalise a mess of feelings inside me. So once the demon is identified, the question is, what to do? I think that is a personal decision, and I would not give a generalised answer to that when someone may take it as law and run with the idea right over a cliff (metaphorically speaking … although isn’t that what Jesus did with the devil whose name was ‘Legion’?). I am still pondering the nature of my demons, and bizarrely the thought of them doesn’t scare me. Colin Wilson wrote a fantastically interesting novel called The Mind Parasites – creatures that have colonised the minds of all men [sic] and who control the fate of mankind by remaining hidden in the depths of the unconscious. After reading that book you never look at the dark, quiet corners of your own mind in the same way again! But where as these parasites frightened me, the concept of the demonic doesn’t. I am keen to know them, because once known, once I have their name, I will be able to oust them from my being and I find that a very positive thought; just as once I admitted that my illness was psychosomatic, rather than clasping a sweaty hand to my forehead and curling up in victim mode at the wasted years and torments of my own mind (!) I felt hugely rejuvenated and empowered. Real chronic physical ailments are sometimes manageable but never curable. By admitting the potential psychosomatic origins of my illness, I have unleashed a flood of energy and uncovered some dark corners with the light optimism: if it is in my mind, then I can conquer it and be well. If the compulsions are demonic, I can know them and expel them. Of this I have no doubt.
The other aspect to this concept is that ego and habit energy is the resting place and breeding ground for such demonic energies. So logically, a two-pronged attack both on ‘knowing your demons’ and on breaking down ego and habit energy would be the most successful. I feel that the last month when I was riding on an artificial high (as genuine as it felt at the time, it was un-real), I was actually surfacing the wave of my ego. It felt good, it felt great, if felt compulsively, addictively wonderful – like too much chocolate, too much coffee, too much sex. And ultimately it was ‘too much’ of everything, it took me away from the middle path and I lost myself in ‘feeling’. I brought a lot back from the journey – there are things I learned – but it showed me once again how deceptive the path of ego can be. We think we are being true to ourselves, when actually we are living a fantasy.
So there are a few essentials for me that come from the concept of the demonic: as Dion Fortune indicates in her book Psychic Self-Defence, the greatest protection is being very grounded in this life, being grounded enough to give a belly laugh at a good film. I am finding my Kundalini yoga supremely grounding; it is what broke the cycle of flying high-higher-highest and brought me gently back to earth. I am now incorporating a minimum of two meditation sessions a day, where I can tune back into myself and check how far I have strayed off the Beauty Path. And this new moon I shall be beginning some ritual work to face my demons. I have Sobek to my left and Anubis to my right, and I am more than ready to stare into the mouth of Apophis. May Osiris bless me and my path. It’s time to know the demons, and really know my Self.
© starofseshat 2008
Erich Fromm, in his book Psychoanalysis and Religion (specifically p. 24-38), speaks of the general compulsion in humanity to transcend the disharmony of living, to make sense of his condition. Because man is mind and body, he needs more than just a thought-system, and more than mere physical satisfaction.
The choice is therefore not IF religion but WHICH religion – any thought system that invokes a sense of devotion he considers a religion. Consequently he cites an unprecedented focus on one or both parents as a form of ancestor cult. Totemism is expressed in the exclusive devotion by a person to his state or political party. He gives an example of fascism or Stalinism to illustrate the religious vigour that people apply to this kind of “modern-day” Totemism.
The difference between such religious forms and a neurosis is that in a society where ancestor worship is accepted, the worshipper finds acceptance and understanding, he can share his thoughts and feelings. Otherwise he is isolated. This feeling of isolation is the sting to the neurosis!
Once a doctrine (however irrational) has been established in a society, people will rather believe it than feel ostracised and isolated (cf. the example of fascism and Stalinism).
Ideally monotheistic religion (as Fromm says) should protect man from falling back into regression, should protect man against ancestor, totem or idol worship (e.g. devotion to the power of the capitalist market – money and profit as idol form). This would be the case if religion managed to succeed in its stated ideals. But history has shown that religion capitulates to secular power again and again, concerned more with dogma than with practising ‘religious’ traits such as loving your fellow man.
Can we continue to trust religions to represent these ideals? Or should we start to separate religious needs from organised religion to prevent a further collapse of our moral structure?
Fromm distinguishes between two forms of religion (as a general concept):
authoritarian and humanistic religion.
Authoritarian religion is where the religious experience is based on the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue is obedience; the cardinal sin is disobedience. In contrast to the omnipotence of god, man is insignificant, weak and powerless. Submission to this overruling power is the way he escapes the feelings of isolation. Through surrender he loses independence and integrity as an individual, and feels protected and PART of the awe-inspiring power. Man is subject to experiencing self-loathing and a feeling of poverty of mind, grateful to be subsumed into the omniscient god-mind.
Humanistic religion is centred around man and his strength. Man should develop reason to understand and a relationship to his fellow men and the rest of the universe; he must find his place in the world. He must develop powers of love for himself and for others and experience solidarity with all living beings. This religious experience is the experience of oneness with All. The aim is strength not powerlessness; the virtue is self-realisation not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s experience of thought and feeling, not blind dogma taken on the pure merits of the person proposing the dogma. Here, God is a symbol of man’s own power which he tries to realise in life, not a symbol of force and domination with power OVER man.
These are two forms at opposite ends of the spectrum and yet they can exist within one religion at the same time.
On the surface of it we can see Christianity as an authoritarian religion, and surprisingly witchcraft as a humanistic one. I say surprisingly, not because I would have expected it to fall under an authoritarian structure, but because I did not think it had such an established moral structure as might be necessary to call it humanistic. That is based on my own misunderstandings. But another thing that these notes make clear to me, is where in my life there is still an old hangover from the authoritarian religion of my childhood. This split between authoritarian and humanistic has suddenly enabled me to draw some very clear lines and circles in myself. I can see now some of the things that have been holding back my spiritual progress – the lack of self-love, the doubt – these are things belonging to my past and to a religion I don’t hold any more. Yes, the two focal Christian (although originally and still Jewish) commands of Love the Lord your God (authoritarian), and Love your neighbour as your self (humanistic) are a combination of these two. Yet as Fromm points out major religions have consistently capitulated to secular power and sacrificed the humanistic aspect. I think in some ways I have been guilty of the same things in my life. How interesting that reading Fromm should confirm and reassert my humanistic path, and clear my head of the final vestiges of that authoritarian god-form: a step forward on my path as witch.
© starofseshat 2008
“The disharmony of man’s [sic] existence generates needs which far transcend those of his animal origin. These needs result in an imperative drive to restore a unity and equilibrium between himself and the rest of nature. He makes the attempt to restore this unity and equilibrium in the first place in thought by constructing an all-inclusive mental picture of the world which serves as a frame of reference from which he can derive an answer to the question of where he stands and what he ought to do. But such thought-systems are not sufficient. If man were only a disembodied intellect his aim would be achieved by a comprehensive thought-system. But since he is an entity endowed with a body as well as a mind he has to react to the dichotomy of his existence not only in thinking but also in the process of living, in his feelings and actions. He has to strive for the experience of unity and oneness in all spheres of his being in order to find a new equilibrium. Hence any satisfying system of orientation implies not only intellectual elements but elements of feeling and sense to be realised in action in all fields of human endeavour. Devotion to an aim, or an idea, of a power transcending man such as God, is an expression of this need for completeness in the process of living.”
Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm (p.24; Yale 1961 edition)
I identify very much with this piece. It seems to express perfectly my ultimate aim: to transcend the disharmony of existence, to reach through the thought forms, grab hold of The Essence and pull it through every area of my life, so there is integrity and completeness. Unity, union, wholeness, completeness – between me and my Godhead source. Not through another, not by proxy, not piggy-backing off another’s strength, but walking my path in strength and gratitude to the friends who may walk for a time parallel with me.
© starofseshat 2008