… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Devil

New “Who am I?” page

These are the contents of my new “Who am I?” page, reposted here for your convenience and as a heads-up.

As I stand on the threshold of 2016, after eight years of blogging here, I thought I would write a new “Who am I?” page as my last one had a touch of the “Feck off!” about it. The interweb can make one pre-empt conflict and overcompensate a little.
Having read other “About” pages, I chastised myself and thought I should create one that was a tad more warm and fuzzy. So here goes!

I would say that my formal journey into witchcraft began when I was 17 (I am now 41), although I had had copious experiences with spirits (nature, animal, human and other) for as long as I can remember before then. Witchcraft was both a home-coming and my birth emotionally and intellectually as a Woman. I was initially very much attracted to feminist and Dianic witchcraft which created a powerful, sideways drop-kick counterbalance to 9 years of Roman Catholicism (specifically Benedictine monasticism). I explored my soul crouched in the earth of wheat fields, gazing at the moon, or climbing through woods to a haunted Bronze Age fort that looked out over the valley where I lived on the Welsh Borders of Britain.

Between my early days and a significant ritual in my late twenties, I lived in Germany for a while communing with tree spirits, I travelled to New Mexico where I was adopted by a Navajo woman. Together we travelled the reservation, with me as her daughter and she as “shi’ma” (my mother). I fell in love with the spirit of the desert and the genius loci around my grandmother’s property. On my return to Britain I lived in Edinburgh (one of the most haunted cities in Europe, some people say) where I was often taken over by the spirit of Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano on the outskirts of the city) which led me at times to climb up the shear face of the mountain, in the dark, in storms, driven by spirit to reach the top and stand amongst a veritable swarm of entities. In my mid-twenties I travelled to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. My time in Egypt was brief but my visit to Philae marked my soul as if I was returning to a place I had been to before (the temple itself and the region bordering Sudan).

I realise that I am hot-footing it through the years, merely suggesting spiritual and spirit-based encounters, but there is just not the space here to retell it all. I guess the point of mentioning any of this is to convey the fact that I travelled a lot and wherever I went I engaged spiritually with that location.

Then came a time in my late twenties: I was living alone. My Navajo mother had died. It was Samhain. I turned my kitchen into a shrine to the dead, named and unnamed. I lost myself in ritual for about five hours, during which I danced with Death himself, shed many tears and was reborn spiritually. From that moment onwards I dedicated myself as “witch”, a term I would go on to explore in agonising scrutiny on this blog in its early days (many, many posts have been deleted, those included).

I went through my Satanic phase, my Luciferian phase … I searched and searched for a witchcraft that resonated with the darker shit that I had experienced. Wicca seemed too light, hedge and kitchen witchery too vapid. Now, I can admire what each of those things bring, in isolation, for others, but they just weren’t my paths, however neither were Satanism or Luciferianism. I touched on so-called “traditional witchcraft” but was put off by the bitchy, petty, superior attitude of the adherents I encountered. I began to explore Left-Hand Path traditions (this is a subject I write about a lot on this blog), and I gave myself over to this path for many years. During that time I crumbled psychologically and walked some very dark nights of the soul. I was taken apart and left in pieces. There was no immediate “and put back together again”. For a long time I floated in the blackness; I felt that my experiences of spirit were partially given a context and recognised by the systems I experimented with, but morally I was directionless. In my depression I went past and through duality to having no sense of right or wrong; in fact everything was pointless. I laid myself psychically bare and drifted. Every now and then I would see a light and swim towards it.

I learned about the system of Lucky Hoodoo by Bertiaux. I dedicated myself to the spirits, raised myself up towards the dark sun and became alive again magickally. This lasted about a year before my depression struck me low again. I recanted the spirits … and then followed a year of hell before I realised that I’d struck a contract I couldn’t go back on. So I rededicated myself and began to build things back up again. The Hoodoo spirits remain a part of my daily practice to this day.

Between then and now, I have been deeply involved with Pomba Gira while I worked as an erotic hypnotist. I learned how to siphon the sexual energy off of others to feed to my spirits. And I used this also to strengthen myself. Pomba Gira is known for raising women up from the gutter, especially sex workers, and I was so deeply face down in the gutter I had forgotten a world existed “up there”. She led me to encounters that were to change my life and the way I engaged with this dimension of existence.

It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that the last ten years have been a beautiful incline rising ever upwards and today it’s a “happy ever after”. The darkness still dwells within me. I struggle with it regularly. Being in the dark is a little like vertigo; it gives you a sense of standing on the edge of a cliff, tilting forwards, knowing what it’s like to fall, feeling like you could at any moment … but you don’t. Or sometimes you do. And that’s just the way it is.

These days I work with the Hoodoo spirits and Aakhu (the beautified dead), but also nature spirits (of land, plant and animal) and elements. I am a witch. I could be an Animist. I might have shamanic tendencies. I am open to any beliefs because I am now secure enough to observe them without feeling that I have to agree or engage with them. If you believe something different to me, hail and well met! Life is difficult enough without someone kicking your crutches out from under you. And we ALL have spiritual crutches to hobble through the dark times with. I don’t know The Truth, but I know truths and I keep seeking.

My path is not straight. As my blog’s tagline says, I am “a thought making crooked all that is straight”. This blog charts some of my thinking and explores ideas that occupy my mind and time. You are welcome to dwell here a while and share the journey with me.

Amour! Amour!

Seshat

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The evil in my bathtub

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


Ma’at

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