On Saturday I met a neo-Nazi. And I don’t think anyone else around him even realised. I was at a warehouse buying a bike. He manages the warehouse. He was covered in tattoos … even more than me. His head was covered in militaristic symbols (German) and emblazoned across his scalp were the English words, “Blood and Honour”. Now the phrase “Blut und Ehre”, as it is in the original German, was the motto etched onto the knife blades of the Nazi Youth Movement. These days “Blood and Honour” is the name of a neo-Nazi music group and political movement, white supremacists, blah, blah, blah. Unless you know this stuff, you just don’t know, and you don’t “see” the neo-Nazi in front of you, you just see a surly tattooed guy.
Ironically he showed an especially gruff demeanour when I gave him my obviously foreign name, because the dullard didn’t realise that my name was German. And what I would never have told him, for my own safety, is that my origins are German-Jewish, and that I lost most of my family in the Shoah (the Holocaust). A long time ago now I did a year of research in Germany on the Shoah and wrote my Masters dissertation on the portrayal of the Holocaust in German fiction, specifically by a man called Edgar Hilsenrath. So I know my history. Let me rephrase that: I know MY history. I know my origins.
My German family (the ones who survived) ultimately fled Russian occupied Berlin because they were blacklisted by the Russians due to a book my uncle had written about 10 Catholic men who had been assassinated by the Russian government. My family fled to America, leaving only my great-grandfather behind. He took refuge in a convent in West Germany and spent his final days with the nuns. When I was 9, I visited this convent for the first of many, many times.
Once I reached adulthood, one of the oldest nuns took me aside and told me the story of my Jewish family and their time in Berlin under the Nazis. She took my hands in hers and said, “Blut zeigt sich!” which means, “You can’t hide from your blood” or “Blood will always show itself!” I think in her wise old heart she knew that I was never going to be a Catholic like the rest of my family (who converted). For some reason, she marked me out to carry on the history of my family and importantly to carry the heritage of those who died.
This was in part why I chose the Masters’ subject that I did and why I worked so damn hard to learn German (I was not brought up bilingually – my mother married an Englishman and I was brought up in England; in fact, German was forbidden at home until my father left). I have always felt that I have had to make up for the diaspora of my family, the immigrants who settled in America and abandoned everything German.
My grandmother joined my uncle (her brother) when they fled Berlin from the Russians. My uncle never lost his accent but he became an AMERICAN with a German background; my grandmother, on the other hand, always remained displaced – a GERMAN living in America. Last year my grandmother died. She asked for her ashes to be scattered in the New Mexican desert where she lived. My Catholic family riotously objected and so she was ultimately buried in England – a country she had no ties to in any respect. It still makes me sad (read: furious) to this day.
You would think with this heritage running strongly in me, perhaps more than anyone else in the family, I would have a strong spirit connection with my blood ancestors. But I don’t. In fact I can’t. I’ve tried. I have tried four times to establish ancestor shrines and to welcome and engage with the spirits of my dead family, and each time my life was blighted with so much bad luck that it belied coincidence. Within a day of me dismantling the shrine/altar each time, the bad luck dissipated and peace would return to my life.
Even at my grandmother’s funeral I sought to connect with her (too soon perhaps) and a piece of ceramic fell from the earth over her grave at my feet. On the ceramic piece was the word “malade”, which is French for sickness or madwoman. Of course it was the broken off piece from a MARmalade jar, but the message to me was clear. My grandmother and I communicated in German but she always signed off her letters in French. I felt her disapproval of my spiritualist ways in relation to her and so I left her in peace.
The fact is that my family have undergone horrific times during life and I fear they carry it with them in death. Relatives were killed in Auschwitz or died under dreadful conditions. Those who survived had to flee their home country for their lives and all have lived under the shadow of the past. My grandmother would hide under tables when planes went overhead; she wielded an enormous gun at strangers on her property; she trusted no one, least of all authorities because she knew that an apathetic nation could allow tyrants to rule and neighbours are ready to betray you if the price is right.
So in connecting with spirits I leave my ancestors alone. I wish that one day I could bring them some semblance of peace, but I don’t know how. For now I connect to the nameless ones, the forgotten ones, the faceless ones; the blessed Aakhu who have passed the test of Ma’at and have her feather of truth tattooed on their tongues. Blessed are the Doo spirits who are good to me always.
But my encounter with the Nazi made my blood stir. I love Germany and I love the Germanic past, before it was distorted and misappropriated. I feel a calling but it is soft and indistinct. Maybe I am not yet ready to hear it. Maybe I need someone to spell it out for me. My shyness often converts into reticence and gives me cloth ears to my own destiny. For now I shall set it before the spirits, and quietly pray that my ancestors rest in peace.
What is Mystical Practice?
Hollenback states that the essence of mystical technique is the practice of single-minded concentration (recollection) plus the dedication to a mystical lifestyle, which avoids all things that might disrupt the mystical state of mind. This sustained “recollection” empowers the mind to operate on a different level, transforming perception and creating subtle awareness of others and our environment, giving us abilities we wouldn’t otherwise have. Consequently, the transformed, mystical mind has greater possibilities than the ordinary mind.
The practice of such “recollective” techniques leads to a greater ability to realise so-called paranormal phenomena or mystical experiences; these experiences are synthesized with and differentiated by language, emotion and belief systems that are determined by sociocultural context.
For example, astral projection is enabled by the empowerment of the imagination through techniques of recollection. This ability is then synthesized with the cultural belief system of the mystic: some mystical practitioners speak of being fully clothed during astral travel, whereas others take animal form. The mind externalises thoughts/images that then create an astral body.
To summarise: mystical practice comprises techniques of sustained recollection which transform the mind of the individual by expanding awareness on both a mundane and super-natural level and by empowering the imagination.
Jewish Mysticism: Developments in Safedian Kabbalah and in the Hasidic Movement
The second wave of Kabbalah was characterised by a move outwards from small, elite circles. Instead, circles of 10 to 20 people clustered around mystical, charismatic figures and Kabbalists converged from around the globe in Safed. Leaders of these groups, most notably Luria, began looking into the souls of followers to see if they were suitable to join the group: a so-called diagnosis of the soul (similar to psychoanalysis). In addition, Luria, gave each student a Tikkun (meaning to prepare, correct or fix) their soul. Safed Kabbalists promulgated that each person interprets texts according to their own soul – this personal, individualistic approach would have had a great levelling effect at a social level within the groups.
The third wave of Kabbalah, the Hasidic movement, which began at the end of the 18th century, wanted to turn Kabbalah into a social movement, moving beyond circles around charismatic figures and expanding it into a mass movement. This was achieved within 40 to 50 years, appealing to both the masses and scholars. The Zaddikim (charismatic mystical rebbes) addressed people’s everyday concerns not just their spiritual lives – this was the power of the Hasidic movement.
Garb suggests that the Zaddikim (leaders of the Hasidic movement) acted as shamans. In their role as shamans they put people into group trance, providing healing to the community. In private consultations, the rebbes would look into the person’s soul, using a form of trance hypnosis, exploring their unconscious and providing healing for the individual. The Hassidim believed that the Zaddikim had access to paranormal powers; as shamans, the roles included those of mystic and magician, healers of both body and soul. This form of healing through trance work would have had an integrating effect not only on the social community at large but on individuals.
Jewish Mysticism: The Writings of Rabbi Kook
Rabbi Kook states that free choice is “nothing but the superficial aspect” hence already implying a system of further aspects of human experience and expression that go beyond the superficial. As Kook says, “the reality of the will that is manifested in practical choices [i.e. in the superficial world “in relation to good and evil”] is only a shadow and imprint of the hidden depth of free will.” Even though he refers to a “higher free reality”, he is in fact referring to an inner, deeper level that reflects the concepts of Depth Psychology which investigates the deep layers underlying behavioural and cognitive processes.
Kook purports that the internal level and deeper part of the psyche are beyond morality. Rabbi Kook gives context to this discussion by saying that he is “not dealing now with the psychological questions” (he takes the discussion beyond cognitive processes to a mystical level of the soul); rather it is “divine science” which occupies his thoughts. Divine science is concerned with freedom of an absolute, cosmic reality; freedom on a deeper level through choices of the soul not the ego or persona.
These two statements are indeed non-contradictory because Kook is referring to free choice on different levels and applying different meanings to each: the first being the superficial “ego” and the second being the deeper part of the soul.
Rabbi Kook’s radically monistic view laid the foundations for him to be more pluralistic and accepting of secularist movements. This view sees reality as an absolute unity where all reality is a manifestation of the divine and no single philosophy or theory can contain the multiple dimensions of existence. Kook referenced a sociological, political and spiritual vitality, akin to the “Bejahung” or Nietzschean affirmation (Nietzsche’s “Yes to Life!”): “If we affirm one moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; … in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.” (Nietzsche, The Will to Power).
Kook believed that a new generation of young people would arise in the land of Israel that would revive (bring new life to) the Jewish body giving it a more vigorous independence. He developed an entire national psychology around revitalising the national psyche; he saw this vitality (a Jewish “Bejahung”) as being manifested in secular movements such as Zionism. For Kook, however, such secularism was still incomplete in that it focused on the revival of the material and secular needs of the Jewish people. He emphasized that the spiritual aspects of national revival should not be neglected, so his sympathy towards secularism was not without criticism.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Hesychasm & St Theophan’s Notion of Sin
St. Theophan taught that the focal point of sin is self-preoccupation. The sinner is not defined by adherence to a set of rules but instead by the psychological and existential state of their being, i.e. by being egotistical. However, the self that we, as sinners, are preoccupied with is not the true self. There is an external and an internal self; a concept common in both mysticism and Jungian psychology, for example. The external self with which we are preoccupied is focused outwards on status, possessions, conformity with society and materialism. Consequently we are alienated from the true self, represented by our heart, which is habituated to pursuing external things in a search for satisfaction.
St. Theophan’s title of his book, “Turning the Heart to God” adjures the reader not only to focus on the true internal self (the heart – that part of oneself that God works through; note the passive tense as this is an act of God’s grace), but to renounce self-preoccupation (sin) by realigning one’s focus away from external things that boost the ego and instead to turn towards God and repentance.
19th C. Hesychasm was primarily based in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Romania and most of Russia. It was distinguished at the time by Marxist Socialist ideas of alienation and conformity with society. So the concept of sin was couched in terms of the external/false self being preoccupied specifically with social conformity, materialism and status (all points of criticism under Marxism). This changed in the 20th C. with the fall of the Soviet Union. Hesychasm moved towards the West and began to see a merging, or at least a conversation, between Eastern and Western mystical traditions in what was widely acknowledged to be a “globalization of spirituality”.
Another major change and difference between 19th and 20th C. Hesychasm is that 20th C. teachers were writing in an age post-Freud and post-Jung, so even though they continued to write within their tradition, they were heavily influenced by psychoanalytical thought and language. Archimandrite Zacharias, in his book “The Hidden Heart of Man”, speaks of a similar yet different form of transformation to that taught in the 19th C. In the 19th C. the idea of spiritual transformation involved seeing the old self as an enemy that had to be defeated through inner warfare; this self is demonic and must die – a process that happens passively only through the grace of God. In the 20th C. the process is still a passive one relying on God’s grace, but the battle is less about self-mortification and more about identifying attachments (including thoughts) and transforming them by transferring them to spiritual states. It is an ontological process, where one positively changes ones thoughts, emotions and very being.
Catholic Mysticism: The Connection Between Passivity, Trance, and Antinomianism from the 17th-18th Century Onwards
The Catholic so-called “Religion of the Heart” (RotH) movements challenged traditional authority in the name of new individualistic values, such as the idea that religious meaning is found in the heart of the individual. “The key element in their understanding of religious life … was their insistence that the “heart,” denoting the will and affections … is the central point of contact between God and humankind.” (Chapman, p. 3) For liberal Christians, the RotH movements were “an anti-communal, grossly individualistic perversion of religions belief.” (Chapman) There are three main points to look at in the RotH movements’ oppositional stance to the mainstream: passivity, trance, and their antinomian stance.
Passivity here is defined by the belief that repentance and removal of sin could not be achieved on one’s own but only through the grace of God working through the seat of emotions which is the heart. E.g. 17th C Molinos’ book ‘Spiritual Guide Which Disentangles the Soul’ says the primary thing is to allow God to do the work.
A divine influx into the psyche was believed to transform the heart of the individual, where the heart is a psychic centre of inner life as opposed to external life/authority/ritual practice (by emphasizing a passive, inner experience over external authority, the movements struck a decidedly antinomian stance).
In approaching the heart, one must bypass the intellect entering a state of trance where one looks deeply inwards to the heart or to what Teresa of Avila calls “the internal castle”. Quietness (cf. Quietism) and oneness with God are achieved by removing oneself from the distractions of the outer world of intellect. This includes letting go of the will, replacing verbal prayer with constant internal prayer; a form of self-hypnosis or guided meditative trancework.
This internal state is important to RotH movements in relation to the idea of the Catholic mass where one partakes passively of the body of Christ, ingesting Him in a state of receptivity (passivity) and deep internal focus (trance). Trance is additionally used to find new psychic resources to transform existing habits, to let go of the habituated “will” and to transform the heart to a more receptive state for God; and this is how trance works as a subversive (antinomian) force by challenging the status quo and habituated will of the individual.
E.g. in 17th century Flanders, A. Bourignon developed an entire religious critique around the belief that when the soul reaches a higher state it doesn’t need external observance (books, religious/intellectual/economic structures). She said that the true Church is in the heart and soul of the believer: this exemplifies an antinomian position (a stance opposed to mainstream conservatives and the generally accepted Church ethos) achieved by a passive approach (the belief that spiritual progress is through the grace of God and being receptive to God) that moves the mind and heart of the believer inwards through a state of trance (constant internal prayer and a focus inwards away from external, worldly trappings), thus linking all three points in the achievement of divine communion.
Protestant Mysticism: Quietism and Pietism
“Will” is defined as a property of the mind/intellect and the capacity to have desires and act on them (Wikipedia).
Molinos’ Quietist psychology says that you have to bypass the intellect and let God do the work. The mind must be calmed so that a divine influx can enter the soul, which is the main focus of connection, not the intellect/will. One should lose this active power of will. Molinos says you must go into quiet, stillness, not-doing, into the sleep of the soul. One removes oneself from the outer world of intellect, relinquishing all distractions so one can be alone with God. For Molinos, the will is something to be pacified, lost and bypassed.
Böhme speaks about the inner psychology of God, that He has various psychic forces both negative and positive. Creation is God’s therapy. Through creative play or work, God explores his own psyche, contending with various contradictions inside Himself. This divine psychology is paralleled in the psyche and will of mankind where there is an idea of dialectical opposition between conflicting forces. The resolution of psychic conflict involves going beyond one’s own desire/will, to align oneself with the divine will. Protestantism teaches that one shouldn’t rely on one’s own will (cf Molinos), because one should rely more on faith, on grace; in this point Böhme departs from tradition to some extent by saying that one has to transform one’s will. It’s not about abdicating one’s will or creative impulse. The will is necessary in order create. The point is to align your will with the will of the divine, so that your will becomes the divine will. And thus you join in God’s therapy. Böhme focuses on the transformation of the will, on aligning it with the divine will.
The Move from Mysticism to Spirituality
According to Prof. Jonathan Garb, mysticism comprises movements based within an individual religious tradition; spirituality, however, is more of a blend of mystical thoughts (plurality), collaborative across traditions without being anchored within one mystical stream. The transition from mysticism to spirituality happened at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries and continues to the present day. It is characterised by both the exile of schools of thought during the two World Wars, and the migration of thought from East to West from the 1960s onwards (consider such teachers as Sri Aurobindo, Trungpa, the Dalai Lama, as well as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism).
However, it would be wrong to say that all strict traditions are being watered down, rather they are adapting to a world that has undergone a major levelling out in terms of accessibility to information and teachings (e.g. through use of the internet). As such, it would be worthwhile to examine the current state of affairs through both a social anthropological/ethnographical lens as well as through text-based historiography. I would not emphasize the efficacy of either approach above the other as each can provide us with a different layer of understanding.
For example, would reading the bible give us an accurate understanding of the way Christianity is practised today? Or even in the 17th Century? No. It would provide us with a theoretical framework, an inspirational text which the practitioner interprets and aspires to fulfil. In order to understand actual practice, we would have to look at a social anthropological study of practitioners, e.g. Luhrmann on American Evangelicals.
But an ethnographical account provides us with only one layer, including all the flaws and transgressions innate to human activity. If our aim is to document, then ethnography is the way, although the danger is of exercising overzealous “Presentism” to the exclusion of the past, leaving mankind a form of free-floating organism without mystical roots (and also no history of mistakes from which to learn).
What if, through our study of mankind’s relation to the divine, we wish to inspire and not just document? Then we might turn to mystical texts such as those of Ignatius of Loyola and the mystical visions of Jung in his Red Book. It is text-based historiography that shows a glimpse of what mankind aspires to and what drives both mystical and spiritual movements forwards.
In summary, humanity has moved gradually and inexorably, due in large part to the globalisation of cultures through technology, from separate, partially closed lines of mystical tradition towards an open melting pot of spiritual expression. In order to continue raising our souls to the divine, I, myself, would include both an examination of spirituality as practised now with a text-based historiography. History is but a minute ago. Religious thinkers and mystics continue to publish their thoughts; and those publications reach wider audiences than ever before in human history. The challenge is not just to read, but to do. To quote the title of Rabbi Cooper’s book: “God is a verb”.
I have just re-read Madame Blavatsky’s article entitled Ancient Egyptian Magic. The article contains very little concrete information about Egyptian Magic and focuses instead on ridiculing for the most part archaeologists; she seems to find it amusing that men of science sit amongst the remnants of a civilisation trying to classify things according to scientific principle, when every which way they turn they are faced with ‘magic’. The main impetus of the articles seems rather to prove the philosophical lineage that Theosophy was apparently based on. She rounds off the articles rather abruptly with:
“For the present, enough has been said to show that the Theosophists have the evidence of the whole of antiquity in support of the correctness of their doctrines.”
What a coincidence that I suggested in a comment yesterday that Josephus (that first century Jewish historian) perhaps suggested the Hyksos as being the antecedents of the Jews as a way of underlining their antiquity. Such a longing for the ‘support of correctness’ from the ‘whole of antiquity’ is still prevalent in today’s pagan community where people try sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, to draw a line of antiquity up to present-day practices.
As individuals we may not need to underline the antiquity of our beliefs and practices, but as a community [sic] to hold our own against the Big Three (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) for example we feel we need to match their history. A sad truth and personally one that I feel falls under the bracket of counting angels dancing on the head of a pin (a waste of time, I’d rather just watch them dance).
This is surely one of the differences about paganism; we are (or should be) unafraid to take the wisdom of history, apply it to practice and consideration, and reshape as appropriate. Change for change’s sake never facilitates progress, but neither does the calcified reliance on ‘our roots’ and on ‘the way things have always been done’. If spirituality is a growing thing, if our relationship with the divine is to develop, surely we must expect change and rejoice in new spiritual traditions arising, IF THEY TRULY ENGENDER SELF-DEVELOPMENT AND DIVINE PROXIMITY (thus excluding cults of personality and such self-indulgent paths focused around ‘wot I beleev’ and that encourage people to part with money to share in the egotistical meanderings of more powerful personalities).
Maybe our roots do stretch back to earlier cultures; after all we recognise the spirit in lightning, rain, the hills, the earth – we worship the female aspect of divinity alongside the male; some are pure polytheists, some monotheists, some animists or even a mixture. There is much to be learned from the past, and not just from pagan religions of antiquity, but we mustn’t allow ourselves to fossilize in seeking justification for all our beliefs and practices in the cultures and religions of long-dead peoples.
I am constantly researching and reading about Ancient Egypt – the culture, land, the people, the religion. But my primary aim in this is in looking to regenerate what I learn to make it applicable to now; perhaps the word ‘reinterpret’ is more accurate. I am not creating a religion (Heaven forefend – the Christian analogy of a plank in my eye, a splinter in yours springs to mind!) but neither am I getting too stuck in the past. The prime focus is me, my spirituality and my self-development which edges me into divine proximity with the ultimate source both within and without. I am aware of the lack of connectivity in that statement; that it essentially sounds like I stand alone conversing on a mountain top with my personal burning bush. That’s not how it is, or how it should be. I am the only one who can walk my path; no one else can move my limbs. Only by walking the path can you meet others along the way, support each other, shout back directions to stragglers and listen to those ahead of you as they shout to you when you fall behind. This is a busy road and I, for one, am not walking it with my eyes shut and my fingers in my ears. I am conscious and connected to my fellow travellers (of whatever religion or spirituality), and it is only natural to want to talk about the origins of our journey (both personal and suprapersonal), just as long as we keep moving forwards and remember where we are actually heading.
© StarofSeshat 2009
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
I had been looking forward to the Ludlow Esoteric Conference and Book Fair for several months. It did not disappoint, although the entertainment and lessons came in unexpected ways!
The Green Witch has given a very fair assessment of the lectures that day, including a good summary of the nasty little showdown at the end of Ken Rees’ lecture. I too have signed up for The Regency discussion group, and look forward to hearing more about it.
The research I did prior to the conference as background for the lectures oddly took some of the interest out of the lectures for me. The first talk on John Dee and Edward Kelley’s travels told me nothing new, although I enjoyed looking at the copious slides (even though one person said it was a poor excuse for showing the family’s holiday pics 😉 ). I think my stamina has waned in some respects and I find it quite tedious now to sit through a lecture unless the speaker is brilliantly interesting as Guy Ogilvy was last year (I could have listened to him talking about alchemy for hours and only felt more rejuvenated not exhausted by his speaking). And yet I can read for a day and always feel immensely satisfied; writers do not necessarily make speakers, and speakers do not necessarily do justice to their subject matter. Although I did enjoy Ken Rees’ talk – an entertaining, balanced and academic view – not something we see often in the pagan world. I will certainly attend more conferences (it’s good for my soul like metaphysical porridge and green tea!) but ultimately I shall always prefer a book which I can put down every now and then to make a cup of tea or cuddle the rat (that is not a euphemism, I do mean cuddle the rat!). As such I was happy to abandon the main part of the day’s lectures in favour of getting to know Arnemetia and Mereth better. This was personally a more valuable and nourishing experience than any lecture. I was overwhelmed that day by the care shown to me by my dear Green Witch, as well as Arnemetia and Mereth, who (although we have communicated for over a year) were meeting me in the flesh for the first time. I have rarely encountered such genuine kindness, and it did my spirit good. Apart from which, days out with the Green Witch are always Good Days.
It was interesting that my urge to protect myself psychically for the conference – an urge which had pestered me for a few days – was justified. There was one rather toxic lady there who was leaking nastiness. I sat near her at one point and spent a lot of my time shielding from her. The last thing I wanted was to draw her attention and thankfully I slipped under her radar. It’s always worth trusting your instinct and setting up protections – it’s better to be protected and not need it, than unprotected and covered in someone else’s psychic ooze!
One major highlight was the book fair. I heard one man say that the Ludlow Conference was his excuse to buy occult books for the year, and I can well understand why. Throughout the year I scan second-hand bookshop shelves for occult books of interest. Generally I buy what I find, but this book fair (a modest 5 stalls) was a collection of gems that made it difficult to choose. If I had found any one in isolation in a bookshop I would have been pleased, so to see so many in one room was utterly bibliorgasmic for me! My library on Egyptian magic/spirituality/mythology is expanding nicely. Once I have my core list of titles I shall be setting up an intense reading/re-reading schedule. The results will be formulated in my very own book of Egyptian Magic, a sourcebook for me to use and peruse. I can’t wait … well, actually, I can, because I know the journey is going to be just as enjoyable as the destination.
A very satisfying day in all. Some interesting ideas bandied around between the Green Witch and Mereth (which I hope come to fruition, to the benefit of us all). Next stop the Thelemic Symposium in Oxford and then Witchfest International!
© starofseshat 2008
The terms Left-Hand Path and Right-Hand Path stem from the Tantric tradition and are concepts still in use today. There are three major schools of Tantra: Kaula, Mishra and Samaya. Kaula Tantra uses external practices and rituals, as opposed to the Samaya School which is a completely internal process. Kaula Tantra is divided into the Left-Hand Path (vamachara, or vama marga) and includes external rituals involving sexual practices, eating meat and the consumption of intoxicants; and the Right-Hand Path (dakshinachara) which uses a symbolic expression of these rituals and is characterised by ascetism and meditation. Both paths are viewed as equally valid paths to enlightenment. The LHP however is actually viewed as the faster but more dangerous route.
The terms first came into use in the West through the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky (1831 – 1891). She referred to religions she thought of as good as of the RHP and those she thought of as bad (specifically those involving sexual rites) as of the LHP. The terms were taken up by other occultists such as Aleister Crowley.
Aleister Crowley used these terms to describe a stage of spiritual development which required the adept to shed any traces of ego and leap in full faith into the void. If the adept had not managed to abandon these layers of self, then the layers would ossify around him; ultimately he would disintegrate against his own will. The adept who did not abandon self was referred to as the “Brother of the Left-Hand Path”. As you can see, Crowley’s own assessment of the LHP was not exactly positive as it marked a failure in the adept’s path, and yet he is seen in the popular mind as being associated with Satanism, which proudly defines itself as an LHP. Of course, Crowley predated any of the popular Satanism à la Anton LaVey, which is where we see the practice of some LHP belief systems of inverting the symbols of the RHP – hence inverted crucifixes.
Below is a table briefly outlining some of the differences between the paths.
Belief that we can become divine in our own right
Belief in a deity/deities
Narcissism – altruism is just long-term selfishness and a form of self-deception.
Flexible morality that bends to the achievement of our own goals – all actions should aim to cultivate the self (but not necessarily the ego)
Belief in moral codes such as the Threefold Law, Mosaic Law, Karma etc. that stem from a higher power
Preservation of self and personal power
Ultimate goal is to merge with God consciousness/integration with deity and to lose self
Sexual rites, animal sacrifice, meat-eating, consumption of drugs and alcohol
Belief that the forces of the universe can be harnessed, and that an equal partnership is struck with deity figures to achieve your own goals
Belief that deity will provide; saviour belief; deity is a higher power not an equal
From this we can see that there is no set, defined moral code followed by LHP practitioners. Their aim is self-development and temporal, more materialistic and worldly aims; and yet I would doubt that practitioners who would align themselves with the RHP cannot see aspects of themselves in the LHP and vice versa. Some people use these terms to deliberately move away from the dichotomy of black and white magic which they see as too cut and dry. They consider these two paths to be yin and yang – necessary complements that create a balance. Like the yin/yang symbol there is perhaps a spot of LHP in RHP practitioners and a spot of RHP in LHP practitioners.
Personally, I cannot see how total preservation of self, self-indulgence and narcissism can lead to enlightenment, and I wonder if modern-day practitioners, for example, of LHP magic have enlightenment as their goal as posited by the original Tantric concept, or whether it has degenerated to a search for self-satisfaction. My ultimate aim IS to merge with deity, this is the purpose of my magic-work, to align myself ever closer with deity. But to survive in this world, I do think we need a healthy sense of self-preservation and self-motivation. My views mix the God will provide idea with the idea that we can harness the energies of the universe. In Egyptian mythology, heka (magic) was given to us as a tool from the gods so that we can help ourselves. In that sense, we are neither relying entirely on divine intervention, nor do we believe that we are the sole orchestrators of our magic work. I am a priestess to my deities. I serve them, but I am not servile.
It would be easy to give a knee-jerk response to the LHP and to vociferously align ourselves with the side of the “Good” RHP, but I think that would be too easy and a cop out of examining our own true motivations. Whatever we may wish to be, on reflection I think we may find that we are all a bit ambidextrous!
© starofseshat 2008
This post relates to the Ludlow Esoteric Conference & Occult Book Fair which is now in its fifth year.
Since some of my fellow attendees are pushed for time, I thought I would put together a few notes for us on the subjects that will be covered by the speakers, merely as a “heads-up” for what we can expect.
Hope it’s useful 🙂
Tracy Thursfield – Eliphas Levi & The French Occult Revival
Robin Cousins – The Travels of John Dee (Illustrated talk)
Julia Phillips – Madeline Montalban
Ken Rees – The Regency
Alan Richardson – W.G.Gray
Eliphas Lévi was born Alphonse Louis Constant in France, 1810 – 1875.
Lévi studied at a Catholic seminary where a lesson on animal magnetism and the devil, positing that the vital energy of the body is controlled by the devil, sparked his interest in things occult. He became a deacon in 1835, but not a priest, and was later excommunicated for his left-wing political views.
“Magus Eliphas Lévi” became his pen name and is a translation of his own name into Hebrew. He made a comfortable living from writing and giving occult lessons. His most popular work is entitled Transcendental Magic, originally translated by Arthur Edward Waite of the Golden Dawn.
Lévi believed there was a universal secret doctrine of magic spanning all parts of the world, traceable back through history.
To some he is best known for his work on the alleged deity of the Knights Templar, the Baphomet, the image of which usualy fronts Transcendental Magic. Lévi‘s Baphomet (a goat-headed man/woman) was a symbol for him of the absolute, an expression of dualistic nature in the combination of both male and female qualities.
His writings had a big impact on Arthur Edward Waite, S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley (who claimed to be the reincarnation of Lévi and gave a nod to Baphomet with his moniker The Beast).
Interestingly, he was apparently the first to incorporate the goat-headed face of Baphomet into the inverted pentagram, attributing evil to this “new” symbol, and separating the pentagram’s meaning into upright as good, and inverted as evil.
You can download free books by Eliphas Lévi at:
John Dee 1527 – 1608
English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and suspected government spy with the code name “007” (later assumed by Ian Fleming for his character James Bond).
The latter part of his life he devoted almost exclusively to magic, alchemy and Hermetic philosophy. Specifically he sought contact with angels through a scryer (as he himself found contacting spirits too tiring). His greatest success was through Edward Kelley whose prolific angelic contacts dictacted several books including that of the Enochian or angelic language.
The relationship between Dee and Kelley broke up not long after Kelley’s pronouncement that Uriel had ordered him and Dee to share their wives! Dee orginally obeyed this command as coming from God but eventually the strain of the situation took its toll.
Dee was a Christian, preluding the angelic communications with much praying and fasting. He believed that numbers were the key to knowledge and that creation is an act of numbering; consequently his kabbalistic angel magic and practical mathematical work were one and the same for him and posed no opposition to each other.
His popular work The Monas Heiroglyphica was a discourse on a symbol created by Dee believed to be the ultimate symbol of occult knowledge.
Dee was accused of being a wizard in 1604 and sought protection under King James I. This suspicion was long harboured as shown by the attack on his home by a mob in 1583. The mob destroyed an extensive library and occult instruments.
He died in poverty aged 81.
You can download free books by John Dee at:
I haven’t been able to find much information on Madeline Montalban, inspite of her apparent importance.
Also known as Dolores North, she was one of the 20th century’s most significant female magicians.
She knew Aleister Crowley and mixed with other occultists of the 1930s but formed her own path of magic. She founded the Order of the Morning Star around 1945. To this day it still offers correspondance courses; a large part of the curriculum focuses on angelic magic. In her teachings, she emphasized that magic is a practical tool, and that results would follow in the wake of applying her methods.
She wrote monthly articles on Tarot (her speciality) in a publication called Prediction.
She died in 1982.
The Regency was a magical group working in the 1960s and ’70s in which Ken Rees, the speaker, was involved.
Robert Cochrane was a practising witch apparently initiated into an entirely different hereditary lineage to Gerald Gardner. He formed his own coven called the “Clan of Tubal Cain”. Also known as the Royal Windor Cuveen, it was this group that disbanded after Cochrane’s apparent ritual suicide at Samhain in 1966 and reformed under the leadership of Ronald White as The Regency. The group also included Doreen Valiente. The group’s rituals were often more dramatically pagan than formalistically high ritual magic. They operated for over twelve years and disbanded finally in 1978. This secretive group was important to the development of Wicca, although unheard of by most.
William G. Gray (1913 – 1992) was a British occultist and founder of the magical order of the Sangreal Sodality, a magical association, founded on the Western Mystery Tradition. Their rituals appear very Christianocentric. Quoting Witchvox:
“There is one noteworthy distinction between the type of sacrifice offered by members of the Sangreal Sodality in their Mass and the sacrifice offered by conventional Christian services. In Christian practice, bread and wine are either regarded as being transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of a Redeemer Figure or they are used to memorialize symbolically the last meal shared by that Redeemer and his personal disciples. Within the Sangreal Sacrament these elements signify the body and blood of every person sharing the sacrament either directly or in spirit alone. The life forces of Sangreal Sodality Initiates are offered up to the Divine Entity they invoke and invite among them during their Rite of Light.”
Gray placed high value on the use of magic for personal development. He viewed contact with higher beings as a way to pursue good and avoid evil in the world.
For more information on the Sangreal Sodality: