… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Philosophy

Podcast with Scarlet Imprint

Worth listening to:

Podcast: Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech discuss the resurgence of the high art book on Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole


Woman as Guerrilla Art

I’m tamping furious that the bastard council didn’t even let the Guerrilla art stand for a week before they removed it (see this link -> HERE). The area looked sanitised and wiped clean, the presence of the two stags still hanging somewhere in the air.

I have been slowly digesting yesterday which was a pretty dire day. Woman wasn’t at art group. She has injured herself. I was surprised/not-surprised at the lack of emotion in me at that news. I found it interesting that Alpha Psych who so patently has a thing for her, gravitated to her seat and spoke about her art with the postscript, “Although we shouldn’t talk about her when she’s not here.” Preferably not at all, I thought. I find her simpering, weak-woman ways irritating. She is one of those women who plays the helpless female, batting her eyelashes like she’s in a sand storm. I look to the men and see with horror that they fall for this manipulation. It may look endearing in a woman under thirty, but post-50 you really need to chuck the hormone replacement and grow a pair.

As I walked past the copse cleared of stag-art, I thought about how nearly every female friend has confessed to me that they have hairs on their toes … as if it is an admission of something grotesque, anti-social and, even, inhuman. We are primates. We have hair, we have odours, we need food and sex. We are not hairless, odourless, silicone sculpted, poison-injected doll substitutes but creatures with lumps and bumps, blemishes and squidgy bits. We are not sanitised areas cultivated with weed killer, we are living Guerrilla art… and we too are subject to removal.

Sometimes we remove ourselves, sometimes others remove us. In my own case, one indicator of my Presence is an acknowledgement of my needs and the subsequent follow-through. Plastic dolls have no needs. Guerilla art demands your attention and emotional response.

Recently, people keep asking me, “What can I do for you? Is there something I can do for you?” and the question surprises me each time, baffles me, leaving my mind to scrabble for something, the multiple censors hacking at thoughts like a series of slicing blades, trying to find something to say, something doable, something that isn’t “too much”. Asking for anything is a HUGE force of will for me. The double edge of this being that if I do ask for something (and usually I will start with something very, very little like “message me”) and for some reason it is not possible, or life gets in the way for no other reason than life throws a curve ball, then I take that as proof that I am plastic to that person; I withdraw and shut down.

In my five-year relationship with my abusive ex I asked for something once. We lived in a small flat. I was in the living room, he was in the kitchen, and I asked him to please bring me a glass. He was so enraged that he grabbed the dirtiest glass and tossed it at me on the sofa. Serves me right for relaxing enough to think I could ask for something… except of course, now I think, what a tosser (literally and metaphorically)!

But things are very different these days. I am a different person, changing rapidly, although I still really struggle with asking for things. Fantasy is one thing, reality is another.

After my massage which has left me feeling marvelous and fully anchored in my squidgy femaleness, I went for a coffee at my favourite cafe. I saw an interestingly lopsided coffee and walnut cake and asked for a slice (that was always my favourite as a child … the thrill of surreptitiously sneaking in a hit of caffeine as I wasn’t allowed coffee or tea until older, the same justification saw me develop a love of rum and raisin ice cream … !). As the manager cut me a slice, she nodded to the new cook, a young girl, and said, “Cake looks lovely, K.” And it was, so I took the time to scare the bejeezes out of K. by sneaking up on her and growling “Gorgeous cake” in her ear … She blushed and looked chuffed to bits, nervous because cake-making is her new endeavour in the kitchen.

I hate it when women diss other women, when they sit in a public place, point and list the faults. “Look at her extensions! Look at her belly! Look at the way she’s dressed.” It used to be easier to mumble agreement, but actually, no: the girl with the bad extensions has a pretty face, the woman with the big belly looks like she would be a real laugh and great to cuddle, and the woman with the odd clothes looks like she doesn’t give a shit, so yay for her!

I always make the effort to acknowledge the good things about women (I don’t say anything to men because the usual assumption then is that you are cracking onto them … booooring!). When I worked in the bookshop, a woman came in with her 80+ year old mother in a wheelchair. The old woman had fancy nails, and I said how lovely her nails looked. Her face lit up like a beacon, “Really?! I’ve never had a manicure before, my daughter just took me this morning!” and she beamed with pride. I was so pleased I said something, kicking aside that cruddy English reserve that means you “shouldn’t” engage on a personal level with strangers (I only engage personally, incapable of doing otherwise).

The thing is, women need that positive feedback. And I hate women who enforce the negative cycle of synthetic moulding, the belief that anyone else should conform to anyone else’s ideas. Yes, men play a huge role in this; whatever the pundits say, this is still a patriarchal society. And as a friend and I joked recently when discussing weight, the last thing you want from a man is a bloody solution (have you tried such-and-such, why don’t you go on a diet)! No, what you need then is for him to say you are gorgeous and perfect, because to be honest, you probably are: note how I slip easily into pointing the finger away from myself to you – I can dish the compliments, although I struggle to take them. But I do love those friends who have actually said they are willing to invest “years” into complimenting me until it finally sinks in … drip, drip, drip – it feeds my parched soul and yes, I do feel the desert in me starting to bloom, for which I thank you.

So, embrace the gorilla [sic] in yourself! Be hairy and smelly. Eat and have sex. Be beautiful, because you just are.

©StarofSeshat 2011


What is a pagan?

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! 😉

What is a Pagan?

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.

©StarofSeshat 2011


Bodies Under Siege: Christ as symbol & beauty in the pain

I am currently reading Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry by Armando R. Favazza, M.D. It is the first comprehensive attempt at dealing with the subject of self-mutilation from a cultural psychiatric perspective. I am only about 20 pages in, but I already feel that this man has understood the concept of self-mutilation not only from a cultural and ritual perspective but from the perspective of a mentally ill person.

Many people, knowing either vaguely or intimately my personal belief systems and practices as a witch, question and frown upon my use of a crucifix in my practices, and the fact that I often wear one when I am in a particularly bad “demonic” phase. The fact is I take great comfort in aligning myself with the voluntary self-mutilation that the mythic image of Christ allowed to be imposed upon himself. The crux of Christian myth is based around this voluntary sacrifice, but the issue for me is not sacrifice for another but identification with excruciating internal and external pain.

The images of Christ on the cross have been graced over the centuries with a virtual delight in the gore and excruciating agonies of this man-God. As such he can become the epitome and symbol of a self-harmer’s attempt to make peace with the forces inside and to say yes to life; because self-harming is not a suicide attempt but an attempt to avert suicide.

Quoting a discussion about Fakir Mustafa by Graver, Favazza says:

[Fakir] feels [the pain] not as a foreign invasion of the body but as a sensation of the body that separates the body from the mind.

And this is certainly one of the prime motivations for my own self-harming urges – to demarcate boundaries between mind, body, and I would add, soul, to separate out the mix and to ease the pain of their co-existence.

Suppression is a beautiful tool which can facilitate the survival of someone who has lived through the unspeakable; but it can too easily become a means of self-destruction, where the emotions that should be focused on “enemies” is turned inwards, thus indeed creating a form of social self-sacrifice. Favazza elucidates this point:

Blood has awesome symbolic and physiologic powers, as evidenced by its role in religious sacrifice, healing, the formation of brotherhoods, and blood feuds. When harvested properly, it can alter the course of personal and communal history. It is my contention that some mentally ill persons mutilate themselves as a primitive method of drawing upon their blood’s ability to foster bonds of loyalty and union among members of their social network, to demonstrate their hatred of and conquest over real and imaginary enemies, to heal their afflictions, and … to set right their relationship with God.

Favazza discusses the subject of self-mutilation within Christianity extensively, identifying possible schizophrenics, anorectics and self-harmers amongst the martyr crew. He writes:

It is clear that the individual human body mirrors the collective social body, and each continually creates and sustains the other. Misperceptions of reality, feelings of guilt, negative self images, antisocial acts, and all the other symptoms we associate with personal mental illness defy understanding without reference to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical integrity of the communal “body.”

Which leads me on to the disgust, bewilderment and rejection that self-harmers continually face from the “communal body”. Favazza’s statements support my own experience of the anger, disgust and fear that self-harmers illicit not only amongst passers-by but even amongst their so-called “caretakers”. Nobody truly understands the self-harmer from a psychiatric perspective and instead dismisses the person saying, e.g. it must be a chemical imbalance, or part of borderline syndrome, or a way of getting attention. Favazza summarises self-mutilation amongst the mentally ill as a morbid form of self-help, but warns that it is nothing to trifle with and that for those individuals who cannot control the behaviour it may end in unsightly scars or even “the loss of an eye”.

Personally, I wear my scars as a warrior would those won in battle. When your insides resemble the direst of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, and your outside is that of an amicable, sweet and smiling Englishwoman, there is a sense of relief when your external appearance begins to resemble the internal reality. Naturally this comes with extreme forms of social and familial rejection. Nobody likes to see pain, nobody likes to be forced to imagine what’s inside the person wearing the scars. There are very few who would reach out and kiss the scars, saying, “There is beauty in such life-affirming pain.”

©StarofSeshat 2011


Chapter 1 ‘Vom kosmogonischen Eros’, Ludwig Klages

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
Mother love
Extreme, passionate love
Love of drink
Sex

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

©StarofSeshat 2009


The demonic in me

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


Circles and lines – Erich Fromm II

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 existence – Fromm I

“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


Left-Hand/Right-Hand Paths

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.

Left-Hand Path

Right-Hand Path

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.

Altruism

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

Ascetism, meditation

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

References:
swamij
dpjs
wiki
experience festival
sourcery forge
blavatsky