GUEST POST by Zora Tyrant!
Out for Blood – A review of Ferocious: A Folk Tantric Manual on the Sapta Matrika Cult by the Sepulcher Society, Theion Publishing 2019
As an avid explorer of the female esoteric mysteries and ‘fiercer’ forms of spirituality, I recently purchased Ferocious: A Folk Tantric Manual on the Sapta Matrika Cult by the Sepulcher Society and released by Theion Publishing in 2019. It aims at elaborating the Tantric Cultus of the seven Matrikas, the terrifying ‘Little Mothers’ in theory and practice and gears towards making it practicable also for a western esoteric audience.
I own various other Theion titles such as Underworld and Benighted Path and have always found them to be extremely well presented and supportive of my unorthodox esoteric practice. Consequently, I had high expectations for Ferocious.
And let me tell you right away I was not disappointed, on the contrary! At first, though, I was a bit hesitant towards another book on Tantra. I have found most tantric releases to be of three categories: translations of tantric manuals with little value to the western or modern practitioner, academic treatises which are highly interesting and informative but also do little for the esoteric practitioner, and books of tantric practice by western occultists who obviously have no grip on sources and lack depth and sophistication. Ferocious is another kind of beast entirely.
So, let’s dive right in! Imagine a frenzied band of blood thirsty and violent goddesses, one of them sow headed, another a skeleton, slaying hordes of demons and striking fear even into the hearts of gods. While these terrific fiends can indeed become maternal protectors of their worshippers, just as their unassuming title ‘Little Mothers’ may suggest it takes dedication, caution and skill not to end up as their prey. In the first part of the book we are introduced to the field of Folk Tantra and how the Matrikas fit into this environment.
Personally I found one of the most important and motivating claims (backed up by sources) made in the book early on to be the statement that Folk Tantra with its antinomian attitude towards ‘scriptural’ Tantra and orthodox religious Hindu practice is embracing of everyone who feels drawn to its currents – regardless of caste, gender or even ethnicity and place of residence, whether you are Hindu or Westerner or anyone else. Folk Tantra with its relation to formerly marginal and polluted deities of the wilderness is potentially approachable by anyone with the right attitude and dedication and outside the rules and regulations of orthodoxy. The Sepulcher Society traces the developments of the Matrikas from liminal village deities to prominent tantric goddesses and discusses the reasons why modern practitioners would want to connect with such ferocious female energies. From material benefits to bestowing of Gnosis, the Matrikas are approachable for a wide variety of causes. Part 1 of the book concludes with important thoughts on sexuality, foundations of tantric rituals and Mantras.
The second part of Ferocious is dedicated to the Seven Matrikas individually. Each Goddess is portrayed in detail, her iconography, relations to the other Matrikas, her modern worship, how to construct her shrine, her offerings and images. We are also given rituals for each goddess. With great care and detail each goddess is explained as an ‘individual’ and as part of the group, her functions, character and field of magical/spiritual operation. They are also related to further aspects of tantric planetary magic and alchemy.
Following a concluding chapter, we are treated also to an appendix where an eighth Matrika, the lion headed Narasimhi, is described in the same fashion as her sisters in the previous chapters.
This is no superficial overview over a fascinating aspect of Tantric spirituality and magic but a deep investigation into the nature and essence of the Matrikas as approached in Folk Tantric practice. This is the ultimate work on the Matrika Goddesses but also an important contribution to the study of the wild manifestations of the divine feminine and its magical and esoteric applications. It is also an essential work on how to approach and apply tantric knowledge in a Western environment without losing any of its original intention and power.
Ferocious is a substantial work of over 260 pages, meticulously researched with plenty of footnotes and large bibliography which invites further independent study. Despite this wealth of information, the book is written in an approachable style never drifting off either into shallowness or unnecessary academic posturing. Ferocious is healthily undogmatic and always keeps the esoteric practitioner in sight making sure that this book is all you need when you embark on a wild ride of tantric practice with the Matrika Goddesses.
Another triumph for Theion Publishing, Ferocious is possibly its most beautiful production yet. The book comes as a sewn hardback with shimmering red cloth and lavish golden lettering. Metallic gold endpapers are a great touch and enhance the lavish feel of this gorgeous edition limited to just over 750 copies only. My rating overall: 10/10, a must have!
Link (Get your copy): https://theionpublishing.com/shop/ferocious-sapta-matrika/
By Zora Tyrant
Zora Tyrant is an artist and an explorer of transgressive spirituality and magic. She lives in the wilderness of North America.
I have never called myself a necromancer. My doings with the dead as an adult I have taken in my stride as a witch, although my dealings with the dead stretch back into childhood. I have had no initiation and no training and so often my encounters with spirits have been cackhanded and unsatisfactory. Over the past 15 years I have developed a devotion to the dead and relationships with Egyptian deities who guide, protect and smooth the path of calling on the Aakhu, the blessed and beautified dead. I have listened, learned and experimented on my own. So it has been fascinating, instructive and gratifying to read Underworld from Theion Publishing and to find that what I do and what I have experienced so far is confirmed by the author, who is very obviously not only exceptionally knowledgeable in this field but is an adept in the doing. I wish I had encountered this book 30 odd years ago, but hey, things come to us when we are ready.
The author depicts the Underworld and death deities from different cultural models/mythologies, drawing a thread through them all without falling foul of New Age hodgepodgery. I have attended rituals where mythologies, deities and sacred symbols are thrown together like fusion cookery that ends up tasting vile and setting my teeth on edge. Not so this book which instructs through mythologies, shrine building, offerings and rituals how best to approach the particular deity and which deities require extra care and forethought. The author leans heavily on tradition without being anachronistic, and he/she also allows for sensitive developments and responses to the present-day world.
I have read before of soul-travelling to the Underworld, and how important it is to 1. seek protection of the relevant ruling deity and 2. to know the way (maps, passwords, monsters, traps, symbols, etc.). The latter in itself is daunting and also antithetical to my own experiences. For as long as I can remember, the worlds of Here, There, The Liminal etc. have been fluid; The Other slips through to Here, in Dream I am carried to There, in my mind’s eye I can turn to The Liminal … and the Shadows do not always remain shadows. There is nothing linear in my world for me to follow a path down from Here to The Underworld as dictated by some magickal traditions. However, Underworld (the book) suggests a much more accessible and practicable method for entering the Underworld through meditation and/or dream – read the book if you wish to know what and how … As a side note, the book may give solid instructions on necromantic practice and tradition, yet it is not dictatorial, instead it allows for people’s personal proclivities to guide them … if you want to leap in and learn that way, go ahead, but the author gives his/her experience-based recommendations that are absolutely worth bearing in mind.
A word on protection: you will need it. Underworld gives practical instructions on how to protect your space (think poltergeists, for example) and where to set up your space for best effect. Great emphasis is placed on gaining the protection of the underworld ruler you choose to work with and I would heartily agree with this. It’s something that should be undertaken for a lengthy period of time, in my eyes, so that you utterly integrate the underworld ruler and its essence into your psyche and thus instinctively call upon it even in your dream world. Sleep is a vulnerable time for anyone open to spirits; throughout my life, since I was very little, I have had times of being “attacked” by amorphous, roaming spirits that barely have any sense of consciousness except for a will to enter a living body. As any magickal person knows, the boundaries between dream and “real” are tenuous and permeable. But I would also say that some encounters with spirits are horrendous and terrifying and that’s okay… I read a comment in a forum recently where a woman was struggling to abandon the good/bad, angels/demons of her Christian upbringing. She essentially didn’t want to carry across the idea of evil to her new pagan beliefs. She asked if instead she could just approach “all spirit beings and deities” as neutral. She’s allowed to approach them however she wishes, but the responses she gets may not fit into such a beige remit! Some of the most glorious encounters I have had have been terrifying, and yet I was left afterwards with a longing for that entity/entities to return – ecstasy can be found in dread! I have received visitations from two different entities to whom I gave a lot of attention over a long period of time (in one case years). They began to manifest more and more tangibly until I could hear the one with my physical ears and touch the other with my hands, like holding onto hard air. And then on each occasion I freaked, I gave in to fear, and banished them because I didn’t know what to do or how to control things, even though in those two cases each entity seemed well-disposed towards me. And how I have regretted those banishments. Protection is vital, but don’t expect “perfect protection” to circumvent a natural sense of fear. Only the reckless and foolish feel nothing and rush in with a sense of entitlement. The rational mind is good at quelling fear, but it is also excellent at banishing, at erecting walls between Here and There. And this is why I would encourage readers of Underworld not to stop at reading the words but to dwell on them awake and as you fall asleep to encourage and open up a dialogue between you and the dead/deity as to how you should proceed further. The more you align yourself through the practices in the book, the more you will know how to hone that practice. I have certainly felt nudges to apply more effort, beginning with thoroughly cleaning and re-laying one of my altars that I had let go to dust and being more generous in my offerings …
But what are the dead for? Honestly, I struggle with this. The question itself implies that they are a means to an end, which feels reductive to me. Underworld speaks of the wealth of knowledge that the dead have and naturally points to divination as a way to access this information. As a teenager I engaged with a male spirit through bibliomancy. He gave me very accurate predictions and advice to all my teenage angsts and petty concerns. If only I had taken account of his advice in my actions, it would have saved me a lot of trouble. But hey, I was a teenager, who DID I listen to at that age?!
Underworld gives examples of rituals that ask for certain things from the death deities, certain very tangible, this-world things. I have done the same, petitioning the Neteru and the Aakhu. Some death deities, as the book says, are naturally inclined to help with particular things, others really couldn’t give a toss and you’d be hard pushed to make them take an interest (the same could be said of all deities – pick your allies carefully). Some say the dead themselves understand better the needs of a human living this life and if you treat them well, they will lend their bony hand. But it would be a waste to get stuck on merely what materialistic things can be attained, although to everything there is a time. The majority of my dead-time is spent in devotional work to the Neteru and the dead. Through that devotion (prayer, meditation, offerings, contemplation, art) they guide, they teach, they open my eyes to the possibilities of More.
“Through me shall you live, through you shall I live.”
Underworld is a fantastic book for anyone walking the path of the dead. It’s not a self-contained book, by which I mean that the copious information contained therein will spur you on, hungry to know more in both the cerebral and experiential sense of gnowing. If you read the words and feel the call of the dead, you will not be able to help yourself but to reach out and answer that call.
Underworld is available for purchase from Theion Publishing at THIS LINK! (This is not a sponsored post, I just really recommend the book!)
I feel like I’m in a strange place in my life at the moment. This year has been one of extreme change – all internal. My external world putters along pretty much unchanged.
Sancho Panza has been ramping up the pressure on me to be my authentic self. Firstly I had to learn what my authentic self was; then I had to learn not to fear it but accept it; and finally I am learning to express it. This engagement with the authentic self carries with it power. Some might call it “being self-empowered” but I would extend it further than that to a sense of power in general.
Often in the pagan community we have quite an ambiguous relationship with the concept of power. After all, power can be abused and misused. Power implies a hierarchy – the empowered “above” the powerless. Hierarchies, to many people, involve implicit abuse because we don’t like to compare or judge others as less than … God forbid that we would put ourselves ABOVE other people or be made to feel that we are LOWER than other people. But we are primates, it is part of our genetic biology to exist in social groups made up of hierarchies, so I dismiss any faintheartedness over who’s better and who’s worse. It’s like attractiveness – there will always be someone uglier than you and there will always be someone prettier than you. The same goes for character, power and influence. Get used to it.
So let’s just take hierarchy as a fact of life and return to the idea of “power”. It would be extremely easy to mistake power for something that we generate inside ourselves, that we CREATE power and direct it by our wills. This is an ego-driven misrepresentation of power. In my experience, the best and purest form of power is when you step out of your own way and allow the power to flow through you. If you can learn to call down the power, it will flow through you and like a funnel you can direct it towards certain areas of your life and invoke change.
That is, I think, a key point to remember with power, and by extension magick: it is most effective in affecting change. Life is in a continual state of flux. Our purpose is to develop and grow, to evolve towards the divine (either to be consumed by divinity, or to become divine); any attempt to put the brakes on a situation subverts the natural flow of life.
So the power that I am referring to is an external force, channelled by myself, which I can direct and apply at will (or more accurately BY my will). In knowing my authentic self, I remove blockages to the flow of that power; I can approach the source of my power (in my case, the spirits) with a truly honest heart. Know Thyself, was the maxim at the Temple of Delphi, and this goes deeper than any ego-centric, superficial knowledge of who you are, the mundane face that you show to the world. In my relationship with the spirits, the first thing I learned was “honesty”. If I want something, I need to be honest about it without guilt, without reticence or excuses.
Often we are taught that we should only desire “good” things because we are good people, or worse, we should have no desires at all. So we sublimate our desires and displace our need for A by giving ourselves the more readily available and perhaps more socially acceptable B. If you go to the spirits asking for B, when your heart is longing for A, either nothing will happen, or you will get B and feel dissatisfied or you will get a slap upside the head for being dishonest with the spirits. You can’t approach them with your neuroses and complexes and expect them to weed through the shit in your head to understand the poor little flower you are inside. No. YOU have to work through the shit. YOU have to learn radical honesty with yourself.
Sometimes I can’t always express the honest desire. I am aware of it, and I feel it, but I cannot adequately verbalise it. That is something different. In such cases, I can still sit before the spirits, explain what I can, then I open my heart and allow them to see the true desire, while I take full responsibility for the outcome of asking for my true will to become manifest.
If you want “something bad” to happen to another person, really want it with no scruples or hang-ups, then it will happen when you apply your own power: “your own power” being your relationship with the spirits and your skills in magick.
So I have learned to know my authentic self and I am applying my authenticity to my relationships by admitting my vulnerability AND not hiding my strength. Sometimes it is not always about hiding your vulnerabilities but also about down-playing your strength so you don’t intimidate or scare other people off. Humans can be very deceptive; the key is not to lose awareness of the masks you wear – always remember the true face under the mask less you one day wake up and believe that a mask is the true you … then, frankly, you’re fucked, and your magick won’t work and a whole host of other things in your life won’t work either.
Authenticity leads to greater power; greater power is a better relationship with spirits and a more effective magickal life. For me, these things combined together dampen the ever-present fear I have lived with throughout my life. Sancho Panza calls it my Lizard Brain: this is the Amygdala, that part of the brain which has been evolving for nearly 300 million years; the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight reactions; the animal part within us that responds to stress not as a civilised human but as an animal (you hurt me, I hurt you OR you hurt me, I keel over and play dead). An over-stimulated Lizard Brain leads to paranoia, aggressiveness or, like in my case, a constant state of frozen fear that has gradually exhausted me mentally and physically leading to chronic illness. My Lizard Brain is knackered from having been exposed to too many life-threatening situations. My Lizard was flat on his back, legs in the air; he had given up and was playing dead.
By expressing your authentic self you can calm the Lizard Brain. If the Lizard is calmer, he can rest and recover. My ever-growing power makes me courageous and counter-acts the habit of fear. This too will calm my injured Lizard Brain, giving me room and space for healing.
I am hopeful that through authenticity, my magickal practice and my developing relationship with the Akhu, the Beautified Spirits, who are always generous, I can look towards a future of health and wholeness. So mote it be.
At the end of July, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, announced plans for a nationwide ISP porn filter. Apparently, by 2014, broadband users will have to voluntarily opt IN to view porn as the default setting will be to block porn sites. This is supposedly in an effort to restrict paedophiles and protect young people from inappropriate material.
However, the Open Rights Group quickly found out that it wasn’t just porn that was falling under the censor’s axe but also subjects such as anorexia and eating disorder websites, alcohol, smoking, web forums, and “esoteric material” to name but a few (see HERE).
The pagan community in the UK has rightly gone up in arms. Some are dismissing the hoo-ha and saying “It’s been debunked” … although what they think has been debunked I don’t know as the censorship plans still stand in spite of the petitions being signed. Others say it’s a non-issue because it’s “easy to opt in” but my first thought to that is, yes and then the ISP has YOUR details as one of the people opting in to see blocked content (what better way for the government to keep an eye on the rabble-rousers and those who run against the ever growing conservative line in British society?). “Esoteric material” can cover everything from Satanism to Wicca, information sites to business sites and, let’s not forget, blogs! On a point of principle, why should I as an occultist and pagan have to opt IN to express my spiritual beliefs when a Christian, Jew or Moslem does not have to? Where is MY freedom of expression and choice?
It’s at times like these that social networking really comes into its own and I have been thrilled to see how quickly government e-petitions were drafted:
(Please follow the hyperlinks and sign if you are a UK resident.)
But in addition to this, pagans and occultists of all kinds have rallied to form a group waging a magical battle against the curtailing of freedom of expression and the rise of censorship in the UK.
I would like to draw your attention to The Magickal Battle of Britain, a Facebook event that gathers together an ecumenical group of occultists and pagans of every shade you could imagine with the sole purpose of building a cone of power in the run-up to 17th December. Here is the group’s statement of purpose:
Freedom to express and create is essential for human development, and in the U.K this freedom has been steadily undermined in an exponential way, that is near impossible to keep track of, let alone protest.
The title of this group,’The Magickal Battle of Britain’ harks back to a time time when war was necessarily fought on other levels, in less than conventional ways.
Our freedom can be fought for with our own weapons. The weapons of art and magick, or if you prefer, the weapons of art and suspension of disbelief.
Images, sound, cut-ups, sigilisation, meditation, sex with focus, charms, fetish and mantra. These are only some of our creative tools and these can create clarity in focus and chaos in their ability to subvert oppression.
This page is about creating change.This isnt about which angle your approach comes from,but about where it is directed.
Directed at fighting oppression, censorship and control of expression.
If we start building the energy now,by the 17th of December when we gather in spirit and intent (whatever your actual geographical location)we will have built one immense and VERY effective cone of power!
Group and individual meditations every Sunday at 9 pm Greenwich Mean Time until the 17th December.
These can be done anywhere and aim to join us in solidarity, focus and snowballing strength.
If you don’t have much time, you can tune in by glancing at the sigil created by Dis, that is on the banner of the page (above St Pauls) Otherwise a meditation on a strong image of what we don’t want (authoritarian controlling state, police with batons, misrepresentative puppet media for example) followed by an image of what we do want. Individual Freedom of Expression.
This is an open event/group so please follow this link HERE to join and add your personal creative magickal expression to a battle that is long overdue.
If you do nothing then, in my mind, you forfeit your right to complain as the government slowly and inexorably curtails your individual creative and spiritual modes of expression. This IS still an issue, and until we have won the battle against fundamentalist, conservative (with a little ‘c’) censors it will remain an issue. If you wish to continue to enjoy your place on the fringes as different, other, unique, creative, pagan and FREE to do as you please (And it harm none, do what thou wilt … Do what you will shall be the whole of the law …) then shake off the apathy! Sign the petitions! And join the battle on the astral to keep our country a place of extreme creativity, love, lust, magick and freedom of personal expression!
Worth listening to:
If you wish to copy this text, please link back to this blog and accredit me, the author. Thank you.
Nb: If you find two pagans who agree, you haven’t found two pagans! 😉
A pagan is person who practises a spiritual path; he or she follows either an established tradition under the “Pagan” umbrella or takes aspects of paganism, which are meaningful to him or her, and creates a way of living. A pagan is not somebody who only worships once a week or at special times in the year; a pagan path embraces all aspects of living and is a philosophy as well as a spirituality.
So what comes under the “Pagan” umbrella?
There are innumerable pagan paths: some draw on native religions such as the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans; some look to history and “re-kindle” Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythologies; then there are the neo-pagan religions of Wicca and the eclectic lifestyles and approaches of Green Witches, Hedgewitches and Kitchen Witches. There are Discordians and the followers of the Feri tradition, modern-day neo-shamans, magickians, wizards and witches. But not every pagan is a witch!
Pagans can be monotheists (believing in one god or goddess), polytheists (believing in two or more gods/goddesses), polyentheists (believing that god/goddess exists in all things) or even atheists (no belief in a god/goddess).
Paganism can (although does not have to) incorporate occult studies, and indeed some occultists would not describe themselves as pagan, although some definitely would. The occult world includes Thelemites (who follow the religion/philosophy of Aleister Crowley), Satanists (Satanism as created by Anton LeVey in the 1960s), Luciferians, Gnostics, Qabbalists … the list is virtually endless.
Isn’t it a bit vague having so many different paths under one word?
Yes and no. It can appear vague and confusing when you first approach paganism, but once you start learning, studying and exploring you will be overwhelmed with the richness both of paganism and the diversity of the people attracted to it. One thing is key amongst pagans: to accept the path that the other person walks. There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
Is paganism a cult?
No, paganism is not a cult. There is no one figure who commands all pagans. Even though there are occasionally oddballs proclaiming that they are, for example, King or Queen of the Witches, this is something rejected by pagans and usually cause for much hilarity.
We abhor bullying and coercion in any area of life and this is something that goes very much against the Pagan Path. To reiterate the previous answer: There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
The word “cult” is often used as a slur word to disparage someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Often people using the word “cult” have their own agenda of conflict and negativity, rather than a true desire to promote spirituality and personal growth.
Are pagans devil worshippers?
The majority of pagans do not believe in the devil; Satan or the devil for them is a construct of Judeo-Christian religions and mythology. There is a lot of confusion in this area as the pagan image of, for example, Pan (who is the god of nature, hunting and revelry) has been subsumed into Christian culture as the epitome of “what the devil looks like”. Pan is by no means an evil god, and many pagans would even dispute the existence of evil itself, but would say that “evil” is energy just as “good” is energy: a gun is only a piece of metal until the gun-holder decides how to use it. This is a key point within paganism: there is no doctrine telling us what is wrong or right. We each carry a heavy responsibility as to how we use this “moral energy”. It would be easier if we were told what to do, but instead we have to cultivate self-awareness, respect of others, sensitivity to the environment, a knowledge of cause and effect and make our decisions bearing all this in mind within our spiritual framework.
Are pagans witches?
Some pagans are witches, but the majority are not. Many pagans do not practise witchcraft or spellwork. Witches can come in many guises: some are Wiccans, some Dianic witches, Green Witches, Hedgewitches, Kitchen witches, etc. Traditional witchcraft and Voodoo even draw on the spellcraft of Pennsylvanian Christian pow wow magic. Witchcraft is like a river with many tributaries feeding it – some of which lead to surprising sources.
What is a pagan ritual?
The answer to this will depend very much on which tradition you choose to work with. A pagan ritual in general will aim at focusing the energy of the person or participants (if it is group work); this energy can be drawn from themselves or from any of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether/Spirit, for example. Sometimes the energy is focused on sending healing to people, or on blessing the group, reconnecting with deity or many other things.
Rituals can be either in a group or worked individually. Rituals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. The main point, however, is to learn the basics and for that there are many good books and (through the Herefordshire Moot) willing people to teach and advise you.
Do pagans believe in Jesus?
Some do and some do not. Many pagans believe in a wide variety of higher beings. Jesus is one of these beings for some pagans. Some believe he was a great spiritual teacher, but not a god. Some have no feelings about him at all.
Who is the pagan god?
There is no single pagan god. As mentioned before, some pagans believe in one god or goddess, some believe in two or more and some believe in none. It depends on the tradition you are called to work with.
What do pagans do?
Pagans are just like anybody else. You will find pagans working in industry, in the military, employed, unemployed, well, sick, happy, sad, divorced, married, hand-fasted (pagan marriage) and other. Most pagans will work around the pagan year honouring the equinoxes and solstices, marking the new moon and full moon. Some will do elaborate rituals in groups or on their own, some will do nothing more than light a candle and internally connect with what is important to them.
Do pagans pray?
Some pagans pray in what would be recognised as a “traditional way”, others use forms of meditation, drumming, chanting or dancing. There are many ways of connecting with deity and pagans are pragmatic in that, if it works, they’ll try it!
Where are the pagan churches?
Most pagans would say that their church is Nature and that She is where they worship. Others might say that when they cast a circle (create a sacred space), that is their church. Since pagans believe that deity is everywhere, however deity is conceived, the idea of a fixed building in which to worship is unnecessary.
How do you become a pagan?
Try firstly to read as much as you can about paganism and its different offshoots. Meet up with pagans. Ask lots of questions! When you feel the time is right, you will know how best to dedicate yourself to your chosen path and deity or deities. Most people begin with a personal, individual dedication. Groups, such as covens (not all groups of pagans are covens), do not usually allow people to join them until they have shown a commitment to studying and learning about that particular path. A moot, however, is a social environment for meeting pagans: you don’t even have to be pagan to come along, just bring your interest and respect for others.
What do I need to be a pagan?
You only need yourself and a sincere interest to learn, a yearning in your belly that this is where you belong, combined with an open heart and mind for your fellow pagans. No one is going to judge you if you step on this Path and decide at a later date it is not for you. Our Paths can be winding ones, and each step teaches us something valuable.
Why do people say bad things about pagans?
People often ridicule what they do not understand. Hollywood has also created many damaging and untrue stereotypes. This is why it is important for people genuinely interested in paganism to inform themselves from reputable authors and to meet up with real pagans. You cannot teach your paganism by watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” or any other light entertainment. Paganism is a spiritual way of living that requires commitment, soul-searching, self-awareness and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easily, but the joy of finding yourself on the right Path with like-minded others can’t be overestimated.
I have been pondering over this post for a few days. I am in the middle of reading Arthur Versluis’ Egyptian Mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed his book The Philosophy of Magic and so was very hopeful when I started reading the Egyptian Mysteries. However, I have continually come up against his very strong Gnostic twist on everything Egyptian which I find inappropriate and misleading. My notes on his book have turned into a private rant and have taken my thoughts off in philosophical directions far from the original text (in that sense, a good book because it has got me thinking). My greatest bugbear so far with the book is his interpretation of Ma’at as Order and Harmony. This is a common interpretation and I am sticking my neck on the line by disagreeing with it.
[Briefly: Gnostics believe that we are emanations from a divine source, that the further away from the divine we are, the more lost and in darkness we are. The aim is to journey back to the source, to achieve that original unity with the divine which is a remote and distant figure. Dualist Gnostics believe that the material world is the furthest emanation away from the divine and is therefore innately bad. They strive away from the material (e.g. through sexual abstinence, fasting and denial of the ‘worldly’) in an attempt to bring themselves back to the divine, which is innately good. For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism%5D
I agree that the main focus of Egyptian belief centres around Ma’at. Ma’at is Order in the face of the chaos demons Apophis and Typhon (for example) – although not forgetting that the chaos demons are also integral to the Order of the worlds. She restrains the unrestrained and focuses energy and power that would otherwise wreak pure destruction. She is the outcome and the tool for harnessing our inner anger and self-destructiveness, for controlling (though not taming) the inner demons to become a driving force behind our own creative and destructive powers. In this sense you could perhaps view Ma’at as harmony: a balance between two extremes to enable us to control both the left-hand and right-hand energies to move powerfully forwards (although I would say that at times we need to lean more in one direction or another to progress; after all, pure balance of two points can also describe stagnation).
From an academic point of view, I find Versluis’ interpretation of Egyptian culture suspect to say the least. He posits that Egyptian culture derived from an earlier, ‘purer’ [sic] culture out of which both Oriental and Occidental traditions arose. Consequently, due to the lack of empirical evidence in respect of an Egyptian understanding of the world, he continually draws on the Vedanta in the Upanishads and the Tao Te Ching. He will start with an Egyptian concept and without any reference to Egyptian sources, interpret it based solely on a comment in the Tao Te Ching (for example). And naturally all interpretations are heavily slanted in support of a dualistic Gnostic perspective. I understand the principle of drawing parallels between religious traditions to understand archetypal concepts, but Ma’at (in my mind) is peculiarly Egyptian. His book would more accurately be described as a Gnostic perspective of Egyptian mysteries, rather than a book elucidating Egyptian mysteries per se.
I see his emphasis of the harmonisation aspect of Ma’at as a direct moral bias betraying his own starting point. BUT, in putting forth my own interpretation below, I am fully aware that I am doing exactly the same thing, and betraying my own left-hand leaning. So be it.
Firstly let me say what I do agree with, namely that to truly understand the origins of the Western spiritual tradition, we need to understand the Egyptian mysteries and tradition. I also agree that there are numerous parallels and influences between traditions old and new.
Secondly, there are some points made by Versluis that I like the sound of, although I have no credible proof or experience to back up his ideas. These are thoughts I would like to ponder further: He says that Egyptian religion and culture were marked by the personal responsibility of each person to unite any breach of Heaven and Earth. In this respect he implies that it is not just about maintaining the status quo and adhering to the laws of society, although by definition, the laws of Ancient Egyptian society would have been (even if only nominally) focused entirely on sustaining and restoring Ma’at. As many of you will know from my blog, I very much support the concept of personal responsibility; and in fact I see established religions, groups, covens and temples as being a sore testing ground for personal responsibility as in such contexts it is far easier for the spiritually lazy to be carried along by the majority (before anyone gets their knickers in a serious twist, I know that this is not always the case, but it is a relevant point).
Versluis also speaks of “…the strength of a traditional culture [lying] in its irradiative power, involving and unifying all people towards the realisation of their true nature [Will?] of the Divine.” I think this is a nice, if slightly naïve idea, although I think it is also a rather hagiographic portrayal of Egyptian society – again, on what basis (apart from wishful thinking) does he make such a statement?
Versluis’ writing is here very much coloured by the belief in that primeval Golden Age where Heaven and Earth were united. Through ritual and the enforcement of Ma’at the bridge between celestial and terrestrial is maintained. According to Versluis, “Only when this power is thwarted, when disorder and the anti-traditional behaviours begin to gain sway, ignoring and defiling the teachings of antiquity, does such a culture break down, fragment and disappear…” He goes on to cite the rise of Judaism and Christianity as pivotal factors in exacerbating this decline… I am highly suspicious of any attempt to raise any one culture or religion above others, and to claim that salvation of the world (no less) can be found in one direction alone.
However, the idea of bridging the gap between celestial and terrestrial struck me as a more meaningful interpretation of Ma’at, and something that tallies with my own experience of the Egyptian religion.
The concept of harmony carries with it a moral interpretation that I do not share. Ma’at as Order – yes. But what if perfect Order between the earthly and celestial realms does not necessarily involve harmony (in terms of balancing opposing forces). Indeed Versluis’ seems to contradict himself by citing the example of the myth of Typhon scattering pieces of Osiris’ body; at each place a temple was raised, a holy site where a Divine ladder extended upward between heaven and earth. These places (says Versluis) retained some of the primordial spiritual unity of the temporal and divine (the essence of that Golden Era of perfect unity with the divine that Gnostics are so fond of). To quote: “And in this vein, there can be little doubt that to this day certain areas resonate with primordial power – sometimes for good and sometimes not.” Ignoring his almost coy avoidance of the word ‘bad’ or ‘evil’, the question arises of how an area that retains the primordial unity can be ‘not good’ and yet harmonious and an expression of Ma’at by his own definition. I would say that ‘good’ and ‘not good’ (!) are just extreme aspects on a graded (possibly circular) scale from good to evil. There is no black and white dualism in my opinion (such desperation to split the world neatly into two categories of right and wrong, to me is a cry of fear from someone overwhelmed by the chaos and general muckiness that is life). It is not always so easy to assign a shade to an action or manifestation. Sometimes a thing just ‘is’: perhaps the essence of existing is in being connected both with the celestial and the earthly planes, that this is the actual manifestation of Maat. Hence, Ma’at would be not the balance of two realms, but the connection. Ma’at is (for me) the expression of True Existence when we are not just surviving in the world, but living and manifesting our true Will by the connection of both the celestial and the terrestrial within and without ourselves. What else is the magician but the creator and manifestor of such connections? The magician in her work with the nominally good and evil is the ultimate sustainer and embodiment of Ma’at; who else connects the celestial and terrestrial realms better than a magician who invokes and evokes the Other, the celestial, and manifests it on the terrestrial plane?
So, in my own biased and left-hand shaded interpretation, Ma’at is Order and Connection, and has little to do with the morally biased term of Harmony.
In this sense, may Ma’at be on your tongues, in your heart and manifest in your lives.
© starofseshat 2008
Yesterday I attended the Thelemic Symposium in Oxford. My motivation was intensely personal. As such I took no notes, so my impressions of the speakers are entirely subjective, probably skewed and flavoured with my own biases and opinions (what’s new?).
Once we had got over our initial hilarity at the location, which was essentially a scout-hut with bar at the back of a housing estate, we soon realised what an absolutely perfect site it was: private, comfortable with bar and food, and no prying eyes of locals. Inside, the stage area was decorated with curtains and a beautiful arched painting of Nuit. She took my breath away and I looked at her often throughout the day.
Unfortunately the DuQuettes were absent, so the number of talks dropped to 6. First off were Peter Grey and his partner on Babalon. Each read their own incredibly evocative and thrilling interpretations of Babalon, the Whore, the Scarlet Woman. (I notice a discrepancy here in my understanding of their work, and TGW’s notes – this I think reflects my bias in favour of Babalon.) Their Babalon was a strong, indefatigable woman, independent and raw; she was the Babalon of two people in love; and the Babalon who challenged all preconceptions including those of Thelema. They called on Thelemites to reject dogma and to commit blasphemy to infuse new life into a partially degenerate philosophy that needed to change to respond and be relevant to the times. The raw sexual language was beautiful, challenging and ultimately deeply arousing. I later overcame my innate shyness to ask them for copies of their work because I very much want to read through both texts at my leisure.
A couple of talks later, this particular image of Babalon was shaken to its roots by Melissa Harrington who spoke about Thelema and The Feminine. (I would just like to say I admired her spirit and thoroughly enjoyed her talk. It’s only because she posed such interesting ideas, that I feel able to engage in discussion and disagree with some of her points of reference.) Her first words, though not unkind, were to Peter Grey and partner, saying, “Come back when you’ve had children and tell me again about Babalon.” I prickled at what I felt was a rather dismissive statement. Her talk went on to question the role of women in Thelema; that because the structure has been so male dominated since its inception, that there are not enough provisions made for women, either in a spiritual sense or practically in the form of crèches at rituals. She looked at the audience and marked everyone as a first generation believer, and wondered how on earth anyone could be expected to bring up a child in Thelema with the lack of structure and openness to families and children. This was a fair point, but one that could have been made in isolation. Instead she cited Crowley’s behaviour with a string of women, the drugs, the abandonment and death through negligence of some of the children. She found this an unacceptable basis for a religion; that women were essentially given sexual freedom but not the power to deal with it. This is true, and perhaps because I don’t see Crowley as a prophet, but more as an inspired madman, I have no issue in taking the good and leaving the bad: when you start talking about “religion” then people start wanting absolutes; they want their prophets to be flawless and their gods to be manifest in dogma. Untidiness irritates such people. And such people irritate me. Whether it is directly Crowley’s responsibility or actually a failure of responsibility by the women themselves, I find harder to say, and the discussion smacks to me slightly of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Are the personality flaws of Crowley then, still relevant now? Can’t we take the best of his work and just move forward with it? If we are looking to him as a cult leader, then his personality flaws certainly create stumbling blocks; but if he is an inspiration, in the true sense of the word as a source that inspires us to other things, then I don’t see that it matters.
Another thing that riled me slightly, was that all of these points could have stood strongly on their own without bringing in the image of Babalon. She said that Babalon was a whore, and a male wet-dream, that ultimately Crowley did not question the motivation of whores and the desperation that drove them to whoredom. A fair point to a degree. But she ultimately robbed Babalon of any power, citing her childlessness as indicative of the barren nature of her symbolism, and that consequently this barrenness was being expressed in current day Thelema by the lack of provision for women and children, and the concomitant outcome that no one at the conference had been brought up as a Thelemite. Two points need addressing here: one – I HATE the way women who have had children then interpret everything in their lives thereafter from the perspective of motherhood as the pinnacle of female achievement. I understand that to them it is the most momentous thing of their lives. But to invoke childlessness as an expression of barrenness, negativity, lack of self, lack of will, slavery to male sexuality is in my opinion entirely missing the point of Babalon. She is an independent woman figure desired by man. She holds tremendous power. I have seen so many women lose any sense of self and individuality to their children; so many merge and become solely the power engine for their brood. Rightly so. If you are going to bring a being into the world, it is your responsibility to give that being everything you can. I am not criticising this. What I criticise is the assumption that childless women are less because they do NOT sacrifice themselves for their children. (This was implicit rather than explicit in her talk; it was unaddressed and hence bugged me big time.) For me, Babalon is a powerful Goddess that represents the ultimate in freedom. Does feminist freedom always have to be entirely and utter split from men? Can’t we be free and still in relationship with men? And if it is right to sacrifice yourself to your children whom you love, why is it suddenly wrong to sacrifice yourself to a man you love? The second point is that my understanding of Thelema is that it is a spiritual path which requires a spiritual awakening: it needs you to make the realisation of will to undertake the path; it is not a philosophy that can be taught at Sunday school. It is the philosophy of adults searching for a way to the divine. By trying to force a familial pattern of parental guidance on Thelema, she is trying (in my opinion) to make a tomato out of a chestnut.
Her second partial criticism was how women often came to Thelema through a male partner, but that often the women remained in Thelema once that original partnership dissolved. She used this as indicative of the non-woman friendly feeling in Thelema. Again, I disagree and believe that the reason for this is perhaps slightly more complicated. Thelema, the Gnostic mass and other tenets, are very sexual; to an outsider they could appear (indeed in some ways ARE) sexually aggressive. In today’s world I think there are very few women who would feel comfortable entering such a scene on their own, however great their interest. So perhaps the fact that women often approach Thelema through a male partner is less about emphasizing the male dominance and male leadership in Thelemic male/female relationships, than it is about reflecting the sad status of our society, that women are often frightened of overt, public expression of sexuality and feel safer approaching it all through a male partner whom they trust will keep them safe (at least until they have gained trust and confidence in the community).
The second talk was The 5 Senses in AMOOKOS and Tantrik Traditions, by Mike Magee. This was a fairly basic introduction to the idea of Tantra; the balance of Shakti and Shiva, the balance of male and female internally. The only new bit of information for me was gleaned from a training level in the AMOOKOS tradition, where initiates were called on to practice sense focus for a period of 26 weeks: one week they would focus on sight and keep a journal about (for example) the different shades of grey they saw through the week; the second week focused on taste; the third on hearing; the fourth on touch; the fifth on smell and the sixth represented ether and was a week of meditating on the present, of grounding and feeling utterly in the moment. This sequence was repeated over the 26 weeks, by the end of which you would have an extensive diary of your sensory experiences, which often led to certain changes in the initiate and the integration of disparate memories and sensory experiences. An integrity of being seemed to be the ultimate focus, but the final outcome depended entirely on the initiate’s own experiences and it was up to them to apply interpretations and learn from their experiences. This is a practice I am considering working through, as it could be very useful for my Kundalini practice.
Following Melissa Harrington, there was a talk by Charlotte Rodgers on Taboo & Blood Rites. There was in my mind very little information on generic blood rites, and it was more of a personal journey using blood; this was fascinating and I warmed to this woman greatly. She discussed the difference between venous blood and menstrual blood. She cited personal experience, which I don’t think it is appropriate to go into here. She touched on the subject of Mayan yoga, as in Maya/illusion. Performing this type of yoga in front of mirrors covered in blood symbols draws out aspects of self. This encourages a splitting of self to enable working on manifest aspects of self.
After this there was a talk on Goetic Magick by Jake Stratton-Kent. His experience seemed focused primarily on the Grimoirum Verum. The content of his talk passed me by, the prime interest for me came in the question time where he talked more openly about spirits with whom he had what he termed a “marriage type relationship”. These relationships were concrete things that he worked on as any other kind of relationship. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way that he spoke about spirits. His relationship with them seemed more concrete than my own, but the way he spoke of them as such an integral part of his life – “I get along with some spirits better than I do with some people” – this rung true for me, and I felt he was speaking my language.
The final talk was given by a young German man, David Beth, Into the Meon – Inside Voudon Gnosis. His English was excellent, but unfortunately he assumed that everyone in the audience was privy to certain knowledge, that TGW and I mostly certainly were not. Consequently we were unable to follow the thread and missed out on learning much of anything. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for the more learned people in the audience. What did strike me was that in his tradition blood shares a cosmic essence with the “upper world”. The junction where these two essences meet in the adept is the hieros gamos. He also spoke of a concept called Las Prise des Yeaux, which is a form of esoteric vision of objects where you view the spiritual essence in all things animate and inanimate (another practical exercise in the offing).
This is a censored and curtailed version of the event, and hence the text at times appears a little choppy, for which I apologise. I took some hefty secateurs to it to make it publicly palatable 🙂 Some things are not appropriate for public consumption, some things are too personal to me to convey. Let it just be said, that this was a hugely important day for me and I will definitely be going next year.
© starofseshat 2008
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
There is a difference between feeling sexual and being sexual. We all know this. We have all felt sexual without having sex, and (dare I say especially women) have had sex without feeling sexual. And yet the ‘feeling sexual’ part of ourselves is always driven to completing the act. The goal is always physical union.
What if the actual goal is to feel sexual? To hold onto the buzzing energy that we get when we feel in tune. This feeling, I think, comes when we unite body and soul in ourselves. The spark for this internal union may be someone else, in fact is often sparked by the mutual (or one-sided!) affection for another person. We learn to love ourselves through the love we feel from another (imagined or real, and whatever the “quality”/sincerity of that love). We forget for a moment the imperfections of our body and stop beating ourselves up for not being this, or that. For a moment we just ARE, and bask in the affection of another, and revel in the union of our Selves.
The danger here is in thinking that physical union with the other is inevitable or necessary. We all know how the initial frisson fades after years or days (!) or a one-off sexual encounter (!). Suddenly we start seeing the imperfections of the other, and by logical deduction we believe our own clay feet to be revealed. Of all the women who have spoken to me about their sex lives over the years, not a single one has hoped that the actual sexual physical union would continue. Most are relieved when it fades out of the relationship and is replaced by a comfortable friendship (if they are lucky), and others suffer because they force themselves emotionally to give up their bodies for use on a regular basis, just “to get it over with” or just “so he stops pestering”.
Maybe it is not surprising (although I’ve only just realised this while writing), that those women who have spoken to me about the wish to remove physical sex from their lives (bearing in mind I have friends who have NOT spoken about their sex lives!), these women have all had affairs. You might then think that in fact they did want sex, they were just bored with their partners or in unhappy relationships. But I don’t think this is the case. Again, without exception, all the women have remained with their original partners who they love with all their hearts. I think that what they were chasing after was the non-substantial feeling of being whole. Someone walks into their life and makes them FEEL sexual. The hum-drum split between employee and woman, between friend and mother, between all the roles that women have to play, becomes one. They are Goddess. They are sexual, whole and admired. This is the Hieros Gamos (the sacred/holy wedding) of the Self. But chasing after this feeling through another person, even if that person is the spark, will only take you away from the unity with self. The grass is hardly ever greener on the other side. The man (or woman) you fall in love with is just a man (or woman). They are ultimately not the source for the sexual feeling; they are the spark, you are the kindling. Without a spark, the kindling stays unlit. Without kindling the spark extinguishes.
How amazing to maintain the sexual feeling, this Hieros Gamos with self, and to then use it in ritual! Remember what I have just written. I am not talking about a rite involving sex or some great orgy. I’m talking about harnessing a beautiful energy to bring us closer to deity. The physical and spiritual union with ourselves, surely has to precede any union with another, and more importantly with deity. Actual physical union in a ritual context would I think tie us more to this world and ultimately blind us to the real potential of sexual energy. I think it was David Conway who said that when sex enters ritual, any serious spirituality flies out the window. But to be in a state of Hieros Gamos with self, to share that feeling with others, to harness it to move closer to deity – could there be anything better?
Life is an initiation, a process of polishing our souls for ultimate union with God. I long for this union, and it is reflected as a speck in the feelings of wholeness I get from feeling sexual. My mind cannot conceive of the ultimate Hieros Gamos – but this is what I want, no less than total union with God.
© starofseshat 2008
I thought it was about time to look at issues surrounding the “secrecy of the Craft” or “oaths of secrecy”. Naturally when talking about such secrets, the nature of secrecy will depend greatly on what the secrets are!
Some secrets cannot be expressed because they are inexpressible. This would include direct contact with deity, the feelings and experiences within a circle or during a ritual. In some ways it falls under the banal disclaimer, “You had to be there.” Any attempt to convey such experiences will fall short, make you sound like a fool and potentially confuse and misdirect your listener, so in that sense, save yourself the trouble and just button it (or not, it’s up to you 🙂 ).
I came across a quote in a book:
“My mind is not so timid that I deny the existence of mysteries. But I am wary of those who profess to live by them, who, with their finger to their lips, proclaim themselves God’s elect and keep the uninitiated in ignorance.”
Jacques De Bourbon Busse, Moi, Cesar in Tutankhamen, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt
This is a key point for me and one I am sure that has seen many pagans flee their childhood major religions in search of something more … dare I say? … honest. Considering the Christian-bashing that I have seen go on amongst pagans, it makes me laugh when I repeatedly see the same power structures being built and the same Babel Tower threatening to fall in pagan circles.
… Who am I? I am a group that requires initiation that has a series of grades. At each grade you will become privy to more information that is just not suitable for outsiders or those of a lower grade. You are beholden to the leaders of the group, who by virtue of being the leaders and possessing all the information you aspire to knowing, are worthy of respect. And whether you understand or not, you listen and obey. After all, who are you to question those higher than you? Am I Christian, pagan or something of an occult variety? Is the initiation baptism, renunciation of self, ritual acceptance into a group? Are the grades Golden Dawn, Wiccan or merely the grades from layperson, to deacon, to priest etc.? Are the leaders we are supposed to honour and take our teachings from Wiccan high priests and priestesses, Adepti Exempti, priests or popes? …
It doesn’t take a genius to draw the parallels, and yet our questioning of such structures seems to stop at the major religions most of us rejected, and doesn’t carry over to the new paths we are currently walking. For me, there is something inherently suspect in someone who places themselves in a position of spiritual superiority, by virtue of their training or whatever else.
Sometimes people are just too precious about their occult/hidden information, which makes me think they know very little and are trying to defend themselves against too many questions, which would reveal them for the frauds that they are. On the other hand, I have seen some people on forums hint loudly at the occult knowledge they are privy to, only to drop a penny’s worth on the table, just to prove that they do indeed know it. So what happened to the importance of secrecy? Or is it just a cloak to wave around dramatically to enhance your sense of self-importance, while roaring “mwha-ha-ha-ha” into the wings? Well, really.
However, having made a minor plea for openness and for questioning “spiritual” hierarchies, I will not say that there should be an information free-for-all, available to all and sundry. Specifically when it comes to magic – witchcraft, ritual, ceremonial or other – there has to be at the least a major degree of discretion. As I wrote to MS, there is most definitely information that someone outside such circles or a beginner just wouldn’t be able to comprehend without a certain amount of practice and experience behind them. But I view this along the lines of a technical engineer talking in detail about a texturizing machine to a toddler. The toddler may only hear, “insert here” and understand none of the additional information; consequently they insert their finger and it’s chopped off! Just as I don’t consider myself superior to a child (I may have more experience, but I am not superior), so I don’t feel like any kind of Übermensch in relation to those who are further back on the path, or who actually aren’t even interested in this path.
A certain amount of secrecy really is for the good of all, at least until you have done the groundwork and are ready to understand. But this way of thinking is not meant to exclude, it should invite people (if they are interested) to start the journey of learning, doing, experiencing and knowing.
Out of respect and moral care for certain others, let there be an element of secrecy. But don’t use secrecy as a weapon to beat those less knowledgeable, or those honestly reaching out for a helping hand. We are all children in the eyes of our Gods, and as Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” And as Seshat says, “The only joy is in starting to learn all the things you don’t know!” 😉
© 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
I recently read a book by a spiritualist which not only detailed her own life journey but incorporated exercises for getting in touch with your guardian spirit. A couple of things in the book stuck in my craw, one of which was her position on taking hallucinogenic drugs to facilitate contact with the spirit world. I hasten to add that this was not something she advocated for her readers, but it was part of her own spiritual experience. Suddenly her credibility in my eyes was severely tarnished.
I am not going to start criticising native shamanic cultures, or religions such as the Native American Church with its use of peyote. From my time amongst the Navajo, and after having met a member of the NAC, I have great respect for what they do and who they are. Why then do I find it so difficult to take a white British person seriously when they go down the peyote route?
Part of my response is definitely influenced by Ward Churchill’s brilliant book “Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America”. In this, he posits the idea that physical genocide of Native Americans may have ceased but the cultural appropriation by white people of Native American spirituality is just another blow in a long line of exploitation. He encourages Europeans to look to their own root cultures to find the native spirituality of their own lands.
This is harder than it may seem though. Unlike most Native Americans, we Europeans/white Americans are a mongrel breed with roots everywhere. I have roots in Britain, France, Germany and Poland (and I have only gone back 3 generations to get that list). So where are my roots? I think this sense of homelessness is what has driven so many Europeans to latch onto the strength that they see in North American native spirituality. In Germany I met a girl who dressed in suede-fringed jackets and wore a feather in her hair. She felt she was honouring NAs, I felt she was insulting them by mimicking something she patently wasn’t. I have attended a Reiki healing class where the teacher danced around with a Native American drum. As effective as it was, I wondered how appropriate it was for this man of Hungarian/British origins to do?
I have no answers on the question of appropriating native religions that are not our “own”. I have my opinions, but it is a complex subject. I would just urge you to read Ward Churchill’s book, if you can.
The main focus of my question here is how reliable, necessary and helpful is it to incorporate drug experience into ritual and spiritual development? Wow, I can hear so many of you revving up your fingers to respond 🙂 please do.
From my perspective, drug taking is the ultimate in materialistic spirituality. I have written before about my dislike of relying to heavily on the tools of magic to the detriment of your spiritual connection. If you cannot cast a circle comfortably without an athame, and if you cannot communicate with your deities without various arcane accoutrements, how sincere is your practice? Relying on hallucinogenic drugs to achieve a connection with spiritual worlds is the ultimate crutch, and in my opinion, you may as well chop off your spiritual legs while you’re at it. I am lucky in that I have always been able to achieve an altered state at will. Sometimes it is harder than others. Ultimately practice and hard work are the keys.
There is no way you can entirely rely on your experiences while under drugs. I have read a fair bit about neurology and psychology, and am very aware of how chemical changes can alter our sense of reality – reality has not changed, merely our perception of it. You may think, great, this is what I need, to change my perception, to open up my mind to connect with the Other. But I think you are more likely to connect with a self-deluded and potentially dark side of your own nature. I have a friend who, while on drugs, hallucinated that she kept turning into a skeleton. So was she “connecting” with Death? Communicating with the “other side”? No, she was being faced with an internal, subconscious issue that she was by no means ready to deal with at that point. Drugs take down your barriers, they leave you bare and vulnerable, and ultimately incompetent. I have another friend who insisted that hash made her more creative. When I said it made my head spin in circles, she shook her head and said I hadn’t learnt to “use it properly”; but she had the skill and her creativity benefited from it. Bullshit. She sat at home day-dreaming pipe dreams of all the things she was going to do; she started tens of courses and never completed one; she started losing friends (including me) because she became the opposite of the person I originally fell in love with. She was a vacuum of creativity that threatened to pull me in and destroy my own. She was not going to change, I beat a hasty exit.
Spirituality and magic are (in my mind) about self-discipline, focus and about honouring your deity. What honour is there in being high? That is just self-indulgent and lazy. Being high while doing magic is dangerous and irresponsible, and you get what you deserve.
Surely the point is to clear away the clutter to make a straight path to our deity? Taking drugs and thinking you can be “more spiritual”, “more connected with the Other Side”, “more powerful as a magician” is just like striking out across a bog; you may get to the other side, then again you may get stuck, stagnant, incapable of moving at all – and your Journey, for this life at least, will be over.
© starofseshat 2008
p.s. apologies for the dreadul pun title. Couldn’t resist it!
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:
For many years I wrestled with the idea of spellwork. My thoughts at that time were based on the philosophical premise that a butterfly’s wings flapping in the rainforest can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, i.e. every action has a reaction. Unlike Newton’s third law of motion stating that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, my belief escalated the theory into something of disproportionate and devastating scale. It’s hard to see why I wasn’t paralysed in my daily life, crippled by this fear of the uncontrolled reaction. Nowadays, I understand that the fabric of the universe is made of sterner stuff; and my teenage delusion that what I do and believe impacts equally on others has disappeared in a puff of adult reality.
This search for the morality of spellwork was not aided by listening to the experience of active spellworkers. The goals they worked towards seemed materialistic and their motivations often petty. I was chilled by the callous disregard shown by some for anyone that may have been affected by the fall-out of their spell: one Wican (spelling here deliberate) shrugged off the fact that someone else had been fired so that he could get a promotion and take their place; another wizard still brags about making his ex-girlfriend a sex slave in revenge and actually garners admiration from his peers! Encounters with people such as this made me feel I wanted nothing to do with spellwork (whether their claims were real or fantasy). And yet the urge and the questioning continued, and eventually I realised that I was equating the shoddy craftsman with the delicate tool. The tool is neutral, it is the craftsman who applies the skill and turns a hunk of wood into a guillotine or a prayer stool.
In realising this I was still left with a crucial question: what goal is worth doing a spell for? Some people think that the temptation to spell your way through life is too great, and that by doing spells we avoid the real graft and become lazy and immature as a result of avoiding the natural challenges that life brings. But the person who thinks that all you need to cast a spell is to wave a wand, light a candle and mutter a few words is mistaken. The self-examination, research and planning that go into an effective spell equal, in my mind, any efforts I may make on the physical plane. The fact is that in spite of the spell, I will still have to make the effort to facilitate the change I am working towards. You can’t cast for a new job, and then not fill in any application forms. A spell will move the energy in the intended direction, you will be amazed at supportive coincidences and opportunities will arise, where years of previous effort have left you with nothing. There are rules. There are dangers. Sometimes the self-examination which I think is essential will lead you to discover that you don’t actually want what thought you did – hence the serious need for contemplation and precise formulation of your goal.
Ultimately it is a tool, gifted to us by the gods. Used wisely it can be a great thing, giving you a real sense of connection to your deity and aiding you in your path. Used unwisely and without consideration, it can be destructive, chaotic and harmful to both you and those around you. Good intention is not enough – even well-intended fools can cause harm.
© starofseshat 2008