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.
A review of Ludwig Klages’ Of Cosmogonic Eros, Theion Publishing 2018
By Carl Schelling
“The light of Eros-Phanes flashes in the pregnant darkness of the Dionysian vortex.”
One could review this tremendous work from various angles such as the philosophical, metaphysical, religious as for each of these and other areas this release holds very important implications. And indeed, upon its first release in early 1920s Germany it influenced luminaries of various disciplines ranging from Walter Benjamin to Walter F. Otto and from C.G. Jung to Hermann Hesse. It did, however, also impact greatly on the spiritual and esoteric milieu of its time and it is from the perspective of an esoteric practitioner that I will attempt to review this publication.
The great biocentric Ludwig Klages, together with Alfred Schuler the head of the esoteric Cosmic Circle, waged a radical war against monotheism, logocentrism and human-centric positions. Against these currents he pitched an enchanting and ecstatic daemonic world of images which constitute a cyclical reality mediated by the powers of Eros. This world-creating, Cosmogonic Eros thus becomes the elemental power which manifests the true Real which is ‘lost’ to humankind behind the false reality mediated by the Logos. So central is this force to Klages’ thinking that he devoted an entire monograph to this sacred force, the same book, Of Cosmogonic Eros, which is finally available to us in English for the very first time.
Now onto the book itself:
Theion Publishing treats us to the full package here, adding two extra texts to the translation. Of Cosmogonic Eros itself is divided into seven chapters plus a preface, an appendix and a discussion of sources. As extras this book further contains an introduction by the preeminent contemporary expert on Klages in the English-speaking world, Dr. Paul Bishop, and an additional essay by Klages’ collaborator the mystic Alfred Schuler on the Ur-Gnosis.
Bishop’s introduction may already be worth the price of the book alone. His introductory essay of 60+ pages is in itself a mini-analysis of the entire Eros book, examining its most important concepts and how they relate to Klages’ overall metaphysical world of daemonic images.
Klages advances his elaborations on Eros in a very structured way allowing the reader to follow closely all his argument. With the razor-sharp mind of a scholar and the heart of a mystic Klages peels back layer after layer of misunderstandings and distortions in regards to the nature of Eros until he arrives at his essential qualities and powers. In a tour de force he differentiates Eros from Love, Sexus and emotionality before embarking on a discussion of the concept of Eros in antiquity. Amongst the topics treated in this chapter are the Eros of the Orphics, Eros Cults and Eros as a Mystery God.
In chapter 3 Klages elaborates on the essence of the Erotic state and then compares Erotic and Dionysian rapture before explaining the cosmogonic nature of Eros. A master of language Klages treats us here to passages like this:
While the ecstasy of satisfying the sexual drive is associated with the sexual union of two beings, there is presumably no limit to the opportunities that permit entry by the person bearing a soul into the fiery circle of erotic frenzy. It can consummate itself, or reach perfection, at the mere sight of a beloved being, and that may be a being of the opposite sex, but also one of the same sex, or it might be an animal, or a plant. And it can just as well consummate itself at the smell of a scent, the taste of a wine, the hearing of a sound, and the touch of a dripping branch. It can be roused while awake as if in the most stupefying dream. It celebrates its orgies beneath the breeze of spring storms, in the light of a star-studded heaven, in a hailstone shower, on a flaming mountain ridge, in the raging surf, in the lightning flash of “first love”, but not least in the embrace of fate that smites it. It is an ecstasy both of the ascent and descent; an ecstasy that transfigures dying and death into agonising bliss! The eternal moment of its perfection contains: unfettered frenzy or crystalline transport of delight.
Chapter 4 ‘on the ecstatic state’ is of the utmost importance to any spiritual practitioner interested in utilizing forms of ecstasy in their work. The author explains the crisis of ‘un-selfing’ and the pathway of Life through Death. Far ahead of his time he discusses the possible use of drugs in relation to mystical work and elaborates on 3 main forms of cosmic ecstasy, the heroic, the erotic and the magical forms. The chapter ends with the introduction of a truly mystical concept of distance in relation to Eros of which Klages says that:
The shiver of Eros however differs from this in that, in the moment of even the highest realisation, it remains an Eros of Distance and the intoxicated man remains a separate, never-intermingling second in relation to his partner, an eye of the universe watching him from out of the purple night! To surrender to this does not mean to lust after it or to embrace it. It does not mean: to become one with it; to be subsumed in it. It means: to awaken!
Chapter 5 takes us deep into the ‘nature of ecstasy’. Magical time and space, the relation of Eros and ecstasy to the daemonic images and the visionary power of the soul are all discussed in this chapter which leads over to chapter 6 ‘on ancestor veneration’ which should become mandatory reading for any contemporary pagan or heathen practitioner. Far beyond the shallow clichés and limits of the usual treatises on such topics Klages uncovers the deepest layers of the relation of Eros to Thanatos, the empowerment of the Living through the Dead and the transformative quality of the living soul.
A ‘concluding word on Eros and passion’ is then followed by a lengthy appendix which contains a highly fascinating treatment of the question as to ‘Why does it bring ruin to lift the Veil of Isis?’ You want the answer? Go and read this book, I won’t spoil it for you with an answer!
A true gem in this treasure chest of Gnosis is the included essay by Alfred Schuler. Klages mentions him in various places of the book as a mystic and as being instrumental in shaping his view on the Chthonic mysteries. Schuler, who also communicated with French esotericist Papus, was a highly mysterious figure whose oracular language and visionary ecstasies had a profound effect on his immediate circle. His pagan vision of a cyclical maternal world is closely associated with erotic mysteries, divine androgyny and necromantic teachings. The short essay presented here is an excellent example of Schuler’s unique approach and vision.
To conclude: Of Cosmogonic Eros is an epic achievement, an intellectual and esoteric masterpiece which deserves the closest attention and should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in or practicing any form of Pagan spirituality. Some passages of this book, especially in the beginning, demand proper intellectual focus as they can be complex but it is worth persisting. It is a work you will go back to time and time again.
The publication of this book could not be more timely also in regards to another matter: Klages tirelessly pointed out how environmental destruction and ruthless exploitation of nature is one of the disastrous manifestations of Western ideologies and reality. In a time where more and more people wake up to the terrible consequences of environmental collapse Klages can give us crucial insights into possible alternative avenues and strategies.
The book is published in a limited cloth hardcover edition (a deluxe edition is sold out) of 745 copies. Theion Publishing is known for their quality productions and this book is no exception. Beautiful quality blue cloth and exquisite endpapers make this book a delight to hold. A special mention must go to translator Mav Kuhn who did an outstanding job translating this work.
Carl Schelling is a lifelong student of the esoteric. After pursuing academic studies in philosophy and anthropology he traveled internationally for more than 3 decades in the search for spiritual truth. He now lives in a rural setting on the European continent and focuses his spiritual heart on venerating the ancestors and the genius loci.
Many thanks to Carl Schelling for allowing me to share his review of Of Cosmogonic Eros which is a book that has influenced my own thinking and spirituality. I was lucky enough to immerse myself in the text as its translator and I very much recommend it to anyone seriously interested in pagan spirituality. Mr Schelling’s review is a fantastic enticement to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see … Seshat
Recently I have felt my spiritual ship turning in a different direction. I am incorporating aspects to my approach very different from those of the past. My Rosicrucian studies are coming along fine; after a year of commitment to this path I am now beginning First Degree studies. This has been my first opportunity to work with an established egregore from an initiate perspective. In addition I am preparing for Mussar studies (Mussar is essentially Jewish ethics, a form of self-examination and purification of character traits in preparation for the study of Kabbalah), and I am reading about Modern Kabbalah.
So what does all this have to do with being a witch? From the first day I began blogging, six years ago, the subject of “What is a witch?” and “What kind of witch am I?” has been a recurring theme. My pendulum has swung from one extreme to another as I have explored multiple paths. As I said to a friend, in order to define the middle path, one must traverse the boundaries of the extremes. One thing I have learned is that the middle path is not synonymous with following the herd, or joining the crowd, or doing what everyone else does. For a start, my middle path may not be yours. I have opened myself up to the spiritual paths of others – Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Vodouisants, Gnostics, Satanists, Sorcerers, Necromancers, et al – and I have learned something from each lively discourse.
But I remain a witch. I am anchored within the cycles of the natural world, the seasons, lunar phases and astrological movements. I still address the Egyptian Aakhu, the spirits of the dead, the elevated and blessed souls who have passed the test of Ma’at and walk the Duat, ready to assist us here on this material plane. And crucially, I still practise magick.
However, my definition of magick or more specifically my magickal construct has changed, become more and better than it was. When I say “better” I am not making a judgement regarding the way others practise magick, I am referring solely to how I experience it and benefit from it.
Now I would describe my magick as “attunement”. My focus is on attuning my soul with the divine to allow divine influx to radiate through me, by means of continued purification. Encounters with the divine, especially within Kabbalah, are often described in terms of light and fire: a burning face during prayer, the halo of divine light around the head of a student, the words of Torah as flame issued from the tongue, the bright light of a Tzaddiq …
I have never been much interested in results magick. Occasionally it has been useful, and with the contractual aide of the Hoodoo spirits, the efficacy of my results magick doubled. But the question to me was always, what do I want? What do I need? And there is a gaping crevasse between wants and needs. Over the past year I “discovered” Minimalism and realised that it has always been part of my make-up. I want very little and my needs are basic.
While studying Social Anthropology at university many moons ago, I was taught about Maslow’s triangle.
This was a revelation to me and again reflected what I instinctively knew. The key to Maslow’s triangle is that each of the needs of the lower layers must be met first before being able to achieve the higher layers. E.g. if you suffer prolonged periods without food or water, then a job is not going to be on your list of priorities, unless it is an immediate means to attain food and water. Likewise if your living conditions are at threat due to war or personal catastrophe, then you are less likely to focus on spiritual development; indeed spiritual movements rarely evolve during war-time.
So our aim as spiritual beings is to meet the lower needs in order to be in the best place possible to receive and engage with a spiritual life, i.e. self-actualisation. Now, our personal definitions of the lower level needs will vary. Some may get stuck on believing that having a car (or two!), a large house, a wardrobe of fancy shoes and money to go out on the town forms part of “security of resources or property”; if you are such a magickian, then no doubt you could expend months or years of energy trying to call so much STUFF into your life. If you define yourself by STUFF the STUFF becomes vital. But this is a skewed perspective because THINGS do not ultimately contribute to your existence, nor do they elevate your soul or polish your personality.
Likewise, note the two references to sex and sexual intimacy. So does that mean that if you’re not getting sex, you can’t work towards self-actualisation? Absolutely not. The fact is that I have seen many people (mostly men) who pursue sex as an unquestionable need, with multiple partners, with a drive bordering on addiction, and yet they lack the commitment of real friends, they have a yawning hole in their emotional lives and an aching emptiness which they don’t know how to fill. Over and above the physical act of sex I would emphasize sexual intimacy, expressed best by the German word “Geborgenheit” (a feeling of safety, emotional security, comfort, freedom from danger). This is a level of deep trust, an intertwining of souls and minds, an intimacy with another human being where your hearts make love because you experience expansive belonging with that person or persons, because there is no social morality at this level of sexual intimacy, of “Geborgenheit”, that would limit you to being sexually intimate with only one person. It is THIS side of sex that leads to self-actualisation, not the mere pumping and wet thrusting of genitalia, however distractingly pleasant that may be (and of course physical sex with someone with whom you experience Geborgenheit is a joyous meeting of soul-mates – without Geborgenheit you might as well ejaculate into a toilet or use a battery-powered gadget to stimulate your clitoral nerves).
As you see, Maslow’s triangle is not necessarily as straightforward as it might appear. It deserves some thought and consideration as to what really is a NEED for you. What do you need as a foundation from which you can then free your soul to pursue attunement with the divine? The less you need, the quicker you can get on with the real business of living; and for me, the fulcrum of life is to be filled with the divine, to radiate the bliss of Light, by whatever name you wish to call it … God, Yahweh, Lucifer, Ra. I am a moth drawn to the divine light and dying by such fire is a step towards the ultimate fulfilment of all my existential needs, because then I shall BE the Light.
I have recently begun an introductory course in Parapsychology with the infamous Koestler Unit at Edinburgh University. We are an intimate group of just 20 people, not for lack of interest but because small numbers encourage the most intense discussion and don’t allow for people to slip between the cracks and be lurkers.
In addition to coursebook reading (An Introduction to Parapsychology), we have specialist reading each week, as well as several expert interviews and articles to write and/or comment on. We are a varied group with people from China, UAE, Malta, UK, Australia, etc. This brings the additional twist of a range of cultural norms and interpretations. Apparently, ghostly happenings are so de rigueur in Malta that house sale contracts come with an extra clause that says, if any paranormal occurrences happen post-sale that were not declared prior to sale, you can renege on the sale and get your money back, i.e. if you end up with a spook and a spook was not listed in the house contents, you can return the house! Wowzers!
The study group comprises scientists, psychologists, therapists, alternative healers, Christians, non-Christians, a metaphysicist, a philosopher, a paranormal investigator, and me – the only one who put it out there and said, “I’m a witch.”
Part of the reason for me taking this course is to fine-tune my bullshit detector. I’m sure we’ve all been with the woo-woo-wah-wah brigade who declare every creaking floorboard to be a ghost, and it’s hellishly frustrating. I have heard tales and encounters and sometimes I call “Bullshit!” and sometimes I think “Interesting.” But each time I am going on a gut-feeling and it’s not always clear-cut as to why I should perceive one thing to be bonafide and the other thing not.
Sometimes it boils down to trust in the individual telling the tale – personal credibility can go a long way. And as to myself, I have experienced some things that are truly inexplicable (according to science as it stands today) and some things that have proven to be a mere bump in the night and I have just laughed off. So I hope to gain some cognitive skills from this course in order for me to say WHY I think something is BS and something is not. That’s the plan anyway.
The Parapsychology course runs for another 3 months. In the meantime, at the end of April I will be starting a course on Ancient Nubian Art & Archaeology. I am totally stoked about this course. The Nubians apparently are the ones who brought high culture into the Nile Valley, and it was due to the Nubians that Egyptian culture became what it did. Again, I look forward to learning about the roots, causes and facts so that I can back up my opinions with evidence and knowledge.
I saw a thread on Facebook the other day where someone was complaining that he had corrected a Fluff about some point or other, but instead of thanks he received verbal garbage about how if person A *feels* that black is white then it is white to him. No. I do think there is a place for Unverified Personal Gnosis BUT some things just are what they are, and ultimately whatever your spiritual choice there WILL be spade loads of reading and learning involved if you want a sincere and authentic experience as opposed to a lifetime excursion of make-believe.
So embrace every opportunity to learn. However much experience you have, you are always at the beginning of your journey into knowledge.
What is Mystical Practice?
Hollenback states that the essence of mystical technique is the practice of single-minded concentration (recollection) plus the dedication to a mystical lifestyle, which avoids all things that might disrupt the mystical state of mind. This sustained “recollection” empowers the mind to operate on a different level, transforming perception and creating subtle awareness of others and our environment, giving us abilities we wouldn’t otherwise have. Consequently, the transformed, mystical mind has greater possibilities than the ordinary mind.
The practice of such “recollective” techniques leads to a greater ability to realise so-called paranormal phenomena or mystical experiences; these experiences are synthesized with and differentiated by language, emotion and belief systems that are determined by sociocultural context.
For example, astral projection is enabled by the empowerment of the imagination through techniques of recollection. This ability is then synthesized with the cultural belief system of the mystic: some mystical practitioners speak of being fully clothed during astral travel, whereas others take animal form. The mind externalises thoughts/images that then create an astral body.
To summarise: mystical practice comprises techniques of sustained recollection which transform the mind of the individual by expanding awareness on both a mundane and super-natural level and by empowering the imagination.
Jewish Mysticism: Developments in Safedian Kabbalah and in the Hasidic Movement
The second wave of Kabbalah was characterised by a move outwards from small, elite circles. Instead, circles of 10 to 20 people clustered around mystical, charismatic figures and Kabbalists converged from around the globe in Safed. Leaders of these groups, most notably Luria, began looking into the souls of followers to see if they were suitable to join the group: a so-called diagnosis of the soul (similar to psychoanalysis). In addition, Luria, gave each student a Tikkun (meaning to prepare, correct or fix) their soul. Safed Kabbalists promulgated that each person interprets texts according to their own soul – this personal, individualistic approach would have had a great levelling effect at a social level within the groups.
The third wave of Kabbalah, the Hasidic movement, which began at the end of the 18th century, wanted to turn Kabbalah into a social movement, moving beyond circles around charismatic figures and expanding it into a mass movement. This was achieved within 40 to 50 years, appealing to both the masses and scholars. The Zaddikim (charismatic mystical rebbes) addressed people’s everyday concerns not just their spiritual lives – this was the power of the Hasidic movement.
Garb suggests that the Zaddikim (leaders of the Hasidic movement) acted as shamans. In their role as shamans they put people into group trance, providing healing to the community. In private consultations, the rebbes would look into the person’s soul, using a form of trance hypnosis, exploring their unconscious and providing healing for the individual. The Hassidim believed that the Zaddikim had access to paranormal powers; as shamans, the roles included those of mystic and magician, healers of both body and soul. This form of healing through trance work would have had an integrating effect not only on the social community at large but on individuals.
Jewish Mysticism: The Writings of Rabbi Kook
Rabbi Kook states that free choice is “nothing but the superficial aspect” hence already implying a system of further aspects of human experience and expression that go beyond the superficial. As Kook says, “the reality of the will that is manifested in practical choices [i.e. in the superficial world “in relation to good and evil”] is only a shadow and imprint of the hidden depth of free will.” Even though he refers to a “higher free reality”, he is in fact referring to an inner, deeper level that reflects the concepts of Depth Psychology which investigates the deep layers underlying behavioural and cognitive processes.
Kook purports that the internal level and deeper part of the psyche are beyond morality. Rabbi Kook gives context to this discussion by saying that he is “not dealing now with the psychological questions” (he takes the discussion beyond cognitive processes to a mystical level of the soul); rather it is “divine science” which occupies his thoughts. Divine science is concerned with freedom of an absolute, cosmic reality; freedom on a deeper level through choices of the soul not the ego or persona.
These two statements are indeed non-contradictory because Kook is referring to free choice on different levels and applying different meanings to each: the first being the superficial “ego” and the second being the deeper part of the soul.
Rabbi Kook’s radically monistic view laid the foundations for him to be more pluralistic and accepting of secularist movements. This view sees reality as an absolute unity where all reality is a manifestation of the divine and no single philosophy or theory can contain the multiple dimensions of existence. Kook referenced a sociological, political and spiritual vitality, akin to the “Bejahung” or Nietzschean affirmation (Nietzsche’s “Yes to Life!”): “If we affirm one moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; … in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.” (Nietzsche, The Will to Power).
Kook believed that a new generation of young people would arise in the land of Israel that would revive (bring new life to) the Jewish body giving it a more vigorous independence. He developed an entire national psychology around revitalising the national psyche; he saw this vitality (a Jewish “Bejahung”) as being manifested in secular movements such as Zionism. For Kook, however, such secularism was still incomplete in that it focused on the revival of the material and secular needs of the Jewish people. He emphasized that the spiritual aspects of national revival should not be neglected, so his sympathy towards secularism was not without criticism.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Hesychasm & St Theophan’s Notion of Sin
St. Theophan taught that the focal point of sin is self-preoccupation. The sinner is not defined by adherence to a set of rules but instead by the psychological and existential state of their being, i.e. by being egotistical. However, the self that we, as sinners, are preoccupied with is not the true self. There is an external and an internal self; a concept common in both mysticism and Jungian psychology, for example. The external self with which we are preoccupied is focused outwards on status, possessions, conformity with society and materialism. Consequently we are alienated from the true self, represented by our heart, which is habituated to pursuing external things in a search for satisfaction.
St. Theophan’s title of his book, “Turning the Heart to God” adjures the reader not only to focus on the true internal self (the heart – that part of oneself that God works through; note the passive tense as this is an act of God’s grace), but to renounce self-preoccupation (sin) by realigning one’s focus away from external things that boost the ego and instead to turn towards God and repentance.
19th C. Hesychasm was primarily based in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Romania and most of Russia. It was distinguished at the time by Marxist Socialist ideas of alienation and conformity with society. So the concept of sin was couched in terms of the external/false self being preoccupied specifically with social conformity, materialism and status (all points of criticism under Marxism). This changed in the 20th C. with the fall of the Soviet Union. Hesychasm moved towards the West and began to see a merging, or at least a conversation, between Eastern and Western mystical traditions in what was widely acknowledged to be a “globalization of spirituality”.
Another major change and difference between 19th and 20th C. Hesychasm is that 20th C. teachers were writing in an age post-Freud and post-Jung, so even though they continued to write within their tradition, they were heavily influenced by psychoanalytical thought and language. Archimandrite Zacharias, in his book “The Hidden Heart of Man”, speaks of a similar yet different form of transformation to that taught in the 19th C. In the 19th C. the idea of spiritual transformation involved seeing the old self as an enemy that had to be defeated through inner warfare; this self is demonic and must die – a process that happens passively only through the grace of God. In the 20th C. the process is still a passive one relying on God’s grace, but the battle is less about self-mortification and more about identifying attachments (including thoughts) and transforming them by transferring them to spiritual states. It is an ontological process, where one positively changes ones thoughts, emotions and very being.
Catholic Mysticism: The Connection Between Passivity, Trance, and Antinomianism from the 17th-18th Century Onwards
The Catholic so-called “Religion of the Heart” (RotH) movements challenged traditional authority in the name of new individualistic values, such as the idea that religious meaning is found in the heart of the individual. “The key element in their understanding of religious life … was their insistence that the “heart,” denoting the will and affections … is the central point of contact between God and humankind.” (Chapman, p. 3) For liberal Christians, the RotH movements were “an anti-communal, grossly individualistic perversion of religions belief.” (Chapman) There are three main points to look at in the RotH movements’ oppositional stance to the mainstream: passivity, trance, and their antinomian stance.
Passivity here is defined by the belief that repentance and removal of sin could not be achieved on one’s own but only through the grace of God working through the seat of emotions which is the heart. E.g. 17th C Molinos’ book ‘Spiritual Guide Which Disentangles the Soul’ says the primary thing is to allow God to do the work.
A divine influx into the psyche was believed to transform the heart of the individual, where the heart is a psychic centre of inner life as opposed to external life/authority/ritual practice (by emphasizing a passive, inner experience over external authority, the movements struck a decidedly antinomian stance).
In approaching the heart, one must bypass the intellect entering a state of trance where one looks deeply inwards to the heart or to what Teresa of Avila calls “the internal castle”. Quietness (cf. Quietism) and oneness with God are achieved by removing oneself from the distractions of the outer world of intellect. This includes letting go of the will, replacing verbal prayer with constant internal prayer; a form of self-hypnosis or guided meditative trancework.
This internal state is important to RotH movements in relation to the idea of the Catholic mass where one partakes passively of the body of Christ, ingesting Him in a state of receptivity (passivity) and deep internal focus (trance). Trance is additionally used to find new psychic resources to transform existing habits, to let go of the habituated “will” and to transform the heart to a more receptive state for God; and this is how trance works as a subversive (antinomian) force by challenging the status quo and habituated will of the individual.
E.g. in 17th century Flanders, A. Bourignon developed an entire religious critique around the belief that when the soul reaches a higher state it doesn’t need external observance (books, religious/intellectual/economic structures). She said that the true Church is in the heart and soul of the believer: this exemplifies an antinomian position (a stance opposed to mainstream conservatives and the generally accepted Church ethos) achieved by a passive approach (the belief that spiritual progress is through the grace of God and being receptive to God) that moves the mind and heart of the believer inwards through a state of trance (constant internal prayer and a focus inwards away from external, worldly trappings), thus linking all three points in the achievement of divine communion.
Protestant Mysticism: Quietism and Pietism
“Will” is defined as a property of the mind/intellect and the capacity to have desires and act on them (Wikipedia).
Molinos’ Quietist psychology says that you have to bypass the intellect and let God do the work. The mind must be calmed so that a divine influx can enter the soul, which is the main focus of connection, not the intellect/will. One should lose this active power of will. Molinos says you must go into quiet, stillness, not-doing, into the sleep of the soul. One removes oneself from the outer world of intellect, relinquishing all distractions so one can be alone with God. For Molinos, the will is something to be pacified, lost and bypassed.
Böhme speaks about the inner psychology of God, that He has various psychic forces both negative and positive. Creation is God’s therapy. Through creative play or work, God explores his own psyche, contending with various contradictions inside Himself. This divine psychology is paralleled in the psyche and will of mankind where there is an idea of dialectical opposition between conflicting forces. The resolution of psychic conflict involves going beyond one’s own desire/will, to align oneself with the divine will. Protestantism teaches that one shouldn’t rely on one’s own will (cf Molinos), because one should rely more on faith, on grace; in this point Böhme departs from tradition to some extent by saying that one has to transform one’s will. It’s not about abdicating one’s will or creative impulse. The will is necessary in order create. The point is to align your will with the will of the divine, so that your will becomes the divine will. And thus you join in God’s therapy. Böhme focuses on the transformation of the will, on aligning it with the divine will.
The Move from Mysticism to Spirituality
According to Prof. Jonathan Garb, mysticism comprises movements based within an individual religious tradition; spirituality, however, is more of a blend of mystical thoughts (plurality), collaborative across traditions without being anchored within one mystical stream. The transition from mysticism to spirituality happened at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries and continues to the present day. It is characterised by both the exile of schools of thought during the two World Wars, and the migration of thought from East to West from the 1960s onwards (consider such teachers as Sri Aurobindo, Trungpa, the Dalai Lama, as well as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism).
However, it would be wrong to say that all strict traditions are being watered down, rather they are adapting to a world that has undergone a major levelling out in terms of accessibility to information and teachings (e.g. through use of the internet). As such, it would be worthwhile to examine the current state of affairs through both a social anthropological/ethnographical lens as well as through text-based historiography. I would not emphasize the efficacy of either approach above the other as each can provide us with a different layer of understanding.
For example, would reading the bible give us an accurate understanding of the way Christianity is practised today? Or even in the 17th Century? No. It would provide us with a theoretical framework, an inspirational text which the practitioner interprets and aspires to fulfil. In order to understand actual practice, we would have to look at a social anthropological study of practitioners, e.g. Luhrmann on American Evangelicals.
But an ethnographical account provides us with only one layer, including all the flaws and transgressions innate to human activity. If our aim is to document, then ethnography is the way, although the danger is of exercising overzealous “Presentism” to the exclusion of the past, leaving mankind a form of free-floating organism without mystical roots (and also no history of mistakes from which to learn).
What if, through our study of mankind’s relation to the divine, we wish to inspire and not just document? Then we might turn to mystical texts such as those of Ignatius of Loyola and the mystical visions of Jung in his Red Book. It is text-based historiography that shows a glimpse of what mankind aspires to and what drives both mystical and spiritual movements forwards.
In summary, humanity has moved gradually and inexorably, due in large part to the globalisation of cultures through technology, from separate, partially closed lines of mystical tradition towards an open melting pot of spiritual expression. In order to continue raising our souls to the divine, I, myself, would include both an examination of spirituality as practised now with a text-based historiography. History is but a minute ago. Religious thinkers and mystics continue to publish their thoughts; and those publications reach wider audiences than ever before in human history. The challenge is not just to read, but to do. To quote the title of Rabbi Cooper’s book: “God is a verb”.
Worth listening to:
My German family emigrated to America in the 1950s. My Oma (grandmother) became an educator (assessor of children’s learning levels and needs) on the Navajo Reservation, where my family also lived for a while.
In my late teens and early twenties I travelled from the UK to spend time living with my grandmother in an area called the Checkerboard because squares of land belong to the Navajo Nation (a dependent state existing within the independent state of America) and some squares belong to the Federal Government of the US.
While there I took up Navajo language classes and met a Navajo woman who worked for the Navajo Nation Government. Her work involved travelling hundreds of miles daily over the Reservation. She invited me to travel with her for four months and during that time she adopted me as her daughter, introducing me to Navajo or Hopi Native Americans as her daughter.
Native Americans are NOT Indians
Native Americans are NOT American Indians
Native Americans are NOT North American Indians
They are Native Americans because they are the original people native to that continent; any other name carries with it a shed load of political hegemony and implicit colonial abuse.
I learned a lot from my Navajo mother and her friends about what was considered acceptable to Native Americans, what were sore points, how their history affected them … how thousands were deliberately wiped out by white Europeans distributing plague-ridden blankets among them; how some native peoples have been completely exterminated. Their history is no less painful, political and rife for misunderstanding than the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Holocaust, to name but two.
After my time on the Reservation, I went to Germany where I spent a year beginning my translation career. There I encountered a heavily sunbedded female with a suede, fringed jacket, plaits and feathers in her hair. She “identified” with “Indians” [sic]. I felt sick to my stomach at her ignorance. No. Don’t give me any bullshit about naive enthusiasm: if you are truly interested in a Native Path then do your research, learn the history, the current politics and the current discussions around the misappropriation of native culture and spirituality, which continues to this day, and is felt by so many NAs to be a continuation of the colonial hegemony they have had to suffer for centuries.
Following on from this: the word “shaman” has become a word bandied around as easily as “witch” (I will deal with that another day). Banging a drum, chanting and speaking to imaginary spirits does not make you a shaman. Pretending that you “journey” every time you touch a rock does not make you a shaman, nor does it make your experience “shamanic.” The concept of “journeying” has also been watered down to be meaningless half the time.
There is no documentation of shamanic culture per se in the British Isles. If you refer to Celtic shamanism, the same point applies as there is no documented proof of exactly what the Celts did except for tales told by Roman historians, and the Romans defeated the Celts … we all know what history is like when written by the victors (blood sacrifice, baby-eating, water poisoning, with the odd truth thrown in – who can say what is true and what isn’t?).
I met two shamans/medicine men on the Reservation and they gave me none of the “foot in both worlds” bullshit, none of the “hang on, I’m just speaking to my spirit guide, Jack”.
If you look at shamanism as practised amongst Native peoples in America (there are many different peoples – different languages, different religious practices, although most will have a name for themselves that translates as “The people” – consider the Navajo word for themselves “Diné”), and if you look in particular at the shamanic practices still found in Siberia you will see a very different picture from the neo-Shamanic practices of British/European wannabes.
As a knowledgeable friend concurred, calling yourself a “traditional shaman” is a tautology shouting “fluff” because true shamanism is by definition “traditional”. However, the word “traditional” sells more books, doesn’t it? Kerching! $££$$£
Shamans are known for communicating with spirits, but again, this is not a running conversation with an ancestor sitting on your knee, your hand up its spiritual backside as you channel its wisdom. No. Communication with spirits is usually within the context of an ecstatic ritual, or within a ritual context that will suspend the natural (or more apparent) senses.
Be warned that not all is what it seems. I have met two shamans. One I had more contact with than the other. But they were not bullshitters.
If you are interested in Native American spirituality – remember that there are many, many different Native American peoples and that not all are the same. Have the courtesy to research their history and their current politics. Read authors such as Ward Churchill – academic historians; don’t just read people with fake names like Starhawk (who is a respectable neo-pagan but NOT a Native American).
And if you come across someone calling themselves a “shaman”, add “neo” in front plus a large pinch of salt. Don’t part with money. Trust your gut. And read around the subject.
A little ritual work this evening, a medium dose of reading and a lot of ritual writing. Good to be back on track after a break of a couple of weeks – too long; I felt the spirits nudging me kindly, but enough’s enough and I don’t want to drag my heels and get a sledgehammer hint over my head that I have been neglecting Them.
A beautiful reunion this evening.
Ritual writing exhilarating as always. Because I find it easier to speak my rituals than to write them, especially if I am adapting from several books, I use a voice recognition software which can be a tad unreliable as I am very soft on my consonants (my German heritage is sadly lacking there).
This evening I was also adapting a meditation written by Ariock Van De Voorde in ATUA (probably the most vibrant and inspiring collection of occult essays in a very long time – more on the book at a later date – if you don’t have it and are interested in LHP or the Voudon Gnostic current, then you MUST buy this book – you snooze, you lose – and there is so much to explore!). The meditation is a method for approaching those hard-to-manage, obtuse passages we all hit against, here specifically in the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, although it could be applied to any occult reading. His advice however was interpreted thus by my voice recognition software as I read from the book:
Once you have either finished a chapter, or encountered a section that you find particularly obtuse, immediately stop breathing [sic].
… a little harsh even by my standards. However, Mr Van De Voorde had in fact merely suggested “stop reading”. Phew. Inhale. Exhale. Phew. I shudder to think how often I would have to cease breathing otherwise!
So a productive evening. I mastered bullion knots this afternoon and am a quarter of the way through finishing a necklace. Candles still lit that will accompany me into the Land of Dreams, incense still permeating the room … I felt the floor tremble when the spirits came. Beautiful Aakhu. Beautiful Spirits of Hoodoo.
Tip No. 1: Don’t try to write a blog post on the Egyptian continuum whilst simultaneously listening to Eddie Izzard doing a gig in French and English. Zut alors, ma tête est fucked.
I have been working with the Spirits of Lucky Hoodoo. The basic system is surprisingly simple, although I would personally say it is demanding in that it requires daily input and is not something you drag out of the cupboard at full moons and high holidays. I am not an expert, so can only speak from my experience which is that the spirits require, and deserve, a continuous relationship.
My path has always pushed towards a life focus, not a cherry on top of the cake approach to spirituality. It is not something I want to put to the side or commercialise. I don’t want it to be a high days and holy days affair; I want a daily, hourly love affair.
I have read David Beth’s book Voudon Gnosis (the first edition twice, the second edition – which is an entirely different book – twice), and done (done? is that the right word? practised… followed… ) two of the rituals in the back of his second edition book.
Firstly I read the rituals through and as happens each time I have read a VG text by David, every fibre in me says, “Yes! That’s right!” Whereas, for example, when I read Ford, I think, “What a prat.”
But when it came to following (!) the rituals I hit against an internal wall.
I read somewhere about how occult groups, when working together, build up and acquaint themselves with a particular continuum. They essentially learn (or create) a language which they use to communicate with, to command and bind themselves to that particular continuum.
I am not part of any group, but I have spent nearly the last ten years working with Egyptian deities. They are Home for me. They are the Dark and the Light. When I go off my path and start losing myself, I know because when I return to Them, I become whole and centred, at peace and focused – the feeling is physical and intense.
So I have spent a couple of weeks rewriting David’s rituals (still in progress); listening to the Neter/Neteru, incorporating my understanding of the Duat and the role of Osiris, Anubis, Maat, Apophis, Seth and aakhu. The fact is it fits! Nothing essential was changed, and it fits. It works perfectly.
Gnosis before Logos. The word must never be made from steel, but must bend to experience, and experience must bend again to further experience, ad infinitum.
One of the main issues regarding my interest in LHP has been that the fundamental objective of the Ancient Egyptian religion was/is to maintain Ma’at and avert chaos. There are complex rituals to empower Osiris in his battle so as to enable the rising of Ra again each morning – this was not a given, not predictable, but a battle on a knife’s edge each night. That dark realm of chaos and serpents which threatened Ra and life itself was something to be feared; even Osiris was not a sure bet to bring back the sun from the Duat, hence the rituals to aid him. So to attempt to work directly with those spirits that moved through the realms of “chaos” went contrary to everything I believed, and yet the compulsion would not cease.
But now I know the Duat slightly better and that there is a thin path there to be trod. The other day I walked up to town and saw everything resplendent around me in full summer glory – lush greens, blue skies, the light glancing off the river – and I saw death in it all, because without death life could not survive. Death is the base and the foundation from which life comes. There is indeed still a nightly battle to draw Ra up into the sky, but life is a battle and never comes without pain, screaming and crying; does that make pre-birth a bad thing, that to manifest birth there has to be pain? I know pain.
Today I wrote to a friend and said, “It may sound like a contradiction, but I have been considering suicide and also feel optimistic.” Although maybe my optimism is more concerned with the direction of my spiritual path than with Life per se. Synchronicities are like petals on a path leading me through it all.
I am aware that I, as a person with bipolar, am a liability and that most if not all magicians would run for the hills before working with me, which is fine. I have heard magicians and sorcerers say either in general or to me specifically: if you are ill it means you are a crap magician (I’m a witch anyway, so suck and swivel); and if you have mental health issues you must never deal with spirits (why? it just makes it harder not impossible, and in some ways I have the edge on someone who is sane and limited by the boundaries of their sanity).
It’s not about being gung-ho, as in my mind that is also a disrespectful attitude to the spirits and Neter you wish to work with, but I refuse absolutely and categorically to be told I should not work my Path as I do.
Who should I listen to? Magicians with a body-fascist tick? Or the spirits themselves who (so far) through answering and granting what I have asked for, give their blessing to the relationship I strive to establish with them?
Blessed are the Neter for their gifts of Heka and Akau. Blessed are the Aakhu. And blessed are the Spirits of Lucky Hoodoo.
p.s. Please refer to my Who am I? page if you have any questions regarding my personal affiliations, just so there are no misunderstandings.