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
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 have found a wilding place. There is no credit to my sleuthing skills in the fact that it is at the bottom of my own garden.
I moved to this place nearly two years ago. The garden is more than twice the size of the ground plan of the house, but it is split with two thirds being the “public” garden and one third being hidden behind trees and bushes. That latter third is where the shed lives and where a drive would have been. It’s an area that has been left fallow so the curly willow looks like my hair in the morning and brambles have begun to take over.
Recently I found that, even in winter, there is a spot in the wilding place where I can stand and not be seen by any of the neighbouring houses.
So I have reignited my outdoor QiGong practice … even now as we experience the so-called “Siberian blast”. Sure I start off cold but by the end I have charged up enough heat/energy to keep me warm for the rest of the day, irrespective of the temperature.
What surprised me after my first foray into QiGong in the wilding place was that the place revealed itself to me as I was leaving. By this I mean that my vision shifted and I saw everything there as extant beings, certainly not human or anthropomorphised – there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden – but the wild things looked back at me as I “saw” them.
In reconnecting with this wild place, I must remember other wildernesses that I saw with my “other eyes”. First and foremost I recall the strong impulse I had to climb the extinct volcano that is Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh … in a storm … at night. And my “Drang” was so intense that I didn’t take the circuitous path route up to the top but decided to climb straight up the rocks – as the crow flies … if the crow could climb! When I reached the top I sat down on the rocks and the stone felt hot beneath my hands. I “saw” spirits flying around in the storm like the painting by Luis Ricardo Falero. Only then did I question why the stone was hot. I lifted my hand in shock as I realised this was illogical and irrational … when I put my hand back down, the rock was cool and the storm was no longer spirit-filled but windy and cold. My rational mind had broken the connection to what my body and soul were experiencing as reality.
Sustaining that vision is difficult once the reasoning mind has kicked in and I have broken a few intense spirit connections through reason … except is it reason? Or is it not in fact fear? Fear that makes me question the unusual and otherly even as I experience it phenomenally. The rational mind is a fear-monger. It may or may not be my lizardy amygdala that triggers fight or flight in an attempt to keep me safe … yet, why then am I so calm (focused, yes; exhilarated, yes; bursting with vibrancy, yes) climbing volcanoes in storms and talking to manifesting spirits … until my rational mind tells me this is strange and therefore frightening? I am merely playing with ideas here but I might be tempted to say that in fact my lizard brain is quite happy with the other … the atavistic, the anachronic … because it is itself ancient and “outside of this time”. No, I would guess that in fact it is my modern day brain that challenges the wildness and seeks to analyse and categorise things to death; it is the scientist who in seeking to find the reason for the beauty of a deer kills it and guts it … for knowledge. Oh false knowledge!
I’m not expounding a return to all things prehistoric, but in terms of vision – true sight, an all-encompassing seeing – I do believe we have to learn to bypass the rational, dissecting mind. If not bypass, then harness and train so that we can see all of phenomenal existence and not just the catalogued shells that our analytical minds permit us to see.
There is more to be seen than our minds will allow.
Grief has wrong-footed me twice this year. And today continues the theme. It is the death day of my Seelenopa, my “soul grandpa”. His death several years ago now, like the other deaths this year, came as a shock, out of the blue. “I’ll write to you as soon as I come around from the operation!” he promised. It was a routine operation on his foot. He wrote to me as promised having begged paper off the nurse, his spidery writing even more inscrutable than ever due to the anaesthetic. A couple of days letter I received another letter – this one bordered in black. I had never received such a letter before. I saw that it was from his wife. I remember the bright curiosity that turned so rapidly into shock – dead “due to unexpected complications” – and then a wailing caw of grief. Grief is so dramatic. Like love it calls for big gestures and words that reach down into the soul, that grab the heart, cry tears of blood and wrench one from the ordinary, from the doldrums of living life one foot in front of the other. Suddenly the path is crooked – in love or in grief – and everything is questioned.
My tagline for this blog right from the start has been “A thought making crooked all that is straight”. It expresses the way I see the world – crooked, twisted, inside-out. I am not an academic thinker in spite of my academic background. I can’t quote you book, chapter and verse but once I get the scent of a thing, I can describe the essence of it in such a way that others lift their snouts to the wind and can smell it too. Not everyone. But enough people.
There was a time when I wrote out of a place of love, not just profane, although often enough that, but these days I seem stuck in a rut of grief. It catches in my throat because I like to write things that uplift others and so I censor myself and resort to silence. Absence. Which is what grief feels like – lack and loss, a negative space, an emptiness that hurts physically. Just as love flips the stomach and sight of one’s beloved clenches the heart in sweet pain, so grief cuts and grinds but without that sweetness. Lovers are happy masochists; those who grieve merely suffer.
I saw an interview the other day with a woman in her late nineties. She described how she spoke to her dead children every day. They were not absent but present. She smiled and said that others must think her “crackers”, but, she said, “I’m not. I know what I’m doing.” Yet the pain of grief still crumpled up her wrinkled face, the loss of her infant children 7 decades ago. She took obvious pleasure in her daily conversations but the pain was still there.
And perhaps that’s the point: life is not without pain. We are swamped by entertainment media that tells us life should be all hearts and flowers; anything less is failure or flawed. Can you Instagram your pain? There must be a filter for that … And so our tolerance for the hard times is worn away by an impossible expectation that turns the circuitous motions of life’s natural ups and downs into a plastic-fantastic treadmill. Worse than the straight path is the life that purports to move you forwards while tricking you into never moving from the same spot.
However, I am not glorifying pain, not saying that you are not living a true and fulsome life without a rock in your stomach, but I am suggesting that grief is to be embraced like love. Both are dramatic in their expression, and both NEED to be in order for us to bear the weight of them. A quiet, discrete love hidden under a bushel is no love at all – at most that is the scratching of an itch, the containment of a neurosis. Likewise, grief should not be shamed into silence – that cultural demand to keep a stiff upper lip, to not dwell on things or, god forbid, be a “whinger”.
And by placing love and grief side by side I do not mean to put them at opposite ends of a spectrum, just because one may appear more pleasant and desirable than the other. No. In grieving fully I give myself permission to love fully. Love in death. Death in love.
The path is never straight, it is forever crooked.
My track record the last few years seems to have been to abandon my readers for most of the year, only to rally betwixt Yule and New Year with some kind of rah-rah polemic or opinion piece. I’m a little behind schedule in this respect, and I’m not sure I have anything worth saying as such.
The year has been fraught with the good and the bad, often the good coming first under the guise of the very bad. On some things the jury is still out; on other things it’s a case of adjusting and accommodating, remembering that life is not about avoiding discomfort but about ploughing on through to the other side. Discomfort does not mean you are on the wrong path … but then neither am I one of those people who believes that growth requires pain. Comme ci, comme ça! Life is not so easily put into boxes. The key is to remain flexible – something we can all improve at.
When I first began this blog, some 8 or 9 years ago, I used to pooh-pooh the occultists and pagans who seemed to hide behind their “secrets” and “initiated knowledge”. But now I am hesitant in my own writing because much of what I work on esoterically is private, not for public consumption because to bare all would be to bare my soul and make me more vulnerable than I am willing to be amongst strangers’ eyes; and a large part would not be understood by the main in the way that I understand and engage with it. For example, I laugh when I am still accused of being “wrong” and “immoral” for my LHP leanings, because that says nothing about me and everything about the ignorance of the accuser. Occasionally I am asked, “So what do you believe?” and I cannot answer that. The best answer I can give is to suggest that we have frequent discussions over the next few years and see. That is not to sound woo-woo or grandiloquent, it is just that words fail me to express the *experience*. Describe a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth. Even with my own spiritual mentors I struggle and I feel like such a fraud because I cannot put it into words. If I could open up my chest and push their hands inside and say, “Feel!”, that might help; if I could crack open my head and say, “Look!”, they would know. But instead, I read my studies and like a child I can only parrot, “Me too! Yeah, that’s how I feel/see/know!” So as much as I would wish to share my journey with you, I struggle. But “immoral” and “wrong” … >laughs out loud long and hard< oh boy, you’ll just never get it.
On a practical note, I am withdrawing from social media. I have spent the last day or so tidying up my web presence. I find the vacuous echo chambers tiring, draining, distracting and the epitome of delusion. Some manage to master their engagement so that it is beneficial to them. I applaud them. I cannot do that. To me it is at times an amusement, but for the most part vampiric. The plus side is that I shall instead be focusing more on blogging and writing. But this is primarily for myself. I have a secret hideaway elsewhere on the web that has become my writing haven, and I have here. Since I get few to zero comments and engagements on my blog, it will not demand the same ego-juggling (my own and others’) that social media like Facebook and Twitter do.
Since I intend to prioritise my occult study and practice this year, I am hoping that I will eventually find enough words to express tidbits of interest to you. It would be nice to see the fires burning again on this blog.
Until soon. Amour Amour.
At a certain point in my exploration of and attempted living of a Left-Hand Path esoteric life, my morality was suspended, but this was not a liberated state where I moved unencumbered by external strictures. It was a place without life meaning or significance.
I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
Some LHP-ers live hedonistic, countercultural lifestyles, turning their upbringing, the norms of the culture they live in and the dominant religion on their heads. They take the above as a guide and do the opposite or a diametrical offshoot of it … but then consider themselves “free” in that adversarial state, without realising that they may have struck off the path and written their own map but their True North is still the things they often despise so vehemently, namely mainstream culture and established religion. If you define yourself in opposition to A Thing you are not free as you still require The Thing to determine your opposition.
If the majority stand BY a wall but you decide to lean AGAINST the wall, you are still in a position relative to the wall. In my mind, the point was to negate the wall entirely and see how freely I could move without any self-imposed limitation (bearing in mind that I live within a world of limits, perceptively anyhow).
If you live in a culture where drinking is “the norm” then choosing to drink absinthe (a common LHP-er’s tipple) is neither original nor daring, it is merely imbibing another alcoholic liquid, albeit one with a romantic backstory. In addition to a pleasant high, the best you might get out of it is to live the lives vicariously of all the poets and social fringe dwellers known to imbibe in the stuff.
In a society where everything is sexualised, down to the social experience and expression of children/childhood to the selling of commodities, then merely having sex a lot, even with multiple partners, even with multiple genders, is not that daring or enlightening per se.
In a society where drugs are the norm from the socially acceptable stimulants and depressants like sugar, coffee and alcohol to the medically widely prescribed opiates and amphetamines, then going to “the man on the corner” for your drug supply makes you neither a maverick nor particularly savvy – play the system better and get your drugs on repeat for free (at least if you live in the UK)!
So in contemplating the above I experimented subsequently with the nominal counter-counter norms of abstinence and celibacy – if you want to live an adversarial position to mainstream culture you might want to announce that you are a celibate, teetotal vegan! … then learn what it is to live in opposition to the norm.
But yet again, this state of opposition merely helped me to shake up my assumptions, I was not liberated from being defined by the things I rejected. I fell into a pit of meaninglessness, a place where neither The Thing nor The Opposite of the Thing had significance or meaning to me. And without meaning I spiraled into depression as I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
The only way out of this was to admit that what I was doing wasn’t working for me. I began to observe others who appeared happier, more focused and more creative (in their artistic, professional, spiritual and/or emotional lives) than me. And this included the “hippie-dippy-shitty-airy-fairy brigade” – a group of people I was used to criticising and (yet again) defining myself in opposition to. My ego protested, but I remonstrated with it that, up till now, its decisions had been isolating, deflating and unhealthy – in fact un-inspiring (inspire: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence).
I did a lot of “fake it till you make it” which ironically is a state of aligning yourself against someone else’s norm, hardly an adversarial stance; the difference being that I had to still my shrieking ego. Over time I found my own meaning and significance. The key? To lay aside ego. My meaning? That is not relevant to you as it is my path and my journey, my baggage, history and personal make-up. Your meaning will be uniquely your own.
In freeing myself from defining myself “as X” and “as NOT X” I have managed to step over the fundamentals of right/wrong, which as a social anthropologist I know to be severely culturally determined – no absolutes! (Cf. postmodern relativism) Instead of acting one way or the other in re-action to a moral duality, I now choose to act in accordance with my personal meaning; a meaning that is continuously fed by an indefinable thing that can only be know experientially through practice, study, integration and in-corporation (in corpore – in the body) of both and through putting aside egoic desires to be the same as/better than/different to XXX.
I guess you might define it as a life study in Becoming; I hesitate to say of “Being” – that potentially stagnant and anti-cosmic state of “I am that I am”. Instead I become Atum, self-engenderer from the primal chaos, bridge between what is “not” and what “comes forth” in a process of continuous unfolding.
And that’s another point: the path unfolds as I Become. Defining myself against the moral landscape around me at any particular moment belies the truth of existence. It places a premature and deceptive full-stop against a life that should at any point em-body the pregnant sentiment of dot-dot-dot … to be continued …
“Art is another language which, if you undertake to learn it, will open up a new world that permeates, surrounds and elevates this dull metropolis.” ~ Seshat
When first you enter the pagan or occult world, you will be faced with all sorts of good (and bad) advice. So let me just throw my glove into the ring with a suggestion of my own.
For those of you who are regularly readers (for which I thank you), you will know that I am a great proponent of using one’s imagination (see HERE for my latest article on the subject). Aside from sitting by the fire day dreaming, some might wonder where on earth to start with honing their creative and imaginistic muscles. First and foremost I would recommend art … although that might feel to turgid and bound by rules of aesthetics and skill … so let’s expand that word to “the arts and crafts” which could include everything expressive from music to painting to woodwork and textiles, such as sewing or even knitting. I know that last might baffle you – what benefit could something like knitting have to a magickal life?! But I would ask you to put aside such “art snobbery” and be open to the idea of creation.
Creating A Thing is a practice that involves making and holding a vision, imagination, commitment to follow through and skill to execute. No part of that sequence involves any judgement over “good” or “bad”, “beautiful” or ugly”, “useful” or “useless”. This is not the realm for debating “What is art?” – this is the domain of learning to envision, create and manifest. Sounds a little like the basics of magick and spellwork, right?
And even though creating artistically can indeed give expression to the subconscious mind (I am a supporter of therapeutic art), this does not mean that I equate magick with the mere machinations of one’s own unconscious, or even the collective unconscious. Magick is not mere psychology and the entities one encounters are not necessarily (although they can be) projections of your own mind. So let’s just make that clear. I am proposing some form of artistic involvement as a means to develop the full spectrum of imagination: a process of shifting a thing from energy into matter. This does indeed include music, as I consider sound vibrations to be a material manifestation. So my remit for “arts and crafts” really does include all forms of creativity.
So, now I shall expand a little on my own artistic practices:
Some people, especially in occult practices, like to work fast and furiously on their art, allowing no room for internal censorship. One of my art practices begins like this, in that I put pen to paper, close my eyes, draw madly in swirls and lines for a few seconds and then stop. But that is the fastest I get in my art. In fact, my art – whether it is sketching, felt painting, or textile work – is characterised by an exceptionally slow pace. It can literally take me months to complete a piece. Surely, when working so slowly, I have to battle often with the censor and conscious mind forcing it into a particular conceptual mould? Yes and no. Certainly I occasionally have to battle with the censor, but the processes for my art are often described by others as tedious and boring; I frequently hear, “I would never have the patience to do that!” But for me, it requires no patience. Due to the minute focus that is required, I slip into a hypnagogic state where the boundaries between conscious censor and fluid unconscious are permeable and mobile. This allows my imagination free reign and expression, often with surprising results. I never know when I start a piece, how it is going to turn out. But where’s that “vision” I spoke about as the starting point? For me, the vision is merely the unmistakeable physical pull and urge to create; it is a very corporeal as well as mental drive – for me personally, this is my vision and the manifestation is a process of welcoming the Other that nudged my psychic senses and bringing into a material form. The process will most likely be different for other people, but maybe some of you can identify with my own experience and methods.
And I must make an aside, regarding textile art (e.g. knitting, although in my case not knitting per se as I have injured hands and can no longer knit without pain). I embroider and create knot ropes; again, both techniques are laborious and easily induce a light trance state due to the focus and repetition. My knot ropes (for which I use spools, or French knitting dolls, but also the Anglo-Saxon lucet) may seem banal to onlookers, but to me they are invested with thought and emotion. By doing such repetitive work, importantly while focusing on a particular thing (a solution to a problem, a state you wish to come into being, magick you wish to actuate, or a person) you anchor that thing in muscle memory for a start, making the thing you create a part of your body (mundane example: the first time I watched The Shining I was knitting socks. The next day after watching the film, I picked up my socks and experienced such powerful flashbacks from the film that I could no longer continue knitting. It took a week for the muscle memory to abate enough for me to pick up again). But also, by taking the slow route, one comes to know the Thing one creates intimately well: that point where the shade of wool changes a fraction, that slip in the stitch that creates a loose mark, that struggle to tie in a bead or feather… So what’s the point, you may ask? The point is to enhance concentration, memory, focus, experiencing creation with the body not just the mind, and of course exercising of the imagination. Never underestimate the simple rural crafts such as knotting, spinning, carding, weaving, crocheting, and yes, knitting. They hold an equal place in my heart alongside the more “mainstream” arts of painting and sketching.
The proof is in the pudding. Try it. Try everything. I have sung, played classical guitar, painted, sketched, used textiles and wool, knotted and finger painted! And in each I have been able to reach that hypnagogic state – not always, because it’s not always appropriate – but at will, which is a sign that it has developed into a discipline. The neural pathways are laid, the psychic arteries are flowing, my imagination is working.
The wonderful thing about art is that it is a life-long companion. There is always room to improve your creative and imaginistic skills. Remember that cerebral judgement about “art” does not apply here. If you can think it, you can do it – and that is not a literal adjuration to do whatever you like. Not everything should be enacted literally, but that is the beauty of imagination and art, – there are no rules. I have seen art created by finger painting with menstrual blood, alongside the “Fine Art” painted canvases; I have seen thread embroidered into the very skin on the hand of an artist, alongside ecclesiastical gold embroidery. The end product is almost irrelevant; it is the inner journey that is important – the vision, the actuation, the material manifestation. But like all good magick, don’t hang on the results. Once you’ve finished a piece, do not rest on your laurels, but immediately begin the next! Only so (I suggest) will you develop invaluable skills to your occult, pagan and magickal practices.
My acquaintanceship with spirits began at a very young age. I saw and heard things that others didn’t and I was told to keep quiet about it because people would think I was mad; so I withdrew further from the mainstream world and inhabited my own world of imagination and spirit.
…one must be cautious not to chuck the imaginative baby out with the imagined bathwater!
I am often asked, “How will I know when something spirit-based happens? How will I know it’s not just my imagination?” To which I reply, “You won’t know and you will know, and imagination is the key to knowing.” “Imagination” is given a hard time in every arena except the creative. “It’s just your imagination!” is a dismissive comment we bring out when people try to describe things outside the norm. Whereas it is indeed irritating when you get people who claim that every creaking floorboard is a ghost, and every feather floating to the ground is a sign of an angel passing by, one must be cautious not to chuck the imaginative baby out with the imagined bathwater!
The imagination works with symbols and signs and all the senses. When asked to imagine a scene most vividly, we are encouraged to draw upon our sensory memory to recreate the scene in our minds. This creates a connecting language between our internal world and our external world. This language is the stuff that spirit encounters are made of. When a spirit makes its presence known in this world, it is partly here, partly there; it is both wave and particle. Our minds have the same capacity to occupy more than just the visible, material world … some might say it is our spirits or souls that stand with a foot in each realm. If that is so, most people spend the majority of their life unaware of the half of their “body” that stands in the Other. How would one go about rediscovering this Other half? The first step must surely be to imagine it, to conceive of the possibility that it exists, to bring the image of it into consciousness. As I said, imagination is the connecting language between here and there, between this world and Other. Without it we are merely flesh sacks excreting, eating and fucking.
The fact that I withdrew into my internal world as a child was a great boon to me in that it allowed me to become fluent in “Imagination” so that my mind was all ears and eyes, open to receiving the Other when it came. Some things I have seen with my physical eyes, which, for me, is a very frightening way of perceiving things. Likewise I was majorly disturbed by a ghost cat as a child that would jump on my bed and settle in amongst my blankets (that was fine); but when he began to claw at my carpet I was frightened and told him to stop scaring me, and he did. Sadly, my ghost cat disappeared entirely. This is another factor that I have experienced repeatedly: apparitions, the ones that truly want to connect with you, come through gradually. They appear at first like imagined moments – noises, smells, tactile sensations – and become more concrete and perceptual over time (in one case, a being took about 3 years until it manifested nearly completely – I was able to touch him and it was like touching hard air. Not all take quite this long though …). BUT once I queried the experience or applied some logical understanding to it, even if the logic was based in pseudo-magickal psychology (e.g. my desire for XX has manifested in the physical expression of YY), then the apparitions disappeared never to return again. In each case, it was vital for me to maintain a state of mind anchored in imagination and credulity – believing the impossible and allowing it to remain an impossible belief made manifest exactly because it was impossible. This may sound like gibberish to some, but I think to others it will make perfect sense.
As far as advice goes, when wishing to open yourself up to the spirit world, do not be afraid of a little imagination. Believing that a knock COULD be a spirit, opens up the impossible possibility that a future knock IS a spirit. It is difficult to maintain that fine line between megalomaniacal fantasies and true spirit experiences, but this is where you need to develop your self, including unrelenting self-honesty. Experiencing spirits in isolation will bring you nothing; this is a path of full and comprehensive self-development/self-loss/self-transformation. If you are looking for kicks or a good story, you will find neither or possibly be so shit scared by something that you wish you’d never dabbled in the first place (I have met people like this).
Begin with a meditation discipline … something appropriate, not “I meditate while I do the gardening/chores etc.” That’s not meditation, that’s mindfulness. And use meditation to expand the sensory capacity of your mind. If you can think it with all your senses, it can be; if you can conceive it, it can manifest. But when it does, be reserved with your questioning and logic, or risk chasing away the very thing that you seek.
Edit: I found this rather appropriate quote by Kenneth Grant, so am adding this after the fact:
In all forms of magick, the imagination or image-making faculty is the most important factor.
On Saturday I met a neo-Nazi. And I don’t think anyone else around him even realised. I was at a warehouse buying a bike. He manages the warehouse. He was covered in tattoos … even more than me. His head was covered in militaristic symbols (German) and emblazoned across his scalp were the English words, “Blood and Honour”. Now the phrase “Blut und Ehre”, as it is in the original German, was the motto etched onto the knife blades of the Nazi Youth Movement. These days “Blood and Honour” is the name of a neo-Nazi music group and political movement, white supremacists, blah, blah, blah. Unless you know this stuff, you just don’t know, and you don’t “see” the neo-Nazi in front of you, you just see a surly tattooed guy.
Ironically he showed an especially gruff demeanour when I gave him my obviously foreign name, because the dullard didn’t realise that my name was German. And what I would never have told him, for my own safety, is that my origins are German-Jewish, and that I lost most of my family in the Shoah (the Holocaust). A long time ago now I did a year of research in Germany on the Shoah and wrote my Masters dissertation on the portrayal of the Holocaust in German fiction, specifically by a man called Edgar Hilsenrath. So I know my history. Let me rephrase that: I know MY history. I know my origins.
My German family (the ones who survived) ultimately fled Russian occupied Berlin because they were blacklisted by the Russians due to a book my uncle had written about 10 Catholic men who had been assassinated by the Russian government. My family fled to America, leaving only my great-grandfather behind. He took refuge in a convent in West Germany and spent his final days with the nuns. When I was 9, I visited this convent for the first of many, many times.
Once I reached adulthood, one of the oldest nuns took me aside and told me the story of my Jewish family and their time in Berlin under the Nazis. She took my hands in hers and said, “Blut zeigt sich!” which means, “You can’t hide from your blood” or “Blood will always show itself!” I think in her wise old heart she knew that I was never going to be a Catholic like the rest of my family (who converted). For some reason, she marked me out to carry on the history of my family and importantly to carry the heritage of those who died.
This was in part why I chose the Masters’ subject that I did and why I worked so damn hard to learn German (I was not brought up bilingually – my mother married an Englishman and I was brought up in England; in fact, German was forbidden at home until my father left). I have always felt that I have had to make up for the diaspora of my family, the immigrants who settled in America and abandoned everything German.
My grandmother joined my uncle (her brother) when they fled Berlin from the Russians. My uncle never lost his accent but he became an AMERICAN with a German background; my grandmother, on the other hand, always remained displaced – a GERMAN living in America. Last year my grandmother died. She asked for her ashes to be scattered in the New Mexican desert where she lived. My Catholic family riotously objected and so she was ultimately buried in England – a country she had no ties to in any respect. It still makes me sad (read: furious) to this day.
You would think with this heritage running strongly in me, perhaps more than anyone else in the family, I would have a strong spirit connection with my blood ancestors. But I don’t. In fact I can’t. I’ve tried. I have tried four times to establish ancestor shrines and to welcome and engage with the spirits of my dead family, and each time my life was blighted with so much bad luck that it belied coincidence. Within a day of me dismantling the shrine/altar each time, the bad luck dissipated and peace would return to my life.
Even at my grandmother’s funeral I sought to connect with her (too soon perhaps) and a piece of ceramic fell from the earth over her grave at my feet. On the ceramic piece was the word “malade”, which is French for sickness or madwoman. Of course it was the broken off piece from a MARmalade jar, but the message to me was clear. My grandmother and I communicated in German but she always signed off her letters in French. I felt her disapproval of my spiritualist ways in relation to her and so I left her in peace.
The fact is that my family have undergone horrific times during life and I fear they carry it with them in death. Relatives were killed in Auschwitz or died under dreadful conditions. Those who survived had to flee their home country for their lives and all have lived under the shadow of the past. My grandmother would hide under tables when planes went overhead; she wielded an enormous gun at strangers on her property; she trusted no one, least of all authorities because she knew that an apathetic nation could allow tyrants to rule and neighbours are ready to betray you if the price is right.
So in connecting with spirits I leave my ancestors alone. I wish that one day I could bring them some semblance of peace, but I don’t know how. For now I connect to the nameless ones, the forgotten ones, the faceless ones; the blessed Aakhu who have passed the test of Ma’at and have her feather of truth tattooed on their tongues. Blessed are the Doo spirits who are good to me always.
But my encounter with the Nazi made my blood stir. I love Germany and I love the Germanic past, before it was distorted and misappropriated. I feel a calling but it is soft and indistinct. Maybe I am not yet ready to hear it. Maybe I need someone to spell it out for me. My shyness often converts into reticence and gives me cloth ears to my own destiny. For now I shall set it before the spirits, and quietly pray that my ancestors rest in peace.
So my lucet arrived… Isn’t he beautiful?
He was hand-carved from cherry wood and feels amazing in my hand. It didn’t take me long at all to get the hang of it (thanks to some YouTube videos). I dove straight in and worked a contrast thread (the gimp cord). Imagine now knotting in pearls and semi-precious bead stones, small feathers … Beautiful. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please refer to THIS POST ABOUT KNOT MAGIC.
Even though there is room for much elaboration, my initial experiment with knot magic and the lucet was a much more basic and plain affair. I sat in candlelight with my lucet and two threads of the appropriate colour (in this instance black and red). I began to weave, focusing all my thoughts into each knot, binding my intent into the cord. Once done, I knotted off the cord, tied it into a circle (further binding it into itself) and placed it like a halter around the neck of one of my fetishes. I lit a candle and made offerings to the fetish for one night. The next night, I placed the “done spell” into my Atua. When I have sufficient cords in my Atua I will burn them, but for now they are fine there, “magickally fermenting” in a spirit atmosphere. Spell work has always felt like cooking for me … ingredients, stewing, fermenting, rising, baking off, cooking till its “done”… and often, disposing of the remains, preferably composting it to earth or burning off with fire.
On another note, my writing career is starting to take off, and consequently spending a few moments on this blog chatting with you, feels a little like sneaking out the back of the office for a quick smoke. I am ghostwriting and editing, along with some translation work again (although wildly different to what I used to translate); and I’ve started writing a book on fear. It’s a theme that comes up recurrently in profane AND sacred life. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced fear, except for the sociopath whose emotions are by nature limited to the shallows. And yes, I’ve met a few of them. Thank you, The Internet.
Although these days my life seems mostly free from dastardly types and this is a testament to how I have overcome my own fear in laying down the boundaries of my identity. I used to be swayed so easily like driftwood on the sea, but these days, although I am flexible, I am no longer merely a mirror to egos stronger than my own. It’s okay to have preferences and limits. Being a mirror to others does not mean that I am more enlightened or less bound by my own ego-urges. Maybe quite the contrary, that I end up in a battle between my own ego and that of the other person.
So often I have sacrificed myself to another, especially in relationships. My needs took back place and I squeezed myself small into the mould they made for me. But eventually I would spring out of the mould, slightly deformed, but still different from what they wanted me to be, and then I would be rejected. It was a cycle I repeated way too often. These days, perhaps it’s age, I am averse to moulds; I recognise big egos and I walk around them; I am less swayed by the externals. My relationship with spirits has helped; if I find myself dancing to another’s tune, I get a nudge from Spirit because such inauthenticity detaches me from my ability to connect with Other. Being authentic is not a place of comfort and often it would be easier and feel more secure (although it is a false security) to hand over responsibility for the dance to someone else. It’s a truth that only I can dance with my own feet … forget walking in my shoes, you can have my shoes … but no one walks this earth – skin on dirt – like I do (or like you do).
Empathy is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes tilt one towards living too much inside other people’s heads. I grew up with no separation between myself and others due to my psychism and my sensitive empathy. But at the age of 20 I attended a workshop in a small village in Germany. There I was introduced to the phrases: “Ich bin bei mir” and “Ich bin bei dir”, which loosely translate as “I am within me” and “I am within you” (bei translates variously as with, in, at, by … but I choose in this instance the word “within”). At the workshop I was challenged in my thinking and actions again and again: Are you within yourself or within another? And I realised that I was predominantly within other people, thinking and feeling what they felt and adjusting my own behaviour accordingly. I was reactive to every person I met. I rarely acted from a spontaneous base of me-ness. Yes, you could look at the psychology and say it was a defence and way to keep myself safe, which is true. My upbringing was not a safe one and knowing what other people were thinking/feeling or going to do before they even knew it themselves kept me safe. But as an adult it was a disempowering habit that kept me in a regressed emotional and spiritual state.
I rapidly learned to recognise when I was “within another” and I tempered my responses, although it has taken years to form a solid identity of my own that is not defined by other people (remembering also that we are coloured by all experiences, including very much the people we allow into our lives). It is a life-long journey because each day we step into the river and it is never the same … neither are we.
So, dear folks, it’s time to put out my metaphorical cigarette (as I don’t smoke!) and step back into the office. Thanks for dwelling a while with me as I pondered a few things. Till next time!