At some level, mental health and the practice of magick have been focal points for me for years. They have recently come into sharp relief due to the illness of a family member.
This family member (FM) has experienced a severe and ongoing psychotic break. A psychotic break is not the same as a nervous breakdown, instead it marks a deviation from perceiving reality “as we understand it”. Already there, we have the crux of my considerations. “Reality” (that entirely subjective and in some respects moralising word) can deviate depending on gender, culture, religion, drug intake and mental health (the latter being determined by whether one fits in with the generally accepted standard of reality dictated by all of the aforementioned).
FM’s break with reality became most apparent to us when she abandoned her home, money and clothes due to a “cyanide bomb” in her house that had “contaminated” everything. Shortly afterwards she was admitted to a psych ward where she soon feigned wellness to get out. It is a fact that those experiencing a psychotic break can pretend wellness to get away from those who would contradict their world view or force help upon them. I speak from experience. Nothing delights a psychiatrist more than a bright smile and an admission that everything you believed yesterday was, well, just crazy! We are called “high-functioning” because we can recognise when to fake YOUR reality and when it is safe to live our own…
So once FM left hospital she hopped on a plane and flew to relatives over a thousand miles away. There she helpfully had a telepathic conflab with the local mice population who promised never to enter our relative’s house again. In the meantime she pendulumed and communed with “the Universe” and has been told what to do next… It will happen on Wednesday. We await developments with baited breath, and there will be a collective “Aw shit!” from the family, if serendipity is on her side and she lucks out.
But all through this I have listened to my “rational”, mainstream, a-spade-is-a-spade family and their judgement of FM’s behaviour and beliefs. Apart from empathising with lunatic moments, I nod inwardly and think, Uff, and if they knew what I think and experience! Furthermore, add to that my pagan/magickal friends’ thoughts and beliefs and, at least in my world, my family starts to be a hawkish minority amongst a swathe of talking spirits, low magick spells, high magick conjurations, and more.
Who gets to say whose reality is the norm? What is real and unreal? Yet even the unreal is by some considered manifest purely by dint of it being thought into existence – I think, therefore I am – I conceive it, therefore it is.
But now I hear the bells of postmodern relativism and the voices that might say, it’s all relative; at some level it is all real. But in everything being real, is nothing actually real? Do we in fact live in a delusional fallacy where madness is the mark of humanity?
Psychiatrists are, contrary to common opinion, wary to label people insane due to their beliefs. More than one psychiatrist has told me that if they turned their inscrutable gaze to any world religion, they would only find neurotics and insaniacs. So there has to be a leeway ground of mad-but-functioning and insane-but-safe; specifically, if the person is harming neither themselves nor another (actually unlike many religious folks) then they should be allowed to go on their merry way … as is, so far, the case with FM.
I know certain pagans would cite a psychotic break as a shamanic experience, a spiritual opportunity to connect deeply and ultimately come out the other side as a healer. This is FM’s version of events. She has taken on the mantle of healer. Some of you might remember the post I wrote about her vitriolic and bile-filed offer of a healing sledgehammer to my own fair head. This chick ain’t no healer. To compare psychosis with initiation is a very dangerous thing and shows a lack of knowledge about either. Certainly there may be some similarities, but just because I hold a feather in my hand does not mean that I am a bird (although as a child I really did believe that a crow had taught me to fly)!
Mental ill-health, be it depression, paranoia, or psychosis, if managed appropriately, can lead to a richer spiritual practice and a more authentic life. But in the process it can also (and must?) tear up the very fabric of your life, your relationships and all that you believe. Some are left bereft and grieving, in a cycle of regret and self-recrimination, while others emerge stronger and more focused, and yet others again oscillate between the two states and all shades in between. This instability can be used as a weapon by the sufferer or those around her to denigrate her ability to be a witch or magickian. And yet, looking back at those we still learn from today, I see dark moods, instability, seemingly irrational behaviour, a certain madness. Who knows if one causes the other, or perhaps if one CALLS to the other.
If sanity is the foundation upon which one is permitted to practise magick, I suggest most of us give up at the starting gate. Personally I think that a little insanity is vital to see beyond the accepted norm.
FM’s whisperings from the universe may come true. She may even heal some people along the way. But for now, as long as she does not hurt herself or others, she must be allowed to walk her path. Just as I walk my path, except that when I feel spirits and see daemons I don’t mention it over coffee to my friends and family … I just tell you … and you’ll keep it secret, right? 😉
It’s four in the morning. The birds are singing outside heralding the stirring blood of dawn. I haven’t slept. This is not unusual.
I haven’t been well for over a decade. The details are irrelevant but recent events have stirred me to write a little on my experience with healers. By “healer” I do not mean the initiated healer working within a tradition, instead I mean the New Age so-called alternative healer, the kind that usually lobs “practitioner” after the moniker “shamanic”.
But first my own background in healing therapies: I trained for a year in nutritional healing modalities with a school that believed that essentially all (yes, all) illnesses could be cured by the right diet and lifestyle (where spirituality was considered an equal lifestyle choice to career and food). As someone with longterm, incurable chronic illnesses, this was incredibly seductive to me. The problem was obviously in my choices. It wasn’t random. I was actually in control and thus by making the right choices I could heal myself completely.
I don’t deny that we each have agency to a degree, and probably most people don’t take full advantage of quite how much is within their control, instead abdicating their dissatisfaction to be the fault of family, government, society or >insert conspiracy theory here<. Yet, I believe that there is also a considerable random and/or chaotic factor to life that will throw you a curve ball impossible to catch, however disciplined and well-trained you are. Shit happens.
Amongst my peers at the nutritional school I witnessed a tremendous amount of victim blaming. “My mother-in-law has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Well, OBVIOUSLY that was going to happen! I told her to stop drinking dairy, but would she??” and other such claptrap. Irrespective of any links between dairy and cancer, sometimes a person just gets the bad end of the draw in genetics, environment and whatever other factors are involved. If only life were so quid pro quo simplistic that one action gave forth clearly and absolutely to another. Such rules and dogma (because ultimately it is all incontrovertibly true to the believer) are the realm of the fearful.
Did I fall foul of such dogmatic thinking? Yes, I did. And in my desperation to be healed, I was vehement in my “beliefs” because here’s the thing … not only does one have to eat and do the right thing, you are encouraged to believe it too, because the mental state of mind is so important. Again, yes, to a degree. But if my treatment is going to fail when I do everything right but harbour doubts because heck I’m human, then how authentic is this as a healing “solution”. The placebo effect lives on strong, and there is absolutely a place for that. BUT, I am cautioning here again against victim blaming … especially as it is usually the healer who places blame not at his/her own door, but at the door of his/her patient.
In the last 6 months, I have had experience with two healers. Frankly, the first one must have worked some kind of juju on me (sarcasm) because usually I would make a polite excuse and refuse kindly. But one minute she’s suggesting she could help me, with the best of intentions, and the next minute I’m sitting over Skype in a guided visualisation with her. She asked lots of probing questions and I felt bare and vulnerable. I was aware that she was wading into sensitive territory with the discerning care of an elephant. Pseudo-psychology is often a great accompaniment to alternative healing; CBT being an easy e-certificate to gain online usually at a “great discount” and only requiring 30 hours of work in total!
Underlying each session was pressure: pressure from this lady enquiring “Are you any better yet? I would have thought you’d feel better by now. You must be very stuck inside. You have a lot of blockages. You obviously don’t WANT enough to be well…”
I stuck it out with this lady for over a month because she was kind of a new friend, but as she sat there between a statue of the Buddha and a statue of a fairy, while telling me to give my worries to Pegasus, I gave up the will and gently severed (as a suppressed Englishwoman, I am often oxymoronic) our connection.
The Universe (as they say) was not done with me in terms of healers though. A couple of months later I received an email from a family member. We had not spoken in 7 years when we had drifted apart due to irreconcilable differences, so I was surprised to hear from her. Without a Hello or How Are You she launched into telling me that she was now a healer and “The universe has tasked me with healing you, so here I am. And …” she continued, “None too happy about it am I either!!” She then went on to tell me how despicable I was. Bile heaped upon vitriol upon blather and blah. She said that she was just setting up in business (gah!). She tried to explain her type of healing saying that she would be “flooded” with people to her website when it launched, but those people would probably not have the ability to “connect to soul” and maybe I perhaps had a smidgen of ability to do that and a soupçon “of education” and thus she was willing to heal me. And, since we were from the same ashram (!) she would do me the professional courtesy of not charging me for her healing or teachings. All in all, it was the angriest and most patronising email I had ever received. I sat stunned afterwards feeling as if I had been hit in the head with a big healing sledgehammer. I declined to reply.
So, the point of this post is not to defame and blame healers, some of whom truly do have the very best of intentions and do provide comfort and healing to some. It is to advise would-be patients not to have such an open mind that your brains fall out and for gods’ sake don’t take the blame if the healing doesn’t work immediately/ever. Would-be healers would do well to vehemently question their own motives and should be cautioned to have a little more humility so as to avoid blaming patients!
Yes, if only the world were more linear – do X get Y- less impenetrable to our limited mind – giving answers to the endless ‘whys’ – less chaotic to our pattern-making senses. If only Pegasus could take my ailments away through Skype… At least then I might now be sleeping, instead of watching the horizon light up as the blackbirds intone the day.
These are the contents of my new “Who am I?” page, reposted here for your convenience and as a heads-up.
As I stand on the threshold of 2016, after eight years of blogging here, I thought I would write a new “Who am I?” page as my last one had a touch of the “Feck off!” about it. The interweb can make one pre-empt conflict and overcompensate a little.
Having read other “About” pages, I chastised myself and thought I should create one that was a tad more warm and fuzzy. So here goes!
I would say that my formal journey into witchcraft began when I was 17 (I am now 41), although I had had copious experiences with spirits (nature, animal, human and other) for as long as I can remember before then. Witchcraft was both a home-coming and my birth emotionally and intellectually as a Woman. I was initially very much attracted to feminist and Dianic witchcraft which created a powerful, sideways drop-kick counterbalance to 9 years of Roman Catholicism (specifically Benedictine monasticism). I explored my soul crouched in the earth of wheat fields, gazing at the moon, or climbing through woods to a haunted Bronze Age fort that looked out over the valley where I lived on the Welsh Borders of Britain.
Between my early days and a significant ritual in my late twenties, I lived in Germany for a while communing with tree spirits, I travelled to New Mexico where I was adopted by a Navajo woman. Together we travelled the reservation, with me as her daughter and she as “shi’ma” (my mother). I fell in love with the spirit of the desert and the genius loci around my grandmother’s property. On my return to Britain I lived in Edinburgh (one of the most haunted cities in Europe, some people say) where I was often taken over by the spirit of Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano on the outskirts of the city) which led me at times to climb up the shear face of the mountain, in the dark, in storms, driven by spirit to reach the top and stand amongst a veritable swarm of entities. In my mid-twenties I travelled to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. My time in Egypt was brief but my visit to Philae marked my soul as if I was returning to a place I had been to before (the temple itself and the region bordering Sudan).
I realise that I am hot-footing it through the years, merely suggesting spiritual and spirit-based encounters, but there is just not the space here to retell it all. I guess the point of mentioning any of this is to convey the fact that I travelled a lot and wherever I went I engaged spiritually with that location.
Then came a time in my late twenties: I was living alone. My Navajo mother had died. It was Samhain. I turned my kitchen into a shrine to the dead, named and unnamed. I lost myself in ritual for about five hours, during which I danced with Death himself, shed many tears and was reborn spiritually. From that moment onwards I dedicated myself as “witch”, a term I would go on to explore in agonising scrutiny on this blog in its early days (many, many posts have been deleted, those included).
I went through my Satanic phase, my Luciferian phase … I searched and searched for a witchcraft that resonated with the darker shit that I had experienced. Wicca seemed too light, hedge and kitchen witchery too vapid. Now, I can admire what each of those things bring, in isolation, for others, but they just weren’t my paths, however neither were Satanism or Luciferianism. I touched on so-called “traditional witchcraft” but was put off by the bitchy, petty, superior attitude of the adherents I encountered. I began to explore Left-Hand Path traditions (this is a subject I write about a lot on this blog), and I gave myself over to this path for many years. During that time I crumbled psychologically and walked some very dark nights of the soul. I was taken apart and left in pieces. There was no immediate “and put back together again”. For a long time I floated in the blackness; I felt that my experiences of spirit were partially given a context and recognised by the systems I experimented with, but morally I was directionless. In my depression I went past and through duality to having no sense of right or wrong; in fact everything was pointless. I laid myself psychically bare and drifted. Every now and then I would see a light and swim towards it.
I learned about the system of Lucky Hoodoo by Bertiaux. I dedicated myself to the spirits, raised myself up towards the dark sun and became alive again magickally. This lasted about a year before my depression struck me low again. I recanted the spirits … and then followed a year of hell before I realised that I’d struck a contract I couldn’t go back on. So I rededicated myself and began to build things back up again. The Hoodoo spirits remain a part of my daily practice to this day.
Between then and now, I have been deeply involved with Pomba Gira while I worked as an erotic hypnotist. I learned how to siphon the sexual energy off of others to feed to my spirits. And I used this also to strengthen myself. Pomba Gira is known for raising women up from the gutter, especially sex workers, and I was so deeply face down in the gutter I had forgotten a world existed “up there”. She led me to encounters that were to change my life and the way I engaged with this dimension of existence.
It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that the last ten years have been a beautiful incline rising ever upwards and today it’s a “happy ever after”. The darkness still dwells within me. I struggle with it regularly. Being in the dark is a little like vertigo; it gives you a sense of standing on the edge of a cliff, tilting forwards, knowing what it’s like to fall, feeling like you could at any moment … but you don’t. Or sometimes you do. And that’s just the way it is.
These days I work with the Hoodoo spirits and Aakhu (the beautified dead), but also nature spirits (of land, plant and animal) and elements. I am a witch. I could be an Animist. I might have shamanic tendencies. I am open to any beliefs because I am now secure enough to observe them without feeling that I have to agree or engage with them. If you believe something different to me, hail and well met! Life is difficult enough without someone kicking your crutches out from under you. And we ALL have spiritual crutches to hobble through the dark times with. I don’t know The Truth, but I know truths and I keep seeking.
My path is not straight. As my blog’s tagline says, I am “a thought making crooked all that is straight”. This blog charts some of my thinking and explores ideas that occupy my mind and time. You are welcome to dwell here a while and share the journey with me.
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”.
At the end of July, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, announced plans for a nationwide ISP porn filter. Apparently, by 2014, broadband users will have to voluntarily opt IN to view porn as the default setting will be to block porn sites. This is supposedly in an effort to restrict paedophiles and protect young people from inappropriate material.
However, the Open Rights Group quickly found out that it wasn’t just porn that was falling under the censor’s axe but also subjects such as anorexia and eating disorder websites, alcohol, smoking, web forums, and “esoteric material” to name but a few (see HERE).
The pagan community in the UK has rightly gone up in arms. Some are dismissing the hoo-ha and saying “It’s been debunked” … although what they think has been debunked I don’t know as the censorship plans still stand in spite of the petitions being signed. Others say it’s a non-issue because it’s “easy to opt in” but my first thought to that is, yes and then the ISP has YOUR details as one of the people opting in to see blocked content (what better way for the government to keep an eye on the rabble-rousers and those who run against the ever growing conservative line in British society?). “Esoteric material” can cover everything from Satanism to Wicca, information sites to business sites and, let’s not forget, blogs! On a point of principle, why should I as an occultist and pagan have to opt IN to express my spiritual beliefs when a Christian, Jew or Moslem does not have to? Where is MY freedom of expression and choice?
It’s at times like these that social networking really comes into its own and I have been thrilled to see how quickly government e-petitions were drafted:
(Please follow the hyperlinks and sign if you are a UK resident.)
But in addition to this, pagans and occultists of all kinds have rallied to form a group waging a magical battle against the curtailing of freedom of expression and the rise of censorship in the UK.
I would like to draw your attention to The Magickal Battle of Britain, a Facebook event that gathers together an ecumenical group of occultists and pagans of every shade you could imagine with the sole purpose of building a cone of power in the run-up to 17th December. Here is the group’s statement of purpose:
Freedom to express and create is essential for human development, and in the U.K this freedom has been steadily undermined in an exponential way, that is near impossible to keep track of, let alone protest.
The title of this group,’The Magickal Battle of Britain’ harks back to a time time when war was necessarily fought on other levels, in less than conventional ways.
Our freedom can be fought for with our own weapons. The weapons of art and magick, or if you prefer, the weapons of art and suspension of disbelief.
Images, sound, cut-ups, sigilisation, meditation, sex with focus, charms, fetish and mantra. These are only some of our creative tools and these can create clarity in focus and chaos in their ability to subvert oppression.
This page is about creating change.This isnt about which angle your approach comes from,but about where it is directed.
Directed at fighting oppression, censorship and control of expression.
If we start building the energy now,by the 17th of December when we gather in spirit and intent (whatever your actual geographical location)we will have built one immense and VERY effective cone of power!
Group and individual meditations every Sunday at 9 pm Greenwich Mean Time until the 17th December.
These can be done anywhere and aim to join us in solidarity, focus and snowballing strength.
If you don’t have much time, you can tune in by glancing at the sigil created by Dis, that is on the banner of the page (above St Pauls) Otherwise a meditation on a strong image of what we don’t want (authoritarian controlling state, police with batons, misrepresentative puppet media for example) followed by an image of what we do want. Individual Freedom of Expression.
This is an open event/group so please follow this link HERE to join and add your personal creative magickal expression to a battle that is long overdue.
If you do nothing then, in my mind, you forfeit your right to complain as the government slowly and inexorably curtails your individual creative and spiritual modes of expression. This IS still an issue, and until we have won the battle against fundamentalist, conservative (with a little ‘c’) censors it will remain an issue. If you wish to continue to enjoy your place on the fringes as different, other, unique, creative, pagan and FREE to do as you please (And it harm none, do what thou wilt … Do what you will shall be the whole of the law …) then shake off the apathy! Sign the petitions! And join the battle on the astral to keep our country a place of extreme creativity, love, lust, magick and freedom of personal expression!
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.