Saturday, August 22, 2015

Quick update

Okay, so it's been a while. Just wanted to quickly give some information on what I've been doing in the months since I last updated this blog.

To put it simply, quite a bit has happened. I started working towards joining an Order as a probationer, but my work in that direction came to a halt when we discovered that I live about 400 miles from the closest temple. At least I was given some interesting material to read (both published material and material written by and for this particular Order).

I planned out an Evocation to undertake with a friend, who would be using mind-altering substances to induce the state needed to 'see' a spirit. This was an exhilarating experience from a craftsman's perspective, but in the end circumstances prevented us from going through with the operation. I still got some nice candles out of the deal, though.

I went through something of a 'crisis of systems'. During this period, I was desperate to find something - anything - that would allow me to perform Magic without the complexities of the Golden Dawn/RR et AC system. The one good thing that came out of this was my acquisition of some excellent books, including the very well-written (and brutally honest) Gateways Through Stone and Circle, by Ashen Chassan.

Finally, I have given myself a crash-course to reacquaint myself with the basics of the Golden Dawn system, and will soon be using the techniques for Talismans given by Israel Regardie in the tiny book How to Make and Use Talismans.

To be honest, this blog is not a high priority for me at this point, especially considering the balancing act between my personal Work and my social/relationship/school life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

GD: Using the Neophyte signs in the LRP

I have noticed that most modern practitioners seem to employ the Neophyte signs when performing the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram (and sometimes the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram as well), using the saluting sign to 'charge' the Pentagrams after drawing them, while vibrating the appropriate Name. As Nick Farrell pointed out on his blog (and in one of his books), there is little evidence that the original Order taught this, but it has still proved useful enough that it has been kept in most modern books.

On the other hand, though, there are some people who seem to imply that using the Neophyte signs is somehow essential to the LRP. One person I ran across on social media claimed that they felt that the LRP was all but pointless if the Neophyte signs were not used. I think that, for most practitioners, this should not be the case.

Granted, they can be very useful, but the ritual can certainly be performed without them, and in some cases might have to be. The best way I can explain this is by giving examples from my own practice.

The room that I currently use for ritual work doubles as a bedroom, which means that floor space is limited. Even with a medium-sized trunk for a (roughly double-cube shaped) altar, circumambulating without scraping against a wall is difficult.* I can usually manage when I'm just using my hands for the ritual, but when I'm using a tool - usually either a dagger, or the Outer Wand of Double Power that I made - I find that I literally don't have room to give the saluting sign while holding the tool. Therefore, I have to choose one or the other.

I think part of the reason some slightly newer practitioners emphasize the Neophyte signs is due to the enhancement of 'energy' that they tend to bring if they are given with a lot of force behind them. What helps me make up for that in situations where I'm low on floor space is using a simplified version of the 'Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar,' like Crowley gives in Liber O. If I'm using this, not only does it force me to pay attention, it also lets me get a similar level of emotional arousal to that I get from vigorously giving the saluting sign. (Obviously, using the Vibratory Formula in tandem with the saluting sign can't hurt.)

* This is why I often leave my altar in the East of the room; having it slightly out of the way helps me focus on the ritual, without worrying about backing into a candle.

Monday, March 23, 2015

GD: Confusing the Wand, Dagger, and Sword

Note: This article is about these tools from a Golden Dawn, and to a certain extent Thelemic, perspective, and how they may have been misinterpreted by later Magical orders and/or covens. I am fully aware that the attributions are slightly different in other groups; but Other Groups are not the Golden Dawn. (And for that matter, neither is Bardon's Hermetic curriculum.)

The traditional Golden Dawn attribution places the elemental tools as follows: Pentacle=Earth, Dagger=Air, Cup=Water, Wand=Fire. In several books on Ceremonial Magic, I have seen the attributions for the Dagger and Wand switched. This is often due, at least in my reading, to a lack of deep knowledge. Until recently, a lot of the books written about Ceremonial Magic (that weren't Crowley, Regardie, etc.) were obviously written by 'outsiders', i.e., people who do not actually practice Magic. (Some Magical people call them 'muggles'.)

Case in point: the book The Secrets of High Magic, by Francis Melville, gives these reversed attributions, but leaves the Tarot attributions (Wands=Fire, Swords=Air) intact. While I quite like this book - or at least, the older version of it - it was obviously not written by a practicing Magician.

I agree that the Wand would, on the surface, seem to be more Air-like. But the founders of the original Golden Dawn (and the early leaders of the offshoot groups, such as the Stella Matutina) knew what they were doing, and arranged the attributions to as to be almost perfectly symmetrical. The Wand is a (blatant) phallic symbol, which makes more sense when attributed to Fire; it perfectly compliments the receptive Cup, which is almost always attributed to Water. Both the symbolism and the elemental attributions line up perfectly.

Likewise, the Dagger's attribution to Air forms a perfect compliment to the attribution of the Pentacle to Earth. If the Wand and Cup can be thought of as the male and female sex organs, then the Dagger and Pentacle can be thought of as a sword and shield; seeing as how the Pentacle is primarily a defensive tool, this analogy serves reasonably well. (Although one should not think of the Dagger being a sword in a literal sense; more on this in a bit.)

Unfortunately, some people are not so easily convinced. One person I saw on a forum said that the attributions of the Pentacle, Cup, and Wand were all well and good, but felt that the Dagger was assigned to Air simply because that was all that was left. A miniature flame war broke out on the subject, but was quickly cooled down by a moderator. I agree that the Dagger's attribution is not so obvious, but there are a few things that make sense to me.

Donald Michael Kraig, in his book Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, says that the Dagger can be thought of as the tip of a spear that is thrown through the air. Personally, my favorite explanation is given by the ubiquitous Aleister Crowley, in his Book 4:

The Sword or Dagger is attributed to air, all-wandering, all-penetrating, but unstable; not a phenomenon subtle like fire, not a chemical combination like water, but a mixture of gases.
One might say that the Pantacle is the bread of life, and the Sword the knife which cuts it up. One must have ideas, but one must criticize them.

- Book 4, Part II, Chapter VIII

(Note here that Crowley refers to the Sword; more on this in a bit.)

I think the biggest mistake people make in trying to make all the attributions 'fit' is assuming that there is only one dagger, one wand, et cetera. Even leaving aside the Lotus Wand, there are numerous wands/scepters that are used almost exclusively in initiation ceremonies, such as the Scepter of Power.

In many versions of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, the Archangel Raphael is visualized as carrying a caduceus; since Raphael is associated with Air, this has served as another point for some to think of the Wand being attributed to Air. Likewise, the Archangel Michael - who is associated with Fire - is sometimes visualized in the LRP as holding a flaming sword.

This brings me to my second point: the confusion of the Dagger with the Sword. Strictly speaking, in a Golden Dawn context the Magical Sword is not an elemental weapon; it is associated with the 5th Sephira, Geburah. As the color of Geburah on the Queen Scale is scarlet, it makes sense for the Magical Sword to be painted this color on the hilt and pommel. As emerald green is the flashing color of scarlet, it therefore also makes practical sense to use this color to paint the various names onto the Magical Sword.

Unfortunately, these two colors - red with green lettering - are virtually identical to the primary colors of the Wand; the Wand being the tool associated with Fire. For someone who equates the Dagger with the Sword symbolically, this could be seen as supportive of their conception of Dagger=Fire. To me, this is not only confusing to an outsider, but I feel it would be somewhat distracting to someone practicing magic. I think this may be why the Wand is also painted with yellow parts, to reinforce its Fire-like appearance and distance it visually from the Magical Sword.

The solution to this would be to not consider the elemental tools from a strictly elemental viewpoint, unless such associations are directly relevant to the working at hand. In Book 4, Crowley's directions for making these tools tend to focus far more on the appropriate sizes and the materials to use, rather than coloration. (In fact, going by the book would leave most of the tools with no coloration except for that of the materials from which they were made.) Crowley also goes into great detail on the symbolism of the tools apart from their elemental associations; he goes on at length about the Sword representing the analytical faculty, the Wand representing one's will, etc.

Speaking of Crowley, why does he seem to equate the Dagger with the Sword? Well, it turns out there are two daggers, or a dagger and a sword if you will. The first Dagger is associated with the Scourge and Chain; these three tools represent the alchemical principles of Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt, respectively.

The second blade - one of the four elemental tools - is almost always referred to as the Sword, but it can certainly be a dagger:

Only the simple can withstand the sword. As we are below the Abyss, this weapon is then entirely destructive: it divides Satan against Satan. It is only in the lower forms of Magick, the purely human forms, that the Sword has become so important a weapon. A dagger should be sufficient.

But the mind of man is normally so important to him that the sword is actually the largest of his weapons; happy is he who can make the dagger suffice!

- Book 4, Part II, Chapter VIII

So in a Thelemic context, the tool associated with Air can be either a Dagger or a Sword; though it is assumed to be the latter here, Liber 412 refers to the tool as the Dagger.

For a while, I wondered why the traditional Golden Dawn version of the Tarot had the Swords as a suit if it would have been more correct to call it Daggers. Looking at the artwork on some Tarot decks, I think that the ultimate fact is this: the Dagger could in theory be extended into a Sword, so long as it was still obviously an Air tool. It doesn't matter if there are two swords or two daggers, so long as there isn't any confusion between the two tools. (I think this is the principle behind the use of a non-Air dagger in the LRP, but I haven't found out for sure.) For the Magical Sword, though, a full-length Sword would undoubtedly be the more correct association to Geburah.

In summary: one could have as many swords, daggers, and wands as one likes, so long as they are kept separate from one another symbolically, practically, and visually.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Learning the Tarot: Basic Meanings (Minor Arcana)

I'm mostly posting this here for my own reference purposes. Meanings for cards 2-10 are taken from the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot.

Suit of Wands (Fire/Yod)
  1. Creation
  2. Dominion
  3. Established Strength
  4. Perfected Work
  5. Strife
  6. Victory
  7. Valor
  8. Swiftness
  9. Great Strength
  10. Oppression
Suit of Cups (Water/Heh)
  1. Preservation
  2. Love
  3. Abundance
  4. Blended Pleasure
  5. Loss in Pleasure
  6. Pleasure
  7. Illusionary Success
  8. Abandoned Success
  9. Material Happiness
  10. Perfected Success
Suit of Swords (Air/Vav)
  1. Destruction
  2. Peace Restored
  3. Sorrow
  4. Rest from Strife
  5. Defeat
  6. Earned Success
  7. Unstable Effort
  8. Shortened Force
  9. Despair and Cruelty
  10. Ruin
Suit of Pentacles (Earth/Heh-final)
  1. Redemption
  2. Harmonious Change
  3. Material Works
  4. Earthly Power
  5. Material Trouble
  6. Material Success
  7. Success Unfulfilled
  8. Prudence
  9. Material Gain
  10. Wealth
My quick-and-dirty meanings for the Aces are inspired by a passage from Liber I:
7. With the Wand createth He.
8. With the Cup preserveth He.
9. With the Dagger destroyeth He.
10. With the Coin redeemeth He.
(While typing up this post, I just noticed the linking of the line number for each of the weapons, with that of the appropriate Sephira. Seems Crowley did indeed have the Qabala ingrained as part of his psyche.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Projects as of 2015-03-04

Here's a quick list of Hermetic-oriented projects I've been working on. Posts on these topics to follow:
  • Learning the Tarot. I've got a set of basic divinatory meanings for the Major Arcana down pat, but I need to memorize some for the Minor Arcana including the court cards. I'll probably be using the brief descriptions from the Ciceros' Golden Dawn Magical Tarot.
  • Being Discreet. I'm working to modify my ritual practice so I can do basic daily work without making a lot of noise, or otherwise attracting attention.
  • Book Reviews. I'll be striving to write up detailed, chapter-by-chapter reviews of all of the esoteric books I own and have read. I will not be limiting myself to new books, or even ones that are still in print.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How the Restored Tree humbled me

There are times where it is very helpful to be genuinely humbled, at least in an intellectual sense. I'm not talking about the kind of thing where a person understates their greatness, and then proceeds to go for a flight over the countryside using their hot air-filled head. I mean real, genuine humility at one's lack of knowledge.

A few months back, I got hooked on Frater Achad's rearrangement of the Paths on the Tree of Life. It seemed to make almost perfect sense: the Mother Letters were on the Middle Pillar, almost all of the Double Letters were touching the appropriate Sephirah (I can't decide if his justification for Jupiter's placement is a case of desperate retrofitting, or an excellent use of symbolism), and the whole arrangement preserved a sense of continuity when expanding or contracting the Tree as he described in The Anatomy of the Body of God. I had previously toyed with the idea of using his progressions of the Tree as an alternate concept of the Four Worlds in the Qabala, but I next set my sights on a statement from the aforementioned book:

The fact that this Reformation of the Paths produces a wealth of fresh Symbolism [...] is alone sufficient for changing the arrangement, even though it may upset the ideas of certain people who have based the Rituals of their Secret Orders upon the old plan.
(Chapter IV)
Being the way that I am (the phrase "one's reach exceeding one's grasp" comes to mind), I immediately seized on this idea: What if the G∴D∴ Neophyte Ceremony was altered to fit the symbolism of the Restored Tree? I started mapping the Officers to various Paths, and altering their implements accordingly. When it came to devising alternate Admission Badges for the first few Paths - which, for the most part, never had any role in the Outer Order - I was stumped. And it was here that I realized something that I had been ignoring for a while.

I don't know very much about the symbolism of the G∴D∴ ceremonies.

Believe it or not, this helped me gain perspective. I'm still (relatively) young, and I have an entire lifetime's study ahead of me. I can't expect to do everything, 'fix' everything, analyze everything right now - especially when there are still pieces that are out of my depth, if not completely out of my non-initiated reach. I can afford to take my time.

And that completely revamped Neophyte Ceremony? Well, I can wait to work on that for a while, too.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Thelema is not the G∴D∴

I recently found this article which states the authors' view of Thelema as being "Golden Dawn version 2.0". While this makes sense from certain perspectives, there are a few reasons that I do not see this as being so.

The main reason has to do with the two systems' fundamentally different ways of relating to exoteric spiritual systems. There is a phrase which I am sure originated with the Golden Dawn, but the only place I have re-discovered it so far is in Liber 30:
In the true religion there is no sect, therefore take heed that thou blaspheme not the name by which another knoweth his God; for if thou do this thing in Jupiter thou wilt blaspheme יהוה, and in Osiris יהשוה.
That seems like a pretty tolerant, inclusive statement, doesn't it? Which is why I doubt it was original to Aleister Crowley; one of his suggestions for ringing in the new Aeon was to shout "ΑΠΟ ΠΑΝΤΟΣ ΚΑΚΟΔΑΙΜΟΝΟΣ" (Greek for "away, all evil spirits") at any servants of the "Osiran religion" that one happens to pass on the street - i.e., Christians. Even less pleasant is what Ra-Hoor-Khuit states in the third chapter of The Book of the Law:
(49) I am in a secret fourfold word, the blasphemy against all gods of men.
(50) Curse them! Curse them! Curse them!
(51) With my Hawk’s head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.
(52) I flap my wings in the face of Mohammed & blind him.
(53) With my claws I tear out the flesh of the Indian and the Buddhist, Mongol and Din.
(54) Bahlasti! Ompehda! I spit on your crapulous creeds.
(55) Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be utterly despised among you! [emphases mine]
This may come as a shock, but I don't have some kind of innate hatred of religions that aren't Thelema. Christianity in particular gets attacked quite a bit by "occultists", sometimes for good reasons (the Churches' aversion to Magic, for one), but usually due to what comes across as bitterness towards the more extreme, hateful forms of Protestantism common in the United States. I get it: plenty of Baptists, Methodists, etc. (but not all of them, by any means!) think all Occultists are Witches, who are therefore Satanists, and spread this kind of misinformation to further their political agendas.

It's well documented that Crowley had his own reasons for disparaging Christianity any chance he got, and this undoubtedly colors his writing. I still maintain that the Prefatory Note to Book 4 is one of the finest essays on comparative religion I've ever read, and to his credit Crowley manages to confine his negative remarks about Christianity to valid criticisms of Church practices as they were in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, his dislike is much more vehement in many of his other writings, and these - coupled with the fact that his pathological hatred of Christians seems to bleed over to an inordinate number of those calling themselves Thelemites - are part of why I cannot earnestly call myself a Thelemite.

(I have other problems with The Book of the Law; while I think the first chapter is full of beautiful imagery and a positive spiritual/moral message, the second is less so, and the third least of all. I have a great deal of respect for Christianity - Catholicism in particular - and so I can't call myself a Thelemite in good conscience.)

Going with the linked authors' computer metaphor, Thelema is only kind of Golden Dawn 2.0. Imagine the Golden Dawn (Outer and Inner Order) system as a set of incredibly useful, versatile programs. Then, someone comes along and sees that the framework and a few of the programs are good, but their own vision for "computing" is different; consequently, they re-write much of it so that it's more customizable and free-form, while also building in some of their own ideas.

[EDIT 2015-05-04: Fixed the OSOGD link.]