I have written previously on the limitations of magic within the context of the spiritual quest. At the time, I saw that article as a necessary rebuttal of a common view in Western occultism that somehow magic and spiritual practice (mysticism, in a very specific sense) are identical or “two sides of the same coin.” This is flatly false; magic is not authentically “spiritual” insofar as magic has no capacity to bring us into direct contact with the Reality behind the physical, astral, and mental planes. The belief that it can is largely the result of a misunderstanding of the levels of being. Broadly speaking, the great teachers of humanity have felt quite comfortable in referring to all planes of existence (as defined and explored by occultism, rAja yoga, etc.) as being “material” in nature, even if the constituting matter of any given plane is quite subtle compared to physical matter. I maintain the position of that article, as do all of the great Masters who have come before us. We ignore their experience out of our own ignorance (or arrogance), and at our own peril.
That said, there is an equally problematic position which places magic firmly within “the devil’s camp”, or else denies it any spiritual utility at all. Indeed, magic has a potentially important role to play in the continuum of human striving toward the Light. Magic has at least served us as a tool of survival in the inhospitable reaches of the natural world, but today it maintains relevance as a very human, cultured, yet ineradicably primal link between ourselves and those forces of Nature which can serve as foundations, or even propellants, along the Way.
Let me begin this discussion in earnest by defining some very useful terms: rAja yoga; bhakti yoga; karma yoga; j~nAna yoga; theurgy; and, finally, magic. (Note that the strange spellings of the Sanskrit words are intentional; please see the Wikipedia article on ITRANS for more information. ITRANS is a method of representing Sanskrit and other Indian language scripts in ASCII in a more phonetically accurate manner than a lot of more plain transliterations provide.)
rAja yoga is what most occultists in the West think of when the term “yoga” is used. The term can be translated as “royal yoga” or “royal union”. Yoga, generally, is any disciplined practice the goal of which is to attain “union” with the Divine. The various physical yogas are only preparations for and aids to rAja yoga, traditionally speaking, and are said to possess little to no spiritual value outside of that context. It is from rAja yoga that we get the idea of the seven chakras, the various energy channels, etc. The central discipline of rAja yoga is simply mental concentration; every other facet of rAja yoga develops somehow out of concentration. This is quite similar to authentic esoteric practice in the West, as well. Disciplined training in concentration comes first, and only after some degree of mastery has been gained in it will a teacher move the student on to other things. Even the so-called “siddhis” or “occult powers” cannot be gained except through concentration. So, it should be clear that the capacity for concentration is of paramount importance, whether a person’s interest is in mere psychism, or in the actual spiritual pursuit. Nevertheless, even rAja yoga cannot reach the pinnacle of spiritual attainment; instead, it serves as a preparation, and one can either get “stuck” in it, or else learn its lessons and move forward.
bhakti yoga, or “devotional union”, is rather distasteful to most Western occultists, but is still considered to be a vital preparation for the highest spiritual goals. bhakti essentially consists of some form of intense, earnest religious practice; it ultimately matters little which religion this is, as long as its focus is towards the Highest God of both law and mercy, beyond wrath and jealousy. Thus, the devotees of Christ-as-Logos kneel in awe alongside devotees of Ishvara/Siva, and the cultus of the Holy Mother in many cultures. This is not to say that there is no difference between these religious practices, or even their conception of God, but that the results are ultimately the same. bhakti yoga develops in the adherent a sense of honest humility, which eventually blossoms into the knowledge that it is not I who act but God who acts through me or, rather, that “I” and “God” are not as distinct as we are generally taught. It is the very “emptying-out” of self and “giving over” of one’s power (which is really God’s to begin with) to God which make Western occultists wrinkle up their noses in derision, much to their own detriment. (Note that Aleister Crowley wrote a truly awful essay on the practice of bhakti yoga based on his profound misinterpretation of it; I cannot recommend his essay for a proper understanding of bhakti because of his cynical, utilitarian approach to all things spiritual.)
This same “giving over” of one’s power, sense of self-will, and so forth, constitute karma yoga. Without going too deeply right now into the concept of karma, karma yoga can be translated as “action union”. This yoga is equally vital as a preparation; bhakti and karma practice generally grow with one another. It should be clear how karma yoga can grow out of bhakti yoga, and vice versa. The practice of karma yoga is simply dropping the sense of being “the doer”. This generally begins by first doing away with attachment to the “fruits of action” (karmaphala), realizing that once you have performed an action the results of it are out of your hands. Eventually, this practice itself fructifies into the realization that it was never “I” who “did” anything in the first place.
Both bhakti yoga and karma yoga serve to gradually undermine the sense of “I” (as in the limited little ego), which helps to make way for j~nAna yoga. j~nAna yoga, like the authentic practice of gnosis here in the West, is a process of enquiry, meditation, discernment and intuition which bring about insight. It is translated as “wisdom union”. While it is true that all of the preceding methods are essentially preparations for j~nAna yoga, that is not to say that they all lose their meaning the moment a person begins to practice j~nAna; no, many j~nAna practitioners remain bhaktis throughout, and it is quite impossible for them to give up karma yoga in any case. bhakti yoga, in a purely pragmatic sense, helps the j~nAni to maintain the “humility in wisdom” for which the Christian theurgist prays, but beyond even that pragmatism, a spiritual eye ever upturned towards God is what ultimately allows our minds to give in to the Reality of God. That said, j~nAna is definitely the most “advanced” of them, insofar as it requires a mind purified by the processes of bhakti yoga and a discriminating faculty honed to a fine edge by karma yoga. Yes, intuition will sometimes spontaneously “flash” before this point, but we cannot truly rely on it until we are capable of dispassionately observing intuition and “feeding” it with appropriate intellectual and devotional materials, and in any case it will not be reliably active until the ego-mind is quieted down.
I use all of these Sanskrit terms found in Hindu (and, to a certain extent, Buddhist) teachings because they are useful organizational categories for various practices which generally fall under the heading of “spiritual”. In other words, these four yogas—rAja, bhakti, karma, & j~nAna—differentiate quite nicely between the authentically spiritual (the trinity of bhakti, kamra, & j~nAna) and the purely psychic (rAja). With this information in hand, we can move back to the topic of magic.
In Hermetism, we largely split magic into two broad categories: magic proper, and theurgy. The difference between them is subtle but important.
A powerful example of theurgy is the Eucharistic Mass found in the Sacramental Churches, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and most Gnostic churches. The other sacraments and sacramentals are also theurgic in nature, as are many prayer practices such as the rosary and the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope. Of course, many of the practitioners of these methods, whether priests or congregants, would not recognize the word “theurgy” to describe them, but that’s what it comes down to.
The word “theurgy” translates roughly to “God-work”. Theurgic practice slots quite snugly into the category of bhakti yoga, insofar as it is a primarily devotional art, and because it acknowledges at the outset that it is not the practitioner him- or herself who brings about the results but rather it is God, and the practitioner is simply a tool or channel for that influence. The rituals of theurgy serve to “clear” or “broaden” that channel in the same way that Hindu bhakti yoga breaks down the personal, egoic barriers which keep the yogi from channeling the Divine Light. The differences in the types of theurgy are largely a function of who they are supposed to benefit. The Mass, and similar religious rituals, are theurgic in nature but serve a much larger number of people, at least in principle: a Mass performed by somebody with both the training and authority to do so not only sheds Grace upon (awakens Grace within) the priest him- or herself, but also upon the entire present congregation, and even out into the surrounding neighborhood. There are also “private” group theurgic practices, such as those found in theurgic lodges, healing circles, prayer groups, and so forth, which serve the needs of the members of the group and perhaps anybody else who is “linked” to their theurgic practice, such as those who ask the group to perform a healing for them, etc. Finally, there are private, solitary theurgic practices, such as praying the rosary or prayer rope, or performing a solitary theurgic ritual in one’s bedroom or home oratory (an oratory being similar to a combined “home shrine” and “meditation room”).
Naturally, this sort of devotional work, when practiced in an authentically devotional spirit, not only serves to bring about Grace-results (“miracles”) in the outside world, but also to connect the practitioners, beneficiaries, and parishioners with Grace within for the sake of their spiritual awakening; it also serves, just as with bhakti yoga, to gradually sever the sense of “I-as-doer”, leading into karma yoga, wherein the individual begins to more and more identify him- or her”self” as being only an instrument of the True Reality in the form of God.
Magic-proper is generally not so concerned with the emptying-out of self, but rather with the strengthening of it. All it takes is the close reading of any given manual of ritual magic to see this. The “exalted experiences” of ritual and ceremonial magic generally consist of contacting a being of the mental plane, because magic cannot truly reach beyond the manifest planes. However, there have been and still are magical practices and practitioners who find that the tools at their disposal, whether so-called “high ritual magic” or “low folk magic” (the latter generally working more consistently than the former anyway, despite the “high” and “low” designations) need not be the tools of the ego.
I have known ritual magicians, for instance within the Golden Dawn tradition, who understood that their magic was best used as an expression of Divine Grace rather than as a grasping for personal power. They are uncommon, but such individuals can be found. Within folk magic, it is much more common. The Pennsylvania Dutch methods of Braucherei are a personal favorite of mine for the deeply-ingrained devotion to God inherent in them which cannot be stripped away; if the bhakti is removed from the Brauche, the Brauche ceases to be. A prayer-charm with which I am familiar in the tradition of the Braucherei says that, “Dei Hand und mei Hand iss Gottes Hand.” That is, “My hand and your hand are God’s Hand.” (For those who are familiar with German, the form of the language spoken by the Pennsylvania “Dutch” is a bit different, due to a primary root in continental “low German”, contact with other Germanic languages such as Dutch, and the process of change inherent in having been settled in a non-German-speaking locale for multiple generations. See C. R. Bilardi’s The Red Church and his bibliography for more information.)
Has, then, the practice of Braucherei, the previously mentioned Golden Dawn magicians, and others like them, transformed their “magic” into “theurgy”? In a very real sense, yes. While they may not be practicing within any of the traditions which refer to their practices as being specifically “theurgic”, their intent is clearly as theurgic as those of any Martinist. They act for God, from God, and through God to achieve Godly ends. And while the healing of a damaged limb, or the removal of a curse from milk cows may not be specifically spiritual results, unlike with the “mere magic” of the egoic practitioner, the magic of the Braucher serves as a finger pointing to the Moon: the Braucher’s eyes are turned toward God and her magic turns the eyes of her patient Heavenward as well.
That, then, is the value of magic along the spiritual path. It is not flippantly that Draja Mickaharic has written that,
Being a magician is a stage in the process of developing spiritually. It is not the height of development; in fact, it is only a step in the first part of the range of real human development. the fact that many religious sects speak and act harshly against those who have the ability to practice magic is most revealing of the true character of the leaders heading those religions. Those whom they speak against may be more developed spiritually than the so-called religious people who speak against them! (Draja Mickaharic, Practice of Magic, page iiiv from the Introduction)
So magic is a stage of human development, and a potentially very important one for the people who have to pass through it. Even for many those who have passed beyond it, magic still remains a useful tool in guiding others and in aiding an ailing world. Dedicated to God, magic turns our gaze upward and inward; dedicated to self, magic solidifies and increases our suffering.
[Excerpted from an upcoming book on Christian Hermetism.]
There are many understandings, and misunderstandings, of the myth of the Fall of Sophia, and of the Demiurge. Many Gnostic Christians assert that at least the common outline of the story must be taken literally, while many others prefer a largely symbolic view. Based on my own gnosis, I take an archetypal perspective, one which cuts across the simplistic boundaries of literalism and symbolism and provides us with guidance for our own spiritual well-being. This is not an uncommon approach; I am far from special in this. However, I wish to emphasize that it is by my own personal gnosis that I have come to this view, so any errors herein are my own and any truth is that of God.
First, let us reiterate the framework of the story, a framework which seems common to most tellings of the Sophia myth, from the various Christian gnostic traditions to Jewish Lurianic Kabbalah. At core, we have it thus: Sophia, as the “lowest” or “outermost” of the Divine emanations (or aeons, in Greek) was tasked with performing the act of creation. That is, the Father imbued her with his creative force (Logos), and Sophia, for her part, veritably gave birth to the created universe (from the mental plane down to the physical). Somehow, she became wrapped (rapt) in her creation, forgetting to some extent where she had come from and what she was supposed to be doing, and so rays or sparks of the Divine Light fractured from her and became conscious entities of their own: the spirits of gods, humans and animals alike, and whatever other conscious beings there ever where, are now, or ever will be, insofar as they are spirits. This did not all happen at once, as we shall see, for some of these beings were created on purpose for specific tasks, once Sophia regained herself somewhat.
The common Christian forms of the story add here that the greatest of the creations, whether accidental or simply botched in-process, was a being commonly referred to as the Demiurge, or lesser craftsman. He is sometimes given a name, Ialdabaoth and Samael being frequent examples, but in any case, the Demiurge took over the job of shaping the astral and physical planes. It is even possible to say that the Demiurge is the astral plane, or at least the consciousness of the astral plane, for it is from the astral layer that the patterns and forms of physical creation are formed and projected downward.
Now, with that specific element, we run into the primary argument between Gnostic Christianity and Hermeticism: is the Demiurge twisted and evil, as many Christians would have it, or is he simply imperfect, but performing an important task or job to the best of his ability, as the Hermetists say? What is his nature?
Here, we must make an aside to human beings. Regardless of the purpose for which we were created, we can know from experience that each of us is, ultimately, a spirit which wears as garments a mind, a soul, and a physical body. Most of us, however, are firmly entrenched in what we may jointly refer to as our ego, composed generally of the physical body, the soul, and perhaps the lowest regions of the mind. The ego, it has been said, is that in us which claims most loudly the holy “I am”, but which deserves it least. This is not to say that the ego is essentially evil. On the contrary, awareness of the body, the astral soul (or personality), and even the lower portions of mind, are important for our functioning in this world and the next. The problem is not with them as they ought to be, but with the fact that they rarely are what they ought to be. We are trapped in a state of ignorance, believing as we often do that this world is all that there is, or at least all that we can experience right now. This belief system is truly sinful, not because we must ignore this world, but because we must serve in this world for a higher purpose, a purpose connected intimately with awareness of ourselves as spirits.
We may speak here of involution and evolution. Involution is the process by which anything becomes physical. It begins as a spiritual ideal, which is then clothed in a mental archetype, which filters into an astral form, which creates an etheric pattern, ultimately manifesting as an individualized physical being, object, or substance. This is not an evil process! It is merely the first half of a rhythmic cycle. The problem is that the descent into matter is a confounding one, which often leaves any conscious beings going through it in a state of confusion. The first things that they sense are their own physical bodies, and the small piece of the physical world immediately surrounding them. If, from there, the developing life-form is not instructed, gently but rigorously, in the truth of their existence, it is almost impossible not to be fooled into believing in what is immediately before it above anything else.
That is the process we each go through. But it is only the beginning. We are each destined also for evolution, which is the continuing process by which we develop our individualities, strengthen them, become wise, and rise back to our Home in the Fullness of Heaven. This process of individuation, far from being one of jettisoning our egos entirely, is instead one of purifying and even spiritualizing mind and soul, until they are no longer mere clothes for the spirit but fully integrated organs or limbs of it. We do not seek to “kill our egos”, a popular phrase in the New Age movement, but instead to consciously transcend them so that, from the perspectives of our clear minds, we may see how best to live in and through our souls and bodies.
“That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above,” and so it is with matters of spiritual awakening, that process which we call evolution. Just as we ourselves have become confused in the world of matter, forgetting our Home and our purpose, so too has the universe itself become confused by the process of involution. Just as the universe is an organism of infinitely greater scale than we, so is its process of involution and evolution on an infinitely greater scale.
The universe’s transcendent spirit is none other than the Divine Sophia, who was asleep within her creation for so long until Jesus, the Christ of God, came into the world to restore her to her Heavenly Throne. Jesus’ mission was on many levels. He came into creation, sacrificing himself in more ways than one before the Cross, before even his birth by the Blessed Mary. He, too, suffered involution, the descent into matter, though he did so in full consciousness so that he could awaken Sophia and rescue us, aiding us in awakening as well, discovering who we truly are in spirit so that we might fulfill our destinies and help he and Sophia in saving the creation.
The Demiurge, then, is Sophia’s ego, her unredeemed soul, her child as truly as our psyches are the children of our true Selves. The Demiurge is not evil, but ignorant, and the Spirit which presides over him is doing everything she can to make him aware of her, to spiritualize him and fully unify with him at last, bringing about the final restoration of the world and the descent of the New Jerusalem whose foundations are already planted in the hearts of all sentient beings.
Though throughout this book the Demiurge has been referred to using the masculine pronouns, he is not, strictly, a masculine figure. Referring to the Hermetic Principle of Polarity, the Demiurge is the Masculine element to the etheric and physical substances, but is Feminine when influenced from above by Sophia or the Father. In her feminine aspect, when she is performing her function aright, the Demiurge is the Soul of the World known of in Neoplatonism and Hermetism alike.
Once, long ago, lived a man named Siddhartha, sometimes called Siddhartha Guatama, Shakyamuni Buddha or, simply, the Buddha. Siddhartha was quick as a serpent, and patient as an ox. He was also enlightened.
Siddhartha searched for years to find a method of spiritual practice that would lead directly and safely to enlightenment, a method that would allow anybody who committed themselves to it to lift themselves beyond the reach of suffering even while alive. When he could find no such methods in his whole land, he decided to make of himself a laboratory.
And so he went out into the wilderness and sat under a tree and vowed, saying, “I will not move from this spot until I have achieved the Goal.”
As he sat and meditated, concentrating himself entirely upon the reality of the present moment, Siddhartha was confronted by many visions. Beautiful women danced and stripped before his eyes. Riches fell from the heavens. Gods and demons bowed before him, pledging their eternal service if he would but stand up, then threatening him with inhuman torments if he refused to wiggle a toe. Every possible passion was embodied in front of him. But Siddhartha just sat and smiled. Each vision came and, inevitably, went.
At length, Mara, the king of demons, appeared in person, revealing himself to be behind all of the temptation through which Siddhartha had sat. Even now, with the great Mara himself cajoling, threatening and bribing him, Siddhartha just sat and smiled. Mara realized that he had been bested, but vowed not to let this be the end of the fight, and went on his way. And so Siddhartha became the Buddha, the Awakened One.
But the story does not end there. Siddhartha went on to teach his method to all who would hear him. He taught of patience and wisdom, of compassion and discipline, of a sober way to enjoy life and achieve enlightenment without sacrificing health and sanity. He was known for being patient and wise, compassionate and disciplined. But even he would feel the occasional upwelling of an unhealthy passion, or the budding of an unskillful thought. What he had learned under that tree, though, he applied at those times. He stopped those emotions and thoughts from becoming dangerous and evil words and actions. Whenever they arose within him, no matter how strongly they surged, he would smile and quietly say, “I see you, Mara.” And at that, his mind and soul were stilled and Mara vanished.
Around five hundred years after Siddhartha, but still very long ago, lived a man named Yeshua. Yeshua, known today as Jesus, was a carpenter by trade and a faithful Jew. Yeshua was a brilliant public speaker, an honest teacher, and a true man of God. He was also anointed by God.
Yeshua studied Torah throughout his youth, even interpreting it for the rabbis much older than himself. He knew from a young age that it was his life’s mission to do the will of God. He knew also that his mission involved teaching others how to become anointed themselves and to spread that anointing far and wide. This was his Good News. To begin his mission, Yeshua received a baptism of water to make way for the fiery anointing of God’s Holy Spirit.
And so he went out into the wilderness and sat upon a hill to meditate and pray, and vowed, saying, “I will not move from this spot until I am fully with my Father in Heaven, one with His Will.”
As he sat and meditated, concentrating himself entirely upon the One Reality, Yeshua was confronted by voices and visions. “You are hungry, yes?” he would hear. “Use the power of your Father in Heaven to turn these rocks into bread and you will be sated.” But Yeshua did not budge, calmly responding, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And so Yeshua saw himself on the pinnacle of the Temple and was told, “Throw yourself down from here to prove that you are God’s son. Surely, your Father will send His angels to save you!” But Yeshua shrugged and said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Finally, Yeshua was whisked to a high mountain from which he could see far and wide and was told, “All of this I rule, and all of it I will give to you if you will only bow down and worship me.” But Yeshua said, “Get behind me, adversary! You shall only worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve!” And so the tiny god (devil) left Yeshua.
But the story does not end there. Yeshua went on to teach his way of life to all who would hear him. He taught of patience and wisdom, of compassion and discipline, of a sober way to enjoy life and attain to God. He was known for being honest and true, powerful and humble. But even he would have continue run-ins with unskillful thoughts and dangerous passions. When he found them within himself, he honestly examined them and would pray for comfort or the lifting-up of his cup of troubles from off his heart, but always ending his prayer, “But not my will, but Yours be done.” When he found them within others, he would bring their attention to the situation with a shocking, “Get behind me, adversary!” And at that, he would still his own mind and soul, and the minds and souls of those who came to him for teaching, and the tiny god vanished.
1. True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true.
2. That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the one thing.
3. And as all things were by contemplation of the One, so all things arose from this one thing by a single act of adaptation.
4. The father thereof is the sun, the mother the moon; the wind carried it in its womb; the earth is the nurse thereof.
5. It is the father of all works of wonder throughout the whole world.
6. The power thereof is perfect, if it be cast on to earth.
7. It will separate the element of earth from that of fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great sagacity.
8. It doth ascend from earth to heaven; again it doth descend to earth, and uniteth in itself the force from things superior and things inferior. Thus thou wilt possess the glory of the brightness of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly far from thee.
9. This thing is the strongest of all powers, the force of all forces, for it overcometh every subtle thing and doth penetrate every solid substance.
10. Thus was this world created.
11. Hence there will be marvellous adaptations achieved, of which the manner is this.
12. For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I hold three parts of the wisdom of the world.
13. That which I had to say about the operation of sol is completed.
In praise to God for giving me to understand the Arcanum of which I sought, I pray as Hermes did to the Divine Poimandres (Corpus Hermeticum 1:30-32)—
I have come, divinely inspired by the truth. Wherefore, I give praise to God the Father with my whole soul and strength:
Holy is God the Father of all.
Holy is God whose will is accomplished by his own powers.
Holy is God who wills to be known and is known by those that are his own.
Holy art thou who by the Word has united all that is.
Holy art thou of whom all Nature became an image.
Holy art thou whom Nature has not created.
Holy art thou who is stronger than all power.
Holy art thou who art higher than all pre-eiminence.
Holy art thou who suprasses praises.
Receive pure offerings of speech offered to you by inner mind and heart, thou who art unutterable, vast, beyond description, who art spoken of by silence.
I beg you that I may not fall from the knowledge that leads towards our essence, and endow me with vitality; by this grace, I shall enlighten those of the race who are in ignorance, my brothers and your sons. Wherefore, I have faith and I bear witness. I go to life and light. You are blessed, Father. He who is your man wants to share in your holiness, as you have given him all authority.
[Excerpt from an upcoming book. Title as yet undecided.]
Now, into the breach!, to the issue of universal controversy: homosexuality. The Hebrew laws against homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) specify that a man “shall not lie with another man as with a woman.” This phrasing seems to refer to anal intercourse as opposed to oral or manual. Let us begin there.
Returning to our desert people with poor hygiene, why might anal sex be banned? it does not take much imagination to come to an understanding of the rapid spread of diseases caused by anal sex without the benefit of hot and cold in-house running water and ample supplies of antimicrobial soap. I feel no need to go into the gruesome details. This is simply not a factor in our day and place. Despite the stigma of HIV as a “gay disease”, it is not homosexuality which passes diseases around; it is heedless promiscuity and the objectification of oneself and others (leading to lack of care in sexual hygiene) which spreads sexually-transmitted diseases today. Loving, committed homosexual couples are no more a moral problem than responsible pet ownership or—I’ll be flayed alive for this comparison in some circles—loving, committed heterosexual couples.
Other Hebrew Bible passages often used to condemn homosexuals are the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19-29) and the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:1-20). The latter is a much simpler tale (though no more gruesome), and can be dealt with simply: lack of hospitality is bad, but violent rape (of man or woman, by men or women) is very bad. The horror of the story is compounded by the callous treatment of a woman by the Levite, followed by his carving her up to serve as an example to others who lack hospitality (as if that were the greatest crime of the Benjamanites!). Let us summarize the moral of this hideous tale: Rape and murder are wrong! Now onward.
“Sodomy” is often used as a legal and cultural term intended to bludgeon people with the “evil of homosexuality”. In truth, however, Sodom and Gomorrah where not destroyed merely for harboring homosexuals. The narrative itself simply tells us of God responding first to a general “outcry” by sending angels to investigate, rescue the righteous of the area (which turned out to amount to only one family, that of Lot, his wife, and their daughters), and then to destroy it once these steps had been taken.
The Sodomites saw these angels, who appeared as (likely attractive) men, and not only did they not offer them food and beds, they actively tried to rape them! The crimes of Sodom, then, were greed, violence, lack of charity, and rape—the supreme act of human objectification. Lot went so far as to offer to the Sodomites the bodies of his own daughters in order to save the two strangers. The angels of God, not being ones to allow young women to be raped in their stead, put a stop to the whole proceeding by blinding the Sodomites just in time to circumvent violence, and made Lot and company abscond to yon mountains while Sodom was judged and sentenced.
Before I move forward, I would like to make an important point. Some may interpret the above to imply that the Hebrew purity laws were not “God-given”. In fact, that is the view of many liberal Jews, Christians, and secularists: the purity laws were totally man-made, and were put into God’s mouth either by tradition, or a need to legitimize them on the part of the clergy. More conservative elements of the faith community, however, state that not only are these laws the words of God Himself, but that they are therefore immutable and eternal laws. Why, then, do we Christians not follow the vast majority of them?
In answer, many Christians have looked to a middle way: the Law is certainly God’s Law, but laws change. It is not we who get to change them, but they are still dynamic. Jesus himself pointed to this fact multiple times, such as His pronouncement in Mark 2:27, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath[.]” All of the laws and commandments, in fact, exist for us and for creation, not as arbitrary dictates of a cosmic tyrant. A Jewish friend of mine put it thus: the Law exists to preserve life and to encourage love. Whenever it gets in the way of those things, it must be suspended. It seems, then, likely to me that God would give us laws to protect us from certain avoidable dangers, rather than just to give us “holy busywork”.
It is easy to move forward from here to the New Testament. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus had little or nothing to say on the subject. That silence proves nothing on its own, and likely means that as a first-century Jew, he did not have to answer the question. It just wasn’t that pressing. Still, given his track record, I have a feeling that Jesus would have rebuked us for our judgments, had dinner with that nice lesbian couple on the next street over, and had done with it.
That sort of approach, though, is never enough for modern Christians, and it wasn’t enough for first-century Christians either, which is why Paul had to say a few words.
Paul specifically condemned a lot of things. He mentioned homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and again in Romans 1:18-29. According to Gordon Atkinson, preacher at Covenant Baptist Church, lover of New Testament Greek, and all around swell guy, the words used by Paul do not translate simply as “homosexual”, but instead refer less generally to young make prostitutes, and the older men who frequent them (a topic designed for daytime talk TV if ever there was one).* The picture painted here is not one of homosexuality, but of promiscuity and human objectification. And that about does it for the biblical sources. The rest is up to human prejudice and our devilish tendency toward Justice miscarried and aborted late-term.
[Excerpt from an upcoming book. Title as yet undecided.]
This is, therefore, how Hermeticism differs from religious mysticism and metaphysical philosophy. Hermeticism as the aspiration to the totality of things is neither a school, nor a sect, nor a community. It is the destiny of a certain class or group of souls. For there are souls who must necessarily aspire to the “totality of things”, and who are impelled by the river current of thought, which never stops, flowing always forward and always further on, without cease… There is no stopping for these souls; they cannot, without renouncing their own lives, leave this river of thought, which pours without cease—equally during youth, mature age and old age—without halting, from one darkness needing to be illuminated to another darkness needing to be penetrated. Such was, is, and will be my destiny. And in addressing these Letters to the Unknown Friend, I address myself to he who shares this destiny with me.” (Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, author anonymous, revised English translation 2002 Robert Powell, 2002 Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, pp. 264-265, emphasis in the original)
So wrote one of the great Hermetic writers of all time, an anonymous man equally devoted to Hermetics and Christianity. For him, a person could be a Christian without being a Hermetic, but Hermetics is not complete without Christ.
In the opening quotation, our Unknown Friend also goes a long way toward telling us what Christian Hermeticism is. It is not a special sect of Christianity, nothing like a school or religious order. Instead, it is the God-given destiny of a certain group of individuals who are called to a greater, more direct understanding of the “totality of things”, or the workshop of God, during this life.
The first time I read that quotation, I wept. We are hermetics; as Christian Hermeticisms, we live in the world but are not of it. It is a wonderful thing to encounter, even through a book, the signature of a soul who travels the same path, whom God has blessed the same as ourselves. Yet, at the end of the day, the Christian Hermeticist is still a hermit.
Enough of the poetry! What is Christian Hermeticism in practical terms? This question has at least a four-part answer.
The first part, the essence, is mysticism. Mysticism is not an escape from the world, but the direct experience of God’s Presence while still in the world.
Next, the natural development of mysticism, comes gnosticism. This is not the escapist philosophy of the Greek Gnostic gospels, but the personal intellectual and emotional reflections of mystical experience.
Third, the Christian Hermetic practitioner expresses their gnosis (“knowledge”) through magic. Magic is not sorcery, but instead the liberating and healing power of God expressed through an intelligent agent. Much more will be said on the matter in Part 3, but it may suffice for now to state that magic is the channeling of the blessings sent in response to the prayers of mysticism.
All of these three phases finally find themselves written in the Book of the practitioner. That is, each individual Hermetic synthesizes the experiences, gnosis and blessings into her own life and makes use of them in blessing the lives of others. That synthesis is the fourth phase of Christian Hermeticism.
But is Christian Hermeticism actually Christian? That is a vital concern indeed! I will have more to say concerning specific aspects of Hermeticism, and their respective Christian orthodoxy, in later chapters. For now, I make recourse to my own story by way of an answer.
I had been involved in Hermetics in one form or another for years prior to becoming a Christian. Although I had many excuses, the main reason why I never explored Christianity in much depth was the Christian community itself. I felt prematurely judged by Christians and, by extension, by God. In response, I retreated first into atheism, and then into a philosophical form of Satanism. I believed in God, but did not have much understanding of Him, and so childishly rebelled against Him.* During this phase, I allowed myself to wallow in selfishness. At my lowest, I was actively invoking the Dragon of Dispersion, and making pacts with Lucifer and his cohort. In my foolishness and sinfulness, I committed abominable acts.
Hermetics rescued me. Or, rather, God rescued me through Hermetics. By a circuitous path, I came into the habit of performing a very intensive series of rituals and meditations each day which served to gradually increase my awareness of God, albeit in an abstract way, and to awaken my body, soul and spirit to cleaner things. Then, as if to bring the whole sequence to a climax, I suddenly began to suffer a series of dreams and waking visions. The archangel Michael came to me time and again and showed me my errors. He assigned me a few specific prayers and rituals for penance and baptism and, over the course of a very busy two days of uncharacteristic asceticism, I felt all of the weight of all of the guilt of all of my sins life from my heart. A final dream confirmed and strengthened my footing upon the narrow way. Still, I was not a Christian. That came a couple of more years down the line.
Having worked most of my way through a very intense Hermetic training system, I found myself living in an isolated mountain town in North Carolina. While at my place of employ reading a book on theosophy, a voice boomed in my head: “Who is your god?” I was shocked to hear my own inner voice immediately reply, “Jesus Christ!” Several days of meditation and prayer later, and I gave myself over to Christ.
And yet, I did not give up Hermetics. Why? Is there no conflict? Frankly, no. What does Jesus teach us? ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mt 22:37-40 NRSV)
Hermetics replies: “I have come, divinely inspired by the truth. Wherefore, I give praise to God the Father with my whole soul and strength,” (Corpus Hermeticum 1:30) and “There is one way to worship God: be not evil.” (CH 12:23) Further, I was once told by a living Hermetic teacher, “The key to Hermetics is love. Trying to train in Hermetics without love is like trying to drive a hundred miles an hour on an empty gas tank.” (Imagine this quotation in a heavy German accent for full effect.)
So you see, the two are more than compatible: their message is identical.
*God is neither male nor female. For the sake of linguistic convention, I have chosen to use masculine pronouns when referring to God throughout this book. When referring to an anonymous human being, I will use feminine pronouns for balance and, once again, convenience.
The two questions I am asked most often by those who know me best are, “How can you be both Christian and Hermetic (or a magician, alchemist, a.s.o.)?”, and “How did you become a Christian?” The latter is a very long story with many convolutions; I intend to tell it, but it will be a long time before I have the history entirely straight in my own head. The former, however, can be mostly covered in a few broad strokes. It should be obvious that I cannot cover every point in the space of a blog entry, but I will try to at least make an accounting of the major points of overlap or seeming contradiction.
The concept of God is essential to both traditions. Hermetics is not concerned with an impersonal god, as is often supposed. That is, Hermetics is not Platonic, nor Aristotelean. While Hermetics draws on many Greek philosophical systems, it was also heavily influenced by Egyptian, Babylonian, Hebrew and Christian modes of thought very early in its development. Some of the earliest “philosophical” or “religious” Hermetic documents contain prayers, hymns, and passages of praise specifically addressed to God-as-God rather than a pantheistic “animate Nature” or the abstract First Cause of Hellenistic philosophy. Take, for example, the “Secret Hymn of Hermes” (found in Book 13, verses 17-20 of Corpus Hermeticum) in which God is treated as a Person with a definite identity. Some abstract terms are used in reference to God by such Hermetic documents, but always in a context directly relatable to Jewish and Christian usage. God, for instance, is said to possess Nous; Nous is a nigh-untranslatable Greek philosophical term which is often rendered simply “Mind”, but which carries the connotation of “enlivening Spirit” whenever it is used in religious and philosophical works. Nous is used identically to the “Spirit of God” (Ruach Elohim, rendered “a wind from God” in the NRSV) which “was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2 NIV) in Genesis. This Nous is also identical with chokmah, or the Divine Wisdom which was used by God as the foundational energetic matrix in the act of Creation.
A brief aside on the Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1 NIV) right? Not quite. According to the Biblical account in Genesis, things happened a bit differently than we are generally taught. Gerald Schroeder, physicist and Old Testament scholar, tells us that B’raisheet, the word often translated as “in the beginning” is more accurately rendered “In the beginning of.” Here’s where things get linguistically interesting. In the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1, there is no object for the preposition “of”, so the Greek and Latin translators omitted the “of” to try to make sense of the statement. If we take the literal translation, however, we find: “In the beginning of God created the heavens and the earth,” as B’ is “with” or “using”, while raisheet is “a first cause.” Many Jewish scholars and commentators have thus found that a much more poetic, and linguistically accurate, translation is, “With a first cause God created the heavens and the earth.” (God According to God by Gerald Schroeder, pg. 50) On page 51 of the same text, Schroeder is also kind enough to point out that this “first cause” is elucidated in Proverbs 8. In verse 12, we read, “I, wisdom” (NRSV) and in verses 22-24, “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.” (NRSV; Proverbs chapter 8 goes on at length along similar lines, defining Wisdom as the ‘first’ element of the creation.) We find a very similar message in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos)”. Thus, Chokmah, Nous, Logos, Wisdom, Mind, wind, or Spirit was the First Cause of Creation, and remains as the underlying order of our reality as observed by mystics and scientists of all ages. This accords perfectly with big bang cosmology. The fiat lux of the Judeo-Christian Genesis is identical to the explosion of pure white light described by physics, and the Hermetic conception of Fire being the first step of cosmogenesis.
Now, all of this makes obvious that Nous is a part of God, but it is not coterminous with God. In a pantheistic or Platonic system of thought, Nous in the sense of Mind would be God, the “ground of all being” which lies back of every existent thing, a “mind” in the sense of being a flow of ideas and information but without possession of self-consciousness or volition. That is neither the Hermetic God, nor the God of the Bible. It is also true that in Hermetics, as in the Bible, God is attributed with different personal names and titles. Among the most common in early Hermetic literature (again, see Corpus Hermeticum) is Agathos Daimon, which literally means “Good Spirit”, or sometimes just Agathos, “Good”. Always, though, this is treated as a name rather than a mere object of contemplation or discussion.
The question then becomes, does Hermetics allow for God to be active in history? Christianity requires it; the entire edifice of Judeo-Christian faith hinges on the fact of God’s direct involvement in the unfoldment of the human epic. This brings up the apparent contradiction between magic and miracles. To many, magic is the use of mostly-unknown natural metaphysical laws in the production of effects which are only miraculous to those ignorant of the particular laws at work, similar to how a gun may seem miraculous to those who have never heard of black powder or the concept of controlled explosions. This view often precludes the idea of miracles, prima facie, because the existence of both magic and engineering would seem to prove that we can eventually understand and learn to exploit any given law, leaving less and less room for miracles until they are eventually entirely explained by mere reference to “brute facts”. What this argument leaves out, however, is the Judeo-Christian acknowledgement of the fact that God needs us. It is true that God makes use of the natural laws of His own design when interacting with the universe, not because He is powerless to do otherwise, but because He is powerless to do otherwise without destroying the orderly structure of the creation. As such, the miracles described in the Bible (as well as those performed by saints and mystics throughout history, in many religions and cultures) are always performed via a human agent. That is a vital point, as it defines the realm and meaning of sacred magic. (See a previous article on Magic & Christianity for more on this topic.) The only functional difference between miracles and sacred magic is that in the latter, we draw upon our analogous authority as Divine icons to bring Christ-like love and freedom into the world, while in the former our analogous divinity permits us to act as channel more directly for Divine Providence. Either way, God has acted in history without fouling the waters of continuity.
The next question is one of mystical methodology: is Hermetic mysticism congruent with orthodox Christianity? I specify “orthodox” here because it is never hard to find heterodox forms of any given religion which allow for this, that, or the other variation of either doctrine or practice. The real test of Hermetic and Christian compatibility thus lies in orthodoxy.
I will make a controversial, yet contextually important, statement now: my Christianity is purely orthodox. Take me to task as you will; I’ll explain myself in the future, but for now I let the statement drop and sit as it may that I may carry on to the meat of the present explanation.
There are multiple forms of mysticism found in every religion, the broadest divisions being ecstatic, natural, and contemplative. Most forms of mysticism combine elements from two or more of these divisions, but the divisions themselves stand as guidelines for studying those elements and how they fit together or contrast with other methodologies across the board. To give two famous examples, Saint Francis of Assisi combined modes of natural and contemplative mysticisms by using meditative prayer with study and adoration of the creation, while Rumi combined contemplative and ecstatic mysticisms in his particular practice of prayerful and artistic Sufic Islam. These forms of mysticism are sometimes called “paths of sainthood.”
Hermetic mysticism may be described either as a fourth category of mysticism, or perhaps more accurately as a synthesis of the other three, producing a system which may be called the “path of perfection” whereby we seek to live up to Christ’s instruction, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48 NRSV) To explain in greater detail, I invite the reader to ponder the division of Hermetics into four equally important modes of activity:
- Yod – Fire – Spirit – Mysticism
- Heh – Water – Mind – Gnosis
- Vau – Air – Soul – Magic
- Heh – Earth – Body – Hermetic Philosophy
These four modes can best be understood in relation to one another. (For a more profound examination of the following, please see Meditation on the Tarot, anonymously and post-humously published.) Mysticism is the direct perception and experience of Divine Reality. In mystical meditation, contemplation and prayer, we come into direct contact with God. This experience is not abstract as may seem when reading descriptions of mystical states. Instead, they are quite concrete, more concrete than either waking reality or dreams. They simply seem abstract from the outside because of the lack of human ability to express in language something so very powerful beyond measure. Consider, by way of analogy, the phenomenon of describing one sense in terms of another. We talk about the “texture” of music, knowing full well that music as such as no texture, but the sounds of it at times admit of no better description than “rough”, “smooth” or “rolling”. When dealing with a subject beyond language, we must do the best we can and often end up sounding quite abstract and, thus, meaninglessly removed from ordinary life.
Gnosis—roughly translatable from Greek as “knowledge” but with a definite skew toward knowledge gained by actual “doing” and experience—is the reflective counterpart to mysticism. In gnostic contemplation, we abstract the concrete experiences of mysticism into words and symbols. This process also aids us in mentally integrating whatever we have gained through mysticism, and thus giving us an opportunity to apply it to our lives and the lives of others.
It is by magic that we do so apply gnosis. “Magic” here is used very generally to describe any act of outward manifestation. Whether that act be painting or sculpture, cooking, writing, gardening, or an actual magical spell or ritual, what must be clear here is the process rather than the results.
The results, then, are what I term Hermetic Philosophy. Hermetic Philosophy is not one philosophy among many alternatives, but rather the culmination and total integration of the entire process (mysticism -> gnosis -> magic) described above. Thus, it is philosophy in the literal sense rather than the modern one; it is the love of Wisdom rather than a mere code of thought. When I say that I believe in God, it is not because I have been convinced by a rational argument (although that was one thing that led me to investigate the matter in the first place) but because I touched and was touched by God (mysticism), reflected upon that experience extensively (gnosis), changed my ways of thinking and acting in the world (magic), and finally integrated the entire process as a holistic approach to life (Hermetic Philosophy). I am a Christian not out of mere curiosity, but because I had an unbidden experience with Jesus Christ, thought long and hard about it, applied it to my daily life, and finally came to an understanding of what Christianity means for me and what it can mean for the world.
A word must be said here about Hermetic magic, and how it relates to Christianity. In Hermetics, there is no such thing as magic without alchemy. Every magical act, even the very simplest, is acknowledged to be part of the process of perfection and unfoldment. Nature, having been given free will by Eternal God the Creator, is capable of fouling-up and, in fact, does so every step of the way. Thus, the old alchemical axiom that “Nature, unaided, fails.” It is not that Nature is evil, but that, like us, Nature has “rebelled”. Because of the Divine tzimtzum, the literal partial withdrawal of God from creation which was so necessary in the act of cosmogenesis, empowered us and all of Nature with the capacity to do, within the confines of natural laws, whatever we want. When God says “it was good” in the book of Genesis, He means it. That is, He knew ahead of time that nobody would play exactly according to His rules and that was ok; we had to be given a free-wheeling Nature in addition to our own capacity for misbehavior in order for the glory of goodness done freely to be possible in the world. All of that said, alchemy is the process of what is known in Kabbalah as tikkun olam, repairing the world. All Hermetic magic has this in common: it exists solely for the purpose of producing greater wholeness and freedom. As such, it is biblical in the purest sense. We have been given “dominion” (really translatable as something more like “stewardship”) over Nature not that we can exploit it, but that we can be God’s helpmates in turning the “good” creation which God saw into perfection.
I believe that I have demonstrated to the best of my ability, within a limited space, that there is harmony rather than contradiction within Christianity and Hermetics, up to and including the practice of magic. There are other points that could be made, certainly, and I’m sure that other arguments will crop up against me in both Christian and esoteric contexts, but the above ought to provide at least some food for thought on most of the truly important points of possible contention. As always, I look forward to any comments or questions which may arise. God bless.
In the unparalleled text of Christian mysticism of the 20th century, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (Anonymous; corrected translation by Robert Powell, 2002, Tarcher/Putnam), Christian activity is split into four categories relating to the Tetragrammaton:
- Mysticism = Y
- Gnosticism = H
- Magic/Art = V
- Hermetic philosophy/traditional doctrine = H final
So it can be seen right at the outset that magic can be an integral part of a Christian life. It will help, of course, if we define our terms that we avoid some semantic conflicts from the start. To quote from the source cited above:
Magic, art and giving birth are essentially analogous and pertain to the same category of projection or exteriorisation of the inner life. The Church dogma of the creation of the world ex nihilo, i.e. the projection from “nothingness” of forms and matter which are conferred with a life of their own, signifies the divine and cosmic crowning of this series of analogies. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the apotheosis of magic. Its essential statement is, in fact, that the world is a magical act. (pg. 46)
Thus, we see magic described in terms of both art and giving birth. These analogies are vital to understanding the role of magic in the individual life of the magician, and especially that of the Christian magician (not to mention the insight gained by the analysis into the roles of art and childbirth for some).
For both passionate mothers and artists, it is nigh impossible to explain in intellectual terms not just the desire but the need to bring something into the world. Whether it be a human life or a sculpture imbued with a soul of its own, this act of creation is not something which can be forever circumvented without serious consequences. Ask a would-be mother about the incessant, even painful, “ticking of the biological clock”, or a creatively blocked artist about the emotional, mental, and even physical tension, torsion, and discord produced by a dry spell.
None of this is to say that every woman is called to motherhood, nor that everybody with the slightest creative streak must be an aritst; not everybody is called to be a magician either. I am simply using our Unknown Friend’s analogies to describe the calling to magical practice which some of us feel.
As “people of the Book”, Christians read that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 NRSV; the word translated ‘them’ is actually better rendered ‘him’, indicating that each individual human is in some sense male and female.) To a Hermetic, this message is doubly significant; if we are each created in the image of the Elohim (God/dess; a strange Hebrew word with connotations of both maleness and femaleness, as well as plurality), that means that in a sense we possess a reflected measure of the creative power of They who created us in Their image. Whatever else we take this verse to mean, it at least indicates that we, as humans, partake in some special sense in the glory of the Divine Persons, To the Christian Hermetic, it is only insofar as we participate with God in the continuous act of creation (for Genesis is a constant act of love, not a once-and-for-all construction job) that we are exercising our proper and appropriate authority through magic. Yet,
With respect to autonomous magic, i.e. magic without mysticism and without gnosis, it necessarily degenerates into sorcery or, at least, into a pathological, romantic aestheticism. There is no “black magic”, but rather sorcerers groping in the dark. They grope in the dark because the light of gnosis and mysticism is lacking. (ibid, pg. 43)
Not that one man’s experiences proves anything, but I can attest to this point from the bowels of my own history.
Magic and prayer are often compared to one another in occult literature. This comparison is in most ways a false one stemming from a common misunderstanding of prayer. There are, in fact, multiple types of prayer, some more important than others. A Christian (or those of other faiths, for that matter) can very well have a rich and full prayer life without every uttering what are known as “intercessory prayers.”
Intercessory prayers, or petitioning prayers, are what most people equate with the word “prayer” itself; these are prayers requesting that God intervene (or “intercede”) on our behalf in the natural proceedings of the universe. Through these prayers do we ask for healings to be enacted, for jobs to be obtained, for relationships to be mended. As a Christian, I will be the last to deny the potential of this sort of prayer; as disconcerting as it may be for our rational minds, we do not in fact live in a deistic “closed system” universe. God is not an absentee landlord, nor an aloof watchmaker, but a passionate Artisan and (dare I say) lovestruck Fool who never removes Himself from His word and play. In the words of Paul, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28 NRSV)
Even intercessory prayer, though, bares little relation to magic. In magic, we work upon the substance of the universe from within the universe itself, while with intercessory prayer, we petition God to act upon the universe on our behalf to accomplish something beyond our power to achieve. This is an important point of Christian spirituality and occult metaphysics worth contemplation.
The final question to be answered is that of magical abuse. Two of the greatest objections to the practice of magic are that it tends to produce in us the sin of pride, and the related problem that it seems to diminish our sense of needing God and thus reduces our spiritual concerns to a set of formulae rather than the relational spirituality required in Christianity. In answer, I turn again to our Unknown Friend:
No, dear Unknown Friend, possession by the will-to-power or the will-to-glory makes neither the personality nor its greatness. The “sheep” in the language of love of the Master [Jesus] signify neither the “great personality” nor the “little personality”, but simply the individual soul which lives. He wants the soul to live without danger and to have as intensive a life as God has destined for it. The “sheep” is the living entity, surrounded by dangers, which is the object of divine care. Doesn’t this suffice? Is there too little brilliance and glory here? Is this too feeble and image to be able to arrive at, for example, a magician evoking good and evil spirits? [...] The powerful magician, the artistic genius, the profound thinker, and the radiant mystic certainly merit all these qualifications and perhaps still greater ones, but they do not dazzle God. In the eyes of God they are dear sheep to him; in his consideration of them he desires that they shall never go astray and that they shall have live increasingly and unceasingly. (ibid, pp. 38 & 39)
With apologies to my reader for the long quotation, I believe that the point is ably made: magic, like art, philosophy, science, and a million other activities, is a skill and perhaps a talent with multifarious applications in life, but a wise person will always keep an eye toward God and thereby avoid building a personal Tower of Babel on the shifting sands of ego and personal accomplishment. Magic’s greatest use then, in accordance with Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31 NRSV), is the same as all other God-granted skills, abilities and talents: to aid ailing humanity and to proclaim the love and grace on which our whole universe is founded.
I don’t claim to be an expert on all of the mysteries of faith; I’m just a sincere and devout seeker who does his best to listen to wisdom as God reveals it to me. I will try to share some of the insights which have come to me in hopes that I’m on the right track and they’re useful to somebody else.
Grace is truly a mystery. In the face of an unfathomably vast universe and an infinitely powerful God, it seems foolish that God should care about us collectively, let alone individually. As Brennan Manning pointed out in The Ragamuffin Gospel (2005, Multnomah Books), God’s love for me, you, and everybody else is very foolish. It makes no sense at all from a rational point of view, and were we to witness one of our friends behaving with us s much amorous fervour we would in all likelihood confront them about it and tell them that they were headed over the edge of a cliff. And yet, God continues to pursue us to the ends of the Earth.
Did Christ’s death on the cross really somehow pay for our sins? I have no idea. I can’t comprehend how that would even work, but the drama of the story, even if merely allegory, is striking. It horrifies many, and scares the living hell out of any Christian reflective enough to contemplate it. So what’s the draw? Why have so many people through history been moved by the Passion? Once again, this is a mystery, a spiritual reality beyond analysis, beyond intellect, only valid within the realm of direct personal experience.
The greatest importance of the Passion, though, is the resurrection. I will not argue over how literally we are to take this particular event, but I will say that it has become of the utmost importance within my own spiritual life. The risen Christ signifies the very fact of grace, ever-present. The Greek word used in the New Testament for Christ’s “second coming” is “parousia”, which translates not as “coming” but more accurately as “presence,” identical in sense to the Hebrew “shekinah”.
Thus, God in Christ, that is Love, is ever-present and abiding. We can access it at any time just by accepting it as true.
Old news by now, but I feel the need to weigh in. “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” said Pope Benedict XVI to a group of reporters on his Alitalia flight to Yaounde, Camaroon; “On the contrary, it increases the problem.” (Wall Street Journal article here.)
That’s hilarious. I hate to devolve into mere sarcasm here, but how else am I supposed to respond?
On the level of common sense, this is patently ridiculous and false information. With leaders like this, I weep for the faithful.
Are condoms 100% effective? Of course not. Are abstinence and monogamy the only methods which are? Barring rape and the odd accidental needle-stick, yes. Given my druthers, I’d love to see more people in Africa and elsewhere slowing down on their sexual promiscuity and being more willing to commit themselves to one another in loving monogamy. Given the choice between giving out good information and the practical tools to protect oneself and others, and telling flat-out lies to remain within one’s religious moral confines, however, I’d never try to tell people that condoms make it worse!
In this Interfax article, the Russian Orthodox leadership of Moscow support the Pope’s position, saying: “It is incorrect to consider condoms as a panacea for AIDS.” Of course it is, but that isn’t what most health activists are doing. No thinking person can believe that dropping a crate of condoms in every village will suddenly make HIV/AIDS go away, but putting condoms into the hands of people who will be having sex with one another no matter what anybody else says and teaching them how to properly use them will at least stem the tide somewhat, saving lives and giving the world more time to come up with a real solution.
Quoth Fr. Vsevolod: “If a person lives a sinful, aimless and senseless life, uses drugs and is lewd, some disease will kill him one day, neither a condom nor medicine will save him.”
Well that’s Christian love right there, isn’t it? “If you’re a sinner, why should anybody bother trying to help?”
I have a great idea. Let’s do a background check on anybody attempting to enter a church; if they’ve ever committed a crime beyond traffic violations, if they’ve ever had an abortion for any reason, if they’ve ever attended a sex education class that mentioned birth control as an option, turn them away. The next time you meet somebody with cancer, tell them you’ll pray for them only on the condition that they’ve never touched drugs, never had sex outside of wedlock, and never even considered playing a violent video game or going to a nightclub on a Saturday. Then we can organize, incorporate, and call ourselves “The United Church of the Holy Inquisition” and begin fundraising for a “landmine the lawns of the mentally handicapped” event.
Who’s with me?
(With thanks to Jonathan Swift, who has gone where savage indignation can lacerate his breast no more.)