Since its publication in The Gnostic 4, there has been a fair amount of furor over Alan Moore’s article “Fossil Angels”. Though the article itself was written in 2002 (a point used several times to discredit it), it has not seen official publication until now. Contrary to many arguments to the effect that Moore’s commentary on the sorry state of contemporary occultism is no longer relevant, I see it as being as timely as ever.
Author and magician Aaron Leitch, whose work I respect, himself wrote a rebuttal of “Fossil Angels” entitled “Fossils of Angels”. In this blog post, Leitch’s main argument seems to be that Moore doesn’t understand magical practice and is out of touch with the community surrounding occultism. This, however, misses the point entirely and turns the debate back upon Moore’s qualifications (ad hominem) without addressing his concerns, concerns which are powerful from anybody with occult sympathies.
It seems to me that what Leitch and others are really responding to are Moore’s harsh words, terse tone, and tongue-in-cheek baroque writing style (including unflattering comparisons to A. E. Waite, whose work I love but whose writing style is something of a punishment for misbehaving English majors). But let us not be side-tracked by those things!
I am the first to admit that practical magic, done well, works. Yes, this puts me on the outs with a lot of free thinkers and even Gnostics, who want the subject to be entirely psychologized, or else who want it to go away like a teenager does an embarrassing parent. Moore—and his commentator and supporter Miguel Conner (another guy I respect a great deal)—seems to be saying that he doesn’t buy the efficacy of practical magic at all; I’m not sure if this is actually what he is saying, though. Even if he does feel this way about so-called “results-based” magic, that doesn’t detract from his actual message. I can’t help but agreeing with Moore that the petty applications of magic so commonly attested to are an absolute waste of the symbolism and methodology of magic. It is unfair and ridiculous to posit, as many critics have, that Moore simply “doesn’t know the community” he’s talking about; I’m sure that he is well aware that not every single occultist or magician falls regularly into the traps he disparages, but I’m right along with him if he asserts (as I read him to) that the majority of what he encounters in the erstwhile occult community are poseurs, pretenders to imaginary thrones, and overly dramatic LARPers. And of course, nobody will ever admit to being one of those people! While I don’t put Leitch in this category at all, it is in the interests of damn near every occultist in the world to either refer to Moore’s article as, in the words of one commentary, “self-important rubbish,” or to agree with it as whole-heartedly as necessary to appear to soar above Moore’s critiques. Anything not to have any demands made of oneself!
Well, let’s all just admit that every occultist or magician has committed the crimes of which “Fossil Angels” attests. Some of us have done so more often, or more egregiously, than others, but it is a total lie to say that any one of us has never been petty, childish, or delusional in our approach to or use of magic. If we aren’t willing to be honest about this one point, then we are responsible for the cultural powerlessness of magic. Period.
But the real emphasis is not on these negative points. Moore, in his aggressive way, spends the whole article leading up to the final punch:
We could, if we desired it, have things otherwise. Rather than magic that’s in thrall to a fondly imagined golden past, or else to some luridly-fantasized Elder God theme-park affair of a future, we could try instead a magic adequate and relevant to its own extraordinary times. We could, were we to so decide, ensure that current occultism be remembered in the history of magic as a fanfare peak rather than as a fading sigh; as an embarrassed, dying mumble; not even a whimper. We could make this parched terrain a teeming paradise, a tropic where each thought might blossom into art. Under the altar lies the studio, the beach. We could insist upon it, were we truly what we say we are. We could achieve it not be scrawling sigils but by crafting our art to spread its holy psychedelic scarab wings across society once more, perhaps in doing so allow some light or grace to fall upon that pained, benighted organism. We could be made afresh in our fresh undergrowth, stand reinvented at a true dawn of our Craft within a morning world, our paint still wet, just-hatched and gummy-eyed in Eden. Newborn in Creation.
I cannot imagine a more lively or exalted goal for a magician to attain to!
Finally, in support of this point, let me quote another source, Meditations on the Tarot (Anonymous):
This is the aim of sacred magic; it is nothing other than to give the freedom to see, to hear, to walk, to live, to follow an ideal and to be truly onself—i.e. to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the ability to walk to the lame, life to the dead, good news or ideals to the poor and free will to those who are possessed by evil spirits. It never encroaches upon freedom, the restoration of which is its unique aim. (pg 61)
One has to de-mechanize in order to become a mage. For sacred magic is through and through life—that life which is revealed in the Mystery of Blood. May our problems become so many cries of the blood (of the heart), may our words be borne by blood, and may our actions be as effusions of blood! This is how one becomes a mage. One becomes a mage by becoming essential—as essential as the blood is. (pg 72)
Magic is an art, psychological and psychic, which has for its aim and purpose the restoration of freedom and the infusion of life. Just as the Egyptian priests and classical Hermetists had magical formulae for animating statues, so too must modern magicians of whatever tradition or clan be prepared not only to animate the images passed on to us by posterity, but also to create living works of art ourselves, works of which we can not just “take pride” but of which we are confident in our prayers and visions will bring LIFE and FREEDOM to the benighted and set more and more unchained upon the path which winds ever up the mountain. If our goals are anything less, how dare we?
[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.
[Excerpt from an as-yet untitled upcoming book, taken specifically from an exploration of some of the Hermetic/esoteric meanings of the Ten Commandments.]
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Ex 20:17)
A topic of much contemporary interest to the New Age and Neopagan movements is that of cultural appropriation. For instance, are the “neoshamans” and “urban primitives” of our day merely spiritual thieves, or are they rightfully adapting the ideas and method of cultures past and present for their own traditions?
The key to this first question lies in the uncomfortable bravado and indignation with which the issue is usually met by the growing legions of “tribal” tattoo-covered “neoshamans” and studded-black clad “chaos magicians” of the urban landscape. For my part, I must ask: What traditions? If the hungry legions cannot point to true religion as their foundation, a living orthodoxy, they will remain hungry, no matter how many techniques of ritual, vision questing and pseudo-meditation they pry from the hands of their living brethren or lift from the defiled tombs of the holy dead. “Occultism” and “spirituality” have become only the intellectual homes of ghouls dressed in the mishmash of the expensive burial clothes of those from whom they have eaten. And like the ghouls of legend, lore and Hollywood, their hunger never abates.
Dramatic language to be sure, and seemingly harsh when used to describe fellow seekers. Still, my description is unfortunately apt. An entire “system” of sorcery has been built around what I have described above, though using the more picturesque title “paradigmal piracy”. This, a radiative anti-magic practice wherein the sorceror seeks to consciously “paradigm shift” from one religion or spiritual tradition to another and another and another as casually as I change my socks, is only the most extreme example of what Arthur Versluis refers to as the “anti-tradition”. (See The Philosophy of Magic for a brilliant study of this topic written in the 1960s, by a genuine magician watching the dramatic public emergence of the anti-tradition all through our culture.)
Such a condemnation might seem odd, coming, as it does, from a Christian Hermetic who enthusiastically learns from Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and Pagan sources. Am I not committing theft or fraud as well? Such a question deserves a serious response.
The commandment under our present consideration is one of envy sourced in a great cultural lack in the West (spreading rapidly through the East as well): as Versluis points out, orthodox religion and the arts of mysticism, magic, alchemy and related pursuits have been rent asunder over the course of centuries of spiritual decay. This is not to say that our culture has not made some important forward movement, but that we have lost our soul as a cultural unit. It is only when religion and mysticism (used here to refer to the individual application of religion) are one, or at least when they respect one another fully, that either one of them is healthy. Mysticism is the life-force of religion, while religion give mysticism a body and a context (or matrix). Religion is also important because, contrary to modern occult cant, not everybody is a mystic, magician, priest or shaman by talent or temperament. This point is essential, but only if taken with proper humility: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) These are callings for some just as medicine, engineering, and auto repair are callings for others. “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 life increasingly and unceasingly.” (Meditations on the Tarot, pg. 39) Make this a theme for contemplation and much occult nonsense, as well as the pride of “human progress”, dissolves.
This dissolution has not reached the same degree in much of the East, and never existed at all in most “primitive” or “tribal” cultures. It is not, therefore, unwise to examine them from the perspective of a Western spiritual seeker. The problem arises when we seek to completely replace our own beautiful traditions, supplanting them with random elements lifted from the traditions of others. The so-called Perennial Philosophy is still alive in the West, as are our religious traditions. They are not dead, or even diseased, but wounded. Therein lies the essence of a healthy approach to exploring the spiritual traditions of others, living or dead.
When a person breaks a limb, even all four limbs and several ribs to boot, we do not leave her to die or, worse, bury her alive. yet, this is precisely what most occultists in the West are trying to do! Similarly, we would never dream of fusing that person’s whole body with the bodies of multiple other injured parties, thinking that so to do would leave us with one whole, healthy individual, but again that is the approach taken by numerous New Age practitioners every day!
Instead, we perform skillful surgery in a few problem areas to remove truly dead tissue and build bridges across the resultant gaps with transplanted or donated tissues, we infuse healthy blood from a willing donor, and we make certain that the healing body takes in proper nutrients in correct proportions to enable it to repair itself (always the best solution when the damage is slight enough to make it viable). A more difficult process, perhaps, and often painful, but if performed ably and with dedication, we have a whole, healthy, vital person in the end, rather than a disease-bearing corpse or a monstrous chimera.
I think that the point is probably plain enough, but for the sake of absolute clarity, let’s examine the metaphor. The spiritual traditions of the West—Hermetism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam*—are vital and alive, with much will for survival and the inner power to thrive. But they are most definitely wounded, each to its own extent and in its own way. In order to rehabilitate them, we must fill in gaps with borrowings from other living traditions. We do this in full awareness, rather than out of semi-conscious envy for the spiritual powers and experiences of others, because we know that our own traditions once held those very same practical methods explicitly, but they have since been wrenched away by the overzealous, or else forgotten by the indifferent. Such is the way of the “march of progress”.
This, though, is the mission of the Hermetist of any religion: recombine orthodoxy with mysticism. This is a task of lifetimes, and it cannot be artificially forced into a religious body or the culture at large, so each must first make this a personal effort. That is, each Hermetic must make this unity of soul and spirit (literally, and in terms of the present discussion) within her own person. In so doing, many philosophies, religions, theological constructs and methodologies will be explored, with bits and pieces being taken along for the ride and fitted back into the holes proper to them. The records of many such recent journeys exist for Christians to learn from and enjoy, such as our anonymous Unknown Friend, as well as Arthur Versluis, Thomas Merton, and Mouni Sadhu, many of which have been invaluable sources of teaching and inspiration for me personally. I hope to add some small measure by way of this present book.
In Hermetic/gnostic terms, then, this final commandment refers first to the full edifice of the religious and spiritual traditions of others (“your neighbor’s house”), and then to the more or less important ideas and practices within them. We shall not unlawfully desire and use them, either to replace our own, or by misguidedly grafting them all together into a harmful mishmash, but shall instead respectfully explore and examine them as humble students and servants, knowing that if we but ask, that which we lack will be given for our everlasting health.
*Others could be named, such as Neoplatonism, Platonism, Orphism, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and many more. However, they have all more or less lent their vital force and central fire to one or more of the traditions named above.
Just as the title would indicate, this is not a complete essay. These are just some notes I’ve recently taken for my own use, and for use in my current book project. I thought that I’d post them here for the use of anybody else who might be interested in a deeper understanding of, and practice with, the Elements.
Sight—Light/Fire—Straight Lines—Willed or directed motion
Akasha through the planes:
Astral—Astral Light—Planetary realm
Descending Action — As in creation
Akasha -> Fire -> Water -> Air -> Earth
Ascending Action — As in spiritual growth
Earth -> Water -> Air -> Fire/Light -> Life/Wood (Taoist)
Consider a tree’s growth: from the Earth it grows first with the direct aid of water, then it breaches soil and partakes of air and light, which all produce Life/Wood. In spiritual growth, Life comes about through the dynamic admixture and action of the four Elements, though the matrix of life (Akasha/Ether) and the spirit which animates it are always present. They take advantage of the Elements and their activities to accomplish the goal of reaching back to the Source.
For Christians, Jews, and even many of non-Abrahamic religions, Qabalah (Kabbalah, my usual spelling, has given way for this article to the more modern “Qabalah”; also spelled Cabala, among other variations) has been a keystone of spiritual thought and discipline for several centuries. Numerous concepts and correspondences have been mapped onto the central glyph, the Tree of Life, in many different configurations, in that time. All of these ideas have made Qabalah a beautiful and comprehensive philosophical structure, a vast temple of every piece of knowledge and experience to be had through human channels. As with most philosophies and spiritual traditions, though, a very few points of view inevitably stole attention and became “authoritative”.
These particular approaches to Qabalah, generally entitled the Western and Jewish qabalahs, are very useful and have proven themselves out over the past couple of centuries for their respective adherents. Unfortunately, the limitation of awareness to these two overarching approaches have caused them to lose sight of one another, and of all of the other approaches which have existed and which continue to be generated and evolved in the shadows of esoteric practice. The result has been the overall stultification of qabalistic exploration and an increasing inertia in the two systems.
So-called Western Qabalah practically stopped growing with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s system. Even those outgrowths which do periodically occur are largely just minor modifications of the Golden Dawn’s correspondences and methods. Jewish Qabalah has remained relatively fluid, although the emphasis is entirely upon interpreting, and putting into action, Torah. As Western occultism has become less and less religious, and as Chassidic Judaism has become increasingly “fundamentalist”, the two approaches diverge more dramatically all the time. Western Qabalah largely lacks Spirit; some of its greatest adherents and practitioners have referred to it as little more than a “filing cabinet for ideas”, leaving no room for spontaneity, grace and love. Jewish Qabalah largely lacks generosity; most practitioners disallow anybody outside of their particular denomination or group to study the subject, and display open hostility toward anybody, Jewish or not, who dares to study or practice Qabalah in any of its forms (outside of a few popularizations of the essential ideas, intended only to give fellow Jews a taste of what they’re missing in their unrighteousness).
Of course, there are exceptions worthy of our investigations. Jewish writers like the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, and Rabbi David Cooper have provided us with books full of historical, theological, philosophical and even practical materials full of Spirit and verve, but also imbued with a generous heart and an acknowledgement that anybody serious about their spiritual life can make use of these ideas and techniques to grow closer to God. Hermetic writers like Franz Bardon (in his ill-understood and underacknowledged Key to the True Quabbalah) and Rawn Clark (whose writings are all generously available for free at A Bardon Companion) provide an open-source Qabalah, available equally to all, full of religious love for the God Who lies back of all Qabalistic thought. These same Hermetic authors are not afraid to search the Jewish sources of all Qabalistic thought, just as all Hermetics must be willing to explore the Greek, Egyptian and Christian sources of their own traditions.
I will publish a lot of my own specific findings in an upcoming book on Christian Hermeticism. As a rule, though, all that is required of any Qabalist is a willingness to search out the hidden answers (and secret questions) through the disciplined and passionate application of Qabalistic techniques, both Jewish and Western. Then, and only then, will the Tree of Life erupt in blossom before your eyes, offering up its pomegranates freely.
Anybody familiar with the more traditional side of Western occultism has probably encountered the Middle Pillar Exercise (MPE). The Golden Dawn’s official papers placed little emphasis upon this (see Regardie, The G0lden Dawn, 6th edition, Llewellyn Publications), one of their finest and simplest technical methods, but Dr. Israel Regardie (and others) gave it the attention it deserves and expanded upon its essentials until the MPE alone comprised a fairly complete magic-mystical methodology. (See Regardie, The Middle Pillar, as well as his The Art of True Healing.)
The core practice is, for those with kabbalistic knowledge of even a very basic level, simplicity itself: the magician formulates the middle pillar of the Tree of Life diagram within her spirit, astral body, and etheric double, and then circulates the energy thus set in motion through and around all layers of her individual being. The core techniques are visualization and vibratory vocalization, both of which facilitate the awakening of the microcosmic Tree of Life, the linkage of same with its macrocosmic analogy, and the conscious manipulation of vital energy. (For the actual technical methods in full, see Regardie’s The Middle Pillar.)
The purpose of the basic Middle Pillar Exercise and its contingent circulations is not merely to become a willing and conscious channel for vital energy; this task can be accomplished much more simply and quickly with other methods. The primary function of the exercise is the conscious communion and eventual integration of the various levels of spiritual and psychic functioning. When approached from this angle, the MPE performs its duty admirably and becomes a magnificent training tool.
It is as well to remark at this point that the MPE seeks to draw the Ketheric Light, or Divine Light, from the macrocosm to the aspirant’s highest center of consciousness, then on down through successively lower phases and finally into mundane awareness. This scheme self-consciously differs substantially from most methods involving the chakras, wherein consciousness is raised from mundane awareness to the highest heights and “left hanging”, as it were, beyond the pale of this world. As Regardie pointed out in his The Middle Pillar,
In a word, the Western ideal is not to escape from the body but to become involved more and more in life, in order to experience it more adequately, and in order to obtain a mastery over it. The ideal is to bring down godhead so that one’s manhood being enriched may thereby be assumed into godhead. Always does this system begin from the real centre of working—the higher Genius which, by definition, is in contact eternally with whatever infinite deity there may be. (The Middle Pillar, second edition, by Israel Regardie, 1970 Llewellyn Publications, pg. 122)
In those systems based in Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Christian and even shamanic sources, everything must ultimately be brought back to Earth if it is to have any value.
There are numerous uses for even this most basic method aside from mystical attainment. Regardie himself used the Middle Pillar Exercise in therapy with his patients. He would use the vital energy so generated as an aid to massage, similar in spirit and technique to Reich’s orgone therapy, and would use the psycho-spiritual integrating power of the MPE while holding hands with this students and patients in order to influence their inner economies toward greater health and wholeness.
A number of outgrowths exist, as well, which expand upon and even complete the MPE. These include the addition of appropriate colors to the visualization, the formulation of the complete Tree of Life, the use of Archangelic names, and the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar.
The basic form of the Middle Pillar Exercise uses only white light. Once the ritual has been mastered this way, the student is to visualize the Sephiroth in their appropriate colors. This practice enlivens the Sephiroth further, differentiating the Ketheric Light into its various phases of manifestation and bringing the spheres of Light into closer sympathy with their macrocosmic counterparts.
Once the basic exercise has been mastered with the specific colors, the student begins to work on enlivening the other two Pillars and their correspond Sephiroth. This can be done in several ways, but the one I recommend is as follows: on one day, add Chokmah in its gray color. The next day, add Binah in black, while maintaining Chokmah; add Gedulah the next day, then Geburah, and so on, in order, until the Tree is complete each time the exercise is performed.
To this scheme I would add that once Binah has been included, and ever after whenever more than just the Middle Pillar are employed during the MPE’s performance, the pseudo-Sephirah of Da’ath should be omitted. Da’ath is in actuality the lowest manifestation of Binah or, rather, Binah as “viewed from below.” When practicing the MPE using only the Middle Pillar itself, Da’ath serves as a vital link between Kether and Tiphareth, translating the Light of Kether across the Abyss (which itself only exists when viewed from lower phases of awareness) and into the realm of individual experience. Hence its name, Da’ath, which translates as “knowledge in English, indicating that it is the very human intellectual knowledge of Divine reality as opposed to the gnostic understanding of Binah proper. When Binah itself is recognized, Da’ath becomes redundant and even distracting.
At this point, the names of the Archangels may be added to the practice. They are simply vibrated after each Divine Name, otherwise carrying on just as before. It is important to note that when using only the Middle Pillar with the Archangelic names, the Archangel of Binah is to be employed for Da’ath, just as Da’ath shares Binah’s Name of God.
In theory, the student could eventually add the Angelic Choir and the Mundane Sphere of each Sephirah, and each magician is welcome so to experiment. In experience, though, this practice does not seem to add to the effectiveness of the MPE. Still, much can be gained through meditation on the associations of the Angelic Choirs and Mundane Spheres with the Sephiroth.
With time, it becomes possible to simply activate the sphere of Light itself in order to bring into effect the Divine Name, Archangelic power, Angelic Choir, and other associated powers. Even a rudimentary attainment herein can be a powerful experience. This complete microcosmic Tree of Life is known as the Body of Light (or Luminous Body), though this title is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not a body, but rather a psycho-spiritual garment of purity and protection identical to that which lies behind and empowers the magician’s ritual robe. In fact, the establishment of this Body of Light completely obviates the need for a robe in evocation and spheric magic.
The final phase of practice with the Middle Pillar Exercise is a mystical method of consciousness-raising that, when practiced in a methodical manner, amounts to a technique of self-initiation. Known as the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar, this method is so simple yet so powerful. The initiate first performs the MPE itself. It is only necessary to work with the Middle Pillar. The side Pillars may be omitted, as this technique deals only with grades of consciousness; where the side Pillars are concerned with the magic powers, the Middle Pillar concerns only the levels of consciousness as such.
Once the MPE has been performed, and the circulations completed, the student intensely visualizes the Name of God pertaining to the Sephirah to be contacted, composed of appropriately colored flames or electricity, floating directly ahead of her. This Name is then breathed in using the technique of pore breathing (see Initiation Into Hermetics by Franz Bardon, 2001, Merkur), and condensed in the area of the solar plexus. It is then vibrated aloud and simultaneously projected outward to the ends of the universe, then imagined to speed back toward the initiate. At the moment of impact, she is to enter a state of mental vacancy and allow the energy of the Name, now empowered by the Supreme God beyond the Void, to integrate with her and affect her as It will.
A few points deserve attention. First of all, it is a good idea to work this method in a relatively open area with carpet, grass, or padding about. The Vibratory Formula can be very disconcerting and may well cause the student to stumble or fall, especially during the first few performances. No benefit is to be gained from smacking your head off of a wall or table!
It is also well to work up the Tree, from Malkuth to Kether inclusive, and in order, first, perhaps over the course of ten days, then to work back down from Kether to Malkuth over a similar period of time. This ensures that the initiate experiences the Tree in a balanced manner from the outset. Once the Vibratory Formula has been used to “ascend” and “descend” in this way, the initiate may return to the Names of God in any order she desires. Even so, it is to be suggested that she not work with any Sephirah or Sephiroth to the exclusion of the rest, and that work with any Sephirah on the side Pillars be followed up within a week by its opposite to maintain healthy equilibrium.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that traditionally the projection of the Name is accomplished with the Sign of Projection, while the mental quiescence as the Name “strikes home” is accomplished with the Sign of Silence (the two Neophyte grade signs of the Golden Dawn’s initiatory system). While these signs are effective for the Golden Dawn magician, there is no reason why others may not use similar signs and motions or simple visualization and energy work techniques from other systems.
All told, the Middle Pillar Exercise is among the finest of magico-mystical tools available to the beginning student of Hermetics and Kabbalah. It eventually becomes obsolete for intermediate to advanced practitioners, but can hold a central place in daily work for months to years, and serves to speed the student toward those heights in the meantime. I hope that these comments and applications provide some small help upon the path.
The One Year Manual by Dr. Israel Regardie
Originally Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment
1981, Weiser Books (1976; originally 1969)
10 out of 10
God bless brevity. There is an awful tendency in occult literature to go on and on for hundreds of pages without saying much of anything of use. Most of Regardie’s books are relatively short, and the ones that are not spare no space for filler but are densely packed with information in the truest sense.
The One Year Manual is the ideal “beginner’s guide”. It is short (the editions in my possession going to 70 pages, plus preface and suggested reading list), by design, and wastes not a single word on nonessentials. With a stated mission to avoid convolutions of theory in favor of simple, effective practice, Regardie provided the would-be magician and/or mystic with a complete kit for at least a year’s worth of training.
The book starts off with Crowley’s four solar adorations, which amount to simple, poetic prayers for the four “stations” of the Sun throughout the day. The goal is simple: the Sun, as a symbol of the Unknown God, is “adored” throughout the day to keep the student’s awareness focused on the Divine, while at the same time giving a sense of connection to the macrocosmic universe and its great movements and cycles.
Body awareness follows as the first “step” of the work; this is practiced at a set time each day, as well as throughout the day during normal routines. The benefits are manifold and include a greater degree of self-awareness, Zen-like mindfulness, and the gradual relaxation of physical tension.
The second step concerns a method of very deep physical relaxation. In addition to deepending relaxation and body awareness, the student also learns to use this technique for healing simple physical ailments and complementing medical treatments for more intense illnesses. It is worth nothing that these two exercises also tend to produce a meditative state, which stands the student in good stead for more advanced training systems.
The third step, breath control, depeens the meditative state and further enhances physical and emotional relaxation. Just as importantly, we learn through breath to deepen our relationship with the vital energy which exists and moves around and through us.
What is generally the first step in contemplative and meditative practices, mental awareness, is the subject of step four. This is quite simply quietly and nonjudgmentally observing the flow of your own thoughts. Here, the student becomes very deeply acquainted with herself, as well as gradually relaxing her thinking-mind’s tensions.
Expanding on the previous step, step five introduces the student to mental concentration, and deeper meditation, by way of mantra repetition.
The second, more active, portion of the year is opened in step six with the training and strengthening of the will. Do to the discipline and concentration developed over the past few months, this exercise will likely come easily. Still, it is the first time in this programme that the student exerts any active volition as opposed to more or less passively experiencing herself.
Step seven changes the nature of the work dramatically by introducing the daily practice of the Rose Cross Ritual. This ritual is, in my opinion, one of the finest techniques to come out of the Golden Dawn’s corpus. While Regardie does not state it implicitly, this ritual has some profound effects for the careful student. It banishes negativity, makes one astra-mentally invisible (as opposed to most banishing rituals, like the LBRP, which tend to “light one up” on the inner planes), and tends to induce a deep sense of divine peace. This ritual acts as a very intense prayer, and can really exalt and humble the student.
Step eight, as is the trend, expands upon the previous work by intensifying the student’s awareness of Divine Presence and energy by way of the Middle Pillar Ritual, another gem from the Golden Dawn.
The remaining four exercises are more or less abstract magico-mystical practices entitled, in order, “Symbol of Devotion”, “Practice of the Presence of God”, “Unity—All is God”, and “Invoke Often! Inflame Thyself with Prayer”. While profoundly different on the surface, these final steps are the perfect culmination to the training year in that they entail finding and employing personalized, emotionally and intellectually engaging methods of prayer and meditation.
These final chapters also include words of immense wisdom and beauty as well as encouragement. They are alone worth the cost of the book even to the most advanced student. I return to them periodically as “inspirational reading” and find them to be ever refreshing.
While definitely based in the Hermetic and Kabbalistic systems and traditions, there is nothing in this book which cannot be easily adapted for training a new student in nearly any magic-mystical system. I myself simply handed The One Year Manual over to my own student and said, “Here. This will be your course of training for now. If you can make it through, you’ll be ready for anything else you choose to study.” For the budding Hermetic, I can imagine no better first year of training than this book with, perhaps, The Kybalion and Regardie’s The Tree of Life to provide theoretical foundation.