I started writing the Sorcerers and Magi series in 2003, which was the time that the Harry Potter series was gaining a lot of momentum. I knew very many 30- to 60- year-olds who were very enthusiastic about the series. Honestly, I never read the books, but I really enjoyed watching the movies. They—especially the earlier ones in the series—coddled me in the sweetest nostalgia of childhood and holiday movie extravaganzas—of treats from grandma and Christmas tinsel and that sort of thing.
The Seal of Secrets of the World is a diagram described in a medieval magical book called the Arbatel. The Arbatel is a treatise on how to live in harmony, ease, and intimacy with the energies of the Multiverse. Behind the Christian piety is a more ancient, Pythagoric and Neoplatonic spiritual paradigm that views the world as a multilayered place full of spiritual beings: some elemental, some celestial, some angelic, and some demi-godlike, archonic, or patriarchal. In the spring and summer of 2010, the author, Soror ZSD23, in the context of solitary and group workings, explored the content of the Arbatel and evoked the so-called Olympic Spirits described in the text. The Seal of Secrets of the World Adventures in Astral Magic notes the author’s experiences and insights in working with the Arbatel, provides guidance on practicing and simplifying evocation magic and provides links to important related texts. The book also includes auxiliary essays related to her studies in magic and mysticism, such as discussion on meditation, the holy guardian angel, and the Azoth.
The Sorcerers and Magi series offers thought-provoking ideas about finding oneself and one’s true purpose in the context of mystical magical fantasy and will be interest to adult fiction readers drawn to magia, mysticism, and spiritual philosophy. Book 1 in the series, La Maga A Story about Sorcerers and Magi, introduces us to the Inner Plane and its fragmented society of sorcerers, magi, and folk practitioners. There, the binding quality of love, transforms a father and son, shifts a paradigm, and gives a jump start to a utopian movement The Lions of Light. Magical fantasy is deftly woven with Eastern mysticism. In Book 2, The Sex Lives of Sorcerers, a hapless fairy incarnates as a woman in the world of “Commons” in the Outer Plane. Sorcerers from the Inner Plane swoop in to vie for her affections in the interests of love and occult power and opportunism. . As savior, a redeemer, and a siren, the story’s heroine circumspectly aids the Lions of Light and sets the stage for radical and illuminating transformations of all who come into contact with her. References to alchemy, medieval occultism, steganography, and sex magic permeate the text.
Reframing “Ostara” in Light of Evidence
Neopagans have adopted the term Eostara (or Ostara) to denote the festival of the Spring equinox. The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for April: Éostur mónath. The word denotes the rising of an easterly wind and the eastern quarter of space, where the sun rises. The term may also refer to a putative Teutonic goddess of fertility, Spring, and Dawn. The goddess’s original name in Old German might have been Austrô, meaning “to shine” in reference to dawn light (from the Middle Indo-German word for dawn ausos) , which may be etymologically linked to the Latin Aurora, Greek Eos, and Indo-Aryan (Vedic) Ushas—all goddesses personifying dawn light.
Although much has been promoted in Neopagan circles about Eostara and the goddess Eostre, including rhetoric about the hijacking of pagan customs and terms by Christians, this content is more modern lore—or “fakelore”— than fact. It is based in elaborations on and speculations about passages regarding Eostre from a 7th century Christian cleric known as the Venerable Bede and the 19th century folklorist Jacob Grimm (whose references to Eostara in Deutsche Mythologie, published in 1835, tell us only what late modern era German folk people recall—and what Grimm speculates—about the Germanic cultural heritage, and not necessarily about customs and beliefs of pre-Christian Teutonic peoples).
A few Neopagan Web sites state that the Easter bunny and egg originated in pre-Christian traditions in Teutonic lands, but this is inaccurate. The hare and egg were symbols of fertility and rebirth commemorated across cultures and traced to deep antiquity. A myth conflating the hare with the egg can be traced to a Ukrainian fairy tale in which a woman saves a pet bird by changing it into a hare that then has the ability to supply eggs for Easter festivities. The tale seems to have been reinterpreted within the past decade or so to include Eostre as the character who performs the transformation. (Independent researcher Adrian Bott traces the fakelore to the Pagan Book of Days by Nigel Pennick.) Lore about a bunny that would leave eggs—including chocolate eggs—for well-behaved children on Eastern morning also surfaced in 16th century Germany and was imported to America as Easter lore with German immigrants in the 17th century.
This caveat about Eostara is not to imply that a Teutonic goddess related to the Spring equinox did not exist nor that Neopagans have no business naming a modern Pagan feast day/Sabbat after her. It is aired to challenge the heap of poor scholarship, speculation, propaganda, “Grandmother stories,” Christian bashing and baiting/Neopagan martyr-syndroming, and the sloppy cut-and-paste dis-informing that goes on in the Pagan community.
Making the rounds on FB was an iconic image of Ishtar that is curiously correctly identified as Ishtar but otherwise has been ubiquitously used as a meme to celebrate the infant-murdering demon of Judaic apocryphal lore Lilith that many—unfamiliar with the complete lore and context about this entity—revere as a suffragette goddess. The page, which I learned was pulled when folks began ID-ing it as Disinformaiton, is attributed to an atheist advocacy group associated with Richard Dawkins. The copy accompanying this image of Ishtar claims that the word Eostre is he correct pronunciation of Ishtar and that Easter is really a Babylonian sex and fertility festival. This stretch is so taut that it is at risk of snapping rather abruptly and poking someone’s eye out. [As an analogy, the name Isis is supposedly correctly pronounced something like Isa. Isa translates as Lord in Sanskrit and is a term used for Vishnu and also Jesus in Hinduism. Are we to conclude that Indian Christians and Hindus who revere Jesus as an incarnation of Vishnu are really worshipping Isis? I don’t think so.]
What is the Deal about Easter Eggs?
Persians, Egyptians, Romans, and many other peoples were said to revere eggs as mystical symbols of life, birth, rebirth, redemption, transformation, and renewal. People dyed and exchanged eggs from time immemorial. Indeed, remnants of decorative eggs dating back to 3000 BCE have been found. Eggs were dyed red, symbolic of life force, vigor, health, and prosperity, in Mediterranean lands and exchanged during the Spring equinox. This custom persisted among Greeks and Orthodox Christians.
Because eggs represented life and potential, they were used for divination. Methods, which were practiced in various places in Europe in pre- and post-Christian times, included smashing an egg on a board and reading the designs in the mess or else piercing the egg, letting white dribble into a bowl of water, and interpreting the patterns of the mixture.
Eggs also were—and still are—used to magically absorb or avert negative energy or illness. Practices included passing a whole raw egg over the face or body and then breaking it and placing an egg in dish beneath victim’s bed and keeping it until it began to smell (the idea being that the smell is the rotten energy it absorbed).
Because eggs were so mystical, they were feared to be used for evil magic. Egg shells were to be smashed because they were thought to be used by witches for transportation. Eggs of certain sizes or colors or having irregularities in them or laid by certain types of hens on certain days all could portend caution, ill luck, or supernatural evil in various (Christian-based) folk cultures, and rituals were enacted to deal with that. Eggs also were used in love magic by reading omens in eggs or by following rituals related to storing, sharing, or consuming them. They also were used as poppets in sympathetic black magic in which they were buried or treated in some other way meant to harm the target.
Games such as egg tapping (smashing eggs together or on someone) and egg rolling may have started as out rituals to either ensure good luck or avert negative energy.
What about Rabbits?
The Romans, in particular, venerated them and goats as symbols of fertility, letting them run loose during fertility-related festivals, such as Floralia, which was celebrated in late April in honor of Flora, the Goddess of Spring, flowers, fruit trees, and fertility and twin sister of Faunus—which is the Roman Pan. The Romans also used to give gifts of small, phallic shaped vegetables to each other as gifts at this time.
A Paradigmatic Shift Spring Fertility Festivals Become Easter
In the Mediterranean, deities associated with Spring and rebirth were commemorated during the equinox and ensuing May Day (Celtic Beltaine). Deities of this type, include Maia Maiestas (the Roman Great Goddess who was associated with the Earth and its abundance) and Persephone/Proserpine and Attis (who were associated with late Roman mystery cults and afterlife mysticism).
In the 4th century, the Council of Nicea decreed that the celebration of the resurrection of Christ would occur a week after the Spring equinox, and, thus, common symbols of life and regeneration—the hare and egg—were adapted into the celebration of the new holiday. Although it was called Pasca (or a derivative) in Mediterranean and Slavic countries (referring to “Passover”), the holy day came to be called Easter or Ostern in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic (ie, Teutonic) lands in reference to the month of April and not a cryptic tip-of-the hat to the goddess Eostre.
Blessed Easter and Happy Ostara, Spring Equinox or Whatever you choose to celebrate tomorrow. I’m just going to take a walk in the woods, weather permitting, and not think about it.
- Current Mood: blah
So, I am doing my meditations, visualizations, “astral temple” work, sigil “incubation” and having the usual Inner Plane aetheric experiences related to a group project for the lodge that has to do with the Archangel Michael "meme. This all the usual fun and games and mind vomit of occultists probing the aethyrs. All the while, things have been kind of crappy in real life lately and when something does happen, it’s just to push my buttons. So, reflecting on this, I remembered how much this is this
Now, I used to be really, really into revering deity in the form of the Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali. I spent years—perhaps a decade or more--immersed in a text called the Devi Mahatmyam—The Glory of the Goddess, which tells 3 stories of how the Goddess, who is the combined power of all the gods, kills a bunch of archdemons to restore the order of the Universe. People who get into Goddess worship often get all sappy about God-as-All-Accommodating-Mother. But when you start interacting with God as Goddess, this is what is really happening.
And that is what the scriptures about it really say, actually. And despite the idiot literalism and presentism, sentimentality, and self-righteousness that people apply to Christian scripture and apocryphal lore, the same thing that is happening in the picture of Durga is happening in this image by Albrecht Durer of Michael slaying Satan during the War in Heaven.
The Arbatel, I’ve concluded, essentially is a treatise on how to live in harmony, ease, and intimacy with the energies of the Multiverse. It begins by saying that the Arbatel “Is made of nine Tomes of seven septenaries of Aphorisms.” (Et habet Tomos neouem Aphorismorum septies septenorum; Turner transliterates this phrase as “Containing nine Tomes, and seven Septenaries of Aphorisms.”) Although the Arbatel declares that is it a document that contains nine chapters that each contain seven sections of seven aphorisms (total 49 aphorisms per section), the only known, existing “tome” of the Arbatel is the first, called the Isagoge, which the author of the Arbatel says relates “the most general precepts of the whole Art” and means “Book of the Institutions of Magic.” It does read like an overview except for a portion (aphorism 17) that goes into some detail about the Olympic Spirits, leaving late Modern and post-Modern occultists fixated on just that and conflating information within the Arbatel with their own magical paradigms.
Behind the Christian-based medieval piety is a spiritual paradigm that harkens to—not Solomonic or Cabalist magic or Rosicrucian mysticism (which the Arbatel likely predates)—but classical Roman paganism in which every conceivable thing had a tutelary spirit underlying its reason for being with the idea that harmony came through cooperative exchange. The treatise also can be categorized as “qualified nondualism,” in which it is acknowledged that all things have their source and existence within rather than in relation to God. This is inferred in aphorism 13:
The Lord lives and all things that live do so in him.
The Arbatel stands apart from other notable medieval grimoire. References to ceremonialism and Solomonic and Cabalistic trappings are marginal. Rather, the tract references Pythagorean, classical Hermetic, and classical Roman mysticism.
Although I initially thought that Aphorism 27, which gives instructions about drawing the Seal of Secrets, referred to the Olympic Spirits, I later realized that, no; it is meant to be a floor plan of where various tutelary spirits reside according to the day, season, phase of the moon, moon mansion, month, and zodiac.
Last summer, while conducting dreamtime experiments related to the Olympic Spirits and Arbatel with three other persons, I—and others in the group—were confronted with cryptic messages about the Seal of Secrets being a gadget, a calendar, something to sort through, and also one’s own body. All these things are true, but we were so stuck on the Olympic-Spirit slant that we did not see the bigger picture.
· I believe that the Seal of Secrets is a Western yantra of the Multiverse, the meditation on which, for the initiated, reveals the structure and interconnectedness of the macrocosm and the microcosm.
· Imagine the seal being multidimensional. The very center is a tiny sphere representing Phul, the elemental world, form, the body.
· Eight radials emerge from it which are like cones forming the armature of the Cosmos, each connecting the micrcocosm to the macrocosm. This is the pillar or channel within which is found the so-called six-rayed star. It is Ophiel, the Azoth, serpent power, and secret fire.
· Enclosing the small central orb is another orb. This is Hagith, the elemental sphere—the Earth, Earth Mother, and its sustaining energies. The sphere is guarded and buttressed by angelic entities related to the elemental humors: air, fire, water, and earth.
· Surrounding this is a cube that divides space into halves, representing duality, complementarities, oppositions, and tensions that move individual being into action and interaction. This is Phaleg.
· Surrounding the cube is another sphere that is like a corona that vitalizes all within it. This is Och.
· Boundlessly permeating all this and strung like a web on the armature is the Eros, Life Force, the World Soul, which is Bethor.
· Enclosing it all and providing a Ground of Being, Limitation, and Intelligible Design is the Intellectual Principle, which is Aratron.
The Seal also is a mnemonic, calendar-like device in which a person can place him or herself in a certain 23-hour or so time span (i.e., mansion of the moon) in a particular part of a week, month, astrological sign, and season and then reflect on, accommodate, or use all of the tutelary entities associated with that particular time frame. The problem is that the paradigm used by the author of the Arbatel is not explicit. Clues suggest that it wasn’t the same paradigm used by, say, Robert Fludd (1574-1627) or Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), though.
Aphorism 27 includes the following information:
The Eastern secret is the study of all wisdom. The West is of Strength. The South, of cultivation. The North of a more rigid life . . . . The use of this seal of secrets is that, through it, you may know when the spirits or angels are produced that may teach you secrets they receive from God . . . .
This might place an angelic entity associated with Jupiter in the East, Sol in the West, Saturn in the South, and Luna in the North. We know that in Roman lore, Jupiter was associated with wisdom, Saturn with cultivation/agriculture, the sun with strength, and the moon with the natural and elemental world.
This section of aphorism 27 goes on to make references to the horsemen of the apocalypse (a Christian reworking of “the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” [Zechariah 1:8-17, 6:1-8).
But they have names taken from their offices and powers, according to the gift that God has given to each one. One has the power of the sword [war; red horse], another of pestilence [death; pale horse], and another of inflicting famine upon the people [black horse], according to the will of God. Some are destroyers of cities [conquest; white horse], as those two [Michael and Gabriel, according to lore] were who were sent to overthrow Sodom and Gomorrha and the places adjacent to them . . . Some watch over Kingdoms; others are the keepers of private persons . . . .[tutlelary and guardian angels]
The author of the Arbatel continues, saying that persons and cultures have their own names for various angels—and also stresses elsewhere in the text—that spiritual entities, including the Olympic Spirits, are named after their offices and roles but may give more personal names and energy signatures to the people who enter into communication with them. In addition, the author states in the latter part of aphorism 27 that all that is needed is to address the angelic or tutelary entity “seriously, with a great mental desire, faith, constancy, and without doubt that what he asks he shall receive from God, the father of all Spirits. This faith surmounts all seals and brings them into subjection of the will of man. Calling angels through their characters follows this faith, which depends on divine revelation . . . .”Update 6-21-13. I plan to publish a book (e-book and print although the print will be costly in 4-color) about my experiences with the Arbatel and hope to have it ready by August of this year. It will include update material for this and my other blog and more. Also visit http:sorcerersandmagi.blogspot.com. I also have a Rizzoma (closed chat) site where discussion on the Arbatel can take place. It is set up but the original lot of people invited to participate have mostly all not followed through. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for info.
- Current Mood:busy
“Never shall age destroy so holy a day! For how many years shall this festival abide!” Statius, 5th Century CE (Silvae, I 698ff)
And so it does, under another guise and paradigm.
Inspired by the Neoplatonist Plotinus and also the writing of Professor John Opsopaus, I have been commemorating Saturnalia for about 4 or so years now. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to get naked and sing in the streets or take flight into bacchanalian reverie as some did in classical Roman times. I can’t even get a sympathetic friend or two to swing by to watch me perform my solemn, cobbled together, neopagan rite in honor of Saturn. In performing the rite alone, though, there is a presence and potency, as well as an intimacy that I would not be able to muster in the presence of spectators. Cult rites in antiquity were often private matters anyway, conducted by select initiates and priestly dignitaries behind the veil of the inner temple while the laity simply got into what was supposed to be a joyously festive spirit. Fortunately this year for me, unlike in years past, the days immediately following the one on which I will conduct my Saturnalia rite will be full of festivity as I hop from one Winter Solstice gathering or holiday party to another. So it will play out as it should.
Saturnalia traditionally began on December 17th—or at least it was set on the 17th when the Julian calendar went into effect. A ritual and sacrifice was conducted in the temple of Saturn, the oldest Temple in Rome. The image of the deity was hollow and brimming with olive oil and it was bound, like sheaves of harvested wheat, in wool yarn, equating Saturn with the land, the seasons (Time), agriculture, and sustenance. At the conclusion of the ritual, the cry went out Io Saturnalia! and a massive public feast began.
The official holiday lasted 3 to 7 days depending on the whims of whoever was ruling at the time. We are told that homes and gardens were festively decorated with wreaths and garlands and that outdoor trees were festooned with garlands and ornaments in the shape of phalluses and other symbols of fertility and animal figurines. People fancifully dressed up, indulged children, allowed certain freedoms to their servants, and exchanged gifts of candles, cookies, and poppets or small images (siligium). They also sang in the streets and frolicked with abandon in the celebration of life and light. Oh, it all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? But wait; there’s more. Who was being commemorated at this time but Old King Saturn, the most ancient of Roman deities, who was now living in retirement in the mythical uber north country of Hyperborea (perhaps in a McMansion a sleigh ride away from his alter ego, Santa Claus).
Unlike in Greek culture, in which Kronos was more of a untouchable, curmudgeony Underworld deity—a maleficent of sorts—Roman Saturn, after being overthrown by his son Jupiter, was said to have amended his ways and to have become a wise old King who brought culture and technology to Italy. His rule was said to be a Golden Age in which peace, personal freedom, and abundance prevailed.
The name Saturn is derived from the word satus, which means sower. His consort, Ops, also commemorated at this time, is none other than Mother Earth. The name Ops comes from the word opus—great work. Here, I am reminded of that story of the Pentemychos that I have discussed before in this blog. Long before the classical Roman era, in the 5th century BC, the philosopher Pherecydes of Syros penned a metaphorical creation story in which principle hypostatic deities Kronos (Saturn, that is), Zas (Zeus/Jupiter) and Chthonie (Prima Materia/Mother Earth) sort of have a 3-way, with Kronos bestowing the seed and Zas the vigor of insemination. From the union, the “offspring of the gods” are born.
Writing a thousand years after Pherecydes, in about the 3rd century CE, Plotinus pens this beautiful tract about Saturn in the 4th passage of 1st tractate of his 5th Ennead.
That archetypal world is the true Golden Age—the age of Kronos—who is the Intellectual-Principle, being the offspring or exuberance of God. All that is immortal is in this. Nothing is here but the Divine Mind; all is God. This is the place of every soul. Here is rest unbroken. For, how can change be sought in which all is well? What needs to be aspired to by that which holds all within itself? What more can be desired for that in which everything is utterly achieved? All its content, thus, is perfect such that it may be wholly perfect, possessing nothing that is less than divine and intellective. Its knowing is not by search but by possession; its blessedness is inherent, not acquired. . . . this is pure being in eternal actuality. Nowhere is there any future, for every then is a now; nor is there any past, for nothing there has ever ceased to be.” Adapted from “The Three Initial Hypostases” by Plotinus translated by Stephen MacKenna
In this, we see another side of so-called Paganism in which the focus is not on animistic polytheism or metaphors about the changing seasons or “earth-based” spirituality, but Cosmic spirituality in which one wrangles with the relationship between God and self, the Macrocosm and Microcosm, and aspires to alchemy and gnosis.
Saturn is awareness in Time and Space in which everything exists in perfect, ideal potentiality. It is Cosmos that begets Logos (which Plotinus personifies as Zeus). Certain Gnostics and medieval mystics/mages, however, equated Saturn with bondage and chaos, because, like the Eastern Maya, Saturn is regarded as the limiting principle. However even Agrippa seems to have regarded Saturn with endearment similar to that of Plotinus, referring to the deity in his opus De Occulta Philosophia as “a great and wise lord, the begetter of silent contemplation.” He is a real Old One, an awesomely ambiguous deity at the root of phenomenological existence. As is implied in the works of medieval Gnostics such as Boehme and the philosophical alchemists of that era, he is the natural self whose destiny is to realize its true nature as the spiritual Self in a path of return. Indeed, I have begun to think Saturn is the Western equivalent of Mahamaya, which although described as the Great Nescience or Grand Illusion of Being, is, etymologically speaking, the measurement of the Cosmos. It is punched through via grace, which is the prize for at least aspiring to if not attaining “realization” of what it’s really all about.
Even so, men are hurled into the whirlpool of attachment . . . through the power of Mahamaya who makes possible the existence of this world . . . She . . . forcibly affecting even the minds of the wise, throws beings into delusion. She creates this entire universe, both moving and unmoving. It is she who, when gracious, bestows boons on human beings so that they may achieve final liberation. She is the supreme knowledge, the cause of final liberation, and eternal. She is the cause of the bondage of transmigration of the soul and the sovereign over all lords. Devi Mahatmyam I.53-58
On the one hand, we are stuck with the ruthlessness of the organism of material existence. On the other, we have the privilege of indulging in experiences—instead of not existing. And yet, there is a way out, we are told, to a fuller, original expression of Being.
In working with Saturn consciousness in my work with the Arbatel, also discussed at length in this blog, the archetype that I generally experienced was that of a wise, old god figure—the proverbial old, white bearded man in the sky. Not a harsh authoritarian figure, but one of grave, protective, parental, and sincerely committed love—the kind that is both reassuring and runs the risk of being suffocating. Indeed, I document in one of my final notes on the matter during one round of workings that I was struck by this message: “It is the monster of time and space which you cling to for existence and to which you are in bondage.” I wrote: “I reasoned that it had 2 sides: time and timelessness, space and spaciousness. In its time/space aspect, it guards and sustains and also blocks and binds. We are attracted to it because we want to preserve our ego-personality in this structure but this structure binds us to the wheel of desire and misery. If we approach it, we must do so to conquer the limitations but we become something else entirely then. God may actually be the paradigm that oppresses us and yet it is the way beyond it. But this is what the Hindu Great Goddess is and what Hermeticists and Gnostics knew.”
I was asked to give brief comment on my view of Paganism and Samhain as part of the upcoming Sunday Service at the local Unitarian Universalist Society where I recently became the facilitator of the congregation’s Pagan fellowship. I struggled a bit with what I wanted to say and how to say it simply and succinctly, but then it came to me during the Friday drive home from work. A song from the early 70s by Rare Earth came on the radio: “I just want to celebrate another day of living. I just want to celebrate another day of life.” And I thought, That’s it. That is what both modern and ancient pagan festivals and rituals were meant to be—a cause to celebrate life here and now as it naturally is—the life cycle, the organism of Life.
I’m not sure whether I identify myself as a Pagan or if want to have any self-identifying labels at this point. I hold on to the concept of monism but I sometimes relate to spirituality as if a polytheist or an animist, and I don’t always know where archetype ends and deity begins. But as I go on, none of it matters. It’s all mindstuff and ultimately irrelevant in relation to what really is, which is just life in the present moment, with “religious” “faith” being the knowing that the next moment will be okay because it, too, is as things are.
So, for Samhain, people will be self-identifying with this or that myth, grandmother story, or other regurgitation about what Paganism or Craft is. That’s nice. The morning after spending time with a close friend, hopefully making music and dancing around a small camp fire and sharing meaningful meditation and conversation—like I did last year on Samhain with another group of acquaintances—I intend to tell a congregation of Unitarian Universalists that I think of the observances and rituals of (post) modern Paganism not so much as a carryover of ancient pre-Christian religion but as a carry-forward of folk culture and spirituality. By folk culture, I mean life at the grassroots. What is natural, life affirming, spontaneous and also has a connection to the environment and natural life. It’s not based on a past paradigm; it’s based on how people really are, spiritually speaking, when free of thought police. And this grassroots spirituality also respects and validates the human need for metaphorical and magical thinking and transpersonal experiences.
Forms and rituals practiced by modern Pagans began to develop in the 19th century. They drew from folk culture—things passed on through clan or family, myth (including myths about what Paganism and witchcraft was, which some postmodern Pagans and historians have been in the process of deconstructing), and reinterpretation of medieval ceremonial magic, which was the domain of clerics and male intellectuals and was based in Hermetic Christian and Hebrew mysticism. We also know that modern Paganism (i.e., Wicca) also took inspiration from American Native Spirituality and the Naturalist Movement. All this—neopaganism” (initially used as a disparaging rather than self-referencing term) was, in part, a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the repression of Victorian Era.
It is convention in (post) modern Pagan ritual to cast a circle and call the quarters. Frankly, I am not sure whether many of the Pagans or Wiccans I know are aware of why they are quarter calling or who/what they are addressing when they do so. I am not going to digress on that here or in my comment to the Unitarian Universalist congregation though. Rather, I am going to tell the congregation that Pagan circle casting and quarter calling is not that different and is, in part, inspired by, what Hindus, Buddhists, and Native Americans (and Hermetic ceremonial magicians) do in religious ritual. They carve out sacred space, ritually purify that space, and then they reflect on their relationship to space and its contents, including Time: the directions, the seasons, phases of the sun and moon, the body and its senses and other constituents, and the lifespan. Space and person is ritually purified and honored through fumigation, aspersing, and initiatory sounds, words, and gestures. And in this, the elements—earth, water, fire, air, space—and their philosophical correspondences are acknowledged to, in turn, acknowledge what the physical self is and what the world is. The ritual is meant to honor and celebrate this and offer it –and ourselves as it—back to the source of being, which we are called to identify with as True Nature.
Samhain has its origins as an Irish/Celtic festival that lasted for a few days at the cusp of October and November. Because of how modern Paganism developed, focus is primarily placed on traditions within Celtic, Welsh, and Teutonic traditions rather than others. We think of them as Pagan holy days, but they were probably more like cultural traditions.
Samhain marked the last harvest and the preparation for the winter, including the slaughtering of livestock for meat. At these cusps of time (not only during Samhain but also during festivals such as the late spring festival of Beltaine), the world was “unclean” possibly because of the preponderance of either birthing, which was dicey endeavor in days of yore, (during the Spring festivals) or death (during the late autumn festivals). It was thought that the doors between the worlds were thin and that both good and not so good spirits could come through. It was a time not only to bond as a community but with the generations, and so these festivals presented a different perspective of time and place than what is the norm in industrial modernity.
We are told that the community would extinguish their home hearths and fires on sacred hills and then relight the communal fire from which all the hearths would be relit as a gesture of purification and renewal. The community especially would gather around bonfires (that is, “bone fires” in which the bones of slaughtered animals were thrown) and jump them and pass livestock through them for good luck.
We imagine that there was much feasting, frolicking, sensualism, and music-making at these times—a carnival atmosphere in which the daily cares of the world are put on hold. How is this different from a Saturday night out for some people or a Christmas party or 4th of July barbeque? People will have different answers, I suppose, but what will separate how I celebrate Samhain this evening—or any meaningful holiday Pagan or otherwise—from mundane interactions is merely mindfulness.
- Current Mood: contemplative
While most modern Pagans are in the afterglow of the Fall Equinox/Mabon and gearing up for Samhain, my mind is glossing on the Eleusinian mysteries, celebrated for at least 1000 years on the outskirts of Athens, Greece, in the month Boedromion (late September–early October).
Allusions to Persephone arose for me during the group Arbatel Working that I have discussed previously in this blog. In retrospect while reviewing my notes, I wondered whether the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries of Persephone and Dionysos Zagreus, lost to time but no doubt reverberating in archetypal consciousness, could be elicited through working with the Arbatel.
I was not alone in receiving cryptic content about Persephone. The other woman in the Arbatel Working group, who I will refer to as SI, also received hints. I learned that she had long drawn great inspiration from the Persephone myth in her work as a professional artist and occultist.
My own major exposure to the Persephone myth came the year previously—2009—when I had become immersed in a project that consisted of the development of a ritual play about the myth of the abduction of Persephone. My initial vision was simple and more of an oratory, keeping in mind that ritual plays are ancient forms of devotion. The material was inspired by Orphic hymns and the work of Alfred Lord Tennyson. The project, however, was taken over by another person whose vision was a more elaborate theatrical performance based on the exoteric Homeric hymn of Demeter. The ritual play was supposed to be presented at a large, annual fall event by members of a Wiccan coven, but by the time the event rolled around, I as well as virtually all of the coven members had been shut out of the project. The play was performed as theater by amateur-actor contacts of the coven leader.
The disenfranchised coven members and I ultimately regrouped, forming what is now more of a magical study group: New Aeon Lodge—small but strong and approaching a year’s resilience.
I have flown out of the Circle of Heavy Grief and stepped swift-footed onto the Circle of Joy. I have made straight for the Breast of the Mistress, the Queen of the Underworld.
And now I come as a supplicant to Holy Persephone, that by Her Grace, She sends me to the Seats of the Hallowed. [Saying,] “Happy and Blessed One, you shall be god instead of mortal.” –Bacchic/Orphic gold tablets, Thurii, Southern Italy, 4th century BCE
In late April 2010, I was invited to collaborate with three other persons, two men and another woman, on a project related to decoding and integrating the mysteries of the Arbatel. The first phase of this group Working took place in May 2010. The others in the Cohort, who were more experienced in Hermetic ceremonial magic and grimoire-focused work than me, concentrated on a part of the Arbatel that I had summarily overlooked in my first pass with the text: The Seal of Secrets described in Aphorism 27.
Because the lead facilitator of the Cohort had long been dedicated to dreamwork, we decided to contact the Olympic Spirits through this method. Before retiring, we would acknowledge the moon mansion of the day and its corresponding ruling planet/Olympic Spirit and perform whatever preparatory ritual we each saw fit to do. Then, as we were drifting into sleep, we were to visualize the sigil of the appropriate Olympic Spirit in a certain way. We then kept a group dream log on a secure, on-line site and also kept a lively discussion going through a Wave application.
The most pertinent information I received did not come during dream sequences but while falling asleep or in periods of contemplation during the day. Deciphering number codes within the Arbatel and the geometric shapes I had been envisioning the month before (April 2010) occupied my days. As for dream content, a recurrent theme had to do with properly sorting items that represented the Olympic Spirits and visualizing parts of the Seal. I often dreamed that I was talking to people about the Seal. SI had similar recurring dreams related to handling and deconstructing gadgets that represented the Seal or the Olympic Spirits and of receiving discussion-format teachings about the Seal from entities. Messages related to Pythagorean and Orphic mysticism also were prominent for us. The following notes concern Persephone.
On the night of Wednesday May 12, 2010 (4th mansion of the moon EST, Aldebaran, “The Follower,” Ophiel [Mercury]). I recorded that, although I didn’t experience a narrative dream, I kept envisioning a sphere-like shape made of 8 orange radials—a shape and color that I associated with Ophiel. Images of the ibis, the zoomorphic form of Egyptian Thoth (quasi cognate of Mercury/Hermes), also recurred. The relevancy here is that during my previous solo Arbatel Working in April, I made contact with an entity during my first Ophiel evocation who introduced himself as Thoth and sometimes appeared thereafter as an ibis.
But also that night, in the period in which I get to the brink of sleep, I was startled back into full consciousness by this message:
“How do we mold ourselves into spiritual powers?” (And the answer:) “For this reason, ask Persephone.”
On the very night that I received this message, SI had a dream, recorded the following morning in our group dream diary, in which two old men were sadly reminiscing and gazing in anxiety at a large brown satchel that had belonged to a woman they once knew. As SI explained it, the two men were both in love with the woman who distanced herself from both of them so as not to ruin their friendship. The men were trying to trick each other into opening the satchel. Finally, one of the men addressed the other, saying, “Why are we torturing ourselves like this. Why don’t we make her open it. She has the key.” At which, he pointed directly to SI.
This got me thinking about material I came across months previously while researching an article that included discussion about the pentagram. I stumbled upon information about the doctrine of the Pentemychos, a philosophy told as creation mythology and attributed to the 6th century BC pre-Socratic philosopher Pherecydes of Syros, the legendary teacher of Pythagoras. (See the brief Pherecydes of Syros. http://pediaview.com/openpedia/Pherecyde
In the Pentemychos, the interplay between pre-cosmic Time (Chronos), Being/Eros (Zas), and “That Which Underlies the Earth” (Chthonie) results in the creation of the Cosmos. Chronos as pre-Cosmic Time (i.e., Time and Timelessness) is related to Kronos (ordered Time). Zas is thought to be synonymous with Zeus as the Life Principle. Chthonie is the prima materia who becomes Gaia (Earth) through marital union with Zas. Note that Gaia and Demeter (Earth Mother), among other goddesses such as Rhea and Hekate—and also Isis and the Phrygian Cybele (Magna Mater), were regarded as cognates and that an epithet of Demeter is Chthonia.
In brief, a structure made of five recesses (a pente-mychos), which may be or be in Chthonie, is inseminated by Chronos, who provides the semen/seed, and by Zas, who represents the activity and potency of insemination, giving rise to the “offspring of the gods”; that is, Creation. This event, however, occurs in the midst of an archetypal drama that pits light and dark and order and chaos against each other. The agents of chaos are ultimately overcome and cast down into Tartarus, the lowest and most dismal plane of existence, a Hell lower than Hades.
Although most of the doctrine of the Pentemychos is lost, it is thought that within it were wisdoms about the nature of life, enlightenment, reincarnation, and the afterlife.
When I read SI’s dream record for the night of May 12, I imagined that the two men were Kronos and Zeus sadly and anxiously pondering what had become of the world fashioned from their liaison with their beloved but lost Chthonie (a large brown leather satchel, being a mychos—a recess or receptacle—and indicative of earth).
Where is the solution/resolution—or key—to the anxiety of these entities—in the mortal soul—product of Earth and Spirit—aspiring toward enlightenment, as SI has been doing. Also note that Hekate, the crone form of Persephone, bears the key that unlocks the mysteries in her iconography.
I will add that this was one of many cryptic dream interludes in which the Olympic Spirits seemed to be trying to “reach us”; as if they were just as frustrated about the most efficient way to connect with us as we with them. I recall a dream on the night of May 15 (\in which we were in the 7th mansion of the moon, ruled by Aratron (Saturn). In the dream, I was walking in a woodland park with Aratron and a woman. Aratron was a tall, thin, aged, and grey, but attractive fellow. He did not acknowledge me. The woman was earthy, dowdy, pudgy, with short straight brown hair and thick, feral bucked teeth. She turned to me while he continued walking and said, “We have to go figure something out. Bye.” The sense was that she and Aratron were parting company with me because they needed to walk ahead to discuss how better to “reach” us Cohort members because we were not quite “getting” what the Olympic Spirits were trying to impart.
Interestingly, when I awoke that next morning, the sigil of Aratron was very present to me. Its image lingered in my mind for hours that day along with an intense feeling of being in love or loved—loved by Saturn—as if he were vying for my affection with Jupiter.
The Persephone theme also leaked into the nocturnal communications on one of the intervening nights, May 13th (5th mansion of the moon, ruled by Bethor [Jupiter]).
The falling-to-sleep message was the number 169, which resolves to 7—the number of the classical planets. The number may also be an allusion to the central pillar of the Cabalist Tree of Life: Kether (1)-Tiphareth (6)-Yeshod (9).
Shortly after this, an image of bright, vivid flames and the words (a man’s voice speaking), “She is my sister!” startled me awake. The brother of Persephone would be Plutus (son of Demeter and the mortal Iason) or Dionysos Zagreus (son of Demeter and Zeus), both or either possibly related to Iachos/Brimos—the divine son born during the mysteries of Eleusis.
In revisiting this in my editing of the raw notes, I am thinking that the message refers to the Secret Fire/Kundalini and transformational processes described through metaphor.
In Cabala, the name of God: Yod Heh Vau Heh, we are told, signifies Father-Mother-Son-Daughter and the sefiroh Chokmah (2), Binah (3), Tiphareth (6), and Malkuth (10). Chokmah and Binah (Wisdom and Understanding) are Father-Mother through whose emanation duality and the manifest universe emerge. Tiphareth and Malkuth (Beauty and Kingdom) are Son and Daughter, the reflection of the Macrocosm in the Microcosm, with the Son being the intermediary in the path of return. The placement of these sefiroh forms a Tau cross.
Aleister Crowley equates the Son with the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA, a construct discussed in the 14th century grimoire The Book of Abramelin and earlier defined and called the Augoeides by the Neoplatonist Porphyry [3rd century] ). According to Crowley, the Father refers to the highest spiritual attainment (union with the divine principle, equated with the sphere of Kether in the Cabalist Tree of Life); the Son—also called the Younger Brother—refers to the HGA, which is the ideal Self. The union of the HGA with the natural soul—the Daughter—self-actualizes the soul so that it realizes its divine nature, becoming the Mother that joins with the Father. (See Crowley et al’s Book 4 and Book 418 [Liber CDXVIII]). The idea is that the natural soul is transformed through a spiritual spark or intercessor—sometimes also called the secret fire or serpent power—so that it overcomes its animal nature and realizes its spiritual nature and all its benefits.
Jump to the night of July 11th (9th mansion of the moon, Algebha, ruled by Phul [Luna]), during a second phase of the group Working. (The Cohort had taken a month hiatus and then decided to do a second round of dreamwork for the month of July 2010.) During this period, I had been having dreams about comparing and correcting lists and documents about the Olympic Spirits and also about pairing the Olympic Spirits or dividing them into pairs.
On this night, I first dreamed that I was reviewing a list of Greco-Roman and Greco-Egyptian God-names that included the planets. The list was supposed to be studied or reworked for accuracy. The second round of this dream (as if I was dreaming it on and off) had to do with the Prince and Nobles of the quarters of the Seal of Secrets. The prince and each of the 6 flanking nobles were to be divided in halves, making “12” parts (not 14). This information was to be studied with another person(s) to confirm or expand the information.
I recorded this dream sometime around 5 AM and fell back into a light sleep. I heard this message:
“In some more common traditions, the Prince is as it is in the Arbatel, but She is the personification of death and anger, which must be thrown off.” The sense was that when death and anger are thrown off, “Her” real nature (which is our real nature) is known. My immediate thought was to go back to the subject of Persephone, who represents Death (Persephone means She Who Destroys [perse] the Light [phone]) and whose mother Demeter represents anger under the epithet Erynis [“furious”], described in the Persephone-Demeter myth as wrecking havoc in enraged response to what Zeus, Hades, and the other gods did regarding the abduction of her daughter).
I am also thinking about the parallels between Demeter and the Hindu goddess Durga, who is called Chandi –Ferocious, Angry—because she ferociously slays demons, which are, in actuality, one’s faults, vices, and neurotic conditioning. A dark form of Durga is Kali, who is called “She Who Turns All Forms to Ashes.” In this way, Kali perhaps bears some similarity to Persephone in that both goddesses have an edge and their contemplation holds the key to understanding and transcending the brutality of life and the wheel of fate.
-- Soror ZSD23
- Current Mood: content
Deconstructing Karma—and Debunking It
He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.
- George Orwell
Karma is a Sanskrit term that means “activity” or “work.” It is derived from the word root kri: to do or to act. It originally referred to attending to religious observances (making offerings to the gods in the appropriate way) and being diligent about one’s culturally defined responsibilities. In this way, it was somewhat conflated with ideas about destiny. It became a term applied to a somewhat scientific observation of cause and effect or action and reaction, and it also came to be used in relation to the idea of merit and demerit, sin and punishment, or punishment and vindication. Parallel ideas existed in the West, and we need to look no further than the Bible for corroboration in coming upon tales in which people mull over what unwitting grievance they or someone else –or some ancestor of theirs—had committed that was the root cause of their lousy luck. We find a treatment of this, in fact, in the Book of Job, in which the idea of “karma” as the modern world now bandies about, is debunked.
I sat through an interesting sermon/lecture about 2 weeks ago at the local Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Stamford, CT). The readings and sermon were delivered by a guest speaker, the Reverent Deb Morra who is affiliated with UU congregations in nearby White Plains, NY, and is a social worker and mental health professional and an activist for the underserved, disadvantaged, and groups challenged by discriminatory public policies. She spoke at length about the Book of Job, about “why bad things happen to good people,” and about the pleasure/pain principle that we, as humans, struggle with and interpret. In conclusion, she reminded us that, in the grand scheme of things, pleasure is not a reward and pain is not a punishment. In life, people don’t “get what they deserve”; they just get to be alive and live.
We find the idea of “karma” or the adage, “you reap what you sow,” solacing, especially when we reflect on it in relation to people who have wronged us. (ie, they will “pay” for it—if not in this life, then in the next). The doctrine of karma, however, is more subtle and complex than this. It needs to be understood if one is to understand and make peace with oneself and have compassion for others.
I once found myself being strongly chided by a Buddhist lama because I questioned his teaching about karma. The lama’s approach seemed to be a very simplistic, black and white. In his view, a person could expect to get back an exact reflection of whatever he or she did and was wholly responsible for whatever ills befell him or her. This caused some people in his sangha to be concerned and meticulously neurotic about their treatment of such things as insects lest obliterating one result in their own reincarnation and demise as a lowly bug. (Indeed, I find such attentiveness—and most pop-jabber on karma from any front—the height of narcissism and self-involvement.)
The lama did not like my argument about how that didn't make sense in the context of interdependent arising—or perhaps he didn’t like my impudence. The next day, I went on a retreat at a Vedantist ashram. Serendipitously, the theme of retreat was the meaning of karma. In the first lecture of the day, the swami who was facilitating the retreat told us basically what I had told the lama the day before and what I am going to tell you here in this essay. It is also the gist of Job that Rev Morra eloquently related that Sunday morning a few weeks ago.
Life is full of ups and downs, gains and losses, and hurts and regrets. You know the adage: Shit happens. And what happens is often a matter of interpretation and perception. The Reverend paraphrased the American Buddhist monk Pema Chodron from the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times: If someone turns to you and says, “You’re old,” you might either be very proud (as, say a 5-year-old graduating kindergarten or a 98-year-old who is alive and kicking) or insulted (as, say, a 50-year-old woman, like myself).
Although we reap the consequences of our actions in one way or another (actions lead to reactions), it is presumptuous to make judgments about the quality and the root causes of those consequences. Sometimes things that seem “bad” only seem so because of our self-centered perspective. We judge everything by whether it is a pleasant or painful experience. If it is painful, we say it is “evil” and may draw the conclusion that it happened because we “deserved it.” But if we subject ourselves to transformational processes and take refuge in the mystic energies of those processes, we can be sure to experience pain and upheaval. This is called catharsis. It is what is meant by being purified in the Spirit, and it is a natural consequence of processes related to ego dissolution in the interests of gnosis attained through spiritual practice.
When “bad things happen to ‘good’ people,” the question should not be “why me?” especially in an age in which pressing a button on a remote control or gliding your finger across a pad on an electronic device gives you access to minute-by-minute, blow-by-blows about how really bad millions of other people in the world have it. Because the answer will always be, “Why not you?” And this is sort of what God ended up telling Job in the Biblical fable. “Shut up and take it like a man,” is what he basically told the guy—as if Job had unwittingly been drafted into the Marine Corp, and this is indeed a metaphor for Life.
It is self-defeating to blame misfortune on something done in the past, particularly if we think that whatever was done occurred in a speculative previous existence. Other persons (such as family members, friends, and others populating our environment) have a strong effect on how we behave and the choices we make such that we cannot be solely at fault for our choices. We are often led into them by the nose like stupid animals who don’t know any better. Indeed, our very selves in the form of ego-personalities are, in part, the epitome and the consequential effect of the persons who surround and influence us, who are themselves the hapless consequences of other hapless influences.
In light of this, the point of life is to become more aware and compassionate, and we often can only do this by making mistakes, having regrets, and going through trials.
In the Book of Job, Job asks a bunch of wise friends and God why bad things happened to him despite that he did all the right things to stay in favor with the Divine. The friends tell him to search his soul because he must’ve f--ked up somewhere along the way and is getting what he deserved. God, on the other hand, tells Job that God, being who/what he is, can do anything he God-damn pleases arbitrarily and with impunity, and who are puny humans to question him about it. His reasons are mysterious. “Resistance is futile,” and “cleanse your bottoms; it’s going to be bumpy ride.” In this, Job is left with feeling guilt and remorse—not for unknown actions that may have led to current misfortune—but for second-guessing God and presupposing what life is really supposed to be about.
But is God a meany then and is life that precarious and grueling? These questions and the Biblical fable of Job cause me to make the leap to two other Biblical passages. I am impelled to read them in a way I’ve never done before. It takes me out of the realm of glossy sentimentality and into an “ah-hah” experience about the nature of God, self, and the circumstance of being alive. Indeed, it is as if all the pious and pretty jargon written around the lines I will cite are blinds like the flowery piety that fills heretical steganographic Medieval magical grimoire. That is, there is something more, something quite deeper to extract and integrate from the prose.
The Biblical passages are the First Letter of John 4:16 and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13.7. In John 4:16, we are told that "God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him." Note that it does not say that God is an old man in the sky; it says that God is love and that we can live “in” it and it in us. For people who have any sense of religious philosophy or history or of how to put things in context, they would know that when 1st century CE people talk about Love or Beauty or Order in a philosophical way, they are talking about what God is—Cosmos—Life with a capital L—Manifest Reality. (Uh . . . “qualified nondualism,” “panentheism.”) In Corinthians 13.7, we are told that “[Love] is always ready to forgive, trust, and endure whatever comes.”
Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. The knowledge I have now is imperfect; then I will know as fully as I am known. --I Corinthians 13:12.
Think about it.
(This article is a reworked version of an earlier piece called “Karma” that my be floating around on the Web.)
- Current Mood: thoughtful