The Modern Western Occult Tradition
by Aaron Leitch (Khephera)
It can not be said that Aaron Leitch was ever accused of "running with the crowd". Quite the contrary- my Will has been to be so utterly rebellious that even the truest weirdos of the world (among whom I proudly count myself) have considered me quite odd. For the purposes of this essay, I am most specifically referring to my fellow Wizards and Witches- whose techniques and philosophies so rarely seem to match my own.
Indeed, I've found myself in many a heated debate over the subject of magick, and even been the focus of more than my fair share of flame wars. (These are arguments that have degenerated from useful debates into petty name-calling and ridiculous accusations.) Most of this has been my own fault. I have consistently presented my ideas in the wrong places, to the wrong people, and (most importantly) in the wrong manner. I have been called authoritative, bitter, and a few other names which sometimes- with all honesty- have certainly applied. My mode of presentation has generally left others with the impression that I am calling them "wrong" or implying that their work (which they have dedicated their lives to as much as I) is worthless. To the point- I've come to expect opposition to my thoughts. This is reflected in the tone of my writing, and thus I receive exactly what I set out to find.
This has not been my intention in the least- even in those cases where I do specifically disagree with another's chosen methods of working or philosophies about magick. The flame wars have always left me saddened and confused, as I could not see why my ideas were being railed against with such force. In many cases, I would recuperate from such a battle only to find another person presenting the same exact ideas as myself; without any hostile confrontation from the others! The final answer to all of this is simple- none of us are perfect. What makes us what we are- as humans- is that we can contemplate our past actions and make rational decisions about their effectiveness. If we are dissatisfied therewith, we can choose to alter course and make things work better from that point onward.
Of course I'm as stubborn as any Cancer (with Capricorn rising mind you!) could hope to be. I do not arrive at my ideas blindly in the least, nor do I easily let go of those ideas that I have found to be correct through experience. Thankfully, however, I do recognize that I am capable of mistakes, and I am relentlessly dedicated to the eradication of such mistakes when they present themselves as obstacles to my path. Thus is the reason for this essay. I am dedicating this to all who have "gotten the wrong idea" about my radical world-view. I wish to present my views in a manner that will not come across as authoritative, bitter, or infallible. I simply wish to share what I think magick is really all about, where it comes from (historically), how it works, and how it applies to what we are doing in the modern world. I wish, in short, to outline my take on the modern Western Occult Tradition.
Part One: West Meets East.
What we call the "Western Occult Tradition" is not truly an old thing. Of course, it's roots extend far back in history; all the way to ancient Egypt and Sumeria. Perhaps, with the revival of interest in ancient Paganism and Shamanism, we could say that our roots go back quite a bit farther. However, these roots are not quite our own roots. They are more properly considered the roots of the Tree from which our seed sprang forth. Thanks to the medieval Church, we can not enjoy a direct and unbroken link with the peoples of Egypt or Rome, or even the authors of the classical grimoires of the middle ages and renaissance. Instead, our forefathers (existing in the late 1800s onwards) were forced to ferret out the broken pieces of the old traditions from the darkness of obscurity, and slowly piece them together in the best ways they knew how. It was- and continues to be- largely a matter of trial and error. It's not so uncommon for us today to look back on their work and scoff. We, perhaps, forget what little they had to work with in their day. We give their claims to practicing the "ancient arts" too much credit, and fault them for their more obvious mistakes and prejudices.
Like us today, our forefathers possessed a radically different world view than did our ancient brethren. There are bits of information missing from the grimoires which make them nearly incomprehensible by our own modern concepts. Often these are interpreted as blinds or codes. Sometimes they are, but more often I have found that they are simply omissions made by the author because the concept was considered a given. When the author of the Goetia instructs us to anoint our eyes and temples with oil, he felt no need to include the obvious fact that the oil was to be made with such plants as belladonna. Of course it was supposed to include such a plant. Any novice in that day knew that! And, for those who couldn't figure that out, it would greatly help to disable the system and keep them from serious injury.
A few hundred years later, when those of a mystical bent decided to check out these old writings for clues into the Divine, they simply had no way of even guessing such a thing. They were certainly not stupid, and were totally aware that there were omissions in the material. Plus, they were mystical enough to intuit that the material they were reading was real enough even if it didn't seem workable "as written". Therefore, they did what any rational human being would do- they turned to their contemporary systems of mysticism for clues. Sadly, the few systems of purely Western origin that still existed were kept under serious lock and key by Inquisition-wary adepts. Our forefathers had no recourse at all to discuss matters with American Indian Shamans, or Santeros, or Voodoo Priests. Given the social climates of the times, such an action would have been unthinkable even if these people had been willing to give audience; which they were not.
Thankfully, however, there did seem to be a few doors open in the East. Our forefathers in England knew full well of the existence of men in India and the far East who could perform miracles at will; many of which were very similar to the miracles promised by the texts of the Egyptians or Chaldeans, or even a few of the grimoires. At the same time, the Eastern Masters had not been touched by the Inquisitions, and were willing to see their ideas adopted by others and spread across the globe. Therefore, in the late 1800s, our forefathers set to work combining their own Western ideas with the techniques and philosophies of their Eastern brothers.
It might be said that our first "forefather" was none other than Madam Blavatsky herself. Theosophy represents, perhaps, the first product of the thinking I have just described above. Some Eastern material was adopted outright- such as the Tatwas, Chackras, and even the idea of Karma. Yet much of the Eastern influence is much more subtle, and we find it expressed within the very basic assumptions that the Theosophists made about the universe and how it works. These Eastern-born concepts exist in our system to this very day. Such ideas as "True Will" (as opposed to Fate, or Destiny, or even a more atheistic concept of universal anarchy), or the stress on the importance of meditation, or even the simple concepts of "Universal Oneness" that we all seem to share- all of this descends to us from the East. They are not found in the works of Agrippa, or in the various Keys of Solomon, or the Books of Enoch, or the writings of John Dee. Neither are they found in the writings of the Chaldeans or Egyptians. There are isolated instances where these sources agree with Eastern wisdom, but they are coincidences rather than being directly historically linked. They are the result of two different cultures working toward the same basic goals. However, from Theosophy onward, we can claim a direct influence from the Eastern world, and the adoption of concepts that are totally alien to the ancient Western systems.
My point is not to say that the Eastern concepts are wrong. Hardly! It was truly the Wisdom of the Divine that finally led our two cultures together to compare notes. It is simply my wish to point out that these ideas have not "been there the whole time" in the Western tradition. Myself and others have often made the mistake of interpreting the grimoires and other Western texts with the assumption that the author was thinking as we do today. The author of the Goetia (probably) literally believed that there were three Divine Presences- the Trinity- who came from nowhere, created, and then ruled the earth as Their kingdom. He believed that he had been created by Them, and that his spirit was destined for either heaven or hell upon his physical death. On the other hand, I- a Wiccan- believe that there are two such Presences- the God and Goddess- who do not rule the universe so much as actually embody it. I believe that I and all males are currently living incarnations of what I call "The Lord", and that all women are living incarnations of "The Lady". I believe our spiritual essences are eternal- and are destined to re-manifest (reincarnate) upon some plane, in some form, for eternity. These simple differences in basic assumptions can lead to all sorts of miscommunication when I attempt to work with the Goetia, and they are perhaps the least of the differences between my thinking and the author's.
Shortly after the creation of Theosophy came the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This was an order founded by a small group of Master Masons and, of course, Theosophists who felt that Madam Blavatsky left something to be desired. They focused even more intently on traditional Western material (whose texts we still have largely thanks to the Masons), but had already been deeply affected by what they knew of Eastern philosophy. In the short time this order existed (it disbanded ten years after it's conception), it attracted such luminaries as A E Waite, Aliester Crowley, Dion Fortune, and Israel Regardie. These are just a few of the names of our true forefathers. Crowley himself is well known for adding huge amounts of Eastern practice into our systems, and Regardie and most of the others continued along that same path.
Now, understanding the wisdom inherent in these decisions by the adepts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one might ask where I could possibly find disagreement. In fact, it is not necessarily the decision to adopt Eastern concepts with which I find fault. However, one thing that often occurs when ideas are adopted from one system to another is that certain important points are neglected. While we have taken many Eastern philosophies and techniques into our basic assumptions, I note an overwhelming refusal to develop the training techniques that are vital to the systems. The following is a simple outline of just a couple of the more obvious points.
Most texts that I have found on magick today seem to assume that the student has the inherent ability to raise and direct power. By this I am not referring to those texts that teach such things as the Middle Pillar, or the Vibratory Formula. Although even these do not often extend past these exercises into real technical "nuts-and-bolts" instruction on the manipulation of body-energy. Some popular texts suggest using dance and music to raise energy within the Self, but do not in any way teach one how to direct the energy properly.
The fact is that the raising and directing of pure "energy" is an Eastern concept. In the West, a Wizard or Priest would work his miracles by sending out spirit familiars, or calling upon his guardians. He worked mainly through sacrifices and the calling of Names to compel the spirits to do his bidding. It is in the East that we hear of such things as directing Chi, or raising Kundalini. Most important, these were techniques that took a student years to master; they were never simply assumed to be inherent from the beginning. I feel that this tends to "disable" a large portion of our own modern techniques. Aleister Crowley stressed time and again that his students should fully study and practice the Eastern training methods, but only a very few of his descendants have followed that advice. It's certainly not to be found in one single book on Wicca, or the various other Neo-Pagan traditions.
Visualization is another major aspect of modern magick that was adopted from the East. This is not to say that no Western Master ever visualized anything, but it is to say that it is not an ingrained aspect of our heritage. Again, everyone from the authors of the grimoires to the Priests of ancient Egypt worked with spirits instead- and "picturing" those spirits was not required. Visions were, of course, more than common, but these were obtained via the shamanic use of drugs such as cannabis, the sacred mushroom, or even the belladonna plant. While intense prayer was used in the West, you will not find any solid reference to meditation and visualization.
This, too, we adopted from the East. Today we can open up any basic book on magick or Neo-Paganism and find instructions that tell us to visualize. It will be stressed time and again that proper visualization is vital to the success of the techniques presented. Personally, I find this to be less than vital to ceremonial magick (Don Kriag, in Modern Magick, at least lets the student know that simply "knowing" the entities are there is well enough for the beginner). Yet, it is vital to most Neo-Pagan techniques that I have been taught (such as raising the Cone of Power). I have even heard it said that one does not even need magickal tools as long as one can visualize them in their proper places.
However, let us take a look at the source of this technique of visualization. A Buddhist monk will be instructed to spend hours upon hours- and even years upon years- attempting to visualize simple geometric shapes without distraction or loss of focus. If it takes these masters so much effort and so much time to gain that ability, what can be said for those in the West who expect us to visualize entire Temple set-ups without the slightest aid of physical anchors? I'm not knocking the use of visualization in magick (I use it my fair share), but I do have to admit that my abilities in this regard do not even approach that of a Buddhist monk or a Zen master. Having not had their training, I certainly do not believe I have the ability to visualize anything with enough clarity and perfection to make the physical object unnecessary.
It is rather well known among my peers that I have simply adopted the older western techniques of magick. I make offerings and call Names, and work with binding spirit familiars and invoking the aid of Angelic intelligences and Guardians. I have not personally made sacrifices; though I have attended such Rites among my loved ones who are Santeros and Poleras. These Western techniques I call "active", while I refer to the Eastern concepts as "passive". My choice was to stick with the Western techniques when working with the classic Western texts such as the grimoires or Dee's Enochian material. I can not claim that the Eastern techniques "do not work" with the Western material, though I can admit to serious doubts. Only time will prove the issue one way or the other, when more modern adepts begin to fully utilize the training that goes along with the adopted concepts from the East.
Part Two: Modern Psychology
Eastern philosophy was not the only major component added by our immediate forefathers into the Western Occult Tradition. The concepts of psychology- especially those presented by Jungian analysts- were adopted almost wholeheartedly by these modern mages. The reasons behind this are a bit more complex, but still boil down to the same purpose as I've outlined above- to fill in the holes left by the writings of the ancient adepts.
Our own modern adepts quickly learned that there is one single most important point where magick is concerned: altered states of consciousness. Robert Anton Wilson, in Prometheus Rising outlines it very plainly for us. There are eight major aspects within our minds- each one the result of the evolutionary process, and programmed in each individual at specific points in life (such as puberty, where most of our sexual drives are fixed). The first and most primitive "circuit" in our minds is that which governs our survival instinct. The most common circuit which humans operate upon today is the fourth, or "moral", circuit. Simply look around you at all the soapbox-standing about family values, or about what is "right and wrong" for others to do. I'd say that most of us are quite obsessed with these concepts, and all of them are fourth circuit according to R A Wilson.
The fifth circuit is less common, and it governs everything that we know today as spirituality. It is found only in a small number of humans, relatively speaking. Historically these people have been made shamans or holy men. Today they are ostracized, often persecuted, and generally feared. In any case, it is only from within a state of fifth circuit consciousness that magick can be performed. It is where the astral plane exists, where spirits and Angels and Gods live, etc. This does not necessarily mean that these things are all within our minds. What it does mean is that you can not perceive or communicate with these begins, or perform work upon the astral, unless your own mind is vibrating upon the fifth circuit. You can not perceive or understand these things in a "normal" (third or fourth circuit) state of consciousness anymore than your family pet can grasp why you do the funky things you do in the name of "right and wrong".
The fifth circuit itself is gained only through what we call "ecstasy". There are various methods of attaining the ecstatic state; such as the intense prayer, fasting, and (most importantly) utter devotion used in the Judeo-Christian traditions. The Eastern methods are similar- using meditation and contemplation. Their idea is to gain such a perfect mastery over the various aspects of their own mental processes that any state of mind- including fifth-circuit ecstasy- can be shifted into at will. Our own modern evangelists can induce ecstatic states in others with charisma, song, dance, and chanting. A common method of doing this in the ancient Western traditions was the shamanic use of various drugs.
Of course such use of drugs would not have occurred to Mathers or the others who delved into the grimoires of old. When they read of the sacred oil to be used by the exorcist in the Goetia, they never guessed what was really being instructed. Or, perhaps, they knew or suspected the truth, but where prohibited from publishing these facts thanks to the modern inquisitions against such practices. Aleister Crowley most certainly used drugs in his Rites with success so blatant and undeniable, it continues to shock and horrify would-be aspirants to this very day.
Drugs or no drugs, there was a brand new field of study open to these men which promised something similar to what drugs could offer. In fact, it appeared to explain just about everything about consciousness and altered states; both Eastern and Western. This was the realm of psychology. Why experiment with toxic or illegal substances when one can simply apply methods of self-hypnosis in the Rites?
Today it's very common to find the bookshelves overflowing with texts that point out all of the psychological aspects of magick- from the hypnotic effects of spoken invocations to the full-on reprogramming of one's own mental processes in the name of finding the True Will. However, in the early twentieth century, the very suggestion that psychology had any relation to the occult was laughable. That is to say, it was laughable to the psychologists, and this holds true for the most part today as well. It was Crowley who first suggested such a "ridiculous" idea, and Israel Regardie (a Dr. of psychology) who took it to the mainstream in his various books. Here is an example of the beginnings of the new trend in the West from Regardie's The Middle Pillar published in 1938:"The psychologies of the past may be summarized by the use of the words yoga and magic. [...] so magic and psychology comprise...a single system whose goal is the integration of the human personality. [...] It will be obvious, then, that by magic we are not considering... that medieval superstition which was the child of ignorance begotten by fear and terror. These definitions should be expunged from our thinking."
So, the definite "official stance" of the time was- as it is now- to distance ourselves totally from the beliefs and world views of our predecessors. However, I offer the fact that Regardie wrote these words in a time before we understood anything at all of the "medieval superstitions" which he discounts. In this time, the Egyptians were still believed to have been the originators of the Qabalah, and were basically Christian in their views of the universe. The Canaanites (Phoenicians) were still believed to have sacrificed hundreds of babies at a time to their "heathen god" Moloch. And it was believed that anyone who would make use of such demons as presented in the Goetia was a "black magician" who could only succeed in harming himself and others.
We know today that all of these ideas are false. The Egyptians had a vastly different take on the world than did the Christians of later times. There has yet to be a scrap of evidence that the Canaanites sacrificed anyone to a "Moloch" (I have personally not yet found any evidence that a "Moloch" existed among the writings of the Canaanites). We now know that commanding demons was viewed as the obvious right of anyone who was truly holy in the eyes of God (such as King Solomon, who legend says enslaved Asmodeus to build the Holy Temple itself). Likewise, we have come to learn recently that the practices of the medieval wizards was based on long-standing traditions and knowledge of the beings of the astral, and not at all on any fear or superstition.
Now, understand that none of the erroneous views of our forefathers is a "fault" of their own. Again I point out that they were the first, and they had only trial and error to go by. Thank the Gods they did what they did, and such errors were only natural. If there is any fault, it lies in those who refuse to research, test, and finally overturn the errors of the past. How many of them, from Crowley to Regardie to Dion Fortune, tried to warn us against believing every word they said, or accepting them as authorities?
Here is where I run into walls when I attempt to explain my own take on magick. Modern psychology is just that- modern. It's not perfect, and neither does it have the least bit to do with what the authors of the grimoires and other ancient texts were talking about. We can not interpret this material through the lens of Jungian psychology, because it's just not going to make sense. What you come away with will not be at all what the authors were attempting to convey. Even so, I very often see documents that do just this, and attempt to describe what the author of an ancient mystical text "really means" by some obscure or confusing reference. Even worse, if the text itself leaves out something that the modern mind can not live without, the excuse is made that the author knew it himself, but simply left it out as a "blind" for the ignorant.
A wonderful example lies in one of my own favorite books on the subject of Magick: Modern Magick by Donald Michael Kraig. In his chapter on Grimoiric Magick, he states the following (p.378):"…see a diagram of a magickal circle and triangle of the Art wherein entities appear. It is derived from the commonly available edition of the Goetia. Why is there a circle within the triangle of the Art? […] It indicates the presence of a magick mirror."
This statement is preceded by a long discussion of his ideas of evocation. He feels that one would not visually see the spirits at all, but would need to use some method of self-hypnosis (or "skrying") in order to perceive them. The idea that the circle in the "Goetic Triangle" is really a black mirror fits perfectly into this theory, and seems to explain everything. However, when one reads the text of the Goetia, one will note that the wording does not suggest a mirror at all:"This is the Form of the Magical Triangle, into the which Solomon did command the Evil Spirits. It is to be made at 2 feet distance from the Magical Circle and it is 3 feet across."
One is to "make" the triangle outside the circle, which indicates to me that the triangle itself was to be inscribed upon the ground. Elsewhere in the same book, that special oil is mentioned that I have described earlier in this essay. Putting these together, it is very obvious that the triangle was meant to be flat on the ground, and that one was to visually see the spirits via the drug-induced altered state of consciousness (ie- hallucinations). This means that a mirror was not used at all, that self-hypnosis was not a method used in that day, and that the entire philosophy behind Goetic evocation is much different than Mr. Kraig suggests.
The problem I run into when I state such as the above is a simple assumption on the part of the reader or listener: that I am stating that psychology and magick have no relation with each other. This assumption, however, is extremely erroneous. I do very often state that our current ideas- being born of historically recent insights into the workings of the human mind- do not play into the ancient texts. We so often forget that our psychologists have only had access to brains of the past few hundred years to study. We forget that an ancient Egyptian or even a Renaissance mind might be totally different from our own, and therefore not subject to our findings. Their motivations and their conclusions were not within our realm of experience.
On the other hand, as I will happily go on record as stating, I do not for a moment believe that psychology is irrelevant to magick. I do not even disbelieve that self-hypnosis can be used to see spirits. Psychology is the single most important tool an aspirant to the mysteries will ever possess, and it was to the detriment of the masters of the past that they did not have access to such findings. These men took for granted some of the basic operations of the psyche that you and I can read about in any number of texts on human behavior. The workings of the human brain *have* always been a part of magick- just as I described above about gaining a fifth-circuit state of consciousness. Likewise, we can find evidence of these processes in the symbols and methods used by the ancients. Knowing these things can make our Work today incredibly more efficient.
As opposed to Dr. Regardie, I say that magic itself is not about the integration of the human personality at all. I do not agree that magick and psychology are one and the same. However, I am in total agreement with him when he says that one will never be adept at magick until such integration takes place. I also firmly agree that the study and practice of magick can be a vital part of that integration. I disagree with some of Regardie's basic assumptions about what "magick" really is, but I would still recommend one read The Middle Pillar, as it does explain many of the wonderful psychological benefits one can achieve through the use of certain ritual exercises. I must also recommend Wilson's Prometheus Rising to anyone and everyone with whom I might come into contact.
That being said, I would now like to offer a few further points of disagreement between what I have found and what others have suggested in our modern times. First and foremost is the above-stated idea that magick and psychology are one and the same. All else, in fact, stems from this one single point of contention. If magick is just psychology, and the beings one meets on the astral are just images built up by the rational mind of the mage himself, then this invalidates just about everything ever written on the subject of magick before the late 1800s. There are no Gods, no spirits, no other forms of consciousness in the universe besides the human mind (and, frankly, maybe we are just machines who have the silly notion that we are alive). Most of the modern documents I've gotten my hands on seem to agree that the spiritual entities of the Grimoires are simply Jungian archetypes.
A Jungian archetype is simply a psychic blue-print upon which many of our day to day ideas are based. For instance, one such archetype is the "Mother", while another is the "Father". We have the "Elder Brother", the "Wise Old Man", and the frightening "Crone Woman". The list could go on indefinitely. In fact, these archetypal images are somewhat along the same lines as stereotypes, only on a more unconscious level. They manifest in art, music, movies, and even the mates we choose to spend our lives with.
Modern occultism focuses upon these archetypes to a large degree. Gods are now called "Godforms", and are explained as archetypal images which humans place onto an imageless Divinity (or personal Higher Self) for the sake of practical application. The evidence for this view lies in the fact that the same basic archetypal themes have appeared in religions throughout the world, and throughout history.
However, my own studies of history have shown that the worship of nearly any ancient God can be traced back to some form of ancestor worship (that is, if we lay aside the fact of animal worship for just a moment). What this means is that most- if not all- of the ancient (humanoid) Gods were originally real-life human beings who were elevated to Godhood after their deaths. We've seen examples of this in history recent enough to verify: it happened to Buddha, to Jesus, and (in some circles) it is even happening to Aleister Crowley and others. We may idealize these men based on the archetypal blueprints within our subconscious, but that does not negate the fact that these were totally objective living intelligences who had- and continue to have- a profound impact on the world around them.
It is true that we do not yet have a single bit of recordable evidence that Gods and Angels exist in an objective sense. We will most likely never achieve such a thing at all. Yet, at the same time, do we have any real evidence to the contrary? Do we have any way of knowing that an Angel is just a temporary formulation of a person's own Will or desires? For my part, I am not suggesting that the literal existence of Gods and Angels disproves Jungian psychology. However, I am offering the idea that the truths of Jungian psychology do not negate the existence of Gods and Angels. We might exchange theories for years to come, but few of them will ever be considered established fact. The secret to all of this weirdness is to be able to question your original hypotheses. Over time, I've been proven wrong on most of my original, and most passionately held, beliefs. Yet I could no more prove what I've found to you than I could describe in words what my first orgasm (another fifth-circuit activator) was like.
Therefore we divide ourselves amongst our various hypotheses and work from there. Someone has to be correct. For many, there are no Gods, Angels, or spirits- and there never can be. They focus strictly on their own minds, and they seem to get results that- at least- satisfy them personally.
I, on the other hand, know there are such beings out there who surf around the astral currents. I know they exist, that they are objective to myself, and that I have to follow certain specific procedures in order to attract Them and convince Them to work with me. I used the word "know" in the above, not in order to sound authoritative, but to stress my standpoint. If I did not know these things deep down to my heart of hearts, I would be absolutely ineffectual at the shamanic form of magick I practice. To "believe in them" would set me in the realm of the mainstream Christian who just goes through the motions in the hopes that he might be right after all. A suspension of disbelief would put me in the camp of those who view psychology and magick as one unit, which would then mean I'd change my whole method of working. No, I know these beings exist and have stuff to offer me just as much as the authors of the Keys of Solomon or any Shaman has ever known.
Psychology, of course, is a big part of my methods of getting in touch with these beings. Altering my state of consciousness in one form or another is vital to the work. Knowing which methods to use to alter myself in the right way to contact the right beings is a must. On that we all seem to agree. Yet, what about all of the "bells and whistles" that go along with certain traditions? Over and over we are told that magickal tools are not important. In fact, they are not so concrete for those who are strictly interested in working within their own psyche. They are mental anchors only; pieces of pretty furniture meant to "mean something" to us and help us with the difficult task of gaining the right mind-set. As Timothy Leary and R A Wilson tell us (quite correctly), it's all about "set and setting". The right mind set, and the right physical setting, are the two big variables in the equation for mystical experience.
Part Three: My Take On It All
So, then, what if these beings are real? What about the magickal tools then? In answer to this I can only offer my own practical experience. For instance, I once spent a great amount of time constructing a set of Angelic (ie- Enochian) tools. They were beautiful. The Holy Seal of Truth was made of a disk of maple wood, painted white with black characters. I made four smaller versions of the same to be placed under the four corners of my altar. I painted the symbols of the Holy Table onto a Golden Dawn style double-cubical altar in consecrated yellow oil paint. I drew the seven Ensigns of Creation onto poster board, cut them out, and glued them onto plates of tin. I covered all of this with a red silk cloth with gold tassels at the corners. I wore the Ring of Solomon on my right hand, though it was not made of gold. And, I even had the Lamen drawn up and hidden away in a piece of silk on my person. In short, I had just about all of the bases covered, but almost nothing was "to spec" according to the Dee diaries.
With great gusto I began a summoning of four Angels from the Watchtower of the north that lasted for several days. There were definite results, even if they were much weaker than I had hoped to achieve with all of this equipment. A couple of my questions were answered, and one unmistakable message was conveyed to me: "Do not ever attempt to summon us again until you have constructed all of the tools and furniture *exactly* as we described it to Dee and Kelley in the diaries, as well as put yourself through the initiation procedure described there." What is a mage to do? Why, build the tools and perform the Rites of course!
My thoughts on this subject, however, do extend somewhat further than blatant commands from Angelic entities; a point which I often seem to have trouble conveying to my peers. I feel that there are some very good reasons to consider the literal interpretations of the grimoires' instructions. Just as, at the same time, I am not so convinced that discarding these instructions can be done so readily. We, as an occult community and culture, are extremely young and still have much to learn. There are many remaining unknowns, uncertainties, and points of debate for which no one has any hard and fast answers. When a beginner asks if he needs to make all of the tools, what should we tell him? More often than not he's told to discard them. But, is it that simple?
Here is my next offering- sure to spurn large debates (which are fun in and of themselves anyway- so here goes). If it's just possible that these spiritual entities are real, and that interfacing with the physical plane is a process for them as specific and necessary as birth is for us, then it might be that physical materials and patterns are of supreme importance. For centuries Gods and other non-physical beings have been telling us things that don't make any sense right off the bat. We have been told that one thing offends them (such as iron which offends faeries), and another thing is sacred and attractive to them (such as almond wood as used in many Biblical traditions). I personally know people who are never allowed to eat or carve another pumpkin, or who must always wear specific colors. Usually the justification for these are given in mythological terms, which makes them easy to discount in many modern minds.
I feel, on the other hand, that it all has to do with the theories of vibration and resonance. Take the almond tree for example: It grows in very specific places on the globe, at specific times of the year, and only under specific conditions. An almond tree is one hundred percent a product of it's environment; the sum total of the world around it from the air it breaths to the specific nutrients found in the soil of it's native areas. Perhaps, too, such subtle forces as astrology play into the mix, and the general condition of the astral from the time it is conceived as a seed to the time it is cut to make our wand.
All of this adds up to make almond wood a very specific vibrational pattern when considered from an astral, or magickal, perspective. It will be wholly unlike the patterns found in any other object in the entire universe. If you were an Angel- who is bodiless and at the whim of the astral currents through which you travel- perhaps these considerations would be of supreme importance to you. Should we just substitute a rod of pine wood if we can't get ahold of almond? If the Angel you are calling upon requests almond, it may be for a reason. We can only hope that the pine doesn't vibrate with a pattern that is repulsive to the energies of the Angel.
This logic can be applied to every single instruction in the old texts- from tools to ceremonial procedure, to sigils, to offerings, and even to such things as magickal timing, ritual preparation, and general lifestyle of the mage. My choice has been to simply follow the instructions in the grimoires as given, lest I chance leaving out something vital for a simple lack of understanding. Once the initial contact with the entities is made, I'm more than happy to question the whole process and, with Their help, make modifications if necessary. The above mentioned example of the Enochian tools is a prime example. I have come to consider such instructions the same as if an alien race transmitted blueprints for a super-advanced communications system to us here on earth. If we have already made the decision to trust these beings and build the radio, then the only logical step to take would be to do it as exactly to spec. as is within our power. At least at first...
There are other considerations as well, if my basic hypothesis is correct. As I outlined in the beginning of this essay, it is very common for students to be told to "direct energy" as if such a thing were of supreme ease for anyone. This situation increases when full ceremonies are attempted, where one is expected to invoke, maintain, command, and direct all sorts of various forces at the same time. The tools are not important, we are told, so long as you can visualize everything (if even that is required) and you know how to direct the energies.
As opposed to this view, I feel the tools (et al) are an important part of maintaining the structure of a ceremony. If we look into the techniques of talisman consecration, it is blatantly obvious that it is structured upon the rites of initiation. Refer to the Golden Dawn Z Documents concerning the magickal uses of the Neophyte Formula for examples. Even the older texts such as the Key of Solomon present talisman consecration in the same manner as one would perform a baptism. This is the one major secret of talisman work that I see left out of most sources: To consecrate a talisman is to initiate the object just as you would a human being.
What is an initiation ceremony if not a birth rite? This aspect can be seen in all initiations from the modern Neophyte Ceremony of the Golden Dawn, or the Traditional Wiccan First Degree Rite, all the way back to the primordial tribal practices outlined in The Golden Bough. By putting a person through such a rite, they are literally being put through a process of (re)birth. This is the true meaning of being "born again". In many systems, it is even traditional to celebrate a new "birthday" to commemorate such a special day as that of your spiritual initiation.
All of this being true, we must seriously consider why such a thing would have the least affect on a "dead" object such as a talisman. The reason for this becomes readily apparent when one is aware of spiritual intelligences (ie- spirits). During the process of the ceremony, one of three things is taking place.
One is that the talisman itself might have it's own intelligence (it's own daemon, genius, or angelic presence). Simply because an object does not have speech or mobility or any of the usual signs of "life" as we know it, does not mean that it is not aware on some level. As a pantheist myself, I do not find this to be particularly unlikely. All comes from the same Divine Source- which Itself is aware. In the study of Angelology, one can find such statements as: Every blade of grass has over it an Angel bidding it, "grow." That is to say, even if the object itself is dead, that doesn't mean that it is not intimately connected to something that is alive.
Number two is that the ceremony itself might be attracting nearby free-floating spirits or elementals who are then bound into the physical matter of the talismata. In and of itself, this comes closest to the legends of old which speak of jinni being bound into rings, or lamps, or brass vessels. It also harkens to the pagan practice of inviting Gods into statues and other sacred objects for the purpose of interacting with Them on a physical level.
Finally, the third option is that the mage, via the ceremony, is projecting an amount of his own astral substance into the talismata. The talisman would then serve to give shape to this substance, and the ceremonial invocations would serve to awaken and program it for the purpose at hand. We might say that it is something which may be considered a kind of "astral robot". This theory plays largely into what others have written on the practice of talismanic imaging, or the creation of thought-forms or "egregores".
All of the above are possible, and I have no doubts that each mage can choose to work in any of the above manners with success. What they all have in common, though, is that they all depend on the idea that a living and objective entity is being utilized (or created) for the purpose of the talisman. Magickal tools are talismans themselves, and it is my understanding that each tool I consecrate is a living being. Thus, when I place my tools and ceremonial furnishings in their proper places, I have no need to visualize their operations, or to consciously maintain their presences. Having been set up, the entire Temple is alive- each part knowing just what it has to do on it's own, and myself as the conductor of the symphony. The benefits of psychological "anchoring" are certainly present, but they are secondary.
Working from this standpoint, it is perhaps understandable why I do not subscribe to the idea of simply visualizing everything needed. I am certainly not limited to working in a physical temple. However, if I do not have access to the temple, then I am not going to attempt to work in a temple manner. This is another point to my view on magick that is often hard to outline in simple terms. Any true mage should be able to perform magick no matter the physical limitations. Yet, like with any other trade, one has to consider the wisdom behind the phrase "use the right tool for the right job".
For this I will give another example. We have already seen that I can not attempt another Angelic summoning of the Watchtower Angels until I have all of the tools, etc. Should we, then, assume that I am helpless in regards to the Enochian hierarchies? Do I have no contact with Them at all? I do indeed! If the truth be known, I endeavor to keep an open line of communication with Them every single moment of my life. It is simply my focus which shifts. From day to day, it is Them that come to me when They wish. It most often occurs when I am studying the Angelic material, and They will step in from time to time to point out something that I had missed or failed to understand thus far. Once They even contacted another mage- many miles away- and informed him that I needed to hear from him immediately. He jumped out of bed, turned on his computer to e-mail me, and found waiting for him a letter from me which informed him that I needed his help in a personal crisis.
Part Four: The Definition of "Magick"
I have labored for some time to come up with a simple manner to explain the above to those who hear me stress the need for tools and proper procedures. I have searched to find some way to indicate that I am not suggesting limitation or dependance. At length I have decided to simply state that one should not think of "Ceremonial Magick" or "Wizardry" when thinking of what I write. Instead, know that I'm writing about Shamanism. This is what magick has always been about, and the grimoires are no different than the American Indian practices, or other shamanic practices throughout history. The technical and psychological view of magick we are most familiar with is- as I hope I have shown above- extremely recent.
My experience of magick has not been one of pure psychology or metaphor. Luckily, I'm not totally set apart from my peers in the matter; as reprogramming my mind and Self has been the focus of greatest importance to me. And, as I suggested above, magick has been the single greatest tool I have used in this process. However, I still view magick as an art and a science unto itself. In a previous article (The Ancient Gods and Neo-Paganism, Paradigm Shift, Fall 1998) I outlined the fact that magick has historically been considered a process of working with spirits. Again- it's just like Shamanism. Theurgy, which included- but was not defined by- magickal practice, was the art of purification, ascention, and union with Divinity. That is to say it is the proper term for the art that most authors today refer to as "Magick".
If we look in the New Concise Webster's Dictionary (1987) under "Magic", we find:Magic (Maj ik) n. The art of producing results through the help of superhuman beings or the occult forces of nature, sorcery, witchcraft.
About a Shaman it tells us:Shaman (sha man) n. A priest believed to be in communication with gods and demons.
And, about a Witch it has to say:Witch (wich) n. A woman (sic) supposed to be in contact with evil (sic) spirits and to possess supernatural powers.
As you can see, the final word across the board is that magick is all about contacting and working with spiritual entities in one form or another. This is what the words literally mean in the common usage of our English language. However, today there has been an intense movement toward redefining all of these terms for various reasons. Foremost among these attempts would be the new definition of magick given to us by Aleister Crowley:"Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."
This is not quite the same thing as the traditional understanding of the word. Crowley himself speaks on this subject in his work Magick in Theory and Practice:"Let me explain in a few words how it came about that I blazoned the word MAGICK upon the Banner that I have borne before me all my life."
"In my third year at Cambridge, I devoted myself consciously to the Great Work, understanding thereby the Work of becoming a Spiritual Being, free from the constraints, accidents, and deceptions of material existence. I found myself at a loss for a name to designate my work, just as H. P. Blavatsky some years earlier. "Theosophy", "Spiritualism", "Occultism", "Mysticism", all involved undesirable connotations. I chose therefore the name. "MAGICK" as essentially the most sublime, and actually the most discredited, of all the available terms. I swore to rehabilitate MAGICK to identify it with my own career; and to compel mankind to respect, love, and trust that which they scorned, hated and feared. I have kept my Word."
Crowley goes on in the work to define "Magick" as I have already listed above, and then to suggest a long list of postulates for and examples of his definition. None of the postulates are bad in and of themselves. I find very little in Aleister Crowley's philosophies with which I do not agree on their own terms. However, we can see from the above that "Magick"- as a name for what he was describing- was simply a choice Crowley made over other options. He had the word "Theurgy" open to him, but he did not seem to have considered it.
It is my honest opinion that Crowley simply chose the wrong word to describe his system, which leads to some major failures in communication among practitioners of systems both new and old. On the other hand, it is not true that I disagree with Crowley's system itself. My experience of magick has been more in line with the dictionary definitions I listed above, even though it is also true that I have focused on aligning with my True Will every bit as much as Crowley insisted a true mage should.
As always, the largest points of contention among serious mages are just matters of semantics. And so, here is to Theurgy- the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will. And to Magick- the method by which I contact the Angelic Forces who help me along the Way. Or vice-versa… We're all headed in the same direction anyway. Perhaps we should all just settle for "Illumination or Bust" bumper stickers!
And so ends one example of my "take on it all" where it comes to the modern Western Occult Tradition. It is perhaps needless to say that I have barely scratched the surface in so short an essay. There is much I could have added on the subject of the grimoires, spirits, Gods, the Shamanic uses of drugs, etc. However, I do feel that my basic goal has been reached here- and that is simply to lay out a few of my thoughts for others to see. When writing in e-mail or public message boards, it is impossible to write out all of the above every time I make a reference to the reality of Angels, or the vital need for proper tools and ceremonial procedure. Having written this essay, I can now say that you, dear reader, at least know from which odd angle I might be coming. Blessed Be.
Copyright © 1998 C. "Aaron Jason" Leitch
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