Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hermeticism and Religion

One of the greatest failures of our Hermetic Tradition (also called the Western Mystery Tradition) is that much of it is still based in a 19th century ideology. It was perfectly reasonable, in the time of the original Golden Dawn, to assume that any initiate was involved in some kind of external religious practice. In fact it would have been scandalous for them not to show up at their local COE church on a Sunday like everyone else.

This is no longer the case. With religious abuses being so common, and no longer hidden away, it seems most people who have an interest in Occultism have quite rejected "religion" believing all religion must be the same as the church who abused them. (This is a hot-button topic for me, but suffice to say that the Hierarchical and Conversionist nature of most Christian churches is representative of the world's religions.) As such a good percentage of people seeking work in our Occult Fraternities and Orders do not have a religious practice of any kind outside of what they are given by their occult organizations.

This creates a problem, because the very nature of an alchemical approach to training is to create a balance between the three principles of Power (Sulpher), Love (Salt), and Wisdom (Mercury). There is plenty of magical work and ritual work (Power) and lots of study, memorization and essay writing (Wisdom) but Love falls by the wayside. Without an external religious practice, there is little to encourage the Love principle in the student. By the time they get to the Second Order they've become the stereo-type of the haughty, arrogant, self-righteous Hermeticist or Ritual Magician.

Even the bits of practice which resemble religion, such as the adorations, are done with the understanding that the Lord of the Universe, or the Lady of the Aeons is just a principle of Nature or the Universe or the Self (or all three) but is not a "Deity" in any respect. It is an impersonal "thing" or "Property" along Newtonian lines of thinking. Daily adorations are done in order to align the self with the patterns of the Earth and the Sun, which is all well and good. The question is then raised, is it really "devotional" as the Love aspect is described, or is it like a Kata or Hatha-Yoga practice which helps align the body and train the muscles, good for health but not so much for soul.

Back in 1993 the Steward of the Fraternity in which I'd been initiated told me that the goal of his work with this organization was to reintegrate the two major traditions which came from Albion, the Wiccan and the Hermetic. The Inner School had never intended them to be separate and certainly not antagonistic the way they are today. I've never seen any evidence of this work, but I suspect there was a lot of resistance to it amongst the very Evangelistic Christian Southern United States.

Joining Wicca and Hermeticism would solve the problem of the imbalances which I often see in both traditions. I've met many "Wiccans" who eschew reading and books, preferring to be "wild spirits." There is a distrust of academic learning which seems rooted in a prejudice which is, too often, truth when it comes to arrogance and self-righteousness amongst "stuffy ritualists." The Hermetic Magician sees this and is equally put off of anything Pagan or Wiccan feeling that they are too chaotic. A synthesis would result in the ability to worship truly, deeply and, sometimes wildly, while at the same time having complex and allegorical ceremonies and intellectual challenges to round out the individual.

In Orthodox Judaism, which is the assumed root of our Western Mysteries, there is no such imbalance. What is often seen by outsiders is a dour, strict and oppressive regime of rules and structure. But this is only one portion of their religion. For example, during Purim one is expected to get so drunk they don't know Haman from Mordecai (the good guy from the bad guy). Often their festivals are raucous affairs with noise makers and music. It is a primary tenant of their faith that the world was meant to be enjoyed, not enslaved. We have lost this, and I believe it comes from a 19th century view of the world as something to be conquered, as an object of Newtonian mechanics and not part of a relationship which is relative to, and inclusive of, the observer.

By removing anything resembling a personal relationship with some manifestation of the Divine, I believe we break down and repress the forces represented in Netzach and Binah. I think this was one of the reasons Dion Fortune wrote The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic. The Hermetic system focuses too much on the Left Brain, Logical, Objective mind, even to the point where some people claim that any emotional response is simply a projection of one's shadow, either Golden or Dark. This dismisses any genuine connection with the universe, it breaks down and sanitizes compassion, passion, faith and belief in a very destructive way. "God" becomes a formula, a chemical energy signature for causing changes, not something with which to engage.

In most religions there is a personal relationship with the Divine, in whatever form it is perceived. If the One-Light is infinite, then it certainly can inhabit any form we can imagine, even a woman with the head of a cat if that's what is required. The point is, we can only interact with the Divine using our own brains, personalities and consciousness. If One-Force can appear to me as a beautiful woman with great wings, then that's the right form with which my psyche and personality can connect. It also means that I have a lot in common with others who also connect to this image of the Great Goddess. I am aware that this is not the absolute truth of the Divine, only the form which works for me, in this body, in this mind, in this time. What is important is that the Great Goddess manifestation gives me something with which to connect.

It is all well and good to know and even experience the One-Light, the Life Force which "eternally creates and sustains the universe" but it is so far beyond what we can grasp that we cannot relate. I cannot construct a real relationship with the stream of electrons we call "electricity" but I CAN relate, in a limited way, to images created by its power on a screen, or sounds created by its power on a vibrating membrane. If a system exists (like a telephone or video conferencing) which then allows me to relate to something beyond what the electricity shapes, so that it is a representation of a real personality, then I can actually relate to it and build a personal relationship THROUGH it which includes it. The Source of All, the No-Thing, the Tao, is not something that can be described. We can point at it, we can wrestle our brains around it, we can have moments of pure grace and understanding of it, but we cannot truly relate to it.

By reducing the Divine to mere symbols and principles we strip it of anything to which we can relate... and we create a lie for, though the One Light may be all of those things, it is also none of them. On the other hand, interacting with a Divinity which is a manifestation of that Light on a higher arc (whether God, Goddess, Archangel, Deva, Buddha, Avatar or Messiah) we become open to an understanding of the true Divine for which it is another mask, as are we. On the other hand, our Hermetic tradition was primarily formed by people who were used to going to Church every week to have a Priest act as intermediary and spend an hour or so telling God how to behave. Though separated somewhat from a "personal" relationship, they were still engaged in religious practice, the mystery of the Eucharist (which is very intimate in the COE) and some kind of worship.

Until a true synthesis can occur, though, I do urge those who study the Western Mysteries to explore religious practice as part of their work as long as they can be equally respectful of others. Any religion that insists on Evangelism, Dominionism, or Conversion cannot be compatible with the Mysteries. The point is to help build up the Love, Salt, Mother principle and balance the Father, Sulpher principle, not to push it into the Qlippoth.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Problem of Ritual Magic

Ritual Magic is a term often used to include Hermeticists of all kinds, though there are those, often working from old books, who use nothing BUT ritual in order to interact with their magical universe. I've heard Ritual Magic described as being an approach where people us ritual to get what they want. This seems to be based on a very narrow interpretation of Crowley's definition of Magic as being "the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with the Will." There are many kinds of change and people like Fortune use the term "changes in consciousness" in this definition.

Although there are forms of ritual which are intended to "get" something or "change" something, there are also an elaborate collection of ceremonials which teach something. Let us, for example, look at the Neophyte Ritual of the Golden Dawn.

Other than the actual initiatory psycho-drama which is intended to alter the consciousness of the new initiate, there does not seem to be a lot of purpose to this ritual. There is nothing asked for, nothing is produced, it is not a worship ceremony, so what is the point?

The point is that it is a ritualistic allegory of the human psyche. We look at this ritual from the side, or as an officer, and consider what exactly we are doing and what it represents. The ceremonial has six internal officers and one external, if there is room for a sentinel. Along the centre-line of the temple we see three officers and we can correspond them to the various layers of our human entity. This remains even during the initiation ceremony, for we see the Hegemon, who represents the individual's conscious self, coach the new initiate in the correct words and formulas, but only at the instruction of the Hierophant who represents the Higher Self or the Inner Teacher (Key 6).

In fact nothing happens in the temple at all except by the command of the Hierophant. This is an example of how the ritual shows us the truth of ourselves. We think that the "I that is me," or the personality, is ultimately responsible for the thinking and the acting, but it is our Higher Selves which give instructions which then filter down into our own minds as ideas. This is why we can have sudden flashes of genius which seem disconnected from our idea of ourselves, for they originate at a much higher level.

When the initiates and officers walk around the temple, they are lead by the Kerux, carrying lantern and staff, like the Hermit, guided by part of our subconscious, and not by our conscious selves at all!

These rituals are filled with these allegories, just as the Masonic rituals are, which show truths that can be extracted and understood as a kind of 4 dimensional teaching aid. The changes that result are those of the individual's understanding as it affects everyone in the group. If possible it is of value to video-record the ritual and review it as a group, see what interactions occur, and how they occur, and who initiates them. When does, say, the Hierus appear to act on their own?

This is the reason that the opening of the ritual is taken up by each officer explaining their purpose and the symbolism of their tools. It is like the expositional dialogue of a play or film, letting you know this person's role so that when you observe their behaviour you know why and what it means. All of this requires a considerable study or a very, very good teacher, but it is there, and it is the true purpose of the ritual. There is also a certain re-connecting to the Egregore that occurs, but it could be established through other means, such as a worship ceremony.

Some people complain that these rituals "accomplish nothing" but do not see the value in the play itself, the mysteries which are being enacted. This is no less "Ritual Magic" from a technical point of view, but it is quite different to what most people think of when they imagine the subject.

This then creates a problem when people think about Ritual Magicians, for the name may imply Hermeticists who, amongst other things, use ritual, or those working purely on a Ritual path such as is dictated in books like the Legematon, The Arbatal of Magic, The Books of Solomon, The Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, and other books of ritual. The term fails to take into account rituals done as teaching allegories, or the vast array of subjects studied by groups like the Golden Dawn.

Ritual is but one tool, and it can be used for many purposes. Whether that makes you, or someone else, a "Ritual Magician" I cannot tell you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Is Religion?

I define religion as "any strongly held set of codified beliefs." What does this mean? Well "strongly held" might seem obvious. In this I mean that the beliefs are, in some way, core to the individual's identity of self. I should point out here that one can belong to more than one "religion" at a time, very few are truly exclusive. "Codified" refers to some standard set of beliefs. This might be the Apostle's Creed, the Republican Party Platform, Libertarianism, Feminism, Hinduism, or Evangelical Christianity. Each of these has an outline that defines the belief system of its members.

A religion, therefore, has a level of homogeneity amongst its members. They often identify themselves by the religion even moreso than by their own achievements. "I'm a Christian" or "I'm a Liberal." Rather than define their own specific beliefs or where they may, or may not, agree with a specific label, they identify with the label. This can cause a great deal of psychological stress should the label they use to identify themselves become altered in the public perception.

An excellent example of this is the United Church or Anglican Christian who has suddenly found themselves a significant minority when it comes to the word "Christian." The label has been altered in the public eye because evangelical and coercive sects have become the majority. Christian, in the public lexicon, no longer refers to the core values of the average Anglican or United Church member.

Another example has been the re-branding of the Alliance and Reform parties in Canada. These extreme right wing parties were doing very badly until the Progressive Conservative party of Canada was almost drummed out of Parliament for various scandals. They then re-branded themselves with the Conservative colours and name (The Conservative Party of Canada) and stole the election after a similar Liberal scandal. The problem is, they have continued with their extreme right wing policies to the point where old-school Conservatives are embarrassed to use the term. Once they identified strongly with the word but now it has taken on a completely different meaning. (Sadly, they were also mostly those who voted for them thinking they were voting for their old party.)

The point is, a "religion" is strongly held in that it is often one of the things that we use to define ourselves as we integrate the codified beliefs into our personality. It helps us to feel that we are part of something greater than ourselves, gives us purpose and helps us to identify like-minded individuals. Psychologically this is an important part of our development and it is often easier to work with a predefined set of beliefs than it is to deconstruct ourselves and figure out what we are when we are not identifying as x or y. This often happens in middle age. Some individuals become so comfortable with themselves that they are able to deconstruct and analyze themselves as individuals. Others become comfortable and reinforce these predefined beliefs into a hardened and impenetrable structure.

More and more, though, we are seeing people trying on various ideas of self at earlier ages. They reject the religions of their youth and seek new structures, often confusing Religion with Christianity. Is the "Goth" subculture really any less of a religion than anything else? Their shared belief structures create an homogeneous whole often through emulation of one or more iconic individuals (what we might call "cult of personality" or "prophets" in ecclesiastical terms).

It should be pointed out, though, that even amongst spiritual religions, Christianity is a minority. Most religions do not have internal exclusivity. A majority of people in Japan, for example, consider themselves both Shinto and Buddhist. In the Old World it was considered polite to make sacrifices to the local Gods when travelling, regardless of what Gods you personally worshipped. If you were a Priest of Hern in Brittania, you would still throw incense on the coals as you passed a shrine to, say, Diana, while walking the streets of Rome. Even Orthodox Rabbis I've known do not feel that they have the right to impose their Law on others. The seven Laws of Noach which everyone must observe to live in Hebraic lands ask only that you respect their God, not that you must conform to their method of worship.

And this brings me to the most interesting aspect of Religion in the West. We've managed to make almost all of them confrontational. The Christian Majority believes that all others MUST conform to their way of thinking. This has tainted Political Parties, polarized our countries and made everything confrontational. The Right vs the Left has caused them to drift so far apart that they will shut down a proposed law just because the other team thought it was a good idea. It may have BEEN a good idea, but this level of religious "rightness" prevents them from seeing it as anything BUT adversarial.

I believe this is because Christianity adopted the Zoroastrian idea of an adversary. Whatever you believe, someone is trying to work against you, destroy you, and make you suffer for eternity. Even those of us who have escaped the primary Christian programming cannot escape our society's adversarial nature. Materialists take every opportunity to proselytize their religion even in the face of possible doubt. Atheists violently oppose the idea of God believing that all concepts of the Divine revolve around a voyeuristic vending machine sky daddy. They are so ready to argue and defend their position that they cannot even HEAR the words that are actually being spoken.

They do not tend to be self-aware though. Just as a Christian can point to their Bible and have a huge percentage of people on the planet agree with them (about 30% for New Testament, around 40% for the Old (Tanakh)) so too does a materialist rely on a consensus when they believe in things they cannot see. I cannot see an electron. I have a friend who works with them. If he shows me a plate and says "look a picture of an electron" I can either believe him, or not. He may be lying to me or be outright wrong for all I know. We read things in scientific books, but we are still putting faith in the people writing them.

When we get into more complex systems there are people who believe in M-Theory, and people who believe in Quantum Loop Gravity theory and people who believe in other theories. They are all certain that they are right, just as certain as most other religious adherents. Some conform to both a scientific and a spiritual religion seeing the beauty and perfection of their work as proof of a sublime consciousness in the universe.

In the end, Religion is a process of the brain whereby we believe in certain concepts and "truths" based on an agreement with others along the same lines. We integrate those beliefs into ourselves to the point where we begin to define ourselves by that structure, label and code. These beliefs then become the foundation for all of our motivations, actions and activities in life. If we believe in universal love and compassion, we will try to help and heal others. If we believe in fear and adversarial theology, we lash out and become a threat to others. If we believe in helping the poor, either through compassion or by commandment, then we will make efforts to do so. If we believe in free market corporatism then we will do our best to maximize our own profits at the expense of others.

It is for this reason that a study of religion, both domestic and abroad, can give us significant insights into the behaviour and motivation of ourselves and others. Religion and Culture are very closely related, as we can see by the development of our divisive culture based on adversarial Christian values vs. more unified Asian cultures where there is greater acceptance for one's countrymen based on a non-exclusive cosmology.

I know it is common amongst Occultists to reject all "organized religion" and, by doing so throw out all aspects of codification, often turning to Chaos Majik or some other pseudo-chaotic approach. (Chaos Majik is JUST as dogmatic and codified as anything else by the way.) But the organization and structure of, say, the Roman Catholic Church exists in no other spiritual faith tradition. Even Judaism, which is often seen as the Father of Christianity (much to the Jew's chagrin) does not have even regional organization. Each congregation builds their own Synagogue and hires their own Rabbi. Shinto shrines register with a central registry, but they function on their own. Therefore I do encourage you to examine other religions, see what they really say for themselves and even if there is nothing there for you personally, you will have learned to understand another group of people in a way you never could before... and if we're all expressions of the same Limitless Light, then learning about your brethren in this way can only help us in our journey.