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.


  1. Thank you for this great post, it helped me a lot!

  2. I'm enjoying the wide views you express. You seem to like to crack the door open and show folks something more than an enclosed room. "Wait, what? There's more???"

  3. I'm enjoying the wide views you express. You seem to like to crack the door open and show folks something more than an enclosed room. "Wait, what? There's more???"

  4. I'm enjoying the wide views you express. You seem to like to crack the door open and show folks something more than an enclosed room. "Wait, what? There's more???"

  5. Yes. I also have experienced the same sterile and "walking on egg shells" atmosphere when going to temple at headquarters. Stand, sit, listen, don't take pictures, be silent, don't move or attract attention, read, stand, sit, don't show emotion or get ecstatic, speak when spoken to etc...Where is the Love?