Surprised by this title? Did you think the next step in the Magical Arts might be to learn Hebrew or Greek or Egyptian heiroglyphs, or perhaps to study Tarot? Those are worthy arts and useful to a mage, but not yet. After the considerable task of mastering and becoming aware of your own feelings and thoughts, of mastering the deportment of body and mind, of cultivating awareness, the next step is math.
The entire edifice of modern material science was erected on numbers and the understanding of how numbers can be used to describe quantities. Indeed, when it comes to matter, most of what we call “qualities” are also quantitative. A particle has so much mass, so much positive energy, so much electrical charge, and so forth. Everything is defined in terms of quantities. Or put another way, every thing that we identify as a separate thing is defined (at bottom) by quantities of these identifiable factors. Even a leaf of a tree must be measured to discover to which species it belongs.
Not so in magery. Quantities of ingredients are important in recipes, but each separate herb is not valued for its inclusion in the binomial nomenclature. Magery affects molecular and subatomic interactions certainly, but not directly, and not physically. Magery speaks in terms of qualities; both qualities inate and qualities of affect upon things externally to a particular herb, stone, crystal, or metal. The stars, in astrology, for example, are valued according to their influences on the human soul or upon events, not according to their quantities of mass, gravitational pull, orbit, and internal make up.
This is an aspect of magic that is seldom understood by those educated only in modern science. When what we call today “science” divorced itself from qualitative affects and married itself to quantities, what we call today “metaphysical arts” or “magic” carried on in the old way of natural philosophy. The goal of science is deeper and more detailed understanding of the physical makeup of things. It is also a deeper understanding of how one thing effects another,how they may interact to produce a medical effect or molecular changes, even atomic changes. Today, the cutting edge of biology and medicine are molecular and the chemical manipulation of molecules (including the DNA molecule) is the primary modality of treatment and experimentation.
Magery is quite different but not the opposite of modern science. They are the same in their use of experimentation to determine cause and effect relationships. They both utilize numbers and, as we shall see, geometry. The difference is that magery uses numbers to express qualitative relationships, not quantitative ones. Now, the mathematician may object that he does compare and contract qualities but that those qualities are always capable of subtler quantitative differences. On of the broadest examples of trying to transform qualities into quantities is the attempt to define the terms “masculine” and “feminine” in terms of quantities of hormones.
Perhaps I am being unfair and oversimplifying scientific biology, and I do not mean to imply that the approach of science, the quantitative approach, is wrong. We have seen that it leads to many truths. However, we have also seen its affect on human minds and cultures when its claim to have a monopoly on truth turns every person and every nation, even the land we love as our motherland, into mere mechanisms composed of so many interacting parts that are (assumed to be) predictable by virtue of measurements.
By focusing on “qualities” defined as “quantities,” we lose sight of something very important — the human mind and spirit and its ability to sense qualities intuitively. Without counting, weighing, and experimentation, the human soul can perceive the qualities of a rose or the blossom of hyssop. The scientific mindset might say that intuition is nothing more than unconscious and very swift weighing and measuring in the mind. Recognizing the names or species of flowers, plants, trees, or the names of gems, stones, or crystals is no doubt a process of observation. The eye recognizes the physical geometry of a plant, its colors, and so on to identifying it scientifically.
The mage’s eye, however, is an inner eye, an intuition of the imagination, which sees into qualities which are not physical. Such are called “spiritual” qualities or “metaphysical properties.” These are rooted in the broad classifications invented by the ancient astrologers — the twelve signs of the zodiac, the seven visible planets. The twelve signs of the zodiac are fundamental because the planets pass among them. Other constellations undoubtedly have power too, but unless a visible body in space passes through them, they form no direct temporal relationship with the Earth. They do, however, form varying angular relationships relative to any particular point on the Earth’s surface.
For example, take a constellation such as Ursa Major, Latin for the Great Bear, or the Big Dipper as it is known in English. No planet passes through this constellation of stars, yet it is a constant influence upon the Earth. If you think about it, all constellations are defined from the viewpoint of Earth, so they do not even have any existence apart from the humans looking up at them from this particular place in space.
At the same time, the Great Bear and other “fixed stars” do move apparently in the Earth’s sky from the point of view of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. As the world upon its tilted axis revolves around the Sun, the fixed stars move northward or southward as the Sun does (apparently). Scientific astronomy has made a big point out of the measurable fact that the Earth is not the center of the universe and that it revolves around the Sun and not vice versa, as the ancients observed. However useful this information may be, the physical truth of astrology lies in what appears to happen, not in what actually happens.
For example, the human mind experiences the Sun moving across the sky. It does not experience the Earth’s rotation. Our senses are incapable of feeling the Earth’s rotation and only if we get off the Earth can be actually observe the physical reality of a solar system in which Earth appears to be but a tiny, almost insignificant, part. For us, down on the ground, the Sun moves, the starry dome moves, the planets move, in relation to us. Magical qualities are based upon this point of view. That does not make them wrong or “false”; it just makes them true in a subjective, Earthbound way. Objectivity is always dependent upon where you stand to make your observations. What the twentieth century has taught us, is that it is very hard to find a place to stand where one can observe objects without interfering with them. The human mind interferes in some way, no matter where it stands. The human mind trained by modern science is full of assumptions and “truths” which it has accepted without direct experience. Magery is much the same, in that it requires training of the mind to interpret what the eye sees and the hand feels into reasonable sense. And the outcome is not the same. This does not mean magery’s way of seeing the world is more true than that of science. It means it is just as true, but in a different way.
Let us take Light for example. Science has become slightly stuck on the problem of light. Is it a wave or is it a particle? Scientific observation finds that it appears to be both and is the only example of anything that behaves that way. Considering that most kinds of observation depend on light, one would think that to be more of a problem than physicists make it. For the mage, it doesn’t matter in the least. The mage’s experience of light is simply that it permits vision. It is bright or dim and may be given many qualities based upon the source of light and the environment in which it exists. Light may cause joy; the lack of it fear. These are strong emotions that are useful in creating magical effects. Whether light is particle or wave matters not at all to the mage. Whether light is joyous or disturbing, uncanny, or weird matters very little to the physicist.
Light is one of the fundamental principles or ideas in magery. In the system of the Taoist sages of China, Light and Shadow are expressed as Yang and Yin. They are often treated as a “polarity” or as “oppositions,” but this is an error. True, within human psychology in particular cultures, these concepts may be conceived of as “opposites” but the concept of opposition is itself merely a human idea, not part of nature itself. Light and Shadow simply are, they exist. In one sense they are part of one thing, for shadow is cause by the blocking of light coming from a source. In magery, Light is a symbol of knowledge and understanding — seeing — while shadow or darkness is a symbol of ignorance and lack of understanding — what is hidden from the eye.
The dynamic relationship between what is seen and what is unseen may be applied to everything that is. The old Latin word for that which is unseen is “occultus” from which we derived the word “occult” in English. While some religious sects have re-defined the word to include connotations of “evil, forbidden, devilish,” this is not the original meaning of the word. Such connotations derive from the use of darkness in some religions as a symbol for evil, and the assignment of all that is evil to a single evil being called variously Satan, the Devil, etc. Magery itself has no real use for such religious concepts. That which is unseen is not necessarily evil. Electricity is for the most part unseen and therefore an “occult” force in the universe. Whether it is used for good or evil, is up to humans and other intelligent entities. I do not dismiss “Satan” for every mythos in the world contains such a figure: the mischief-maker, the trickster, a being who delights in fear and mahem and upsetting the plans of the other gods. For mages, however, taking these mythic personifications literally can seriously interfere with understanding magery and the structure of the cosmos. Personifications are useful for the purposes of prayer and evocation. The fact that they are “personifications” does not mean they are unreal. Things that are “made up” in the eyes of modern material science are quite real and very important to study.
The natural division of life into day and night, waking and sleeping, need have no connotations of good and evil. The notion that night or darkness had something to do with evil probably goes back a long time to the simple fact that for homo sapiens, who do not see well in the dark and are not by nature nocturnal, night was simply dangerous.
In magery, as an art, good and evil are not magical categories; they are moral categories. The seepage of the idea of polar opposites from religion into magery has caused a good deal of confusion. Those things that religion defines as “opposites” are better thought of as different phases of being, states of existence. These transform and transmute into each other; they are complementary, but not two poles of an either-or scenario. Take for example, two signs of the Zodiac that are opposite each other in the circle of the sky — say, Gemini and Sagittarius. These signs are very different from each other, but they are not “opposites” in an absolute sense. In astrology if there is a planet in Gemini and another in Sagittarius at the same degree of each sign, those planets are said to be “in opposition.” That does not mean that they are “opposites” in the sense of the word which implies polarity. One is not positive and the other negative, as we say (arbitrarily) with regard to electrical charge or magnetic poles.
Rather, the opposition of planets is a geometric relationship. It means that they are connected by a straight line or an angle of 180°. Astrology is built up upon symbolic meanings for the constellations and planets, but it is also built upon geometry. The aspects and transits in a horoscope form angles and shapes. Planets (and this of course includes the Sun and Moon in astrological terms) are located at certain angular relationships. A “square” is an angle of 90°. A “trine” is an angle of 60°. A “sextile” is an angle of 30°, a semi-square an angle of 45° and so on. Geometrically, a trine alludes to an equilateral triangle, and a square to a geometric square, or equally well, a right triangle. Oppositions and conjunctions allude to lines and points, the conjunction, if perfect, meaning that the two planets occupy the same degree of the same sign, and so, geometrically speaking, the same point. Naturally, this is not the case in the scientific solar system. It is a reality that exists within the symbolic universe of the horoscope, which is drawn from the viewpoint of a particular spot on the Earth’s surface.
Pythagoras, one of the first great geometricians, found meaning in the relationships between angles and shapes. Mathematics may be said to be based in geometry, as are all the arts of building, and our whole understanding of the physical world. What magery adds to this is a spiritual or imaginal significance to numbers and proportions, angles and shapes. The symbolic system of Free Masonry is based upon such meanings. The right angle signifies moral rightness, correctness, and truth. If we consider the right angle of 90°, it is the fourth part of a circle. The circle signifies wholeness, the universe, and the limits of one’s knowledge, or of one’s behavior within a moral system.
The significance of the fourth part of a circle (a quarter circle) is brought forth in the horoscope in which each quarter of the circle of the sky represents a phase of life, and particular aspects of life. That is, the development of the psyche inwardly and in relationships as the cycle of life progresses. The astrological aspect called a “square” is an angle of 90° between two planets. Squares are sometimes considered troublesome, indicating areas of confliction, but this is a negative interpretation of something which is simply part of life — two aspects of life that demand our attention at the same time. The Masonic meaning of the square (the builder’s tool of that name) holds a more exact significance of this aspect; it suggests that the right angle brings together the horizontal and vertical dimensions of human existence. The horizontal is our relationships with others; the vertical, our relationship with God. Or, if you prefer a different term, our aspirations towards the sublime, the universal, the infinite. It is these two dimensions that make up the life of a human being and the correct relationship between the two (the angle of 90°) signifies a perfect balance in which these different impulses act upon each other to create a whole.
Why believe that the positions and relative angles of planets in signs of the Zodiac affect human life? Because it has been found useful. It is a symbolic system based upon the observation of the sky, which was developed long ago as a way to understand human behavior and the events of life. Do these geometries in the sky affect us from a modern scientific perspective? Of course not. Not in the “reality” defined by materialism.
Besides the 19 fundamental categories of astrology (signs and planets) magery has other elements. Yet these are not the 118 “elements” defined by atomic physics. These are the four elements defined by essential physics, the science of created essences. Philosophers long have argued over the “reality” of essences. Does a thing have an essence? Or is it created in the human mind? As in most things of magery, the answer is both. Earth, Air, Fire and Water are the four classical and alchemical elements — or to avoid confusion, let us say “elemental essences.” We may call the study of essences and their interactions, “essential physics” to distinguish it from material physics. Once, essential physics was all we had — it was not distinguished from material physics. Only in the 19th an 20th centuries do we find a strict distinction being made. Materialism, as a cultural ideology, absorbed the imaginations of the Western cultures. For reasons that were partly political, men decided to cast off all the ideas created by “the Church” (meaning Catholicism usually) and along with them, practically all the ideas of the Middle Ages because the only scholars and “scientists” in the Middle Ages were monks and clerics. For the new materialist worldview, things do not have essences; they have protons and electrons and certain physical properties. Again, this is fine, fascinating, and a wonderful field of study. Essential physics looks at things in a different way. It is concerned not with defining and explaining thisngs in terms of “matter” (a concept that is breaking down in the field of physics) as reality but with imaginal reality. The fact that the one field and the other have been separated is a good thing, in one way, because it was causing problems when people did not realize what was verifiable fact and what was imagination. In effect the “birth of modern science” was the birth of a narrower and easier field of enquiry: those things perceptible by physical senses and capable of easy repetition. Repeating alchemical experiments is much harder, because the work is subjective as well as objective. It depends upon the awareness of the experimenter.
So, elemental essences are not simply “early science” that was “proved wrong.” Fire, in the alchemical sense, encompasses all things that give off heat and light. It is the essence of those properties. Moreover, alchemical Fire is the process of transformation, which causes material things to dissolve and disintegrate and be reformed into something else. It is the element of purification as well. Transformation and purification have meaning for chemistry too, but in alchemy they go further, as symbolic of the psyche and its relationship to its own supra-material existence. Modern science has proven that many things which it believes to exist contradict the ordinary model of material existence. The whole concept of matter and energy being different things is itself dissolving and transforming into new ideas. No doubt, in time, the idea that matter was composed of energetic particles will seem quaint and laughable.
The concepts of magery are, however, neither quaint nor laughable. They describe the psyche’s relationship to this existence we call material, and it is a fundamental relationship, not a superficial one. Mages have long said that Mind is the basis of all existences. That does not mean that what science calls the human mind is the basis of existence; it means that Mind is what we call the basis of existence. Not a thing somehow inside the brain’s chemistry, but the very matrix of existence itself, of which the human brain is merely a kind of receiver. I like the analogy of the radio, which receives many channels broadcast in that invisible medium of radio waves through the surrounding air (or more broadly space). Invisible, unseen, occult. Matter, and consequently material events, exist as expressions of this invisible medium we may call Mind. Or, if it is any less confusing, call it Essence with a capital E.
The alchemists called it Aether. That term has been used for a number of theoretical substances over the history of the development of chemistry. The alchemical use of the term Aether, refers to that matrix from which all qualities are born: Air, Earth, Fire, Water. The four elements describe the totality of qualities in the material reality experienced directly by our bodies and the limited physical senses of those bodies. Aether is therefore that which generates all bodies and bodies, from particles to stars, are motion. For energy is motion. A particle without motion is an impossibility (or at any rate unknown) for without motion it simply has no existence in what we call the material world. In fact things of the higher planes are also always in motion and defined by their motion.
And motion is understood within the concepts of Geometry. Space is often spoken of as if it were a “thing” but in reality it is the geometric matrix of motion. Time is not a “thing” either, despite the wishes of science and science fiction. Time is merely an invention of men to measure motion and transformation. It is geometry that fundamentally describes all reality on all planes of existence. And it is in the Aetherial matrix of All that magery is performed. It is possible because Mind is Aetherial and our brains and thoughts can tune in to Mind. If scientists believe mages to be “out of their minds” that is a reasonably accurate assessment, for doing magery requires one to realize that the brain is not the extent of one’s mind in a personal sense, nor is the “personal” mind actually separate from that Universal Mind.
Having arrived at that realization, we then need to begin understanding that the cosmos and everything in it is geometry. Geometry defines things and magical geometry (as distinct from what you probably learned in school) gives essences and qualities to angles and polygons. They are not just useful for calculating areas and volumes in the material plane of existence. They also allow us to calculate essential qualities and relationships in the higher planes of existence. The square, for example, represents the four elements, a totality. The square (or the cube) is used as a symbol of cosmos. The square in one plane (geometrical plane) symbolizes the Earth or the material plane of existence. Similarly, the circle squared, which is a circle with two perpendicular lines through it, is a symbol used by astrology for elemental Earth. Different signs of the Zodiac are defined in terms of each of the four elements. So, for example, Gemini is an Air sign, while Saggitarius is a Fire sign. Cancer is Water, Taurus is Earth, and so on. There are three signs for each essential element, and these express three different aspects of the essence. Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius each express an aspect of elemental Air, but each is also quite different from the other two. Yet, this network of qualities can be expressed in terms of a triangle, a triad or grouping of three in one.
This article merely introduces the significance of geometry, mainly from the standpoint of astrology. Aspiring mages who neglect the study of astrology will be missing the fundamentals of magical cosmology. Those who study astrology only as a mode of divination may still miss its broader significance in giving meaning to the angles and shapes of geometry.
Strong feelings do not necessarily make a strong character. The strength of a man is to be measured by the power of the feelings he subdues not by the power of those which subdue him.
– William Carleton
Getting a grip on one’s unconscious mind is the next step after one has got a grip on one’s body. In the Magical Alphabet, F stands for Feelings because these are the products of the sub-conscious mind. In other words, while conscious thoughts are taken into consciousness, the sphere of the Ego, feelings are harder to articulate and often move and affect us without ever being translated into logical utterances.
C.G. Jung contrasted Thinking and Feeling as two functions of the psyche. Thinking deals with logical cogitation and utterances, with raciocination, as Sherlock Holmes liked to put it. When we are thinking, we are being rational (or trying to be). When we are feeling, while it is still a function of the psyche, what is actually going on is pre-verbal. Feeling is the perception of relationships on what we commonly call an “emotional” level. When you feel anger, stress, love, hate, anxiety, or joy, you likely have a physical sensation in your chest. For this reason, the faculty of feeling has been traditionally associated with the heart.
What we call the realm of the heart has to do with love, most fundamentally, but at an infantile level (that which forms the basis of our psyche), love involves both joy and fear. Fear of loss, joy in having the beloved. Children, during the time when their Ego is forming, transfer the joy and fear of having their mother’s breast and milk to other things. A toddler’s distraught reaction to the loss of a beloved toy seems ridiculous to an adult, but that is because the feeling of loss is more personal, primal and connected to the child’s feeling of vulnerability. An adult who loses her favorite fountain pen might go into a rage or a funk just as well, because these same primal emotions are aroused.
Emotions are fundamentally a form of energy in the body. In a material body they are often accompanied by chemical changes, spikes in hormone levels and other physiological changes. However, when emotions get to the mind, or psyche, they are feelings. They have emerged in the matter of the brain as patterns of recognition and relationship. For example, possession and identification are organizing ideas around which feelings form. Likewise rejection is a structure of feeling created by experience and energized by emotions. Sexual arousal is an emotion, while love is a structure of feeling connected to the basic idea of relatedness and possession, and to a degree the idea of being possessed by a beloved. The emotions are adult, as are the physiology, but the feelings may be quite infantile and primal — based on the person’s early experiences of union with the body of another (most often the mother). A baby’s sense of its own dependence often emerges powerfully as a structure of feelings, when a person “falls in love.”
Having feelings is a faculty of higher animals. We can observe reactions in other primates, dolphins, elephants, and other large-brained brethren that go beyond reflexive emotional responses to danger or attack. Affection between parent and young is one sort of feeling that we can relate to. But, speculation on what other animals feel is beyond the concern or power of most of us. What is needed is for the mage to understand his or her own feelings and emotional triggers. One way to do this is to bring feelings out of the unconscious and articulated them consciously. This may be done in language, or it may be done through a non-verbal creative medium such as drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, and so forth.
The reason to get a grip on one’s unconscious psyche is not to throw away emotions and feelings. Quite the opposite. A mage like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, the Vulcan who believed feelings inferior to pure logic, would not get very far as a mage. If a spell can be thought of as a rocket, logic is the structure of the missile itself, but feeling is its propellant. If own never had feelings, one would never feel the need to cast spells in the first place.
REasoning and logic will come next in the grand scheme of things as the third of the liberal arts in the Trivium. However, as a practical matter, one cannot extricate logic and feelings. They are intertwined within the psyche and so constitute Ego and Anima, in C.G. Jung’s model. Ego is supposed to operate on observation and reasoning, but in fact it very often operates on impulse — that is on the basis of unconscious or semi-conscious feelings. Thoughts and rationalizations of them, may in fact arise in the conscious mind directly from emotions. Anger, for example, stimulated by a sudden pain, may cause one to curse an inanimate object, or even kick it, just to get revenge. The Ego, at that moment, thinks that it is logical to personify an object that in fact has no volition at all.
Similarly, deep-seated feelings can prompt highly irrational thoughts. A person suffering from pain and resentment because he was weaned too early as a baby (at least to his own idea of “too early”) can evolve all sorts of thoughts of inferiority, rejection, and loss that seem simply to be true. The Ego takes such thoughts based on unconscious feelings as if they were factual observations and proceeds to rationalize them.
Such logic is not what one wants. Ideally, one wishes one’s rational mind to base its logic upon true assumptions and true, objective observations. Yet, the fact remains, objectivity is an ideal state of mind that is ultimately very difficult to achieve. Pure objectivity is impossible to the human mind, unless the entire contents of one’s unconscious psyche can be integrated into a whole with its conscious aspects. Jung called this process individuation. It must be a dance of the mind and feelings to judge one’ own thoughts as critically and objectively as one tries to judge the utterances of others. We all seek logic — that is what we call “making sense of the world.” Today, we know that this goal requires us not only to question our feelings and prejudices, but even our five senses. What seems to be is not always true.
The most common error of logic is to base one’s reasoning upon false premises. Of course, one does not know they are false until one runs up against evidence that contradicts the conclusions drawn from those premises. Modern science tries to begin reasoning from premises, which have been demonstrated to be true from prior observation and testing. It is a grand idea; unfortunately, few realize that the method itself contains assumptions that are unproven. Succinctly, observation based only on the five physical senses of the body can never admit anything that is not material. This means that things — such as the psyche — which are not material at all become warped as they are hammered into a materialist jigsaw puzzle. Twentieth-century Western psychology took a major turn when it accepted the unwarranted premise that the mind must be thought of only in terms of brain chemistry and behavior resulting from it. While this model of mind has brought us much good knowledge about the effects of brain chemistry on the psyche, it does so while implicitly bracketing the fundamental existence of the mind as a non-material entity.
Understanding this about Western psychology is important to a budding mage because a great deal of what with think and do is predicated upon assumptions that are handed to us by our elders, some so firmly believed that even to contradict them can ruin one’s career. Belief is the driving factor that prompts our thoughts. Beliefs are both feelings and thoughts. When we believe something to be true without the proofs of experimental method, we may arrive at all sorts of conclusions that cannot be accepted as true, strictly speaking. The case of religion is one of the biggest bugbears in this class; the scientific materialism of the West emerged largely as a reaction against the false reasoning of Christianity.
By “false reasoning” I do not mean to say that the religion and its beliefs are demonstrably false. Nor do I mean to imply that there is only one kind of truth. What I mean is that those beliefs taken for granted and based upon only the Christian Bible for evidence cannot claim the kind of truth found by reasoning from observation. That is, the reports of events in the Bible are unlikely to be unbiased or complete. In the case of claimed miracles, for example, science can offer no way to justify such beliefs as true.
Yet, for centuries people in the Christian West and its cultural diaspora have accepted the Bible as factual. This is because they accepted the premise that the Bible was written by God and therefore a priori, true. Long trains of logic and reasoning may spin out from that single premise based upon a collection of texts which are simply accepted without question to be literally and completely true in every detail.
Even when the field of Biblical criticism developed during the 19th century, the grounds of belief shifted only slightly. The believer, the Christian theologian and Biblical scholar, stated that the Bible was inspired by God but written by men. This meant that the exact details of fact reported could be analyzed, sifted, and questioned; but only to a point. The fundamental belief that the Jewish “Old Testament” accurately reported the history of the Hebrews was not seriously challenged. In fact a whole new industry of looking for archaeological evidence to support the reports in the Bible grew up.
While such reasoning and evidence-seeking is valid to a point, it ultimately violates a fundamental rule of the scientific method. That is, that the reasoner should not go out and cherry-pick facts or evidence in order to support a thesis. The testing of hypothesis is a rigorous attempt to disprove them. Only if a hypothesis cannot be disproven can we know (with a fair degree of certainty) that it is true. And even then, time will tell. Someone might come up with a set of data that does not fit a well-established theory, as we have seen in the development of quantum physics and relativity out of established Newtonian “laws.”
This impinges on magery very directly because the magical arts are driven not by proofs but by beliefs. There is no need to prove a magical hypothesis unless doing so strengthens one’s belief in its truth. The magical effect come about because the mage fully believes in the model of the cosmos in which he mentally works. That is why magic usually employs the imagery of whatever religion the mage accepts. Working within a cultural matrix of belief makes magic easier. In the kind of societies we have in much of the West, where many religious cosmologies exist side-by-side, we lack the power provided by a culture in which everyone believes essentially the same model.
To magery, one religion is as good as the next, unless it gets in the way of one’s intentions. Religious officialdom is thus inimical to magery and that is why so many magical folk of the past have run afoul of the law and the religious enforcers. Magery is fundamentally practical. It is a method for representing one’s intention and projecting it onto a formative plane of existence. If you do not believe in a formative plane, then you will be hard-pressed to do any magical work. But nearlly everyone does. Even the scientific atheist believes there is some layer of the mind in which positive affirmations will cause manifestations in the material world. You do not have to believe in gods or saint or angels and demons to believe in a formative world. However, Christianity and the other Abrahamic religion have tended to see this other world as populated and governed by such spiritual entities.
That is why magery has the reputation of requiring one to invoke demons. Within the medieval Christian worldview (and to a degree within medieval Judaism and Islam) magic, as defined in those cultures, depends on consorting with spirits. They might be Jinn, they might be angels, they might be demons. In the pagan pre-Christian cultures of the West, the intelligences contacted might be “the Fair Folk” or the “Hidden People,” euphemisms for entities that have a form of being similar to our own, but who also exert power over reality.
Mages today disagree on the matter of worldviews. Does one need a religious cosmology at all? Will the cosmology of science serve just as well, now that so many people believe in it? The answer will depend upon whether you grew up with a religious cosmology and whether it fits your needs. Many raised in the various denominations of the Christian religion have found it does not meet their needs because it excludes women from spiritual life. In seeking a Divine Feminine or Goddess, many today have turned to pre-Christian ideas. But personification of cosmic powers is more necessary to religious feeling than to magery.
The reason for this is that a large part of Western magic is based upon Greek philosophy and where the Greek or Roman gods are used, they are referred to as planets. As science has made planets less mysterious, the use of the planets and the god-names they bear has become abstracted from its original religious context. Is it necessary to believe in Mercury or Jupiter as persons, as god-entities who might appear in a human form? Or is it only necessary to belief in the complex of ideas that we call “Mercury” or “Jupiter”?
These are some of the fundamental questions that every mage must answer to his or her own satisfaction. Being part of a community of believers, whether these are Gnostics, Theosophists, or Hermeticists, helps to build up the strength of belief, and with belief in a spiritual model of the cosmos, one structures one’s logic to create effects that are commonly called “magical.” Ultimately this structure of beliefs makes up magical theory. But in order to construct and use a spiritual logic, one has first to grapple with the structure of one’s own psyche.
We begin with an awareness that we have both a feeling and a thinking faculty, a conscious part of our mind and an unconscious part that need to be integrated. If you do not deal with your own “inner demons” and fears first, you will likely drive yourself round the bend when you try to practice magery. This is why magical orders and mystery schools have always insisted on the long testing of an initiate and a long process of self-actualization before passing on to the practice of the art.
Thinking and Feeling should be born in mind as we progress next through the Trivium, the first three of the liberal arts. That is, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. These are verbal arts and arts of the mind.
Next time: Grammarye.
Propriety of deportment is the valuable result of a knowledge of one’s self and of respect for the rights of others; it is a feeling of the sacrifices which are imposed on self-esteem by our social relations; it is, in short, a sacred requirement of harmony and affection.
Mme. Celnart, The Gentleman and Ladies Book of Politeness and
Propriety of Deportment, Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes (1833)
This is the second in my series of articles on where to start with the magical arts. First, let me reiterate that magery is both an art and a science, or it might be even better to say, a collection of arts and sciences. Arts are ways of creating something new. Sciences, by contrast, are bodies of knowledge and theory. Art and science are not opposites, nor are they in conflict. The academic turf battles in our culture (here in the USA ) have pitted art and music departments against science and mathematics departments in the perennial fight for money. In the magical arts, there is no such distinction, and it may be so because there are no Academies of Magery with budgets and departmental turf battles. As various wizards and witches of today have started schools (e.g., Witchschool.com and Greyschool.org), it will be interesting to see if such divisions arise. I hope not, for magery is the most holistic art and science imaginable.
Indeed, it was in the late 20th century along with the holistic health movement and the shift in consciousness attendant on that holistic view of nature and human beings that the magical arts have blossomed. Long before Harry Potter popularized wizardry, a culture of wizards had grown up in the USA and the UK (and elsewhere too), consisting of many practitioners, many schools of thought, and many writers. My own publisher, Llewellyn Worldwide Publications, was one of the leaders in the publication of books on astrology, tarot, and the various magical traditions that emerged increasingly into the open air of a culture of liberality. Which is not to say that wizards and witches are not still persecuted by some people. The word “witch” which modern Wiccans have sought to reclaim in a positive sense, has historically been ambiguous. To call the local midwife-herbalist a “cunning woman” was polite. To call her a “witch” was to mark her with a suspicion of wrongdoing. And that fear runs very deep in the collective unconscious. We instinctively fear anyone who might do evil by invisible means. It was that fear, rather than theological objections, that made witches ambigious figures in the polytheistic cultures pre-dating Christianity. Among Romans and Greeks and Egyptians, and indeed all the peoples of the ancient world, the arts of magery were simply accepted as a part of reality. It was not seen as something strange and “occult” nearly as much as Christian cultures have characterized it.
“Occult” from the Latin “occultare” simply meant “covered” or “hidden” for the Romans. In the Latin-speaking world of the Roman Empire before Christianity was adopted as its official religion, the word “occultare” was probably as benign as when we say that some branch of science is “obscure.” It was only under the influence of Christian spiritual leaders that “occult” took on the scary overtones it has born over the last few centuries. As our modern era progressed, Western intellectual culture moved from accepting magic as science to completely separating the one from the other. The result is that by the 21st century, most people in the West consider magery the stuff of fairy tales and children’s literature. Indeed, the creation of “children’s literature” as a separate genre of fiction, was in part responsible for the complete rejection of magery from the world Western adults consider “real” (at least officially).
The boon hidden in this cultural “progress” towards material rationalism was that it remove the power of religious authorities to prosecute and suppress those who openly engaged in, or wrote about, magery. Instead of criminal charges, someone practicing magery today is likely to be seen as mentally unstable or deluded, and referred to counseling. In the Eastern hemisphere — in Asia that is, the matter of magery played out quite differently because yoga and qigong, and other Taoist arts, became part of the religious culture (e.g., see Taiji), a religious milieu for more diverse than that of the Roman Empire and its barbarian descendants. Yoga and related mind-body disciplines are essential to the safe practice of magery. While some wizards do maintain that it is all a matter of getting the words and the physical parts of a spell right, the balance of opinion has shifted from that recipe book view of magery. Instead, most of the current schools of thought about magery as a practical art see it as requiring a particular state of consciousness.
Consciousness moves on many levels of being. That is one of the fundamental theories of magery. It is a theory, in the scientific sense of the word. That is, an observed structure of the cosmos that has been corroborated by a sufficient number of experts to be universally accepted. Theories in magery, as in chemistry or physics, do get tweaked and evolve over time. Sometimes they are completely overthrown by other theories with more explanatory power. On the whole, however, to the degree that one can talk about agreement among mages, the idea of planes of existence or dimensions of reality in which the human consciousness can move, may be taken as a starting point.
The term “consciousness” needs to be defined carefully. In magical philosophy, it refers to the part of the human mind or spirit that observes the world and strives to make sense out of it. It is the “me” I refer to when I am awake. When one is asleep, something else happens and dreaming is the most common “altered state of consciousness” virtually everyone experiences. The psychoanalytic term “Ego” (which is the Latin word for “I” — the first person pronoun) is the “I” that is awake — what we normally call “conscious.” C.G. Jung, the eminent psychologist distinguished the Ego from other parts of the psyche. The Ego is the complex of self-images around which our senses and our sense of self in society is organized. It also is the part of the psyche that accesses memories and indulges in daydreams and fantasies.
The unconscious mind is a much larger matter. It stores all of our memories, whether we can remember them consciously or not, and it stores memories of our fantasies and fears, hopes and aspirations. Jung also asserted that one’s personal unconscious opens into a larger realm of collective unconscious that includes all sorts of cultural archetypes. This theory of the psyche has been very influential in magical circles and has provided a model to explain the experiences of other worlds and hidden peoples such as those reported in folk lore. Which is not to say that when a mage speaks with elves or undines, she is talking to herself or with figments of the imagination. From the standpoint of magical philosophy, our “imaginary friends” as children are not simply make-belief. The imagination, that faculty of the mind so little understood, is not simply a part of the mind that likes to fantasize and make things up. It is a doorway into the many worlds of possibilities that exist on the several planes of being.
The upshot of this theory of reality is that the human mind and body must be thought of as a whole. The body is not our whole existence, nor is the mind. Rather they are two parts of one’s whole being that are inextricably interconnected. Almost anyone today will agree that the mind influences the health of the body and vice versa. The holistic model has caught on in medicine and healing fields. However, there are different schools of thought regarding what exactly the “mind” is. The dominant academic model of our intellectual culture today is materialism, a model which insists that everything can be reduced to material phenomena. Now, material phenomena does include energy and the mysterious forces of nature. Invisible forces are today accepted without question among physicists, but the dominant materialist paradigm does not admit calling invisible forces “spiritual.”
The spirit (from Latin spiritus “breath”) was a word so monopolized by the Christian churches in the West that when Europeans developed material sciences they just got rid of the term altogether. Spirits and souls were relegated to the fictional world of religious belief systems and could no longer be discussed seriously by academics. Empirical knowledge that could be gathered through physical experiments using known atomic elements, and which could be reproduced by other scientists became the basis of truth in the West. The result was that all experimentation with the spirit was put on a shelf. Or, rather, it continued to be carried on by people outside of the halls of Academe.
As famous an icon of modern empirical science as Isaac Newton had to keep his alchemical work a secret. Had it come out, he would have been ostracized from the Royal Society and probably lost his professorial chair, as Cambridge University was still, in that time, strict about the religious beliefs of its professors. A century after Newton, if a philosopher wished to study magic he had to keep it secret and hidden from not only the church authorities but from the proponents of the new material empiricism. This is the historical background to the split between spirit and body in Western culture. In fact, it goes back even farther, because the early Church Fathers developed the idea that body was bad and spirit was good. They considered that the survival of the spirit or soul after the death of the body was the higher and more important plane of being and gross material bodies just got in the way of spiritual attainment.
That idea was, to my way of thinking, a mistake. It is true, certainly, that the body and its appetites and senses distract one from developing the higher faculties of the mind and spirit. However, the solution is not to become an ascetic and denigrate the body. The solution is to do as the yogis have for centuries — practice bodily disciplines that yoke together body and spirit. The word “yoga” comes from the same root as our word “yoke.” The body and its urges and appetites are a part of our existence and we do not have to escape from the body to enter into the higher planes of existence. This is the nub of this lesson, that practicing physical disciplines that cultivate the connection between one’s material being and one’s mental and spiritual being is the foundation of magery.
So, if you start any course of magical study, you will likely encounter exercises in breathing and meditation. The Ego, that center of waking consciousness, is constantly inundated by chatter coming from the unconscious mind. That part of our soul beneath the threshold of intentional control by the Ego must be brought under control. The chattering “monkey mind” must be silenced and taught to serve one’s higher Self. Jung used the term “Self” to refer to the center of the whole psyche. The Ego complex is the center of the conscious part of the psyche. The Self complex lies at the center of both the conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche. This Self is thought of among mages as being in fact a transcendent “I” that exists through many “lives” and bodies. This is another idea we get from India — the theory of the reincarnation of the Self into different bodies. Some writers have found evidence for a similar belief in the writings of the ancient Bards of the Celtic-speaking peoples.
Many mages today embrace the idea of reincarnation, so-called “past lives,” and karma, the spiritual law that what we do unto others will come back to us for good or ill in our next incarnation. From a philosophical standpoint, this means that the purpose of life is to learn to be a good person — to follow the Golden Rule and be a blessing to others. The selflessness that is often spoken of in relation to Eastern philosophy is not a loss of self-identity, but it is a transcending of the Ego’s tendency to defend its own existence by acting selfishly, even cruelly toward others. The mind-body disciplines of Hindu yogis and of druids both aim to raise awareness of the layers of being within one’s psyche. And learning to breathe deeply and quiet the chatter of your mind is first and foremost. Without that first step, you can never become truly aware that you have a higher Self and that it is connected to all things, and through that connection to all other beings. It is this realization — the true internalization of knowing this to be so — that permits one to act selflessly and see that every other person is just as holy as oneself. That realization is sometimes rather dramatically called the annihilation of the Ego. You can never entirely get rid of your Ego. It is an important part of the mind — important for survival in material existence. But you can put your Ego in its place by self-realization, seeing yourself as a multi-dimensional being connected to all things, including the Divine.
Deportment is an old-fashioned term for learning how to hold one’s body and move gracefully. Young people were taught how to deport themselves in polite society and behave well. From the magical point of view, deportment is more than this. It is a matter of controling one’s body, cultivating grace, calm, and deliberate action. Practicing this physical art does not aim to strengthen the muscles or burn fat. It aims to link the conscious mind to the unconscious mind, and so to the body. For a great deal of what is contained in one’s unconscious mind comes from the body. Some thinkers have suggested that every cell, even our DNA contains messages that can percolate to the brain and so become conscious thoughts. That our organs and cells communicate in some way with each other and determine our health seems unquestionable. Whether one can tap into that cellular memory and those lines of communication remains to be seen, but it is entirely consistent with the theories of magical philosophy.
So, if you want to be a wizard, start by learning yoga or ta’i chi. Not “martial arts” but the spiritual side of those disciplines. Not for physical fitness, but for the understanding of how to move your spiritual energies in your body and then in your surroundings. Moving chi, is what the Taoist sages call it — chi gong. The yogis call this substance prana. Mages in the West have had to adopt those terms into English to express the idea. The druids sometimes use an old Welsh word, nwyfre (which is pronounced something like NOO-vrah). In the Latin cultural and linguistic tradition (to which English is an heir) the word “spirit” used to carry this same meaning. Spirit was a substance flowing through all things. Like Chi with its complementary yin and yang aspects, spirit informed everything.
Today, if we can overcome the religious connotations of “spirit” it is a suitable word. But because of the ascendency of material sciences over our culture as the arbiter of truth, mages today in the West tend to adapt terms from physics to service. Franz Bardon, the 20th century Czech mage, described the spiritual fluid as Aether, and as comprised of an electrical and a magnetic fluid. The idea is exactly the same as yin and yang (yin being the magnetic fluid and yang being the electrical), only employing terms from Western science. I do not personally think that the practice is wise because it is too easy for the uninitiated to think that one is talking about electro-magnetism as the material sciences define those forces.
In a sense, electricity and magnetism are aspects of the occult forces described by alchemists, but they are only part of the picture — only the material effects are studied by Western science. The spiritual effects of these two fluids, which transmute one into the other, runs much more deeply in the psyche. In any case, one cannot begin to understand and really know that things of the spirit are true and real, until one experiences one’s own prana and one’s own ability to manipulate, move, and use prana for healing and for physical grace. Only when this lesson in deportment is learned can one begin to move prana consciously outside of one’s material body and into the higher planes of existence.
It is within those higher planes, those other dimensions of being, that magic is done. The art of magery creates something new, like all arts, but it does so on a level of deep causality. Circumstances and phenomena are driven by spiritual forces and intelligences. You, as an aspiring mage are a spiritual intelligence and can create new circumstances and phenomena because you are. It is no coincidence that with the rise of Spiritualism and modern magical groups another movement stepped onto the cultural stage. That was the physical culture movement. We are children of that movement, for it was the beginning of the health craze, vegetarianism, health foods, and exercise regimens. The physical culture advocates of the early 20th century understood the link between a sound mind and a sound body. So, by all means engage in physical games and activities, but do not do so simply to be stronger or more attractive to the opposite sex. Do so mindfully, cultivating awareness of your body as you cultivate awareness of your thoughts and feelings. Remember it this way: In the magical alphabet the first five letters form a group:
A is for Awareness
B is for Body
C is for Consciousness
D is for Deportment
E is for Exercises (mind-body exercises)
Recommended Reading on Deportment:
Jess Stearn. Yoga, Youth, and Reincarnation.
Franz Bardon. Initiation into Hermetics.
NEXT TIME: The letter F is for Feelings: Getting a Grip on Your Unconscious.
“Dear Alferian, I just received a wand for Christmas. How can I start learning magic?”
This is a question I get periodically and I am never satisfied with my recommendations, mainly because there is no single book I can wholeheartedly recommend as a starting point. The one I usually do recommend is Amber K’s book True Magic. There are hundreds of books on wicca or other varieties of witchcraft, voodoo, ceremonial magic, and even some good books on Druidry. But there is no book simply about magic without a particular worldview involving religious ideas. In fact, magic is an art and a science. It is closely allied to religions because one’s view of magery depends on one’s cultural viewpoint and religion is often the cultural zone where attitudes are formed regarding what has been called “spiritual” or “supernatural” matters.
The most recent brand of magery on the metaphysical book shop shelves is Chaos Magic, which intends to transcend any particular religious framework. That may be all well and good, if one has grown up without a religion, but for those who have been raised in one religious system or another, those ideas are ingrained in the neural pathways, the little grey cells. It is far easier to do magic within the frame of reference you already have than to try to erase it from your brain and adopt something new. It is true that some individuals desire to change their religious paradigm, usually due to some dissatisfaction with their old religion. A common example is the person who leaves a Christian church because of its attitude toward sexuality or women. Most of the Western religions (and I include Islam even though it is really very strong in the East) are based on the patriarchal ideas of the Bible, which means a male-dominant society ruled by the old men who use young men to fight their wars and treat women like a separate species with limited rights and little control over their bodies. I fully appreciate why individuals turn away from such a fundamental bias and seek a religion that honors the Divine Feminine and gender equality.
Such is one of the attractions of Wicca as a religion. Druidry offers very similar ideas (both systems sprang from the same group of thinkers in the mid-Twentieth Century). Druidry offers a little more depth because modern Druid orders were built on earlier writings about Druids from the 18th and 19th centuries and there is a literary tradition of Bardic tales and legends from which to draw. Wicca draws upon a much more tenuous history in which very little was ever written down, except what came out in the Witch Trials of the 17th century. ”Witchcraft” has mostly been used as a pejorative term until the last century. The term “cunning man” or “cunning woman” is a more neutral term for someone wise in the way of herbs, potions, and spells.
It is here that we get to the nub of the issue with magery or wizardry — that it is a craft and actually may be thought of as something distinct from religious beliefs or practices. The two have similarities, but wizardry as such differs from most religions in avoiding the problematical stance that one religion is the “true” faith and others are false. Wizardry relates most closely to the esoteric schools because it is based on a cosmology that is essentially psychological. It is a layer beneath all religions, the perennial philosophy, in which personal vision, revelation, and experience are honored as truths and there are no dogmas or authorities to dictate what is “right” and what is “wrong.” As in other sciences, what is “right” is what works. That is, what ideations and actions have an effect on the manifest world. At its base, magery is about cause and effect.
So, the long and short of it is that I have decided to embark upon a series of log entries that attempt to answer the question I started with. Where does one begin with magic? Since we really do not have magical schools (though there are some valiant efforts), and since wizards are scattered rather thinly over the Earth, it is hard for a young person to know where to begin. Certainly I experienced the problem and in these pages, will try to give the benefit of my own experience. I am in fact dealing with the question of how to teach the magical arts in my novel House of Glass, and you will be able to read that shortly when I publish it in the next few months on my web site and on Amazon. So, in part, what I propose as a course of study is based on that work, though here I will reference books that you can find in book shops, whereas in the novel, I have the advantage of being able to make up book references within that fictional world
As in all disciplines there is a special terminology that is required. The concepts of wizardry are not those of our ordinary lives and so, just as in chemistry or physics, which deal with invisible forces and reactions, special terms are required. I will endeavor to add to the vocabulary of the field where we lack clarity. To begin with, I use the terms magery and wizardry interchangeably in stead of “magic” because the latter word has mixed connotations. ”Magic” may be the stuff of stage entertainments, or fantasy novels. Moreover, the word comes to us from the Greek mageia, which referred specifically to the Zoroastrian priests of the Persian Empire. The Magi of the Gospels were evidently such priests for that is what magi are. In English this is generalized into what the fantasy games call a “magic user.” The singular is “mage.” It is a convenient term since it has been almost wholly disconnected from its religious origins. Magery, is simply what mages do. The term also has the advantage of being gender-neutral.
Wizardry is magery by a more familiar name. Our English word “wizard” simply means a wise person. Yet, over time and the development of fantasy literature as a genre, the term has become associated with magical powers. ”Magical” is a difficult term because it is based on “magic” and suffers from too much ambiguity. But what adjective can we use in its place? More on this in the next issue.
Magical Arts: Deportment and Physical Culture
Nobody. Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney both lost. In fact, in a real debate, or even a civil conversation, they should have been thrown out, or at least scolded. I am waiting for the day when a moderator has the guts to say “Mr. President,” you aren’t doing what I asked you to do. You are not answering the question.”
What we need is a ninth grade school English teacher to be moderator. Of course, then the stage would have been empty because both candidates would have been sent to the vice principal’s office for disrupting the class. That might have been good. The audience could have then had more time to talk an they might have gotten to the roots of some of the problems in this country.
Roots is a good metaphor. The politicians we have today seem to talk about solving our buckthorn problem by hacking away at the branches. Anyone with buckthorn invading their garden knows that it has to come out by the roots or it will just come back. The budget over-runs is like that.
But why do we have to have candidates harping on about raising the debt ceiling (an unfortunate phrase designed to make it sound evil)? What? Is the USA going to default on its loan payments? That would be a little ironic, given the number of its citizens who have had to default on theirs. But governments defaulting on loans from other countries, like individual citizens, find their credit rating ruined — probably for a long, long time. Maybe that would be good for our country, from a moral and economic perspective, even though it would mean that poor and middle class people would suffer tremendously. If China cut us off from the addition of borrowing money and the Arabs cut us off from the oil addiction, we would go through a painful withdrawal, but we would then figure out how to make do with what we actually have.
Capitalists operate on the assumption that they can borrow money for a short term and build business with it so that they pay it back to their investors and make a profit. Usually if this doesn’t happen in five years or so, an entrepreneur will rethink the plan and maybe liquidate. I know Republicans like to use the analogy that government of a nation is like a business and other nations are out competition, but I am not sure the analogy holds in a case like this. We have been running our business as a country, taking care of our employees (businesses and individuals) with an eye to making profits. But the Republicans do not really allow the government to receive the profits. It is, as it were, the middle management of corporate stockholders and captains of industry who get billions, not the USA board of directors or president. So, government is not really like a business. And even if it were, our government seems to have some poor money skills.
The thing is, I don’t blame the president (whoever he is and whatever party). The Congress is the center of American government. The president is just the man to execute the laws passed by Congress. So, blaming the president, or firing him every four years, is really a smoke screen. The Congress are the chaps responsible. And if you look at them as individuals you find that they have very poor money-management skills too. They probably failed personal finance in high school because they wouldn’t stop yammering on to their friends or shooting spitballs at their enemies.
What we need is a president (and members of Congress) who listen. Really listen. And then work to solve problems in the real world. I do not want a person to reply to my problems with hackneyed rhetoric and zingers. If a debate about strategies and tactics is necessary, as it always is when a corporation or group is taking on a difficult challenge, then let it be done with the least possible amount of posturing. Do you come into your committee meetings at work or in a volunteer organization with “talking points” that you then endlessly repeat? Do you point out the past failings of other committee members in order to try to get elected chairman of the committee? Well, maybe sometimes this does happen outside the meetings. But in your meetings, where you work to determine the details of an action plan and a strategy to keep the organization profitable and solvent, you rely on reasoned argument and consensus-building. I expect you do.
Macho posturing and the tendency to try to interrupt and get in a comeback to something another member of the committee said, does not work well. That’s why they invented the talking stick. Men have generally a very bad communication style, compared to women. At least that’s what my feminist linguistics professor taught me in college. Men like to interrupt and seize the floor. Shouting has been a chief part of male primate behavior for millions of years, I suppose. Are women better listeners? Well, yes and no. When I see a group of women meeting socially, they all seem to be talking at the same time. Yet, they also seem to hear each other just fine. And they aren’t usually arguing.
In a work situation, I have not had that much experience with all-woman groups (obviously), but my wife has. From what I can gather, a lot of the stupid ideas come from men who think they know everything and are the only one who could possibly be right. Such men generate stupid ideas when they are, surprise, wrong. But let us not make it a gender issue. Everyone can agree that rational discussion and careful understanding of facts is the main thing needed. But facts do not, contrary to popular believe, speak for themselves. They have to be interpreted.
Our presidential candidates do not seem to even get to the point of debating the relative truth-value of different interpretations of the facts. They instead just deny that the other person is telling the truth about the facts themselves. Now, it is true that this sort of “debate” is purposefully “dumbed down.” Our leaders (the management of our big corporation) think that their employees are pretty dimwitted. They think we can only deal with issues like unemployment in a simplistic way. For example, some say that President Obama has not done what needs to be done to lower unemployment after the brink of a Great Depression. Well, that is pure speculation. No one can say for sure what “might have” worked better. That the unemployed people in America are frantic and unhappy is true. But to appeal to their unhappiness and impatience (very natural) and blame the CEO of the company for not hiring more people, seems silly. Everyone is an armchair general or an armchair quarterback, but the fact is that we have no way of knowing if things would have worked out better or worse for a Republican in the White House. So, why are we wasting time yammering about such pure speculation.
What we need is to get detailed plans and have them explained in detail. Not ideological generalities like “giving money to corporate bosses will generate more jobs.” What we need right now is more customers and giving money to the rich won’t do that as effectively as giving money to the poor. But both ideas are beside the point. We do not really have money to give away. We should not be running a politics of who can we bribe to vote for us? Giving away money was in fact the old Roman way of politicing, way back when Rome was a Republic. But it has not been shown to be really good policy unless you have money to give away.
Let’s debate the pros and cons of declaring bankruptcy and starting over. That’s what businessmen, and many American individuals have had to do. Why not the whole country? Well, I suppose you could only really do that if your country was socialist. As it is, because socialism is considered Satanism by most Americans, we really have nothing else to do but keep borrowing until the cart runs all the way down the hill and smashes up at the bottom. Then we won’t have any choice left but to start over. Either way, now or later, we lose our credit rating because, let’s face it, we are not trustworthy. Not the “government” — US. All of us have made this system. Not one party. Not professional evil politicians. Not a secret society bent on ruining Western civilization. Not even the commies. We build America the way it is and included a culture of irresponsible borrowing. There is only one person who loves borrowing — a banker.
As you may have seen from the comments on my other post about a Druid Lodge, I’ve learned that John Michael Greer (a marvelous author on many esoteric subjects) is putting out a book along these lines. It is really not so much a combination of Masonry and Druidry (it sounds like) as Druidry and the Golden Dawn (which uses the term “lodge” also). It should be very interesting, especially because of all the research he has done on the 19th century lodges and the intersection between Masons and the creation of the new druid orders.
Currently, I have been working on a book on Masonry which I’ve given the working title: A Freemason’s Handbook. It is designed to be a small-format book that Mason’s can carry about, and one that will essentially be a close reading of the rituals and lectures. I have already decided it will be three books for the three degrees, so brothers can engage in the work of the first degree without temptation to spoilers for the 2nd and 3rd. And likewise for the Fellowcrafts. The idea is to give brothers enough material to work on those degrees for at least a year before applying for the following degree. I do not harbor any illusions that any lodges will adopt this plan, but you never know. It is just my feeling that we Masons ought to spend time actually putting the material presented in each degree into practice for a year or more before we are really qualified to go on. By the time one becomes a Master Mason, in such a scheme, one would have a huge body of practices to continue and pursue from all three degrees.
We’ll see how long it takes me to write it! Ha!
I think I might just make it available privately through my web site and this blog and pass the Word through the Masonic grapevine. I can make it available in electronic and POD form. But I have to write it first and then run it by a few brothers for suggestions and improvements.
So, the starting of “Druid’s Grove Lodge” is a bit of a tangent from this project, yet it also connected. I feel that working through Druid material and perhaps drawing from Greer as well as the OBOD methods will help me reorganize my brain around the work and at the same time relate it to Masonry. This will cross-fertilize both traditions (at least inside my brain). At the most basic level, both traditions are based on semi-mythical figures: the ancient stonemasons in the case of Masonry and the ancient druids in the case of modern Druidry. These were historical people practicing real arts but have been take up as symbols since the 17th century (at virtually the same time).
It might seem that the stonemasons were pretty working class compared to druids, who were the advisors of kings and spiritual leaders of the ancient Celtic tribes. But on closer inspection, the work of the enchanter and seer was not, in the Iron Age, considered so high and mighty. It was respectable, but not “supernatural” because it was part of the cosmological model of nature that formed the thoughts and minds of people in that time. So, a druid was a specialist worker and the ovate, or vatis, was not only a seer, and healer, but also a smith. The Grandmaster of the 3rd degree legend in Freemasonry is actually an artificer in bronze, or in other words a metalsmith. The goldsmith and silversmith of the Celtic world was a magical person producing wonders in art that we still admire today. The smith working in bronze was the maker of tools and weapons, and when iron was worked, the “blacksmith” continued the mystique of his craft by transmuting one metal into another, or rock into molten metal and metal into swords and tools.
Given this craft connection to druids, one can see that the stonemasons are in something of the same class — learned men and perhaps some women, whose secret arts produced results so exquisite that ordinary people could not begin to imagine how it was done. Building in stone evolved over the centuries from the ancient world — Egypt to Mycenae, Athens, Persia, Rome, and then the revolution of the Gothic cathedrals produced in the Celtic parts of the former Roman Empire during the Middle Ages. The druids have arts that are more overtly magical, at least as they were represented in medieval legends, but what modern druids wished to emulate in them was a close and immediate connection to the Divine through working with nature. That is, learning the secret virtues of herbs, trees, metals, and minerals. They were metallurgists, herbalists, and the Greek historians lead us to believe, mathematicians in the tradition of Pythagoras.
Moroever, their order used three degrees or specialities and years of training. The stonemason’s symbolism centers on tools. The druid’s symbolism has tools of a different sort: trees, a wand, a cauldron, a robe. The Bard, of course, has his musical instruments — especially the harp — but his tool is really his voice and the mathematics of harmony and music. As a druid, I did not think about the symbolic tools of Druidry. We tend to take them more literally because they are magical and magic is what druids do — druidecht is the word for magic in Gaelic. Masons, on the other hand have not usually thought of their craft in terms of “magic.” But “high magic” really is self-transformation and the enlightenment of consciousness in connection with the Divine. And that is something that Masons might recognize in Masonry.
Neither Druids, nor Masons, devote themselves to Tarot cards and astrology or “godforms” as in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Nor is there any necessity to learn Hebrew letters or gematria. The craft of the Mason and the Druid brackets all “god-forms” and focuses on the Divine at its highest, undifferentiated level. Now, I am aware some druids — J.M. Greer among them — consider polytheism to be something completely distinct from theological monism. Natually, it is by definition not monotheism, but the belief in (or experience of) a Supreme Being lies behind much of the modern Druid movement. The avatars of the Divine One, are many. I myself think that the muliform divinities are important and by no means should be rejected as “idols.” I’ve never liked that expression, but it does not apply to gods and goddesses and their worship. Idolatry is like superstition: it is the worship of the images of gods and goddesses without any understanding of their actual existence as archetypal beings.
The Square and Compasses is a wonderful set of tools and the other tools of the builder, as well as the extended metaphor of “building.” is a superb system of thought. Druidry cannot do quite the same thing with the working tools of a bard, vatis, or druid. Druidry is not a physical craft — or lacks that hard physicality of Masonry. Druids don’t build temples, they meet in sacred groves. Yet, however erroneous from an actual archaeological standpoint, the Druids were associated with the “temple builders” of the earliest times. They were associated with stonehenge, Avebury, and the scores of dolmens and standing stones, henges, and circles, and burial mounds of the Celts and other Iron Age and Neolithic (as we now know) peoples. This is what the 19th century Druid revivalists believed to be the case.
So, in stonehenge and its amazing construction, we actually do find a connection with stonemasons and temple builders. And this might be what appealed to the Masons of the time. There was also a legendary connection. Caesar had mentioned that the druids never wrote anything down but passed on their teachings from mouth to ear. Because of this, some Masons jumped to the conclusion that the ancient Masons must have in fact been Druids. It seems like a quirky leap of logic to us now, but in the 19th century similarities were enough to demonstrate a causal connection. It is a fallacy, but where the story-teller’s imagination is concern, adherence to strict and careful logic is not necessary, nor is deviating from it a crime.
In this too, Masons and Druids share something. Both have accumulated a body of legend and story for themselves including origin myths without regard for the strict demands of academic scholarship. This has annoyed academics and led for a long time to scholars in universities turning their backs on both institutions as things not worthy of serious study. But it is about truth that is very different from academic proofs and consensus. It is about truths much deeper and more spiritual — truths of the human soul.
While modern druids tend to be pretty laid back and do not have expectations of superbly performed rituals, it is nevertheless true that they appreciate quality when they see it. Masons have known this for a long time but not always succeeded in giving the highest quality or standards of excellence. The members of any organization want to have their spirits fed by the work of the group. They do not want to have a lot of bickering and wrangling, which wounds the spirit. That’s one of the reasons that in groups only a small percentage of the members serve as officers and make decisions about the future of the group. Only the ones who can stand the heated disagreements and reach calm results without lingering rancor will be successful leaders — and those for whom such decision-making does not spoil the experience of the ritual and the feasting.
Both Druids and Masons like rituals and like feasting afterwards. It is an ancient pattern that crosses world cultures and all of human existence. If you have a ritual, follow it with a celebratory feast of gratitude and fellowship. Do serious spiritual work and then complement that serious dignity and devotion with light-hearted fun that cements the bonds among the members of the tribe.
There is a lot of discussion today about what Masonic lodges should do. The demographics of membership have changed. This is partly, no doubt, due to the demographics of American culture (and others) which are increasingly diverse. Freemasonry used to thrive as an institution of the Anglo elite. The problem with this heyday of Masonry is that the institution turned into more of a club than a spiritual workplace. After the WWII generation flooded the ranks of lodges, there has been no similar boom time. The result is that today many lodges have a disproportionate number of old brothers and there are deaths to report almost every month.
Not so in Austria! According to Peter Hoffer in a recent article in The Square (March 2012), Austrian Freemasonry was virtually wiped out by Hitler and the Nazis. So, following WWII rather than a flood of new members, Austria saw a trickle of survivors try to rebuild Masonry from scratch. Today it is thriving and growing more rapidly than anywhere in the world. Hoffer speculates on this success and lists a few characteristics of Masonry in Austria that have made it appealing and attractive to young men.
First, he notes that Masonry in Austria is kept very secret without displaying its symbols on its meeting places or parading in public. The staunch Catholic culture of the country keeps anti-Masonic sentiment strong there. Acts of Masonic charity are never announced publicly. Second, the Masonic ritual was altered to formally include educational talks lasting up to thirty minutes. These talks are part of the lodge experience except at initiation and raising ceremonies, says Hoffer.
Third, (and this may come as a shock to some American Masons), lodges in Austria meet every week except in July and August. My own lodge used to meet that often back in its heyday, but that seems partly to have been necessitated by the steady flood of new members needing to be put through the degrees. The Austrians open their lodges in the first degree in about 15 minutes, then a 30-minute talk follows, and the lodge is closed and they have dinner and lively discussion afterwards, all lasting from 7-10 pm. Hoffer does not say specifically, but it sounds like they do not waste their meetings on reading treasurer’s reports and a lot of introductions and committee reports. They get together to do Freemasonry!
Such a model would, I think, be excellent for a Druid Grove too. Though seasonal celebrations can last half an hour or more, most ceremonies are short enough to allow for a speaker. Since druids don’t care who hears what they say, the talk could even be an after dinner speaker on a druidical subject, such as trees, oghams, or meditation.
Hoffer notes that by “such frequent personal contacts and discussions the Brethren get well acquainted and form lasting friendships.” Moreover, each lodge holds only one initiation ceremony per year. This makes it a big deal and also gives each brother a year’s time to work within each degree before passing on to the next. These initiations are further emphasized and celebrated by encouraging members of other lodges to attend. In this way there is a good crowd and brothers from different lodges see each other regularly. The schedule of talks for each lodge is published months in advance so that brothers can plan to visit for the purpose of hearing the talk.
Finally, Freemasonry does not come cheaply in Austria. Fees average $50 per month (I suspect partly due to the fine dining experience). American Freemasons who complain and argue about dues of $100 per year, take note. Austrian Brethren “have to devote time and means to the Craft and attendance is high despite the frequent lodge meetings,” says Hoffer.
This model is the one all lodges should adopt. Only by making talks and discussions the center of Masonry once more can we throw of the worn-out notion that Masonry is only a “men’s social club.” Men today have lots of other things to do and will not be attracted merely by long, repetitious rituals that are never explained, nor even solely by the opportunity to make new friends. Masonry traditionally has offered more, and attention to the quality of the experience is crucial if we are to serve today’s young men. An analogy that constantly occurs to me is that my father’s generation was content with weak Folgers coffee for 25¢ a cup (maybe less) but a generation or two later men expect a finely crafted cappuccino made from Arabica beans and may select their coffee based upon what country the beans came from! When they eat out, they expect excellent food and wine. My dad’s generation — the WWII generation who grew up in the depression and served in the hard-living cafeteria conditions of the army or navy — liked the idea of going to lodge for a cheap meal. But does that idea appeal to today’s young men? No. I think I can safely say it does not appeal to anyone of the present generation under 55. Really fine dining would definitely be an attractive feature that would draw in members.
Now, druids seem to like potlucks and informal feasts. Partly this is because for at least half the year we hold our meetings outdoors. Because druids are both men and women and often bring their children to meetings too, the whole experience is more of a family affair. Masonry was that way too, through the middle of the 20th century, but that “family” social circle aspect of Masonry has about died out. When the last of the fine old ladies and their hot dishes are gone, pot luck dinners in Masonry may go with them.
All of this means more expense, but everyone knows you get what you pay for. If you want a lodge building where the dining room is aesthetically pleasing like a modern restaurant (and not like a school cafeteria), then the lodge has to raise money for such improvements. It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem because the improvement in quality has to be done in order to bring in the active younger members who are willing to pay for it. My advice to lodges is to do the improvements, bring your physical space up to today’s standard of excellence to attract men, and then raise your dues and dinner fees to pay for it.
With higher dues there is always the risk of excluding some men of modest means. However, there are few men who would want to be Masons who cannot afford, say $300 a year. That is less that one pays for membership in a health club. But the members of Masonry have to get a quality experience out of it, just as they expect from a health club. They have to experience quality exercise for their minds and souls, and make quality friendships with men who feel the same way about the importance of the spiritual life.
Druids definitely have the advantage of coming to meetings expecting spiritual work to happen and their souls to be fed. Socializing has not eclipsed spiritualizing. However, providing a quality experience in a grove is equally important in the sense that rituals should be well-rehearsed and done well. Everyone should, if possible, have their part memorized because reading from a script does detract from the concentration of the group on the energy of the ritual circle. Druids do not have to worry about the quality of their surroundings quite as much — or not in the same way. If they have a good place to meet outdoors and indoors during inclement weather that is all that is needed. Yet, at the same time, privacy, trees or a stone circle are elements that improve the quality of the experience. A Masonic Hall is actually a good place for a druid grove to meet. If it is impressive visually an a pleasure to be inside, all the better. But the lodge room itself is easily adapted for a druid circle.
Usually in druid ceremonies everyone stands and if there is sitting down for a meditation everyone sits on the ground, or even lies down flat. The Mason’s lodge is all about chairs, many of which are symbolic thrones, and the rituals of sitting and rising to the raps of the gavel are part of Masonic ritual. A druid grove using an indoor space such as a lodge room might strike a happy medium by using a lower altar, a circle of chairs and maybe even slightly special chairs for the three principal officers. The typical Master’s and Wardens’ chairs of a lodge room are a bit too ostentatious for egalitarian and democratic druidry, and too heavy to move from their Masonic stations into a circle around the altar. But, as with other aspects of the ritual, if chairs are used in a druid circle, they should best be good-looking and comfortable chairs. Having a floor stand for the Chief’s staff and the Herald’s staff would be helpful too — another good Masonic practice to borrow.
Is it possible to get either Freemasons or Druids to attend weekly meetings? I doubt it. Just booking weekly speakers would be quite a task. It seems to me that two meetings a month with perhaps an additional meeting to rehearse a ritual would be reasonable. If each degree of Masonry is to be given only once a year, that would provide time for new members to decide if Masonry really is for them. In stead of revealing all three degrees to every new member, the lodge would instill in the new apprentices a clear sense of what they are expected to do as Masons and time for them to work at it. This is already true in Druidry — at least in my order, OBOD, because the work expected of the bard (the first degree or grade) is clearly written out in the form of a course.
Masonry needs a similar course. A clear Handbook for the Entered Apprentice, and subsequent handbooks for Fellowcraft and Master Mason. If Masonry was thus taken seriously and the Work was made clear, then a lodge might actually be able to attract more members because Masonry would then be restored to the experience of a real mystery school. It is hard to say. My experience with Druids in my area has been that they are a little hard to corral and keep working, but I attribute this in part to the fact that we only met every six weeks for the seasonal festivals and devoted no time at our meetings to talks and discussions.
When considered in comparison to Masonry, OBOD’s Druid courses are pretty reasonable in terms of cost. There are no annual dues for the Order and the cost of each course can be spread out over more than one year if the member wishes to do so or needs to do so for financial reasons. Druids do, more or less, take their druid practices seriously, but they are not set up with the expectation of regular meetings and rituals in a grove circle. Masons have the expectation of regular meetings but lack the content. Masons take grim and serious oaths to perform the duties of a Mason but then are not led to believe that the oaths are really serious. Moreover, the oaths at initiation are all about secrecy, not about promising to practice Masonry seriously.
Druids are even worse off in this case because they do not take any oaths at all. In OBOD it is understood that the upper grades do not reveal the contents of the upper course work to members in the lower grades, but it is not in the form of a solemn obligation with gruesome punishments for breech of their word. The gruesome punishments of Masonry sound tough, but in fact the oath is pretty simple: Don’t talk about the details of Masonic ceremony to non-Masons. It is not that hard. Especially when brothers do not take the effort to study the rituals. If oaths of secrecy served any purpose it was to make the lodge room a safe place in which brothers could discuss spiritual matters in a non-sectarian way and not be tattled on to the religious authorities.
Druidry today has grown up in modern times when religious persecution was not as strong a danger as it was in the 17th or 18th centuries. Pagans who live in parts of the country where there is religious intolerance and prejudice against anything unorthodox, often do keep their paganism private. So, in that sense, secrecy is a virtue. Since neither Masonry nor Druidry can really be explained to someone who has not experienced the work, it is better to keep silent than to mislead and confuse people who might become hostile.
It is very hard to explain what Freemasonry is to an outsider. Druidry has an advantage in that one can just say, “You know the Lorax? It’s like that.” But inevitably if you start to explain that it is not a religion so much as a way of life, a philosphical order that teaches spiritual attainment, and uses the ancient Druids as symbols and exemplars along with medieval Celtic myths and legends — well, it is bound to be a bit baffling to someone who has never heard of the ancient Celtic druids. It is easier for people to relate to the Cathedral and Temple builders, the stonemasons (who are still around in England preserving that medieval cathedrals). But what exactly a “speculative” Mason is, or what people do in a philosophical order still remains outside the ken of the average man on the street. One key is to present these things in such a way as to pique the curiosity of our men on the street.
Both Masonry and Druidry need to come together and arrive at the same goal of quality. In sum, here are the main ingredients I would suggest:
- Regular meetings at least twice a month (new and full moons would be best)
- Good meals with every meeting
- A talk presented at every meeting as the centerpiece
- Time during the meeting for interludes of music and silent meditation
- Time for a guided meditation that guides each member in his/her inner work
- An expectation that Masonry/Druidry is a practical art, a craft, and that we meet to work actively, not just socialize or passively observe rituals.
- Attendance is mandatory to remain a member of the lodge/grove
- Dues cover expenses and so may be higher than $100 a year if that includes renting space indoors or maintaining a building.
- Aesthetics of the meeting place must support the spiritual inner work
- Members move on to the next degree only after having demonstrated real proficiency in the work of the preceding degree (not just memorizing a bit of the ceremony)
- Initiations into the first degree might be held only once or twice a year
- prospective candidates may attend meetings as guests (this works for Druidry — Masonry’s tradition of secrecy prevents allowing guests to attend actual lodge meetings; yet, if talks can be untyled and open to guests that would give the visitor some sense of what was expected and a chance to meet the brothers and discuss topics while waiting for the time for the initiation ceremony. This waiting period would ensure that they are indeed “duly and truly prepared” to take on the obligations of initiation.)
- prospective candidates for initiation must attend a certain number of meetings before they can submit a petition. (This enhances the value of the petition for both the lodge and the petitioner.)
- Always think “Quality Improvement.” Never cut corners because it is easier or cheaper.
- Always think: Increase our social value and attractiveness, but don’t let everyone in.
- Gradual, sustained growth with members who will remain and participate for many years is better than periodic booms in membership and members whose enthusiasm fizzles after only a few years.
So Mote it Be!