Tag Archives: personal practice

Neoclassical Syncretism: A User’s Guide

At this beginning of this project I described myself as a Neoclassical Syncretist, and then briskly moved along without bother to properly explore what I meant by that. My interest in developing this idea as a practice has grown out of the deep wealth that we have in the Western Art History and Literary cannon that has been profoundly influenced by Classical Greek and Roman mythology and religion. For as powerful an effect that Christianity has had on Western creative production, the influence of Greek and Roman thought has been just as, if not more, profound. With my background in the arts, I had been immersed, from a very young age, in that tradition. Despite being raised in Christianity, I have travelled through my life with the presence of these Gods and concepts for the span of my living memory, and in many cases have felt much more kinship for the beings which have appeared in sideways references and allusions in the popular ephemera of my life than the concepts of the religion that I was raised in.

Syncretism has been a powerful force in religion almost certainly since its inception. I have spoken before of the strange ways in which the interactions of the cultures of Mediterranean led to fascinating blending and overlapping in the discrete traditions, and the difficulties inherent in trying to isolate and reconstruct particular belief systems. The impact of Greek thought on Egypt led to a radical reworking of the Egyptian religion, and vice-versa (consider the spread of Isis through Hellenistic Civilization). However, this in no way illegitimates the results as authentically Egyptian. Even before that, the Egyptian religion, generally viewed as an unchanging monolith (probably as a result of the power of the architectural remains) experience dramatic modifications over the course of Egyptian culture frequently tied to dynastic shifts. My method of Neoclassical Syncretism simply extends this procedure through to the modern era.

One of the great conundrums of Modern Paganism is lineage, as I have discussed before. We view ourselves, frequently, as competing with faiths which have extended in unbroken tradition back a thousand or more years and so feel the need to legitimate ourselves by making similar claims. Consider the claims of early Wicca, that it was merely the bringing into the light a religion which had existed for centuries hidden by a secretive sect of English witches. Despite the eventual debunking of those claims, many people to this day still assert that Wicca represents an ancient faith with just as much authentic lineage as Christianity. I do understand the necessity people feel to establish themselves on an unshakeable foundation, I just personally feel that this particular strategy in fundamentally flawed.

Part of the difficulty with accurately reconstructing the ancient Pagan faiths is that we have very little authentic first hand information on the actual practice and structure of those faiths. Most of what survives of Celtic and Norse tradition was recorded by Christian monks or Roman invaders. The struggle of reconstruction is to identify what elements of those writings are true depictions and what represents a Christian or Roman interpretation. Reconstruction is very much an art, and a very subtle and mindful one — it requires a great deal of familiarity with the concepts not only of the culture which one is trying to reconstruct, but also the concepts of the cultures whose lenses we are forced to look through. Reconstruction seeks to correct the distortion applied to the material by the invading cultures: like a plane of polarizing glass, it removes the wavelengths which obscure the desired image. Reconstruction avoids the problem of lineage by attempting to go back to the source and rebuild, as accurately as possible, now extinct belief systems from currently available data.

Neoclassical Syncretism, on the other hand, looks to the places where the traditions have been preserved. While it is true that as a spiritual system, the religions of the Classical Greece and Rome have died, they have continued to be developed in literature, art, and popular culture. Essentially, Neoclassical Syncretism is a way of approaching texts. With this strategy, the idea of holy text is reconfigured. This approach allows for new insights on traditional concepts by exploring the ways in which these concepts have been deployed through the arts, and the ways in which we as a culture have continued to build upon ancient cultures. While I myself am personally drawn to the fine arts and philosophy, this strategy works equally well with popular culture, and, when employed thoughtfully, can yield perfectly valuable insights into our relationships with the ancient gods.

Of course, I am not suggesting that this strategy be employed haphazardly. Like Reconstruction, it requires a strong understanding of the core concepts being explored, and the development of a sharp hermeneutic to cut away frivolous or inconsequential references. Not every reference will be of use, and many times the appearance of Classical Religions in subsequent culture betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the concepts being deployed. By analyzing typically non-religious texts with an eye toward spirituality, Neoclassical Syncretism allows one to find connections with the divine spread throughout our culture.

As an example of the way this strategy may be realized, I recently read Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, a novella length retelling of the myth of Atlas and Herakles. The book itself is less than perfect, but it Jeanette Winterson’s handling of the interactions of the characters and their passage through into modernity is compelling, particularly the way in which Atlas conceives of himself and his relation to the world. Winterson explicitly preserves the strange dichotomy of Herakles, which the Greeks themsleves were never able to resolve to their own satisfaction: Herakles is emphatically simultaneously both human and divine, entirely and in equal measure. Herakles is a paradox. He himself does not understand his nature. He knows that he is more than human, though his relation to the divine is more problematic (is he more, is he less?). His own mortality is less than certain, he has been to Hell and back, quite literally, more times than bear mentioning, and yet quite probably can die, maybe. Herakles, by Winterson’s account, is simply emphatically other. His strength lies in his otherness, and the choice between the human and the divine is essentially his undoing.

After reading Weight, I returned to a book I had read much earlier this year, Grief Lessons, a collection of four of Euripedes’ plays recently translated by Anne Carson. Two of the four plays feature Herakles (the first being the eponymous Herakles), and the handling of Herakles there is just as stunningly ambiguous. Euripedes, filtered by Carson, builds up a Herakles who, while the greatest of all men, is bowed down and broken by the weight of the gods, by divine imperatives which he cannot comprehend and more often than not appear as mere catastrophe. Herakles is never given a moment of emotional stability, he swings through triumph, anguish, hope and hilarity and despair in just a few pages. Herakles is emphatically shredded by his nature. He does not have the luxury of semidivinity. He is fully divine and fully human, and because of that has earned the wrath of forces that he cannot understand or control. The Gods of Euripedes are frightening, not because of their power, but because of their prerogative. Herakles, the most powerful of men, the God trapped in flesh, cannot resist the divine, burgeoning within him and pressing down from outside.

Herakles represents an incredibly difficult relationship to the divine, and his struggle to fix himself at one point on his polarized nature is reflects that. Herakles’ nature emphatically “others” him, it queers him from the rest of society, from his peers. Herakles is made strange by divinity. Comparing these two texts allows us to see more clearly the ways in which Herakles works through his relationship to the divine.

Neoclassical Syncretism takes the first part of its name very seriously. Neoclassical here means that the work done is grounded heavily in traditions past. What differentiates it from simple modern eclecticism is both focus and scholarship. Theology is developed along lines of scholarship originating in the target culture. I apply Neoclassical Syncretism to Hellenistic Civilization, but it could just as easily be applied to Celtic or Germanic civilizations. Starting with an understanding of the parent culture, Neoclassical Syncretism moves forward examining texts spread throughout time, and assembles from them a growing theological/philosophical practice. Unlike Reconstruction, which has an end point in mind, the successful reconstruction of the target religion, Neoclassical Syncretism is entirely open ended.

Neoclassical Syncretism aims to provide a basic groundwork through which multiple personal experiences within a particular faith path can relate through their fundamental grounding in the same tradition and technique while still providing a great deal of room for personal expression and exploration. This approach thus removes the difficulty of unverified personal gnosis, as each practitioner will eventually establish a unique and idiosyncratic view of the parent tradition. Indeed, Neoclassical Syncretism prizes variation, as a plurality of voices provides more and more room for insight.

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Starting Again, a Month Later

Almost a month later, my husband and I are settling in to our new city. From what I’ve seen, thus far, I really like it here. Washington State is beautiful, and I constantly impressed with how lush and green everything is. I really get the feeling that if you leave something alone outside, after two weeks it will be covered with moss with a fern growing out of it. There’s a retaining wall directly behind our apartment, building, in fact, with a fern growing out of it which I have become strangely attached to. I have resisted the urge to name my little fern friend, but it makes me smile every time I pass it. I love little fern friend.

Of course, this transition has been a little strange and awkward. My husband and I are without reliable transportation, but that’s as much my fault and my laziness at getting my driver’s license renewed as anything else, and the weather has been pretty erratic as well. So, we’ve been spending a good deal of time sitting around the apartment. I have always had a difficult time establishing routines, and living as we do, it’s been difficult for me to keep track of the passage of time. All of which plays in to my ongoing difficulties establishing a spiritual practice.

Every morning I meditate for ten to fifteen minutes after taking shower and cleaning up for the day. That, as much as I hate to admit it, makes up the vast majority of my active spiritual practice. That said, the vast majority of intellectual life is caught up with spirituality, both my own and in the abstract, so I do feel as if I devote a good deal of my time to spiritual matters, even if actively spiritual pursuits make up a small portion of my day. However, even in saying that, I recognize that meditation simply isn’t enough.

Which is where my art making comes in. I have been incredibly hesitant to describe my creative pursuits as acts of worship. I suppose that my Christian Cult upbringing as tainted the idea of worship to me: I have a hard time giving myself over to something that I am told is holy. I do believe in divinity and the divine and I do view my art making as a way of connecting with those concepts, but worship, to me, carries so much baggage that I simply do not want to unpack. However, I also know that in order to grow, I need to confront the things that scare me. Worship, proper worship, not the fake for appearances performance that I engaged in in my youth, needs to be examined and experienced.

My art making is essentially an ecstatic state. When I am creating, I am buried in the act, and other concerns no longer bother me. When I am deep in the process, I will go all day without eating, all of my attention is focussed on the task at hand. On the surface, this should connect quite easily with my views toward worship and with the divine powers and ideas that I do connect most easily with. And yet… I am hesitant and, truth be told, afraid.

I do feel that proper worship is an ecstatic experience, a way of being that takes up the whole of one’s being. I have a very good friend who dances as a form of worship, and this makes perfect sense to me. Watching her dance, her entire comportment changes and there is nothing in her but the dancing. It’s a beautiful thing to see. I am really drawn to that kind of spiritual expression, to creation and creativity as the core of one’s spiritual practice. I suppose it is a means of worship which I view as preserving one’s innate being in relation to the divine. It seems to me that this kind of approach forces one to analyze and examine oneself and to transform one into a vessel of divine expression. The artist, the dancer is still always there, they are just there towards divinity. Worship, then, is an expression towards divinity, it is a way of being in that expression, ecstatically.

So, I have come to realize that I need to approach at least a portion of my art making as worship. I need to incorporate it into my daily practice and devote it to the powers that I feel in my life. I really have no idea what the final form of this work will take, or where it will lead me, but I need to allow myself to be in the act, to let it carry me where it will. I have no more excuses to hesitate, no more justification for my fear.

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I have always been aware that I am susceptible to the emotional states of those around me. As I child I was both very emotional and very empathic, some times cripplingly. Over the years as I grew up, I gradually closed myself off. However, I have always been, as they say, sensitive. The silly thing is, that now, as an adult, I had all but forgotten about how heavily the emotions of others press on me.

These last few weeks I have felt bogged down and listless. I have had a hell of time motivating myself, I haven’t seemed to have any energy to get things done; even my creativity has waned. A few days ago, I realized that this wasn’t just a phase. I decided to make a conscious effort to improve my mood and motivate myself.

I always get a little irritated with the people who tell you to “think happy thoughts,” as though being happy were as easy as that. As someone with depressive tendencies, such advice always struck me as vapid and hollow. It’s patronizing. If I’m sad, I have reason to be sad, and when I don’t, I know that it’s my brain being weird and I work around it. Well, I realized that this long stretch of ennui wasn’t for any good reason, and I have to work around it. Thinking happy thoughts doesn’t work, so what does?

A few months ago, Emjay suggested a book to me, which I promptly forgot about and then only again remembered when she posted a review of it on her blog. I promptly bought and read Sophie Reicher’s Spiritual Protection, and then, as I do, filed it away as useful information to return to later. Well, as it turns out, I’m kicking myself for not having immediately put the ideas in that book into effect. As I said previously, I tend to forget how susceptible I am to the moods and emotions of those around me. Also, working at a coffee shop, I encounter a lot of less than lovely people who range from casually cruel to actively spiteful. I simply hadn’t thought, as a spiritually aware and active person, how much of the negativity of other people was beginning to collect around me and weigh me down.

So, earlier this week, I pulled out my chunk of black tourmaline and after grounding and anchoring myself, charged it to deflect and absorb the negativity, petty viciousness and outright cruelty and malignancy of the people and forces that I encounter. I have taken particular time to strengthen this charge before going to work. As silly as it is, I have to say that these last few days I have been feeling quite lovely.

Now, I am always hesitant to ascribe a magical/spiritual cause to anything. It is possible that the effect is entirely psychosomatic. I have this stone in my pocket that I touch occasionally when I feel pressed upon, and I am taking time every few hours to control my breathing and center myself. Already that is enough to ease my tensions. I have found my head to be clearer and my energy levels to be much improved with no other real changes to my routine.

One of my very few objections to Sophie Reicher’s book is the immediate assumption that you are under spiritual attack. The entire text is written as though you are under siege from malign forces, as though you are surrounded by malign practitioners bent on making you suffer. On further reflection, however, I find myself largely agreeing with her position. Though I think that your average spiritual practitioner is hardly likely to be under active magical attack, my experience of the last few weeks has certainly led me to believe that for the spiritually aware person, the world is quite overflowing with things that we need to protect ourselves from, be they conscious attacks or casual unpleasantness. I would hardly say that I am under attack, but I do know that there are people around me who enjoy provoking and antagonizing those around them. I have come to the conclusion that for my own well being it is necessary for me to take steps to protect myself mentally and spiritually from such malefic influences.

I have been thinking, recently, that as we become more spiritually aware of ourselves we become more, and I hesitate to quite use this word, but I shall, vulnerable to the spiritual influences around us, for good or for ill. As much as I flex against the idea that we are constantly under attack, I’m not certain if that it actually a bad metaphor. While we may not be the direct targets of negativity, we are certainly besieged by it. I have come to realize, lately, how vital it is that I be aware of and combat these forces in my life. I think that it is important to come to terms with the fact that we don’t live in perfect little spiritual bubbles. We are influenced by the world around us and we need to be capable of protecting ourselves. The world is not sunlight and roses and puppy dog kisses, and no matter how good a person you are, no matter how enlightened you may be, that won’t protect you.

I was planning on writing a fairly detailed review of Spiritual Protection, but honestly, I don’t think that I have much more to say than Emjay already said, and so suggest that you go read her review instead. Now that said, I’m not necessarily, after that long preamble, advocating that you cling to every word that Sophie Reicher wrote. Spiritual protection is incredibly important and Sophie Reicher’s book is a very good, concise and detailed volume describing various techniques for various situations, but, as in all things, every individual is going to have different view points. I suggest detailed research and investigation, and Spiritual Protection is a good place to start, but it is by far not the only text available. In the end, all that matters is that we be aware of the forces around us, that we understand ourselves well enough to recognize when we are feeling the effects of forces outside of us, and that we are able to act appropriately. It’s not so much that we are under attack, I think, as we are surrounded.

They’ve Got Us Surrounded!

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Under the Blue Moon

This Friday past was the blue moon. I decided, on the cuff, to get some friends together and go moon gazing on the hill top in Frick Park. We picked up a few bottles of wine and around 10:30 wandered off into the park. Now, I will admit that my initial intention was to perform some sort of experimental group ritual, though with the final composition of the group it became apparent that was not going to happen. In the end, though, I think we all had an enjoyable, variously enlightening experience.

There is something quite interesting to me about the blue moon: unlike other astronomical events, the blue moon is an entirely calendrical artifact. The blue moon only has significance because of the way that we decided to carve up time, a sidereal calendar wouldn’t produce blue moons. Yet, something about the approaching full moon at the very end of August felt somehow special, alluring. I wanted to use this as a chance to experiment in fairly low stakes environment. If the ritual ended up as nothing more than a silly pantomime, or failing catastrophically, well, it wasn’t marking anything in particular, save an occasional calendrical oddity: the full moon will come again.

I have been deeply interested in the function of ritual, lately, and particularly given my own spiritual orientation, I find a good deal of group rituals to be less than thrilling. I admit, that I have attended relatively few group rituals, and that there has only been one local organization which has consistently impressed me not only with the precision of their rituals, but also with their scholarship, a local chapter of ADF. The reason that I have been repeatedly drawn to the open rituals of this particular group is because of how engaged they are with the theatricality of ritual. They seem to recognize how important it is to capture the attention of the participants and viewers and engage with their spirituality through their imagination. The rituals of theirs that I have attended included a lot of story telling, singing, chanting, divination and  costume. All of this has gotten me thinking on what is actually necessary in ritual. If you recall a prior post of mine, I have taken a semi-phenomenological approach to materia magica, and I think I similar approach is useful here.

For my birthday, a friend danced a blessing for me. Her spiritual practice is sacred dance. No words, just movement. In absolute honesty, I was shocked by how much power she was able to draw upon, by how much energy she worked up by dancing. In the Western Occult tradition we are repeatedly told how important the words, the words, the words are, and never shall you ever tamper with these spells handed down from times immemorial. Of course, modernity has struggled with this concept, and intent has krept in, weaseling around the edges, acknowledged but poorly explored. Intent, we are told, again, is vital and perhaps all of magic reduces to intent, so maybe all you need to do is intend really, really, really hard, and then, whizz bang, magic! Intent itself is a tricky subject, as a great deal of human experience is bound up in intent, and if we are going to have a functional definition of magic, shouldn’t it be precise enough to exclude the mundane intention of paying your cell phone bill from the uncanny intention of warding your apartment? Intent alone is insufficient, just as the word alone is insufficient. The dance succeeds because it looses both word and intent in the action.

I want to pull in here, as well, my previous musings on art as something which pulls you back to pure surface, to the act of perceiving. Indeed, I think ritual operates in a very similar way. Frequently one encounters descriptions of the importance of trance states in magic. Thusly, I posit that trance operates as a restoration of perception to itself. Descriptions of emptiness, of the perceiving of nothingness, of the evacuation of I, the ego, the subject, the cogito in the trance state, I suggest, are descriptions of perception returned to itself, reflexively engaging with itself. When one is in deep trance one is perceiving oneself perceive. I argue, then, that ritual aims to bring its participants fully into the state of pure perception. Magic, will, intent, may then spring up from that perceptual reflex.

My intention on the hill top under the light of the blue moon was to begin exploring these ideas in a group setting. In the end, though, everyone so inclined wandered off from the group, found a quiet patch on the greensward and offered themselves up to the beauty of the moonlight. The moon, that night, was truly beautiful. It shone brighter than I have seen in a long time, and the entire park was uncannily lovely. Myself, I offered up a libation to the moon and praised its beauty, its clarity, its radiance. Strangely enough, all our private adventures on that hill top provided a comforting sense of community. Some of us worshipped, some of us prayed, some of us simply enjoyed the beauty of the evening, and others chatted quite happily in the cool breeze, enjoying the companionship. It wasn’t a group ritual, but the space became special, spiritual, regardless.

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Theory, Practice & Confidence

August has been a very busy month for me so far, and I I feel the need to apologize for not updating as regularly as I would like. I have had a lot of family and social obligations that have kept me far too distracted to properly organize my thoughts.

However, all of this plays fairly neatly into some things that I have been trying to work out for a while. I have been struggling for a very long time about asserting my spirituality and my spiritual practice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a sense of shame surrounding my practice, merely that I am intensely private when it comes to my spirituality. When my now husband and I first started living together, I did everything in my power to keep my practice out of his sight. It’s not to say that he wasn’t aware of my work, merely that I have been so solitary for so long, that the mere presence of another person, even someone that I love deeply, utterly altered the tone of my work, and I really didn’t know how to adapt. Over the course of a few months, however, I became comfortable with engaging in my practice in front of another person.

Now, I hardly do anything advanced or complicated on a daily basis, the vast majority of my practice consists of meditation and mantra work, however, this deeply personal, internal work doesn’t really leave room for other people. It doesn’t help that I’m pretty damned reticent to reveal my work to other people. I am an incredibly private person, and, for a very long time, I have lacked the confidence in my work to be comfortable dealing with other people questioning my practice.

Lately, though, I haven’t had the luxury of privacy. From various family obligations that have kept me away from home or my work schedule, split between two jobs, I haven’t really been able to establish a regular routine. I’ve been meditating in a rush, in little corners or places tucked away, trying to find some privacy. My practice has really suffered for it.

I have always had a hard time organizing my time, but when I have any kind of outside pressure, my schedule collapses entirely. Sadly, my spiritual practice is the first thing to suffer. I’ve realized recently, that for as much weight as my spirituality plays in my life, I haven’t done the personal work necessary for it to really support that weight.

It has become incredibly apparent to me that I need to spend more time not only building up my confidence in my practice, but also my assertiveness when it comes to that practice. I need to be willing to make time for myself to practice even if that means revealing my practices to the people around me. I know that in no small part, my hesitation stems from an assumed antipathy that I feel other people, especially family, would have toward me. However, I’ve reached a point in my life where this secretiveness is no longer helpful.

Early in anyone’s spiritual development, I do believe that privacy and solitude are terribly important, however, there comes a time when one must be willing to embrace that spirituality in all aspects of there life. What I find so strange about my own behavior is that I am quite comfortable talking about my spirituality in a theoretical sense, as far as discourse goes, my spirituality is pervasive. However, my practice remains, as silly as I find this phrase, deeply in the broom closet.

I have become, over the years, quite confident in my theory. I know that a good deal of this is a result of my academic nature. I have always been fascinated with theory. Now, as a result, words, language, philosophy dominate a good deal of my practice, writing this blog is deeply tied to my spiritual and magical practice.

My personal project for the next few months is thus to engage more deeply with my practice and build up my confidence.

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Materia Magica

Over the last few months, my personal practice has come to include more and more materia magica. The particular functioning of these things (stones, herbs, bent pins…) has become something of a fascination for me. I have encountered several different explanations for the operation of materia magica, and, honestly, I find very few of them to be satisfying.

I simply cannot accept the idea that materia magica function solely as a focus for the will. A great deal of the discussion of modern magic places power entirely within the operator. While I certainly do think that there are certain forms of magic which work in this way, such as Chaos Magic, certain types of contemporary Hermeticism as well as certain strains of contemporary Alchemy, I find the idea that all magic is of the subject rather … off putting. In the case of materia magica, it seems to me as though if it were the case that the materia possessed no special properties, then the particular materia are of no importance: ritual baths could be assembled out of anything as long as the will of the operator was correct. There is a rebuttal, then, that particular materia are required for generating the correct mental state, but then, again, it seems as though one is shifting the power out of the subject, or at least splitting it with the materia.

High Ceremonial magicians rely on particular atmospheric effects, of incense, color and various paraphernalia, yet are frequently quick to denounce the necessity of such accoutrements. It seems to me that either the materia magica is vital, or else absolutely unnecessary. I may be making too harsh a distinction, but if one is determined to achieve a certain mental state, does that not imply that the mental state alone is sufficient? Now, to say that the various materia are an aid seems unsatisfactory. From a phenomenological perspective, the changes which the necessary materia induce on consciousness can only be achieved through the lived experience of those materia. The embodiment of the operator is inescapable. So, then, the accoutrements of High Ceremonial Magicians are the source and fulfillment of their power. All the window dressing is as absolutely necessary to their success as their intent, as all of the complex atmospheric effects are caught up in the spell craft, regardless of their individual powers.

It appears, then, that I am moving toward a basic supposition: materia magica is effective because of the particular effect it has on perception. However, I feel like this is far too basic to be of any real use. All objects, being perceived, produce effects within perception. The use of materia magica relies on the assumption that they possess some special qualities which make them particularly suited to magical acts.

Now, I must shift slightly. I do think that there are some materia which do operate predominantly on a symbolic level: the bent pins in a Witch’s Bottle or the sword of a ceremonial magician. These things operate largely within the subject, their effects are interior. These sorts of materia are intended to act predominantly within or upon subjects (the magician, in the case of the sword, malign spirits, in the case of the pins). That materia which is is actant upon the Subject need not possess anything more than the power assigned to it by the operator/Subject. Therefore, symbolic power is power which manifests within the Subject, and that materia which acts predominantly upon the Subject need not possess anything more than symbolic power, fulfilled in the Subject.

Now, what makes basil a good luck charm? I must say that there is some quality possessed of basil that attracts good luck. It seems to me that magic pretty much must be a thing in the world, possessing formal qualities. If we, as subjects, are able to recognize and manipulate it, it must share some properties with other things which we manipulate. That is to say, magic must always react in the same way given the same circumstances. Magic must be as formal as the rest of the world. I may be making a mistake in naming magic as the thing manipulated. Magic may be a frame in which things are manipulated. However, my argument still holds. Objects, being bound by formal relations and bound as well by magic, so, if such is the case, magic must be a formal relation. Magic is shifted into the world itself, as gravity or strong nuclear force. Magic, however, remains somehow unique, as it appears to be a force accessible only to the Subject.

So, I recognize that these musings are largely incomplete: I’m really just trying to air some ideas. It seems to me like magic must be more than just an effect of will, and, if so, then materia magica becomes incredibly important.

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Metamorphosis

I woke up this morning from a strange dream. I have been having very strange dreams these last few weeks, but this one in particular left me, well, shaken.

I dreamed that I was walking along a busy street. It was a city that I’ve never been to, but it was the city I lived in. I was quite familiar with everything. I have to say, too, that it was a lovely city, full of sunlight and white stone and well kept gardens.I found myself caught up with a group of women dressed like conservative Jews talking in hushed tones amongst themselves. Evidently they were on a mission, a very important mission. We all stopped before a long slung stone and glass structure, vaguely Japanese looking, with broad overhanging eaves and a lovely garden of small herbs set in a patch of pale grey stones. The women had either not noticed or did not care about my presence, and so I decided to continue and observe.

As well as the garden, there were two deep pools of water with a large cairn rising from the center of the pools. However, the left most pool had been drained. Before the pool on the right sat an older man dressed like a conservative Rabbi. He held a long brass rod with a small cup attached to the end of it. With this device he scooped up a cup full of water and poured it upon the stone, praying.

One of the women, a motherly looking lady, approaches the man and gestures angrily at the empty pool. He mutters something, upset that she interrupted her, and says that the women responsible for setting up the pool was sick this morning. She snaps something back at him and he shrugs her off. Furious, she turns on her heel and storms into the building. Several young men in the older man’s retinue rush off after her.

I step forward from the sidewalk to examine the pool, and a young man in an ill-fitting suit stops me from coming any closer with an expression strangely of sympathy and confusion. Taking my accidental distraction as her cue, a young woman rushes forward to the pool, pushing past a few young men. The older man shrieks at her. She has a small cup in her hand. The young men turn to grab her, but are suddenly caught up in the arms of the other women.

She cannot touch the water, the water is holy. The water is holy and the stone atop the cairn is holy, and she must venerate the stone, as the stone which has been privileged to her sex was not prepared this morning. It seemed this was an ongoing struggle. She, however, must not touch the water. She kneels down and leans carefully, as her companions scuffle with the young men behind her. She canot quite reach the water. One of the women slip free and holds her so that she can lean further out.

She gets a small cup full of water. The old man in shrieking his prayers. She casts the water out and it splashes upon the stone. Her friend hauls her back upright and she spins and dances and the stone flashing upon which she stands gives way and she plunges into the pool.

No one moves. The young men are paralyzed, the old man has collapsed onto his knees. “God save her!” I shriek and leap into the pool. The women follow me.

There is a ledge within the pool. The pool is much deeper than it appears. There is a large cubic block upon which stands the cairn. She has fallen down, another twenty or thirty feet, between the side of the cube and the wall of the pool. The broken ledge lies on top of her. “God save her!” I cry again.

The women swarm down to the bottom of the pool. I am standing atop the cube, my head and shoulder above water. I yell at one of the young men to fetch an ambulance. He shakes out of his paralysis, nods and runs off. Over and over I am screaming “God save her, God save her, God save her.” The women are struggling to remove the broken ledge. A young women is returns to the surface, but she has no strength to lift herself to the surface, as she comes up to the edge of cube, I grab her and haul her up. Twice more I do this. I look down, “God save her, God save her, God save her,” where there were two women there are twenty, five young men are lifting away the ledge, and she is brought up to the edge of the cube, and I haul her and the last two women atop the cube and she is a dolphin.

A young man rushes to the edge of the pool. The ambulance is here, but he is silent, because he sees that she is a dolphin. We lift her from the pool, and as her head and shoulders break the surface, she is a woman, bruised and breathing raggedly. “God save her.”

And I awake.

Now, those who know me will know that I am the last person to cry God save anything. Honestly, upon waking, that was what disturbed me the most. I have never been a man of faith. Which isn’t to say that I don’t believe, that I don’t feel strongly, just that I don’t, well, have faith. Or at least, certainly not the kind of faith that would drive me to turn to God, any God, for help. I have never been the kind of man who thought that a God would care, could be moved, to reach out to us. I look at the world and I do not see love pervading. I see love, of course, in little places, in small rooms, between two hands, in eyes and glances and the tenderness of shoulders. I don’t see love, though, as a force in the world. So, I think, perhaps, then, I have never seen a God, and maybe I am looking in the wrong place, and maybe I don’t know what I am looking for. I was raised, as well, in a religion which for the longest time destroyed all hope for me. Only over the last four or five years have I been able to regain my spirituality.

The oddest thing, though, was the waking realization that the God I was calling to, the God who I was filled with faith for, was Dionysus. Of course, Dionysus would save her, and of course he would save her by turning her into a dolphin. And then, doubly odd, was the realization that what my faith had done, was not only save a woman’s life, but demonstrate to these other people of faith, that there was more than one God, and that it was not their God which saved the life of one of their people.

It was a very strange dream, and there was a good deal that I do not understand. I live in a neighborhood with a large conservative Jewish population, so it makes sense that my mind would turn to their aesthetic to depict a devout religious group. The gender binary was also important, and so, again, the attachment of the Jewish aesthetic was fitting. I have always had a great deal of respect for the strength of women, and so it makes sense to me that they would be the protagonists in my dreamworld. Women too often must fight for what is theirs by right. So, of course, I am given the struggle for faith in terms of women demanding their birthright.

I am left wondering: do I have faith, now? Do I have that thing which has baffled me, that Neo-Pagan buzzword, a Patron Deity? I don’t know. I know that I have a great deal of work left to do. I know that I am still deeply affected by a very short, very strange dream.

I really would appreciate any insights or comments that any of you have to offer. The thing that I am mostly deeply looking for is a community, is conversation and mutual understanding and growth. Please, let’s talk.

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Good Housekeeping

I have been under a great deal of stress, lately, for a variety of reasons, and I have barely been able to relax at all. I realized recently that a good deal of my inability to escape, even temporarily from my stress is a direct result of my current living situation. My space, my home, are very important for my mental well being. I need to have a place that I can identify as my own. It doesn’t have to be grand or luxurious. I have quite happily lived a space just large enough for a single bed and a small table for months on end in the fairly recent past. All I need is a space that is mine, a space that I can control, a space that feels like home. Going on six months now, I haven’t had a place like that.

Reasonably, I should. I am living in a lovely neighborhood, close to friends and relatively close to family. My apartment isn’t gorgeous, and I have my share of problems with the building and the landlord, but nothing that doesn’t come with the territory of renting. I don’t need a lot to be happy, and my basic needs are quite satisfied. My problem is that I have lived with a series of people who have not and essentially refuse to act respectfully toward the space and the other people who use it. My frustration and irritation with essentially being the only person who cares about and maintains the space has inspired in me a deep seated resentment and anger toward some of these people. I don’t feel at home in my apartment in no small part because every time I come home, or get up in the morning, or wander through the shared space, I am smacked in the face with other people’s disregard.

On several occasions, my husband and I have thoroughly cleaned, top to bottom, our apartment, and nearly every time we are then confronted with a heap of garbage, or worse, the end result of a much neglected cat’s boredom. Two of our roommates are moving out, and in preparation for showing off the apartment and finding new roommates, my husband and I spent five hours cleaning. It was torture discovering more and more nastiness that was a direct result of other people’s casual disregard for the home.

My frustration has gotten to the point, recently, that I haven’t been able to maintain a regular spiritual practice. The vast majority of my work is spent in quiet contemplation. I just feel so uncomfortable in my own home that I cannot get myself to relax enough to properly meditate. All I can think about is having to clean that mess in the kitchen, or the bathroom, or wondering why someone thought it was acceptable to just dump their shit in the middle of the living room floor.

It also doesn’t help that our apartment appears to also be home to some rather strange spiritual entities. They don’t seem to do much except occasionally freak out the cats and play with doorknobs, but it can get a bit unsettling. I have been loathe to really do anything in no small part because I feel like I can’t throw them out of my home until, well, it actually feels like home to me.

Part of home is cooking, it always has been vitally important to me. Sadly, the kitchen has been a battle ground for some months now. I don’t like cooking because I don’t trust that someone isn’t going to freak out at me because I left a pot on the stove, or that if I leave something in the sink to soak, that it’s not just going to have a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t need to soak heaped in on top of it and made dirtier and grosser instead of just being washed in the first place. One of my chief joys is cooking breakfast, pancakes, waffles, french toast, bacon… there’s no better way to start the day than cooking for your friends and family. I just can’t do it, as there’s always an unwelcome surprise waiting for me every morning in the kitchen.

Luckily, all of this will be changing soon. People are leaving and people are coming in, and I am hopeful for the future of this living space. I am looking forward to having a home that I can care, comfortably, about again, a home that’s not a bundle of resentment and frustration. I am looking forward to being able to set aside a space for my spiritual practice, a space that I can meditate and reflect in and know that no one will disturb me there. I am looking forward to being able to relax.

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I Am Here

After my fusillade against traditional western occult philosophy (which, I also suspect, could land some decent strikes against certain eastern philosophies as well), I feel like it is necessary for me to outline my own metaphysical constructions. As I said before, foremost the flesh must determine our explorations. I hold by this as the major tenet of my philosophy. I firmly hold that Divinity must be immanent and present at all times, in all things. Indeed, I argue that in order for a concept like Divinity to actually refer to anything, it must refer to something entirely present in the world.

Of course, I recognize the difficulty with such an assertion. If divinity is a thing in the world, where is it? The response, as stated above, that it is in all things, everywhere, at all times,  seems, well, easy and useless. What does it honestly mean to refer to Divinity if everything is, by its nature as a thing objectively present, Divine? Well, in a practical sense, I think it means absolutely nothing. Everything, being equally Divine, is stripped of any intensity, and left in the same state as a world evacuated of Divinity. I don’t mean to say that Divinity requires a contrast, indeed, the Divine should be that to which no contrast is possible. What use is there in comparing the Divine against the Profane, if the Profane, in order to exist, by its nature as existent, is infused with Divinity?

Here, then, lies the volta. The subject, that which is not object, but, existent and contained with the objective world holds the key, and thus my fascination with the flesh. The primary action of the subject is to infuse the flesh with being. Being, existing, as a state, requires an a priori subject. What does it mean to be, without a being already present to grasp such being? The objective world, merely existent, is not aware of itself or the relations contained therein. The objective world is purely formal, governed by relations according to the natures of the objects contained. Those objects act only as they must in accordance with their natures and the natures of the other objects pressed upon them. As such, mere objects cannot be in the same sense as subjects. They have no being inherent to them, merely presence in relation to other objects. Objects have no in-themselves and for-themselves, only systems of relations which tie them to other objects in a coherent total unit. All objects, absent of the subject, represent a single unity of relation, devoid of any individual being.Objects possess no interior states. In contrast to the vast interiority of the subject, this is the defining characteristic of the object.

The flesh, mere object, does not, nor cannot experience nor possess Divinity, as experience is, by its nature, embedded within the subject, an interior state. The subject infuses and transforms the flesh from mere object to total subject. All of the flesh, the body, through the action of the subject is transformed from mere thing to total experience and invested with interiority, with states which are no longer merely objective and formal. The rebuttal that all interior states are the result of mere objective relations is quite obviously facile, as formal relations fail to describe the experience of those objective relations by the subject. The subject, then, is, by its nature as such, transcendent.

The primary action of the subject transforms itself from mere flesh to total being. The flesh represents the lens through which the world is experienced, and as such, the vehicle of the subject, though the subject, save under duress, does not recognize the flesh as mere vehicle, but as a totality of being. Indeed, it is this totality of being which, I believe, describes the normative state of the subject. It is within this total being, this primary act of existence as performed by the subject, that Divinity can be grasped. Divinity is an experiential thing, embedded within the nature of the subject as possessing interior states. Divinity, then, is an interior state (that which is Divine may describe a being, but Divinity is the attribute possessed by the Divine as an interior state, and may be grasped by other subjects as relating to the Divine). The effulgence of Divinity is directly linked to the effulgence of the subject. Where the subject presses itself against the objective world, and doing so, renders a transformation upon it, Divinity is present and recognizable. Indeed, the resultant implication seems to be that Divinity is linked purely with being in itself, as reliant upon the a priori subject.

I recognize a certain deistic bent with this argument, and I admit that I am fairly uncomfortable with that. I flex against the Divine as mere presence, and yet I wonder if the distinction of the Divine as pure being is strong enough. The Divine is not an object, but a form of being, resting upon the nature of the subject as being. I feel, as well, like there is much more to be done to in order to resist dangerous elisions between the nature of subject and the nature of the Divine (yet are such elisions dangerous? Are they elisions at all?). There is something uneasy, to me, in the implication that all subjects are, by their natures, Divine. I happily ascribe transcendence to the subject as its most basic and primary act, yet I shudder at following through with Divinity.

Clearly, I have a great deal of work left to do, as this represents a relatively short period of personal reflection when weighed against the mass of merely my own life, let alone the grand sweep of history, and yet I feel like it is a more honest starting point than most which I have encountered within my readings.

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Foremost, the Flesh

If it is not yet obvious, I have a great deal of difficulty with the traditional foundations of Occult Philosophy. My own philosophical leanings are strongly influenced by Post-Modernism (and by this I don’t mean the pop philosophy watered down bullshit that reduces the complex actions of Post-Modernism to nothing more than vapid relativism and moral disintegration, but the rigorous political and literary critiques of Deleuze and Foucault), as well as Phenomenology, with a fair dose of Queer and Feminist Theory thrown in. All of which is poised, emphatically, against Ideal Forms and Absolutes.

In no small part, the thrust of these various philosophies has been to dismantle the work of Plato and Aristotle in establishing the realm of the ideal, which, it just so happens, is also the frame work for, well, all of Hermetic Philosophy (and before we try and pretend that modern Paganism is its own discrete thing from Hermeticism, let us recall how many key texts for today’s large Pagan communities were written under the influence of the Golden Dawn and the Victorian and Early Twentieth Century occult organizations that made no secret of their Hermeticist connections). Ideal forms and hidden realms of truth pervade Occult Philosophy, and I frequently wonder, given their ubiquity, whether it is possible to derive a properly Occult Philosophy without them. Indeed, the very meaning of occult is “hidden”, the foundations of the philosophy rely upon the unseen before you even get past the name.

I don’t mean to say that all modern Metaphysical Traditions (let’s drop Occult, for the time being) rely on these constructs. Hedge witchery, hoodoo, rootwork, and various other earth and land based practices take for granted the innateness of magic and the divine. For these sorts of practices, Divinity and Power are directly manifest in the world at large. It seems to me that these more, dare I say, naive (and by naive, perhaps I mean pre-analytical) practices are closer to an actual description of the function of the Divine within the world. They derive, foremost, from experience and interaction, and use that as the basis for their reflection and analysis, rather than the inverse.

I would never assert that Hermetic Magic is ineffective, I have am fully aware of its power, however, I do not feel like the foundations of its philosophy adequately reflect the function of the world (though they do, I charge, reflect the power and function of the word). As an aside, I grow easily frustrated with Hermetic Philosophy in its frequent assertions that it contains the only truth, that all else is an illusion, that all gods are merely reflections of the Great Hermetic God. These sentiments are widespread throughout early modern occult writings, particularly those of Dion Fortune (who is also terribly homophobic. Don’t believe me? Read the Mystical Kabbalah. She calls gays pathological, flat out).

However, I also think that these sentiments of single truth are a manifestation of the Platonic world view, which relies on a truth which is always distant and inaccessible (save to the truly inspired and initiated) that governs and directs the physical world. As such, the physical world has no power, no substance: all is removed and separated from that which we experience, for we experience nothing but the shadows of the divine cast upon the wall of our flesh. This kind of logic is flatly offensive and dehumanizing.  The divine cannot be present in the world by such a philosophy if, by its very nature, the flesh cannot contain, experience, or manifest divinity.

We are, before anything else, embodied. All of our knowledge, all of our experience, everything that constitutes us derives entirely from our fleshliness. Therefore, this must be the starting point of all philosophy. A proper Philosophy of the Spirit must, then, begin with the flesh and move through experience until the Spiritual is encountered manifestly.

Case in point, the concepts behind the practice of sacred geometry hold that all is an instantiation of divine mathematical principles. However, such a starting point ignores the key point that mathematics is itself a construction of consciousness and has no force in the world at large. What we define as mathematics are relations which first require an active subject to observe and codify. Without the mind, there is no math. Math does no press forth into the world, the mind constructs and utilizes math to describe the formal relations which it perceives around it. The symmetrical growth of a crystal is not a result of divine principles, it is a result of mere formal relationships which demand that it must, given its nature, form in a particular way. The symmetry, the perfect geometry, of its growth is not pressed upon it, it is present in its very nature at all moments and merely named and categorized once the mind encounters it. Indeed, the crystal does not recognize its growth, nor is its growth recognized by the world itself. The crystal grows because it must given its nature and the nature of its environs. There is no divine principle governing such growth, merely formal relations.

The insertion of divine principles here more obfuscates and confounds the issue, particularly when dealing with irregular patterns and distorted forms. If all is a reflection of divine principles, one then must account for why the crystal rarely grows in geometric perfection. Surely, if the divine were absolutely guiding from beyond all physical instantiation, then all instantiation would be a perfect reflection of the divine. However, we do not possess that total mathematical purity that our invented geometry demands, therefore the world must be somehow fallen, declined, degenerated from the divine. In order for this mathematical purity to hold, the world itself must be, again, removed from divinity, which is always elsewhere, always removed, always beyond. And, again, this is obviously and patently the wrong move. So enamored with the idea of purity, the world is cast into shadow to salvage the bizarrely idealized divine.

The distorted crystal reflects divinity just as powerfully as the perfect form grown in a vacuum. Each, being instantiated, being encountered by the mind, is enriched and enlivened with the power of the subject. From the flesh, from the complicated growth of the subject, springs all spirituality. That which is Spiritual means nothing without first the subject out of which such experience blossoms. How can we remove the Spirit from the Man? In doing so we evacuate not only Man, but Divinity of Spirituality, for suddenly the spiritual is no longer subjective, and if it is not subjective, it is nothing at all.

There for, foremost, the flesh must dominate our reflections. It seems to me that Spiritual reflection must grown out of an experience of the world, and that Spirituality should manifest in and enliven the world itself. As the subject forms out of interaction with the world, so Spirituality blossoms from that same source.

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