Mishkan ha-Echad

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Value of Tools

One criticism of ceremonial magic over the years has been its focus on the requirement of various tools, both physical, in the sense of implements and regalia, as well as less corporeal, in the sense of charts of planetary hours and other guides for the perfect ritual performance. Some magicians who are not very tool-friendly have suggested that they are more advanced because they do not need such tools, which, of course, intimates that ceremonial magicians do. This is an error, however, as ceremonial magicians do not use tools because they are needed, but because they are useful. It could be argued that the only neccessities for magic are Will and Imagination, but why make the job more difficult than it needs to be? You can tap a nail in with your hand, but why not use a hammer?

The value of tools is that they serve as an aid in the performance of magic. The wand or dagger serves as an extension of the will, in much the same way as the sword is an extension of the arm in martial arts. All ceremonial tools are designed to accomplish a given goal, and thus, instead of depending entirely on the faculties of Will and Imagination, a certain symbol or colour may be utilised to make the process more natural and effective. At the end of the day even the Will and Imagination are just another set of tools in the toolbox of the magician.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Asceticism in the Golden Dawn, Part 2

Some time last year I made a post on asceticism in the Golden Dawn, which included sources primarily from the Cromlech Temple, with a small passage from Westcott from one of the Flying Rolls. Recently I was re-reading another Flying Roll, also by Westcott, which deals with the matter of asceticism much more thoroughly, further reinforcing the points made in the previous post.

"It has been urged against us that, as a society, we do not preach the necessity for such strict purity of life as do the Theosophists. It may be true that we are not always preaching it, and as we do not hold public meetings, the same opportunities for doing so does not exist. If, however, there is one thing more than another which I would impress upon you as a social sin, it is that of hypocrisy. As to asceticism, the Hermetists have always taught that this necessary purity of mind should and can be combined with the absence of all ostentatious morality and of un-natural habits of life.

The Western Teachers have always recognised the fact that for so long human life has been so painful, that to most people these studies would be denied if they were to insist upon asceticism, and they have found by experience that a very considerable amount of success without attendant danger may be obtained by those who are willing to make strenuous efforts, without the aid of positive asceticism. It seems to me that the chief danger of asceticism in a city like this and at the present time is that even if we succeed, the extra advantage which we shall derive from totally abstaining from these things of the sense, will be counterweighted by a distinct and added danger of falling, on the other hand, into the Scylla of hypocrisy which I have mentioned. What is apt to happen is this, óthat a man is liable to compare himself with his neighbours, and say how much better he is than others. Now self congratulation is second only to open hypocrisy, and we hold that it is just as harmful to spiritual progress. On the other hand if you make strenuous efforts to lead a moral life, if you do this while leading a pure life in the city, if you succeed in doing these things, you may depend upon it that your reward will be grater than his who removes himself from his fellows and shuts himself up in a forest. The reward of a man who can remain pure and yet live in the midst of a crowded city is greater than his who avoids the responsibilities of life by burying himself in a wilderness."

- N.O.M. (Westcott), Flying Roll No. XIX

I agree strongly with Westcott's views here, especially in regard to hypocrisy and how it is much more difficult (and honest and rewarding) to live with temptation and thus resist it than to remove oneself from temptation and pretend that one is resisting it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


"The map is not the territory" is an oft-quoted aphorism, and I believe it may need to be quoted again to reinforce the following point: the correspondences of the Golden Dawn are designed around the basis that point A relates or is linked to point B, and point C, and point D. They correspond - i.e. there is a back and forth relationship between them. This does not mean that point A is point B or C or D, which there seems to be some confusion about.

So let's look at an example. The four directions are attributed to the elements. Attributed, not are. The four directions are linked to the four elements - they are not the elements themselves., nor are they distinctly elemental. The Four Archangels may correspond with the elements, but they are not elemental in and of themselves. Enochian words like EXARP and HCOMA correspond with the elements of Air and Water, but any Dee purist will quickly point out how they are most definitely not elemental. Likewise for the hundreds of different correspondences in the Golden Dawn system.

Correspondences are our magical map. They are pins put at two towns to highlight what road to take between them. When Dublin gets confused with New York there's a big problem occuring.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Book Review: Gathering the Magic

When starting up an order, temple, coven, or other magical group in the modern world, there usually is not much in the way of resources. Not knowing how to attract other members, build a system of study and ritual, and deal with the inevitable conflicts that occur when more than one person comes together can spell doom for any start-up magical group. One exception to this lack of resources is Nick Farrell's Gathering the Magic, which attempts to give a would-be group leader some of the advice needed to succeed in this endeavour. While John Michael Greer's Inside a Magical Lodge still has much to offer in this regard, Nick's book is a bit more up to date, dealing with the issues that a group in the 21st Century will have to face.

The book numbers 188 pages and has a number of chapters dealing with the group itself, the leadership, the practical elements, bringing in new people, conflict and crisis, and then growth or death of the group. These are further divided into shorter sub-sections that make for easy reading.

Nick offers some useful insights into the minds of those who join and work with magical groups, including whether someone is a leader or a follower, how they will fit in with the egregore, what to do with grades, and what kind of leadership role (guru, round table, panel, three chiefs, etc.) will work best. This latter section is dealt with extremely well, with a number of advantages and disadvantages given for each possibility.

On the practical side of things essential elements like a name, location, and fee structure are addressed, along with ritual work to be carried out at each meeting, and all of the various tools and regalia that may be required, depending on the nature of the group.

The leadership role is given quite a bit of attention given how important it is (and how detrimental a bad leadership can be), but Nick stresses the importance on spreading the work load and strongly encourages the individualising of each member of the group. The section detailing the "warning signs" when someone is about to individualise (which is a good thing, but not without its own painful and sometimes destructive process) is particularly good, especially considering that Nick is advising that potential leaders aid the individualising person as opposed to simply expelling them from the group because of what seems like trouble-making at first.

One problem with the book is the large number of typos, which shows that the editor did not really give it the attention it deserved. Luckily enough these aren't bad enough to distract from the material. Another obvious error occurs with the citing of a book that has not been released yet. In a footnote on page 157 Nick cites Peregrin Wildoak's By Names and Images (information on which can be found here) as being published in 2004. Unfortunately due to delays at Thoth Publications this book still has not been released. Since the copy of Gathering the Magic that I am reading has been updated to a second edition in 2007 I wonder why this footnote wasn't ammended to be more accurate.

Gathering the Magic is mainly focused on ceremonial magic groups, but the advice is generally applicable to all, whether it's a Freemason lodge, a Golden Dawn temple, or a Wiccan coven. Some of the information and advice is fairly common-sense, but it's the kind of common-sense that only occurs when someone highlights it, while many other guidelines Nick gives will not have occured to most group leaders. It is clear that he does not base these things on speculation but on a number of years experience, and thus this book will be of great benefit to those lacking in the experience required to create and grow a successful magical group.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Seeker & the Sought

I thought I'd share a Gnostic piece I wrote in 2006:

1. Those who try to lift a boulder will lift a Stone, but as they try they are tried, and when they look beneath the Boulder, they will become troubled by what they see, but it is the strife of their vision that allows them to See.

2. Those who are content to move pebbles like pieces of a boardgame, they will not know Me. If they looked at the board, they would see that I am all lines and no line, and it is the Breath of My Spirit that moves the pieces, not their hands.

3. Let the Movers of Mountains take Comfort and Solace in their Suffering, for only those who Suffer seek, and only those who Seek find. I am the Seeker and the Sought, and all who seek Me without find Me within.

4. I am beneath pebbles and boulders, and I am the creator of suffering and the absolver of strife. All who know Me shall become Me, and I shall become them, and We will walk in the Light together.

5. For he who is hungry shall be filled with the Bread of Life, and she who thirsts shall be filled with the Wine of Spirit; so shall the Famished inherit the Fullness.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Light & Shadow

"The work of bringing people to the light creates tremendous amounts of shadow, and in working with angels our personal demons are evoked."

- Nick Farrell, Gathering the Magic

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Book Review: Earth Divination, Earth Magic

Geomancy is probably the least practiced system taught by the Golden Dawn, and I believe the reason for this is how it was and is continuing to be taught. It is made to seem overly complex, like an elaborate mathematical equation, but underneath it all lies a much simpler system, and Earth Divination, Earth Magic by John Michael Greer exposes this simplicity to great effect.

This book has two sections, the first covering the divinatory aspects of geomancy, which includes a brief history, an overview of the geomantic figures, the method of casting a chart, and then several methods of reading it. What is noteworthy about this section is that it contains many elements of teaching that are absent from the original GD documents on the subject, particularly in terms of interpreting the figures that have been obtained. The shield chart is also an extremely useful method of obtaining the figures which works in a very common-sense way. The multiple examples given bring the theory a little closer to home, and there is also some space given to specific questions (and slightly different methods for obtaining the answers for them) such as how to find a missing person or predicting the weather (still as valid today as they were in the Middle Ages).

The second section of the book deals with the magical application of geomancy, and this becomes a lot more obviously GD. The planetary spirits (or genii) and their sigils are covered, along with basic GD ritual like the LBRP. A consecration ceremony for a geomantic box is also given, and skrying and talismans are covered to some degree. There is not much new here for a GD student, however, as it has been predominantly covered before, but it may be of use to those with little or no exposure to GD ritual.

This is an invaluable text for making the archaic instructions of the GD on geomancy make a lot more sense. It provides additional instruction for those who have already mastered the basics, but are struggling to interpret a full geomantic chart. I think it's time that this system gained more exposure in the magical community and that more people practice it, and Greer's book will aid greatly to that end.