Mishkan ha-Echad

Monday, 15 October 2012

Regardie on Constructing a Vault

A note left behind by Israel Regardie on the construction of the Vault walls offers an interesting approach to the toilsome task of mixing the appropriate colours for the numerous squares:

"The most practical plan is to have the walls of the Vault coloured as in the last diagram.
Then the way to differentiate between the various planetary sides of the Vault is simply to cover any particular side with a large sheet of strong cellophane or other plastic. So, for the Venus side, the wall could be covered with a Green sheet of plastic. For the Jupiter side with a blue sheet of plastic. For the Mars side with red. For the Saturn side with very dark blue or indigo. For the Solar side, use yellow or gold plastic. For Mercury a yellow orange plastic. And for Luna, a lavender or light violet plastic."

Putting aside the fact that the suggested colours here are wrong (the Jupiter wall should be violet, Sun should be orange, Mercury yellow, and Moon blue), this idea is a novel one, though not exactly one I find very appealing.

It "simplifies the task," as Regardie puts it, and cuts out a large volume of work required, since painting a Vault is an immense undertaking. The biggest issue with a Vault is not the construction of the room itself, but the mixing of the base colours of the squares with the base colours of the walls, resulting in a uniquely tinted assortment.

This is largely a trial or error affair, as the instructions left behind do not specify exact ratios of paint required, and this has led to existing Vaults looking sometimes very different from each other when it comes to colour tones. There is nothing wrong with this, as undoubtedly the original Vaults looked very different to each other, as each artists' work takes on, as it were, a hint of his or her character, or, indeed, the character of the Order or Temple in question.

The issue for me with Regardie's suggestion is that plastic as a material tends to take the magic out of a lot of things. We do not have to go over the top with our tools or talismans (the original members were quite fond of cardboard and coloured paper, for example), but plastic just does not cut it for me. It always feels like such a lifeless material and usually heavily reminds us of our present-day, factory-driven world, which does not exactly help with getting into the magical mindset.

I am also not particularly fond of the idea of having each wall's tint made purely from an overlaying material. I much prefer the idea that the colours are mixed to begin with to give that final hue, that you are not just looking at the same scene from a tinted window.

I suppose I am a little "old-fashioned" on this, but hand constructing and painting the Vault seems to me to be the best way to go, despite the huge investment of time and energy required. Since this is something for an entire Temple, or perhaps an Order as a whole, there will surely be at least one person involved who has enough artistic ability to do a good job with a paintbrush, and the work can be divided up to build a Vault more quickly.

That said, there are, of course, other options. Brodie-Innes suggested coloured papers. Printing is a growing trend in occult circles, which affords a potentially more accurate colour and a fancier print form of the symbols. Then there is Regardie's suggestion, and undoubtedly there are more ideas floating around for how best to undertake this task.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Mediums and the Golden Dawn

Something that comes as a surprise to many when first approaching the Golden Dawn system is the prohibition against mediums, which was one of only a handful of things overtly frowned upon by the founders of the Order.

Of course, in modern groups this point might not be apparent, and in some cases the rule might not apply at all, but the original Order was very clear that mediumship was not permitted. In one of the early preliminary pledge forms that Candidates were required to sign, there was the following:

"The Chiefs of the Order do not care to accept as Candidates any persons accustomed to submit themselves as Mediums to the Experiments of Hypnotism, Mesmerism, or Spiritualism; or who habitually allow themselves to fall into a completely passive condition of Will; also they disapprove of the methods made use of as a rule in such Experiments."

This is explicit, criticising not only mediums themselves, but the manner in which they work. This is important, as the Golden Dawn tended to see such activities as a perversion of the Occult Science, a dangerous watering down of truer occult principles.

The Order did, of course, make use of esoteric practices that many would see as being similar to that of Spiritualism, such as the use of the Ring and Disc or the Tripod in the Theoricus Adeptus Minor sub-grade. The former bears some resemblance to the infamous Ouija Board, using a specially created Ring to douse above a complex Disc of numbers, symbols and letters in English, Coptic and Hebrew. The latter is clearly related to the popular performance of "table tipping," employing a special three-legged table and one or more operators. 

If the parallel was not clear enough from the teachings of the grade, a paper on the Tripod describes the true occult performance as having been degraded by a growing phenomenon of the time, stating that it was "in recent years revived in a mistaken form among the Uninitiated under the title of Spiritualism and Table Turning."

The Victorian era of the Golden Dawn was also shared with the rise and peak of Spiritualism, which popularised the notion of séances and mediumship. To real magicians of great knowledge and experience this must have been harrowing to watch, in much the same was as the New Age movement or TV mediums are to modern magi.

But given that the Golden Dawn employed strikingly similar practises, on the surface, in some of its later teachings, what exactly is it about mediumship that is not tolerated? The key is passivity and the inherent danger and lack of knowledge and proper protocol employed in such activities.

Firstly, the medium opens up to whatever is out there, hoping to contact the dead, and yet not knowing if they will, and if what has been contacted is not their own subconscious, the wrong spirit, or something a little more sinister. It is epitomised in the phrase: "Is there anyone there?"

This is not the approach of the magician. The magician does not invite all and sundry into his or her temple in the hopes that something true and good shows up, but sets out with a goal in mind, selecting a spirit in question, employing its name, challenging it with various tests, and getting rid of it when desired or required.

These tests and the ability to banish are important, so much so that the Golden Dawn taught the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram from the beginning, to Neophytes who would have to go through many more grades before beginning proper practical magical work.

The medium, however, usually lacks these safety measures. Not only do they call whatever is "out there" forth, they do not have any means to test what, if anything, shows up. There are no names or symbols or signs, no way to avoid self-delusion or the illusion of external beings.

The Golden Dawn advised safety regularly, not only teaching many ways to practise occultism in a balanced and safe manner, but coding in safeguards into the system itself. In the teachings on the Ring and Disc and the Tripod Mathers frequently warns of self-deception and obsession, offering various recommendations to limit this danger.

Yet the medium does not have these tools at their disposal, does not know how to deal with the force called upon, can merely open a door and not be certain of the ability to close it. Thus the first Power of the Sphinx, which must precede the others, is missing—and it is Knowledge.

And so a medium would be unable to truly join a Golden Dawn order, for they would immediately break their Oath, which states:

"I will not suffer myself to be hypnotised, or mesmerised, nor will I place myself in such a passive state that any uninitiated person, power, or being may cause me to lose control of my thoughts, words or actions."

The medium, who lets a spirit talk through them, would be unable to abide by this pledge, and such passivity is not what magic is about. While the Candidate of an initiation ceremony needs to be passive enough for the ritual to be successful, that is a far cry from the dangerous operation of handing over the reins to a spirit, especially a spirit that the medium knows next to nothing, or literally nothing, about.

The prohibition against mediumship was, therefore, not merely a product of the time period, but a genuine disapproval of unsafe occult practices made by those without the appropriate knowledge and experience to render the risks negligible. As such, it applies as much today as it did in the late 19th Century.