Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Autumn Celebrations Before Winter

Autumn is my favorite time of the year without a doubt. I may have grown very partial to late spring because of the harshness and the length of winter up here in the tundra, but I have always felt my best in the autumn. It’s almost as though the cooling off of the days, the smell of wood smoke and the barrage of colors registering from golden yellow, orange, red to brown, truly inspires me. What I am not crazy about are the hunters shooting off their shot guns at the water fowl in the shallow lakes that surround our house. They typically start shooting just before dawn, so it can be a rude awakening for those unaccustomed to hearing gun shots in the early morning hours. Also, there is no gradual drop in temperatures living up here, since winter comes quickly and without much in the way of an announcement. We have already had a bit of snow on the ground, and with the freezing weather now in play, it’s only a matter of days before our first really big snow storm changes the autumn fully into winter.

Speaking of rude awakenings, I am still battling my problem with sleeping. I have eliminated my habit of reading in bed before sleeping and moved the alarm clock out of my view (off of the night stand) to make that part of my bedroom darker and better for sleeping. No more eying the clock at odd hours of the night or morning. I have also tried to eliminate any and all distractions to preparing for bed, and with this single minded approach I have had some success. I have some good nights intermixed with bad nights, but overall, I am still suffering from some amount of sleep deprivation, and this is a problem. I going to have to elevate my response so that I might overcome this issue, and that means seeing a pulmonologist and visiting a sleep clinic.

What seems to be happening to me is that I dream far too much, my sleep has too little non-REM sleep or deep sleep, and that I often wake up after five or six hours of sleep and then have difficulties getting back to sleep again. It is a real physically debilitating ordeal for me, and one that I have taken very seriously. It’s only a matter of time before the cause is identified and then the solution will be applied. I have checked out the various sleep web pages and I have followed nearly of what they have suggested. I am temporarily taking Abien, and that seems to allow me maintain my sleep uninterrupted, but it is likely that I have some kind of sleep apnea. I think its time to apply a more intensive regimen under a doctor’s supervision, of course. I hope to have all of this resolved before December arrives.

Until such a time, I must defer to my health issues and not focus as much as I have on my writing. Thus, there will be a hiatus of a few to perhaps several weeks without any blog articles. I apologize for the lapse, but it is necessary, considering the dire nature of the health issues that I face. If I can lick these issues, then I will be able to ease back into writing my usual interesting and informative articles (as I have done previously) for my public to read and enjoy. I would also like to mention that there are a lot of articles in the archives already, and it isn’t too difficult to use the topic index on the left had side of the blog web page below all of the other displays and blog based data. Check out some of the older articles and I am sure you will find some real gems there.

Hope you all had a wonderful Samhain and Thanksgiving, and with a bit of luck and insight, I will return soon to the blogosphere.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Few More Thoughts About Christianity

Someone didn’t particularly care for the article “Thoughts About Christianity” which I recently wrote. She didn’t leave any comments on my blog article, but gave me quite an earful on my Face Book page. She also didn’t like the fact that I disagreed with her statements criticizing my article, and even though I was also doing my day job, she insisted that I engage in some kind of dialogue with her about her opinions. I really don’t have a lot of time to engage in long conversations on the internet and I avoid it where possible. I figure that if someone wants to comment on my article they can leave a comment through the online blog. This person, whose name was Susan, appears to be retired (according to her FB page data) and probably has a lot more free time than I do. So, I decided to air her comments on a blog article and respond to them when I had the requisite amount of time. She does make some valid points, even though the tone of her arguments are the kind of whining “both sides do it” sort of logic that sets my teeth on edge.

First of all, she said that I seemed to be bashing Christianity or somehow being insulting to Christians by writing a culturally opposing perspective regarding what I think is the blatant sectarianism found in aspects of Christianity. Let’s keep in mind the fact that the culture of this country is Christian dominated. If you want a definition of vested privilege, then being white, male and Christian, not to mention wealthy, are four parts of the overall equation. Those of us who are not Christian get to deal with public perceptions and media exploitation that are quite overall negative and even at times, nasty. If you are a Jew, then you’re a greedy, grasping Christ-killer. If you are a Muslim, then you’re a terrorist. If you are Mormon, then you are a cultist. If you are an atheist, then you are a secular oppressor of good Christians. And if you are a witch or a pagan, then you are a Satanist, child molester, ritual murderer, drug dealer, and whatever else is foul and evil. Granted, there are many Christians who are religiously tolerant and they might even be in the majority. As I said in my article, I respect anyone’s religious activities and beliefs so long as they don’t impinge on my own rights. What I have a problem with are those sectarians who believe that their religious beliefs and practices are the only true ones, and the rest are either due to tragic ignorance or diabolical instigation.

Does it seem that I have a chip on my shoulder or that I am somehow biased and poisoned regarding the faith of Christianity? Well, I have had to deal with quite a lot of cognitive dissonance in my career as a witch and a pagan. I have been preached at, called names, temporarily held against my will while others fervently prayed over me, and even threatened by supposedly good and faithful Christians. Perhaps they were just doing their religious duty as they saw it, but as long as they interfered with my right to worship, then they were decidedly and completely in the wrong. Even the couple who initiated me into witchcraft, Bill and Sharon Schnoebelen, became fundamentalist preachers and Bill wrote a book entitled “Wicca: Satan’s Little White Lie” that continues to be quoted and used as evidence that witches and pagans are actually an evil cult.

All you need to do is check out Witch Hunts on WitchVox to see the list of current lecturers and authors who are telling lots of Christians that witches and pagans are evil worshipers of Satan. I even have the misfortune of living in the congressional district represented by Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and I have to deal with her embarrassing rants about paganism and the evils of witchcraft. Others might find her to be a champion of Christian virtues while others just laugh at her idiotic statements. I don’t find her funny at all. Instead, I find her sentiments to be a chilling reminder that our religious freedoms cannot be taken for granted.

This is a cultural battle and instead of being too generous to other side (or turning the other cheek) we should at least stand up for our own rights and beliefs. We shouldn’t be idle when others are actively defaming us. Other faiths respond to bigoted attacks and so should we. We don’t seek to proselytize or convert others to our faith, we just want to be allowed to worship in peace and security. That doesn’t seem to be much to ask for in our so-called free society, but it can’t be depended on or maintained unless we are vigilant against those who might try to take our religious freedoms away from us. This is a real social issue in our post-modern times and to ignore it or pretend that there is equality, by saying that both sides do it, is terribly misinformed.

So, Susan starts out accusing me of being one of many who are hurling insults and bashing the other side without any significant point being made. In fact, she felt that my article was, for the most part, irrelevant and pointless.

Christians bashing Pagans, Pagans bashing Christians. Each scorns the other for limitless reasons. And though I am not on the proverbial fence [whatever that means], I am weary of the contrasts and comparisons, insults, and rhetoric hurled at different belief systems.”

My only issue with Christianity, or for that matter, any religion, is when it promotes itself as the exclusive truth. A Monotheistic Deity is universal, and that means that it excludes all other Deities. It also paints atheism as a rejection of that truth. When I meet Christians, particularly Esoteric Christians, I have no problem with them or their faith. They don’t judge me or consider me an infidel. I see them as pleasant religious people engaging with their faith, and how they worship is no concern of mine. Of course, if they make it a point to defame members of my religion, then I have a problem, and all it really takes is to just ignorantly deny the validity of what I believe. Certainly, I don’t deny the validity of what anyone else believes, even if they happen to be an atheist and don’t believe in any religious creed whatsoever - it is their right to do so. 

Although I enjoy educational discussion, I prefer to not impugn either faiths to explain my understanding of what it means to be the creature that I am.

Not only was my previous article educational, but it didn’t impugn Christianity. It only decried sectarianism. That was the whole point of the article! Obviously, it was something that Susan missed when she read it. Some people pretend to be neutral and fair, while I don’t see any need to disguise what I believe for the sake of appearances. 

The question of magic and Christians enjoying elaborate displays of its practice is not a subject important enough to address, however, those people who choose to worship as they will, ‘an it do no harm’, are considered, according to the Apostle Paul, ‘a law unto themselves’.

The actual quote that Susan took from the New Testament was from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 2, verse 14 through 16. Quoting it in full gives that phrase which she used a much better context.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”

When you examine the entire passage then it becomes more problematical. Paul isn’t excusing people who work magic as long as they are not harming others, or who choose to worship differently than others. They all get judged in the same manner when the end-times are nigh. Additionally, the term “Gentiles” that he uses was actually about non-Jewish pagans who were ignorant of Christ, and anyone in our epoch who is or once was a Christian doesn’t at all count as a “Gentile.” Susan quoted this biblical passage out of its very important context, naturally.

Perhaps a clearer quotation from that same work would be from Chapter 2, verses 11 and 12: “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;”

This statement is obviously highly sectarian. It doesn’t matter if one is a Christian or a pagan, all will get judged in the same manner by the same universal God. Of course, I would reject such an idea since I strongly believe that it doesn’t apply to me. Even so, there’s lots of sectarian opinions in that epistle (just as there are in other books of the New Testament). Quoting from it is a real problem if you are not a follower of the One True Religion.

While Susan might state that the question of whether Christians can legally work magic within the tenets of Christianity is irrelevant; it was a topic that others in the blogosphere commented on recently. I was just adding my opinion to that of others.

Belief in the Holy Spirit is a bit tricky. My personal belief is we are all connected by a spirit which lies dormant in some while others have a personal relationship with this masculine/feminine phenomenon known as spirit or spirits, however you please. This unforgivable sin against such spirit is ambiguous in the various scriptures as they are written, but to not acknowledge the devine [sic] in one’s self would be death, bodily and spiritually. Either way, a mortal infraction.”

While I might agree somewhat with Susan’s statement that everyone is connected to each other and everything else in the world (including animals, plants and rocks, etc.), those who don’t believe in anything spiritual are not spiritually or bodily dead. That is absurd, and it does show an unwitting contempt for those who don’t believe in religion. It is better to state something as part of one’s experience and to leave it at that, instead of implying that others are not as “enlightened” who don’t also believe it to be true. Therefore, it can’t be a “mortal infraction” unless there is a universal truth or sectarian premise that is actually valid. I know quite a number of atheists and they are often more thoughtful and ethical than those who are supposedly governed by their religion. Thus, the concept of Spirit must have a very wide definition, much wider than anyone currently knows.

I admit that I responded to her critique with a certain brevity and then informed her that I disagreed with her opinion. At that moment, I just didn’t have any time to elaborate all of my points. Susan responded with a certain umbrage at my supposed unwillingness to have a dialogue with her. It was kind of like a temper tantrum. Here’s what she wrote in reply.

Are you often misinterpreted, sir? According to you, your last article ruffled a few Christians.”

My last article, written some years ago, floated the idea that the historical Christ was a myth and that there wasn’t any actual evidence that he existed. I still think that this is a valid point, and I backed it up with the scholarly work that I found online written by another author. I have since let this whole matter drop because I can’t prove it to be a fact. (Scholars have pretty much dismissed this line of reasoning, but I still have my suspicions.) Anyway, a couple of people strongly objected to it and left their comments on the blog article.

And throughout this article, I detected a certain amount of sarcasm veiled in defensive passivity.”

I’ve never considered myself as “passive” anything. I think if you read the article you will find that I am quite passionately and aggressively against sectarianism. And for good reasons, too.

Perhaps some residual resentment for those who read your previous article. But your paper, 'Thoughts About Christianity', was a bit scathing.”

Scathing, if one is an ardent sectarian, but to an Esoteric Christian, probably not at all critical. And resentment, how can I be resentful with comments posted about an article written over three years ago? Holding a grudge that long takes way too much energy. I have better things to do.

Read it again and you'll see it. I meant no personal disrespect; just an observation on the intensity of your convictions, and a contribution of my take on Jesus' meaning of the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit.

The tone of Susan’s comments are actually scathing and harsh towards me and maybe even a bit passive-aggressive, too. (She does mean to be disrespectful, but she doesn’t want to be responsible for appearing to be so.) I don’t see an open and objective examination of my written article, just a bunch of complaints and groundless criticism. I do have a certain passion in my convictions, but then again, I have often been complimented for that. I also found very little of substance in Susan’s rebuttal about the definition of a sin against the Holy Spirit. I believe that I captured it quite well in my article by stating that it is most aptly used as a judgement against apostasy. Of course, Susan has to round out her umbrage with a final insult, and I quote it in full.

If you are a sinner and should be shunned by the Christians for your beliefs, perhaps they should choose different reading material, or, you could hand them the first stone.”

I am already shunned by sectarian Christians for my beliefs and practices, as I have previously stated. I also doubt that anyone who is sectarian will bother to read my article, but you never know. I wrote this article for witches and pagans to demonstrate to them the inherent hypocrisy that it is alright to practice magic and occultism if you are a Christian, but it is not OK to switch religions and then practice occultism and magick. Or for that matter, to practice occultism and magick as a pagan or witch in a Christian society supposedly surrounded by the truth.

As for handing them the first stone to clobber me with, I won’t give any sectarian the opportunity to do so. I am also not bound by any ethical rules that says I shouldn’t either defend or avenge myself on someone who threatens me or my loved ones. I am a full fledged witch in that regard, and I don’t have a problem with working malefic magic on someone when it is justified. I hope that revelation doesn’t shock anyone (especially Susan), but then again, welcome to the real world. There are a lot of ugly, brutal and evil people in the world, and I would hopefully keep them from storming the gateway of my home and world. There are also a lot of good people, too, but I don’t need to protect myself from them. (At least, I hope I don’t.)

Think my viewpoint is too extreme or prejudiced? Just to give you an idea of how crazy right-wing fundamentalists are, how about examining this recent quote from the spokesperson of the American Family Association.

“Upset that the AFA was included on an Army training session’s list of hate groups, AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer on Friday charged that the Armed Forces will use ‘lethal force’ against Christians and Tea Party activists, and may even ‘surround’ the hotel hosting next year’s Values Voter Summit.

‘The military is being conditioned to use weapons on the American Family Association. The soldiers are being conditioned in their brains to think of evangelicals, Tea Partyers, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council as domestic enemies that may have to be neutralized by lethal force,’ Fischer maintained. ‘The people you got to watch out for, you may have to turn your tanks on, are American Family Association.’”

Based on the above rhetoric, it is quite likely that a few of these inflamed Christian sectarians might actually start some kind of armed insurrection in the not too distant future. Those who are Pagan and Wiccan authors would be easy and tempting targets, indeed.

Nuff said about this issue.

Frater Barrabbas

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts About Thelema and Other Musings

I really don’t care what anyone else thinks, but I have always found Aleister Crowley to be a truly great and profound writer about magick and other occult topics. His prose is actually quite satisfying to read, and to me he is concise and very logical. Even his most abstruse and difficult works are capable of being understood by the average intelligent person. Whatever his lifestyle was like, his reputation or the kind of person that he was makes little difference today, because what we have to judge him by are his written works, rites and his Thoth Tarot deck. 

Already, Aleister Crowley is fading into legend. So it is nearly impossible for anyone to be able to present a proper biography about him, although several authors have made the attempt. Even though his history is quite copious when compared to Mathers, so many of his contemporaries had a very different perspective or opinion about him. Some hated him, some worshiped him, and many vilified him, and yet others saw him as either a writer, poet or an adventurer without any unusual attributes. (For instance, there was a lengthy article about Aleister Crowley in the Atlanta Journal Constitution during the early 1930's that discussed his world travels, mountain climbing exploits and literary skills (poetry), but didn’t mention anything about his occult practices.)  There has also been a lot of misinformation spread about Crowley, so much so that very little of the legendary data about him can even be trusted. Really, all we have are his works, and that, in my opinion, is worth far more than what most of us have achieved in a lifetime.

I have to sheepishly admit that I couldn’t hold a candle to Crowley’s brilliance and masterly writing talents. The only literary area that I am not greatly impressed with is his poetry, most of which was rather competently mediocre, but even within that media, he has a number of poems that rival the masters. To this day, I still like pulling out one of his books that I first read years ago and start to read it anew. It amazes me that I still find new insights and information even after reading the same book, ritual or chapter for the umpteenth time. That shows just how deep Crowley was, and also how brilliant. What is more amazing than the writings of Crowley are many of his later disciples, from Frater Achad, Israel Regardie (albeit, reluctantly), Kenneth Grant to Lon Milo Duquette, Jake Stratton Kent and David Shoemaker. No other magical tradition has spawned so many brilliant occultists and magicians, in my humble opinion. (They make my own tradition look quite hollow and empty.)

However, when it comes to engaging with the spiritual system of Thelema then I have to part company with the tradition that Crowley inaugurated. You see, I am a big fan of Aleister Crowley’s writings, but I am not much of a Thelemite. I like the first chapter of the Book of the Law (Liber Al vel Legis), but the other two chapters are not very compelling. I also don’t find a lot of spiritual value for myself personally in the religious aspects of Thelema, even though I do find it more meaningful than most other spiritual systems. 

When it comes to spirituality, I am a true witch because I just can’t find greater meaning for myself than having a direct experience with the domain of Spirit. Religious institutions based on sacred writings (or “spirituality by the book”) are not very attractive to me, perhaps because of my need to see and experience everything myself. Thelema doesn’t abrogate personal gnosis like some religious creeds do, in fact it encourages it. Still, I feel that once something is written down, even if it is as brilliant as the Book of the Law, it is open to critique. I find myself cherry picking the parts I agree with and mentally arguing with the parts I don’t agree with while reading. I just can’t accept sacred writing as some kind of absolute truth because I think that spiritual truth is relative, and human linguistics is an imperfect science. I also don’t believe that sacred writings are written or dictated by deities or spiritual avatars; they are written by people, inspired perhaps, but still human.

I have been a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O., and I have enjoyed the initiations and the companionship of other magicians in that organization. (I am no longer an active member in that order, for reasons stated above.) I have also had the unfortunate experience to meet some really obnoxious and jaded asshats, but overall, most of the Thelemites that I have met are very smart, talented, creative magicians and occultists. In fact, I could say that I prefer their company over the company of many other occultists simply because I feel that I have more in common with them. What I don’t have and can’t share in is the religious dimension of Thelema, and that is my loss. It certainly doesn’t reflect on Thelema or Thelemites if I am unable to see the Book of the Law as the premier sacred writ or Aleister Crowley as the prophet of the New Aeon. I just don’t believe that, so I would be a very poor Thelemite indeed.

I draw my perspectives from my own experiences, and I have found over the years that Thelema, as nominally defined as the True Will, is just one of four very important sacramental systems. I have written all of this into the rites of the Gnostic Tetra-sacramentary of the Order of the Gnostic Star, but I have left a lot of room for other members to draw their own conclusions. In that ritual context, Thelema is joined with Agape, Thanatos, and Eros as the four powers of Gnosis. While Thelema is the True Will, Agape is Platonic Love, Thanatos is Spiritual Transformation and Eros is Sexual Vitality. I believe that a balanced system of magick should have all four gnostic sacramental systems represented equally. In fact, I actually have in my ritual repertoire a Mass rite for each of these four systems.

Of course, when all four sacramental systems are joined together, they produce a fifth, which is symbolized by the Star, or STELLA, the unique essence of Spirit. Thus, the Order of the Gnostic Star acts as a keyword phrase and an emblem for the tetra-sacramentary as it is resolved within the Star of Gnosis. However, for Thelema, just as for the other three sacramental systems, words fail to encapsulate the true meaning of this specific current of gnosis. Thus, a Book of the Law would be too limiting to a greater understanding of Thelema (in my opinion), and this why I have problems with it. 

In my opinion, each and every person must apprehend their own gnosis within each of the four sacramental systems. I have found that a lot of Crowley’s rites and even some of his occult poetry have helped me to acquire my personal gnostic experience of Thelema, and for that boon, I am grateful and I owe him a debt of gratitude. However, I am not bound to Crowley’s view of Thelema, and I have other insights that would be considered outside of the classical perspective of that creed. Few understood the profoundly gnostic and magical dimensions of Thelema as well as Crowley did, but to rely solely on what he wrote is to come up short, in my opinion.

It is for this reason that I honor Aleister Crowley, but I am not a Thelemite in the classical definition of that term. I feel an affinity to Thelema and Thelemites, but to me it is just one of four different sacramental systems and not the exclusive answer. For that answer, I have had to move beyond words and rites, and enter into the domain of pure Spirit. In that ecstatic void of unified consciousness, I have experienced many things and I have found them to be the core of what I know as truth. Yet I had to be fully immersed in that world and momentarily oblivious to the affectations of mind and body. I believe firmly that each and every one of us should approach our magical spirituality in the same manner, deeply, independently and through intense personal experience. Everything else is just other people’s opinions and thoughts, with or without any relevance or shades of truth to the individual seeker.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thoughts About Christianity

There has been some buzz in the blogsphere lately about whether there is an historical basis to the person of Jesus, or whether it is OK to practice magic and also be a Christian in good standing. I have already written up an article about my opinion about the historical foundation of Christianity, which seemed to offend some people. If you really want to read or examine it, you can find it here. I think that whatever opinion people have, whether adherents or outsiders, the historical Jesus Christ is not particularly important when compared to the legendary or mythical Jesus Christ. In fact, believers will believe in the their creed and what it means to them regardless of what anyone thinks or says. I leave the various sectarian discussions of Christianity and what it all means to those who are invested in this religion, since I don’t consider myself either an adherent or an apologist for that creed. My approach to Christianity is based on being an outsider and discussing its various tenets in the manner of comparative religious anthropology. I have no affinity for the individual named Jesus Christ nor any sympathy for any form of Christianity. I am a Witch and a Pagan, and that is who and what I am.

Some have written that they are attracted to the saints and employ them in their magical workings. I have no interest in any of the saints, apostles, martyrs, Mary mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalen, or any other aspect or facet of Christianity. I do very much like the artwork and music that Christianity has inspired over the centuries, and I also engage in the Christian holiday of Christmas to some extent; but I don’t attend any church services or any church based exhibitions or entertainments. I am, as I have said, outside and pretty much indifferent to Christianity. I honor those who are believers and adherents of that faith, but then I pretty much offer that kind of respect to anyone who is religious, regardless of their creed. While I may have appropriated the ritual structures of the old Catholic Mass and the Benediction rite, what I perform is completely rewritten and aligned to an altogether pagan pantheon. Even my occultism and my Qabalah are pagan based, and Christian or Jewish religious paradigms are foreign and unacceptable to me, or at least as far as I can determine. I was born in a Christian society and live in a Christian dominated culture, but I am not a practicing Christian nor a believer. When I have endeavored to perform a magical ritual that has Christian elements in it, I rewrite it so that my own creed is represented instead.

Do I believe that someone can practice magic and still be a good Christian? Absolutely, and this is really an absurd question, since nearly all of the renaissance grimoires are Christian based. These books obviously were written by Christians and practiced by Christians, so that seems like a logical assumption to me. It is true that certain Christian church institutions have promoted an anti-magic and anti-occult bias, but then again, it is questionable as to how strictly such prohibitions are enforced today. Certainly any Catholic who admitted in the confessional to practicing rituals to invoke angels and demons would likely face some serious penance and have to prove contrition to their respective parish priest. Some other sects are also steadfastly against any form of occultism, divination or magic, but I would assume that such adherents wouldn’t bother practicing these kinds of rites anyway. I also believe that you don’t have to be a member of a church to be a Christian, and that forms of esoteric Christianity would not only allow but might even encourage certain kinds of religious based occult workings and research.

However, if we consider the ministry of Jesus Christ and what he supposedly said in the gospels, all sins are forgiven except for one, which is the sin against the Holy Spirit. If working magic or occultism were considered a sin against the Holy Spirit, then no matter what any Christian did, being a magician and an occultist would be against the basic theological premise of Christianity. It would be, in a word, forbidden. Luckily, magic and occultism are not considered unforgivable sins and thereby, a sin against the Holy Spirit. This is probably why there were so many grimoires and other manuscripts and books printed on the subject of magic and occultism by Christians, because technically, they weren’t really considered intrinsically sinful. There might have been prohibitions against magic and occultism, but they could be forgiven, that is, if one sought repentance.

It was only during the reformation that individuals were persecuted for practicing magic, occultism or even science because of the religious insecurity vested in both the Protestant and the Catholic churches. After those times, such prohibitions were not taken very seriously by the mainstream churches, and even today, such activities will be problematic in only the more orthodox institutions of Christianity, such as in the various groups practicing Christian Fundamentalism. Even so, it might be nice idea to quickly examine what a sin against the Holy Spirit actually is, and how such a judgement could indict apostates such as myself, but only if Christianity is the One and True Religion of World. Since I don’t believe that to be true, let us continue with this analysis anyway.

There are a couple of important passages in the New Testament where Jesus talks about the forgiving of sins, and also about the kind of sin that can never be forgiven - a sin against the Holy Spirit. We can easily find these quotes in the Gospels and they discuss what is an unforgivable sin.  

We have the passage in Matthew, 12.30 - 32:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy. But the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

And also the passage in Luke, 12.8-10:

I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

These two passages are pretty much analogous, but they don’t really explain what sinning against the Holy Spirit actually consists of. For a more detailed definition, we have to delve into Catholic teachings, Protestant teachings, and even what Mormonism has to say about this topic.

In Roman Catholicism, a sin against the Holy Spirit is defined roughly as despair, presumption, envy, impenitence, and obstinacy. Basically, it is a condition where someone abrogates to themselves what is the provenance of God. To think that one's malice is unforgivable, or to think that one has achieved forgiveness while doing nothing, or to envy another’s spiritual good, and to just be persistently obstinate about one’s errors or sins is defined as sinning against the Holy Spirit.

In Protestant Christianity there is less of a possibility of forgiveness than in Catholicism, but still, sinning against the Holy Spirit is defined as being an apostate. Apostasy is defined as the situation where one who has been shown or schooled in the truth of Jesus Christ and rejects what has been seen and experienced. This is the same definition as found in Mormonism, too. Still, practicing magic and occultism doesn’t appear to be an unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit as long as one remains a Christian having the proper faith or practicing good works, depending on one’s specific sect.

However, being born and raised in a nominally Christian family and society and then rejecting that supposed universal truth to be a pagan or a witch would be considered an apostasy and a sin against the Holy Spirit. So, that means that Christians practicing magic and occultism are forgiven of their sins (if their particular sect has declared that such activity is sinful), but switching religions to practice magic and occultism can’t be forgiven. What that theological point declares is that I have supposedly sinned against the Holy Spirit because I have rejected Christianity, the religion of my birth. I was never confirmed into any church, but I was certainly baptized, so I am one of the many who are unforgiven, that is, if I lend any credence to Christian theology.

Anyway, that means is that I am a wicked and evil person and if you want to stay on the good side of the Holy Spirit you shouldn’t read my blog or have anything to do with me! I am beyond hope or help, at least according to basic Christian theology. That I also see the Holy Spirit as feminine makes me even worse of a sinner and an apostate, and that I call upon that Spirit in my rites is a profound blasphemy. However, I feel that I am a good pagan and a witch and I follow my own conscience as far as ethics are concerned. I am not a Christian, and I don’t feel any guilt or any remorse, nor do I even believe in the concept of “sin” as it is defined in the Abrahamic religious creeds. I am outside of that world, so I don’t need to repent or be forgiven! I have a strong alignment with the Goddesses and Gods of my particular creed, and that’s all that I need to do to live a truly pagan spiritual life. Since I believe strongly that there isn’t any universal religion or a single monotheistic deity, nor for that matter, a single spiritual truth that everyone is a part of whether they believe it or not, then I am on safe ground.

I also found it interesting that one of the greatest proponents of ceremonial magic, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, recanted all of his occult works and confessed his sins before his death. He died a good Catholic Christian, and his greatest achievement, the three Books of Occult Philosophy, were essentially disowned by him. Maybe that might be a revealing event as far as being a Christian and a magician is concerned, but somehow, I doubt it.

Frater Barrabbas

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Am I Becoming a BNM, BNW or BNP?

This month I got my statement from Llewellyn Worldwide about my book published by them this year entitled “Magical Qabalah For Beginners” and I was happy to note that in the last six months, from January through June 2013, my book sold 752 copies, both paper and electronic. That’s more books sold in six months than I have sold since my first book was published in May 2007. It may not seem like a lot of books, and certainly the royalties from those sales don’t amount to much money, but it is a good sign. Perhaps as one of my young associates has told me about this book that it will become more popular over time, becoming one of the “must read” books if one is at all interested in the Qabalah. It also means that I might have a decent chance of publishing future books either with Llewellyn or some other top occult publisher. 

I also haven’t given up on the idea of self-publishing some of the documents and rituals associated with the Order of the Gnostic Star, since that would at least help individuals to master the art of ritual magick outside of the Golden Dawn dominated structures and discipline. Wiccan and Pagans would find the methodologies that I have developed to practice magick far more sympathetic to their existing methods of working magick than adopting a Golden Dawn based one, or attempting to activate one of the hoary old Christian grimoires from the late renaissance. Of course, that's just my opinion.

As the author of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” I can say that the book is quite comprehensive. If you purchased this book and used it to adopt a system of Qabalistic magick for yourself, you wouldn’t really need to buy another book in order to fully activate that system. The book covers all of the basic areas of both theory and practice, and even delves into some rather complex and advanced topics. I don’t know of very many beginner books that examine the nature of the Qliphoth, discuss in detail the history and evolution of the Qabalah, or for that matter, give the student a series of rituals to perform all of the basic operations in that discipline. 

So, yes, this book is comprehensive and I would highly recommend it, particularly those who are religiously pagan and not very knowledgeable of the Qabalah. My approach was crafted for those who find the typical Abrahamic religious bias of occultism and magick to be troubling or just a complete altogether turn-off. Since Greek (and pagan) Neoplatonism and Neopythagoreanism are to be found in the modern Qabalah, along with a mixture of Jewish Gnosticism, it can be used by Wiccans and Pagans without causing them any amount of cultural dissonance or attempting to employ obviously clashing religious paradigms. I believe that the Qabalah is for everyone who is dedicated to the Western Mystery tradition, and that would include all of the newly developed religions of the Neopagan diaspora. So, if you haven’t already purchased a copy of this book, please pick up a copy. It is quite inexpensive, being around $10 to $12, depending on where you buy it. I believe that it is a worthy acquisition, and it is easy to read.

Anyway, now that I have happily learned about how well my new book is selling, I guess that brings up the question, am I becoming an evil BNP, BNM, BNW or a BNA? These are acronyms coined by Morgan Drake Eckstein in his blog that mean “Big Name Pagan”, “Big Name Magician”, “Big Name Witch” or “Big Name Author.” Of course, there are good members of this crowd, but also a lot of bad members. Considering my very modest success at book selling, or that I was turned down this year regarding four interesting possible lectures at Pantheacon, or that I am mostly pretty obscure according to the latest google search, I would have to say that I am still “small potatoes.” 

I don’t have the name recognition of a Donald Michael Kraig or a Lon Milo Duquette. In fact, I haven’t even figured out what I would like to teach classes about, or how to even locally market myself. A couple of years ago I had all of this completely worked out, but now those ideas don’t seem particularly relevant or interesting. I have been pretty busy with my regular day job, doing my usual reading and research, practicing occasional magical ordeals and battling with my health problems. There is nothing seriously physically wrong with me so far, but my sleeping disorder and the cataract surgery that I needed to have last November (to keep me from going blind in one eye) have really kicked my butt for most of the year. I hope to remedy all of these petty maladies and get back into working some more heavy magical workings, writing and researching, particularly now that winter is already returning to the northern tundra states. Maybe I will even figure out what I want to present to the public. Well, maybe.

It has been a year of changes, self-doubts and self-questioning for sure, and I don’t believe that I have reached an end to this internal inquiry. So, with all that weighing me down, I sincerely doubt that I will ever get a “big head” and start to believe my own PR. In fact, right now, I don’t even have any PR to promote to others let alone misguidedly believe in myself. This process of self-questioning, and the fact that I have too many close obnoxious friends who will happily tell me their scathing opinions about me if I start getting too big for my britches, will ensure that I remain fairly humble and knocked down-to-earth for years to come. 

There’s nothing like a big dose of reality to make anyone see their own flaws and follies if they are the least bit perceptive and open. The only way anyone could worship themselves and believe completely in their own PR is if they lived in a bubble that excluded any contrary opinions, perspectives, philosophies or comments. My friends and my lady have made certain that I am not allowed the indulgence of such a bubble, so I doubt that success or fame will change who I am, that is, if anything like that happens to me. I suspect that misbegotten fame in the pagan and occult communities has to be relentlessly sought at the expense of everything else, and I just don’t have the interest nor the inclination to be that way. I am more interested in openly sharing my ideas with other folks, even if they don’t believe in the same ideals or philosophies that I believe in.

As I manage to pull together future books and somehow, amidst all of the other things I am trying to do, get them into print, I think that I will be just too busy with life to bother with any kind of celebrity mind-set. So to answer the question, I doubt greatly if I will ever succumb to being an evil or even a good BNP, a BNW, a BNM or a BNA - it just isn’t in my blood to pursue this kind of facade. And that, I remark, is said through the disguise of my pen-name.

Frater Barrabbas    

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tarot Evolution - Marseilles Tarot Trumps

The classic Tarot that occultists know and use, and that the Golden Dawn lionized, has mythic elements in it that make it possible to compare it to other unrelated systems. If it were not for the mythic and archetypal flavor of the twenty-two Tarot trumps then occultists, like me, couldn’t compare it to the Qabalah or the literary Hero’s Journey. In fact, if we examine the Tarot at the time of its genesis in the very early renaissance period of Italy, there appears to be very little of the iconic Tarot trumps operating in those versions. A case in point is to examine the Visconti-Sfortza Tarot deck, which seems to lack some of the dark themes and striking mythic and archetypal elements that make the modern Tarot so compelling.

As I examined the earliest versions of the Tarot that reside in various collections but have been displayed in books and even card sets, it seems to me that the Tarot was made more for entertainment than for any kind of divination. Indeed, historical references to the Tarot being used as a system of divination doesn’t appear until the late 18th century, where it quickly became an important tool within French occult social circles. Later on it was promoted by occultists such as Eliphas Levi and Papus, and because of their writings it was realized and incorporated into the Golden Dawn corpus. Prior to that time, it would seem that the Tarot, along with the older Naibs (numbered cards) and Court cards of the 52/56 card deck, was reserved for gambling and gaming.

So, one might ask, when did the Tarot trumps acquire their more esoteric and iconic nature? Was it something that happened in the mid 19th century? Was the Tarot mutated to fit the ideals of French occultists or did it naturally and gradually occur with a Tarot version already well established? This is an important question, since if the emergence of the occult Tarot was fostered by a later version, then one could easily state that the Qabalistic associations and other comparisons were intended all along when the occult Tarot was formulated. It would be an unremarkable situation where the tail wagged the dog instead of the other way around. I felt compelled to know this answer, and even though I was well steeped in the history of the Tarot, I believed that I should probably carefully examine the historical record to verify that the occult Tarot was either a late invention or an amazing discovery. I later found out that the answer was far more complicated than I had at first thought.

What I found in my search is that the occult Tarot had actually existed for quite some time, and in fact, it became the model for the modern Tarot promoted and embellished by the Golden Dawn. That powerful prototype had all of the essential elements needed to formulate a Qabalistic comparison as well as an association with the literary Hero’s Cycle. The mystery Tarot deck, known as the Marseilles Tarot, was one that I had known about since I was a teenager, but I had avoided using or even scrutinizing it because it was crude, plain and inelegant when compared to the wide array of modern Tarot decks then available. I suspect that many have dismissed this Tarot deck because of its lack of aesthetics, but the Marseilles Tarot has a long history and in fact, it was the lone Tarot design that kept Europe interested in it long after the other Italian prototypes had passed into disuse. Allow me to explain.

The actual history of the Marseilles Tarot is, for the most part, unknown. Some have speculated that the game of tarocchi found its way into France from northern Italy after French troops (under Louis XI) had successfully invaded and taken over the duchy of Milan and the town of Piedmont in 1499. The prototype for the French version of the Tarot deck would have likely been found in the design and execution of the Visconti-Sforza deck (painted by Bonifacio Bembo), which had been commissioned some 40 years before the French ousted the Sforza family from it’s dukedom in Milan. There is a miniature version of the Visconti-Sforza deck (found today in the Bibliotheque Nationale) that was reputed to be in the possession of either Charles VI of France (1363 - 1422) or one of his heirs, and supposedly attributed to Gringonneur, an artist in that court, but it is actually Italian in origin and execution, and likely not older than the Visconti-Sforza prototype.

However, the Marseilles deck was quite different in tone and in the presentation of its themes. It was also more complete, since it included the more problematic trump cards of the Tower (House of God) and the Devil. While some might argue that the original Italian decks would have had these cards included, there is no actual proof that they actually existed; no decks have been found with these cards depicted. Also, other trumps reveal controversial elements, such as the Popess (legendary Pope Joan) and the unnumbered and unnamed Death or Grim Reaper card. Still, enough of the iconography existed in the original 15th century Italian version to build a more dark, dramatic and mythical collection of Tarot trumps.

Yet it wasn’t until much later in the 16th century that the first known version of the Marseilles Tarot was mass produced. It was printed in 1557 by Catelin Geofroy in Lyon, but it was likely that the model for that printing had already existed in France for some time, although no hand painted version of this deck has ever been found. We can only speculate that some brilliant individual, or perhaps a group of individuals, produced the design that appeared in the printed edition. I believe that the design of the Marseilles Tarot was the work of a single genius who incorporated features and ideas from many obscure and now unknown sources. Perhaps there were some influences from the middle east as well as heretical insights that helped to forge the design of these cards. Even so, the Tarot in France was nearly nonexistent until it was mass produced on card stock. The Marseilles Tarot deck has a very dim and mysterious origin that defies attempts to unlock its secrets even in the present time, but its impact has been universally noted by scholars and occultists.

During its long history, this version of the tarot wasn’t even called the Marseilles Tarot, and once it appeared in Lyon, it was produced elsewhere as well. (In the late 19th century, this Tarot deck was mass produced in Marseilles, which had become a center for such manufacturing, so it was then called the Marseilles Tarot.) Even so, this printing had the important effect of making the game of tarocchi popular again and spreading it throughout Europe. While historical documents indicated that card decks were used for gaming by both the aristocracy and the emerging middle class, there was no historical proof that anyone was using these decks of cards for any other purpose, such as divination or occult speculation. However, just because there isn’t any historical documentation doesn’t mean that playing cards weren’t used for divination until the late 18th century.

Since dice and coins, as well as other common things could and likely were used for divination purposes, it was also likely that playing cards were also so used, although in an informal manner. The mythic quality of the Tarot cards and the ability to produce a random drawing of a card would have been too compelling to pass up a chance to entertain or even inform the average intelligent person who owned or had access to a deck. What I believe is that people who had access to cards used them for a number of informal purposes, such as drawing lots, determining individual luck, and perhaps even testing one’s intuitive abilities. Even so, it wasn’t until nearly the end of the 18th century that the Tarot began to be formally perceived as something far beyond a game of chance, fortune or entertainment. That change of perspective had likely been building for many decades, and it might have even had an informal underground consisting of various individuals who saw in the mythic themes and curious icons of the Tarot an esoteric system. France was where the Marseilles Tarot had its origin, so it naturally became the place where the occult Tarot was formally introduced, scrutinized and became a part of modern European occultism.

The first person to write about using Tarot cards for divinatory purposes and to propose occult correspondences for them was the self-styled savant, Etteilla (Jean Baptiste Alliette, 1738 - 1791), who popularized Tarot divination and even produced his own variant of the Tarot. Etteilla was quickly followed by Court de Gebelin (Antoine Court, 1719 - 1784), whose massive book “Le Mond primitif” proposed that the Tarot was actually an elaborate occult system of teachings whose roots went all the way back to ancient Egypt. He was the one who gave the Tarot the sensational name of the “Book of Thoth.” He also developed an elaborate symbolic system for deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, although this theory was proved to be mere fantasy a few decades later when Champion successfully deciphered and demonstrated that the hieroglyphs were not symbolic amalgams but an actual writing system. Still, Court de Gebelin had a powerful influence on French occultism and the popular belief in the antiquity of the Tarot, which fueled the imaginations of later occultists, such as Eliphas Levi and Papus, both of whom believed that the Tarot was a strategic addition to Qabalistic lore.

The writings of both Eliphas Levi and Papus (Gerard Encausse) caught the imagination of S. L. MacGregor Mathers and other founding members of the Golden Dawn, and they also incorporated the Tarot into the Qabalah and made it an important part of their occult lore. Cartomancy as a form of divination as well as attributing the Tarot trumps to symbolic and archetypal images of the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life was brought into the mainstream of occult practices and beliefs by the Golden Dawn. Several members of that body went on to produce their own versions of the Tarot, which ultimately spawned the myriad of other Tarot variations and designs that exist today.

Perhaps the most compelling version of the Tarot that I encountered as a young witch, ritual magician and occultist was when the deck designed by Aleister Crowley and executed by Lady Frieda Harris was first mass-published by Llewellyn in the 1970's. I still have a copy of that original Tarot deck and it had a powerful influence on me. It was from Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck that I got my inspiration for linking the literary Hero’s Journey to the Tarot after reading and studying Joseph Campbell’s book “Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I noticed that the stages of the Hero’s Journey, including the Cosmogonic cycle, added up to the iconic number 22. This was the same number as the Trumps of the Tarot, and thinking that this couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, I sought to make a careful examination of each stage in the Hero’s cycle and try to find a Tarot trump card that matched it. This, I found, was an easy task, but it had more to do with the nature of the Thoth Tarot deck than with the Tarot as a whole.

In my current inventory of Tarot decks I have the Marseilles Tarot, the Renaissance Tarot (which compares favorably to the early Italian decks), the Waite-Rider-Coleman Smith Tarot, and the Thoth Tarot, plus many others. I decided to test my hypothesis about the mythic and iconic nature of the Tarot, from the Renaissance to the modern era, and witness the change and transformation that the Tarot had undergone. I split out the trumps from each deck and sorted them into the order associated with the Hero’s journey. I then laid down each card in that pattern from each of these decks, with the cards from different decks arrayed below each other so I could look down at a specific stage and see all of the different cards and how they matched up to that stage in the Hero’s journey. It was an interesting moment when all of these decks were so arrayed, and I could easily see the changes that had occurred over time. What was most striking to me was that there was an easily identifiable continuity between the Marseilles deck and the more modern decks. However, the modern decks seemed to incorporate more mythic and occult elements, and the Thoth tarot deck was the most mythic and iconic of them all. (So there was, indeed, a process of change that had occurred, but it wasn’t a complete re-invention.)

For my test I particularly focused on two points in the Hero’s Journey, which were the two thresholds of the underworld. There was the entrance and the exit, and I also decided to include the hero’s encounter with the guardian of the threshold. I felt that these important iconic stages should be represented by the symbology of the associated trump cards. In the beginning of his journey, the hero encounters the guardian of the threshold and must undergo the first of many ordeals in order to proceed beyond the warded gateway into the underworld. In some cases the guardian is shown to be frightening and awe inspiring, but within an occult attribution, that terrible guardian becomes transformed into something more of a stern teacher and judge. The tarot trump that I associated with this stage is the Hermit. Once past the guardian, the hero enters into the underworld, symbolized by the belly of whale, the cave of mysteries, or other such places. I chose the trump the Tower for this stage, and it is also curiously known as the House of God. The exit gateway, which could be considered the same doorway as the entrance but with a different perspective, is known in the Hero’s Journey as the Rescue from Without, representing the fact that to leave the underworld with the prize of the boon (as the sacred knowledge) required an extraordinary effort, often aided by outside influences. I attributed the trump of the Moon to this stage.

So, we have the Hermit and the Tower on one end of the cycle of the hero, and the Moon on the other. Do the characteristics of these three trumps align with the associated stages of the Hero’s Journey? If we confine our examination to just the Renaissance Tarot, the answer would probably be in the negative. The Moon has romantic associations and the Tower is something more like the moral implications of the biblical Tower of Babel. The Hermit is just a representation of the natural Christian order to be found outside of the Church. However, broadening my examination by including the Marseilles deck and then extending that to the Waite and Crowley decks, I could see that the mythic qualities of the Hero’s Journey appeared to focus into brilliant clarity. It is perhaps less clear with the Marseilles deck, but even so, the Moon trump has the frightening and malefic content associated with the underworld gateway and the progress that the hero must make to escape it. The Hermit is shrouded in darkness and holds aloft a lantern, and the Tower is destroyed by thunderbolts, flinging its inhabitants from off its ramparts. When we look at Crowley’s depictions of these trumps, it becomes even more clear that there is a match between these points in the Hero’s Journey and the archetypes of the associated tarot trump cards.

It’s pretty obvious to me that the Marseilles Tarot was the source and the model for the modern decks, but the Thoth Tarot deck had pushed the envelope and entered into a world fully inhabited by myth and allegory. It would seem that Aleister Crowley had a deep understanding of world mythology and an intuitive sense of the mythic progression of the iconic and heroic individual. What he imbedded into his tarot design was later assembled and written into Joseph Campbell’s master work, “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and it seems clear to me that they both drew from the same sources but used that knowledge for altogether different reasons. Crowley produced his greatest work, the book and the tarot deck that he named the “Book of Thoth,” a few years before his death. In his book he factually states that the Tarot trumps, although attributed by the Qabalah, astrology and to a lesser extent, alchemy, also had numerous layers of myths and legends pervading them.

Such truth accordingly appears to the vulgar as fable, parable, legend, even creed. In the case of this comprehensive symbol of The Fool, there are, within actual knowledge, several quite distinct traditions, very clear; and historically, very important. These must be considered separately in order to understand the single doctrine from which all sprang.” - Aleister Crowley, "Book of Thoth", p. 56  

Compare Crowley’s statement to what Joseph Campbell wrote a few years later:

Throughout the inhabited world in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.” Joseph Campbell, "Hero with a Thousand Faces", p.8

While they are talking about the same thing from two different perspectives, where Crowley devalues myth as a vulgarized greater occult truth and Campbell sees the continuity of myth as an indicator of its universal truth, both sought to engage world mythology to complete the understanding of their respective topics. Yet it would seem that the underlying doctrine that Crowley discusses is actually a sign-post or indicator of something deeper and more profoundly universal. The underlying great truth is actually the universality of myth and its power within the mind of humanity; from the very dawn of consciousness to our modern times. So it would seem that as the Tarot trumps are invested with more mythological images and themes, the greater their overall power will be on the human mind.

And what is the overall pattern that these mythological images and themes appear to express within the Tarot? It is the pattern of the lesser and greater cycles of consciousness. The lesser cycle is the transformation of the individual human into that of a god or hero, and the greater cycle is the creation and destruction of the domain or world of consciousness itself. These cycles have their origin in the circadian rhythm of wakefulness and sleeping/dreaming that have been the foundation of life on this planet, along with its diurnal cycle of light and darkness, day and night, the phases of the moon and the seasons of the sun. This cycle has been imprinted into our genetic structure since the beginning of complex life on this planet, and it also acts as the basic pattern of consciousness, myth and meaning for all human life. Is it then such a wonder if the basic overall pattern of the archetypal Tarot trumps also assumes this lesser and greater cycle?

These two cycles are not actually to be found in the ascending and descending pathways of the Twenty-two Paths of the Tree of Life, since the pathways represent a kind of one-way deliberative path, either up or down. The Hero’s Cycle and the Cosmogonic Cycle represent processes that return onto themselves; where the ending blends into the beginning, being therefore a circular cycle, or even a spiral. Traveling this cycle to its end is never the penultimate achievement, it is merely the entrance into yet another state or beginning, whether higher or lower is dependent on the nature of regression or progression. Even the creation and destruction of the universal world of consciousness is nothing more than part of a never ending cycle of creation, destruction, and creation again.

The ancients understood this type of cyclic repetition and saw it everywhere, despite the fact that modern history and science perceives an opposite linear progression, which oddly can also be found in the Qabalistic pathways. Both perspectives represent the greater truth; but regarding the cycles of growth, ascendency, decline and death, or sleep and wakefulness, or the passage of the lunar and solar cycles, there is a poignant truth to the archetypal cycle of the hero. That truth is in the nature of individual transformation and the transformation of the world of consciousness. It is the veritable iconic cycle of initiation, and it represents the archetypal patterns whereby consciousness is expanded and individuals realize their own godhead.

Therefore, locked within the tarot trumps are the archetypes and symbology of the cycle of initiation. To unlock these symbolic themes, one must first array the trumps in the proper order contained within the Hero’s Journey (17 stages) and the Cosmogonic cycle (5 stages). To employ these symbolic themes, one must write them into a powerful ritual of initiation that would also include the vision of the greater cycle of conscious evolution. A ritual magician who has such a ritualized tool in his or her possession is the true master of ascension and archetypal progression. This tool can be utilized with all twenty-two stages or by just using the descending or Western gateway and ascending or Eastern gateway ritual structures. Even so, it adds a powerful environment to any kind of working, particularly one where the magician seeks to enter into the underworld of the domain of the unconscious and therein gain access to the spirits that haunt that place.

To merge the mythic archetypes of the Hero’s Journey with the trumps of the Tarot gives the practicing ritual magician an indispensable tool. Whether or not there is any historical or traditional precedence for this joining does not in any way either deflect or negate the power of this association. In the same manner that the Tarot trumps were attributed to the Twenty-two Paths of the Tree of Life in the 19th century without any prior precedence or traditional doctrine, I have made the correspondence of the Tarot trumps to the Hero’s Journey. I have found that association to be so useful and meaningful that I could easily imagine that it was a natural fit, if I didn’t know as much as I do about the history of the Tarot.

What this means is that there is more to the traditions of occultism and ritual magick than merely accepting and using what is already available, whether by published material or initiatory doctrine. I believe that it is just as important, perhaps even more important, to experiment and create new associations and systems through insights and inspiration as it is to preserve and protect existing occult traditions. Nothing has remained the same throughout the long centuries, so there is no precedent against creating new ways and new traditions. All new ideas are subject to the opinions and judgment of one’s peers, and in this way are traditions expanded and evolved, or bad ideas summarily rejected.

Frater Barrabbas     

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Tale of Two Futures

We, the people of this planet Earth, have come to a nexus point between two futures, and depending on how we deal with the current issues and crises that face us, we will either give to our children’s children a world of catastrophic collapse or a brave new world beyond anyone’s imaginings today. There is no middle ground in these two options, and I will try explain why I think that this is the troubling truth. Pessimists and smart gambling types would bet that we will collectively fail, since the odds of a para-utopia occurring in the future are not very good. Even so, it is a race between the exponential forces of technological development versus the age old dilemmas of destruction, the veritable Four Horses of the Apocalypse. Although in a less mythical and more scientific perspective, these five horses would be succinctly labeled as the principle causes for the collapse of civilizations. It has happened before and it could very likely happen again. The outcome of this titanic struggle is in our collective hands today, to shape a future full of brilliant promise or to forsake our progeny and banish them to a world bereft of civilization altogether.

How I came to believe in such a stark differential between possible futures is that I happened to stumble onto a book recently written by an archaeologist named Ian Morris, and that book is entitled “Why the West Rules - For Now.” The subtitle, though, really caught my attention and drew me to purchase it, and I spent a couple of weeks reading it in the month of August. The subtitle is “The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future.” You have to admit that such a subtitle is quite compelling, if indeed the book delivers what it promises to the erstwhile reader. And, indeed, it does satisfy and amaze the reader, even those who are critical academics and reviewers. They had a fair amount of praise for this bold and visionary work, and there were very few detractors.

My current opinion about the stark differences between two futures has been stated quite clearly and adroitly by Professor Morris in his book, so I will direct you to the picture and the paragraph of text at the top of this article. It is, by the way, a quotation from his book. I happened to see that image posted on someone’s Face Book page, and I must declare that it really lured me in to check out that book. I thought that it might answer some questions that I have been puzzling over, and indeed it did and more. Therefore, I highly recommend this book, and you can find it here on Amazon dot com (or your local book store).

You see, I have been befuddled the last couple of years by all of the doomsayers who have been predicting the immanent fall of our civilization, such as the writings of John Michael Greer (see The Archdruid Report). I don’t take what he has written at all lightly, and neither should any of my readers. His hypothesis, drawn from the opinions of a body of scholars and scientists, that we had achieved peak oil production in 2005 is a fact, and since that time there will be less and less oil being extracted from the earth. As the reserves of the more easily extracted oil dwindle, it will make the search and the associated expense for extracting fossil fuels that much more desperate and dear. In time all reserves will eventually fail. Thus, we will run out of oil sooner rather than later. 

Sustainable methods of energy collection (as they are now known) can never fill the void of the glut of oil, gas and coal that has fueled our industrial revolution, and at the end of that epoch, we will certainly experience some kind of profound change. Mr. Greer is discounting that there will be any kind of technological breakthrough that might save our world, so according to him and others of his persuasion, we are in fact already witnessing a long and slow collapse of our current civilization, based as it is on fossil fuels. That is a fact, unless something else happens, maybe even something wonderful, magical, or even more terrifying than a collapse. Alternatives to Mr. Greer’s vision of the collapse of our civilization are actually not just wishful thinking as he has maintained.

I believe that it is disproportionately blind to totally discount technology when prognosticating about the future. Even more troubling is the fact that most soothsayers of the future, both positive and negative, have been proven in error to a lesser or greater degree. The problem with all of this projecting into the future is that there are too many variables to account for, and even something inconsequential today could have a profound effect tomorrow. Additionally, if we were in some kind of slow overall decline of civilization wouldn’t our vaunted scientific and technological progress also be slowing down? That is the question that I have been thinking about, since it seems just too simple and easy to declare that our current civilization, like all previous ones, will fall at some point. That we have passed the apogee of our ascent back in the 20th century and are now in decline should be apparent, but it’s just not that simple.

If anything, what seems to be occurring in our world today is that technological change and new discoveries are occurring at an even faster pace then ever before. It isn’t hard to speculate that if that pace continues unaltered or unaffected that it will open new horizons undreamed of by modern man, that is, if we don’t implode or succumb to the diseases that have brought down previous civilizations. We, as a world civilization, are unique because modern technology has completely saturated nearly every corner of our world. Therefore, a collapse would have to be a world transforming catastrophe in order to reduce the world back to a pre-industrial stage.

So, this is what has bothered me about the Peak Oil doomsayers, and finally, I have found a scholar and an author who has given me what I believe is the complete and balanced answer. As a civilization, we are in deep trouble facing nearly insurmountable crises, but we are also at the threshold of something absolutely incredible. There are two possible future paths, and if we can collectively respond to the challenges of the near term, then the greater challenges can be met with a technology that would seem to be like magic to us today. We are only talking about the next 50 years as this potential becomes revealed, or not. Thinking about the possibilities really takes my breath away for a moment, knowing that we are all living in the most interesting times for the entire history of humankind. I may live to see only the barest dawn of this brave new world, but the next generation (the aptly named “millennials”) will plot the course that will lead humanity to either perdition or revelation. The only question is whether or not we will have enough fossil fuels to get us to the next stage. That is the big question, that and whether we will collectively commit suicide due to the inherent greed and stupidity that is humanity’s lot.

This brings me to Ian Morris’ book “Why the West Rules - For Now.” In his book, Professor Morris lays down his basic premise of how to quantitatively measure levels of development at various intervals, from just before the last ice age to the present time, a period of 14,000 years. He has taken four categories and has carefully graded them for this very long interval. Early estimates are admittedly pretty rough (he has compared them to “chainsaw” sculptures) compared to later periods where more information is available. His four categories are energy capture and consumption, organizational capacity (literally the population of the largest cities), the capacity to make war and information technology. In addition, he has effectively shown that through most of this long interval, the West was favored over the East merely due to geography, the biology of plants and animals, and to a lesser extent, sociology. His basic idea is that all of the data that he has collected unequivocally shows that large groups of human beings are pretty much the same everywhere. (There is no basis for genetic or cultural superiority for either the dominance of the West or the East.) He also believes that the fundamental human nature is greedy, lazy and fearful. That people are just looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things, even though they rarely know the impact of what it is that they are doing.

Agricultural based civilizations are limited in how far they can advance within the four areas of developmental measurement mainly because of the physical limitations of their ability to collect and consume energy. If the collective amount of energy is limited to fire, wind, manpower, and animal power, then there is a hard ceiling to the level of development that can be achieved. The early agricultural civilizations had a ceiling of around 24 points, and this was only broken when regional areas developed centralized city-states that could acquire and organize the land, animals and people of ever larger geographic areas. Then a new ceiling for such empire development was pushed to around 43 points, which the Roman empire and the Song Dynasty (in China) were unable to break.

Held to a stasis of development, these empires over time underwent a certain degree of collapse fostered by the age old calamity that kills off all empires - climate change, disease and mass migrations, to name three of them. Yet the collapse in Mediterranean Europe was far more severe and lasted far longer than the collapse in China. This is also the period when the East began to outstrip the West in development, and it maintained this dominance for over a thousand years. The West took many centuries to recover from the collapse of the Roman Empire, and even then the East reigned supreme until the advent of the industrial revolution. What spurred China on past the 43 point ceiling during this period was the creation of a great canal that connected the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, allowing for an even more direct connection uniting the southern and northern kingdoms. This advancement was absent in the West until later in the Renaissance, when sail-powered ships began to forge the great western trade routes that opened up the Americas to conquest. Marginal states that had previously existed near the Atlantic ocean instead of the Mediterranean were favored by this monumental event.

Even so, empires have ascended into prominence and then experienced a collapse. What usually caused these empires to fail was a combination of catastrophic events, and these Morris called the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, or actually, five. These five horsemen were the collective effects of climate change, famine, disease, mass migration, and the resultant collapse of state government. Obviously, an empire or civilization that is lower on the development scale tends to be less resilient than one that is higher, but that is not always the case. It was a combination of all five that felled the Roman empire, but the Song dynasty was able to recover faster because there wasn’t as much chaos associated with mass migration. 

The West and East became evenly matched just before the industrial revolution occurred, and there was only a slightly better chance that the West would outstrip the East if things continued based on an agricultural type of technology. Yet once the industrial revolution occurred in the West, and the whole basis of energy shifted dramatically to fossil fuels, beginning with wood and steam power, then proceeding to coal and then petroleum based fuels, the pace of change made a complete mockery of everything that had preceded it for five millennia. Starting in the 100 - 200 points area of development just before the industrial revolution, the Western level of development in just 250 years achieved the daunting and mind blowing level of 1,000 points by the year 2000 CE.

Professor Morris has plotted this curve of development, beginning in 12,000 BCE to the year 2000 CE, and that diagram shows the astonishing level of development that occurred, particularly starting in the 19th century. It is, in fact, an exponential curve and the pace of development since 2000 CE has not in any way slowed down or diminished. It has, in fact, steadily and exponentially increased and continues to do so today. If that exponential curve continues as it has since the 1800's, then according to Morris’s calculations, our level of development by 2103 will achieve a score of 5,000 points. So we will have progressed 4,000 points in just a mere 103 years. In terms of energy capture and consumption, Morris’ calculations show that each member of the burgeoning human race will be consuming something in the area of 1.3 million kilocalories per day! The largest cities could have an excess of 140 million inhabitants each.

The difference between a civilization at the level of development of 100 points and one operating at 1,000 points is quite dramatic, but think how dramatic the differences would be between our civilization now and one operating at 5,000 points! It is staggering and almost unbelievable, but not impossible. Morris has pointed out that there isn’t enough oil, gas, coal and uranium in the whole world to supply the power consumption that such a colossus of a civilization would require. However, there might very well be other sources of power that we either don’t know about yet or have only begun to investigate now. Certainly, if we learned to harness the full power of the Sun’s energy cascading and buffeting our planet every day or the radioactive furnace of the Earth’s core, there might be more than enough energy to fuel a juggernaut civilization registering at 5,000 points. There are many possibilities to consider, and the only factor is that we are seeing a limitation of time to fully exploit them. However, the amazing thing to consider is that the amount of time it takes from scientific discovery to engineering marvel has become a much shorter period as well, and it is likely that it will take even less time in the future.

Can this amazing revelation actually be our future? Will we change the complete nature of what it is to be human exiting in a technological world in a scant 100 years? Even if the pace slackens somewhat, the momentum may very well carry us to that brave new world even if things are slowing down, or for that matter, breaking down. We may find ourselves at the very edge of collapse when just enough technological advances have occurred simultaneously to rapidly change the entire world equation and transform the crises that we were facing into minor adjustments. 

Technological advances create nearly as many problems as they fix, but progress is something tangible that can be measured in a scientific manner. By taking the long view, as Morris has done, it allows us to view history in a more powerful manner, realizing that the exponential curve of development kicked in many decades ago, and we are now moving at an irrepressible speed. Is it a fast streak to our destiny or to a catastrophic failure? Few can really predict the future accurately by examining the past, because we are already well within completely undiscovered country. An exponential ascending curve of growth can be followed by an exponential curve of decay, but such a downward curve in our present world situation would likely cause a cataclysm and wipe out most of humanity on the entire planet. This, too, would happen in a short span of time. If we fall, it won’t be a slow decline, it will be more like a world apocalypse.

Morris talks about a science fiction story that he read as a kid written by Isaac Azimov. The story is called “Nightfall,” which is about a planet that circles four stars and where true darkness is only experienced once every 5,000 years. The human inhabitants of that planet have gathered enough archaeological evidence to realize that every time it becomes true night on that planet, the world civilizations, such as they are, completely collapse in that short stygian interval. Morris likens our present predicament as to having to deal with all of the issues that might produce a planet wide Nightfall type of catastrophe. He also talks about Ray Kurzweil’s theory of the Singularity, which is an event where progress becomes truly exponential. He quotes Kurzweil as saying that a Singularity is “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep.. that technology appears to be expanding at infinite speed.” That would be a good representation of what Morris has shown as one of our possible futures if development continues at the present pace.

If you consider the implications that there are a large number of scientific research efforts going on today in areas that are just in their infancy, and that any of them or all of them could radically change the world that we live in, then this represents a counter balance to the doomsayers. The scientific areas of quantum computing and artificial intelligence, computer to human interfaces, nano-technology, robotics, genetic manipulation, fusion energy, and the constant breakthroughs in the areas of sustainable energy capture and use, and many others that I have absolutely no clue are taking place, could reasonably change the world as we know it, and do so rapidly and thoroughly. I won’t even mention that the more critical scientific examination of the world’s problems are vastly underfunded and under-staffed because human governments have not yet seen their critical importance. A Manhattan Project style of a government funded and organized project formed to solve the fusion energy dilemma or any other major issue would produce results even more quickly than what is now occurring. I believe that we shouldn’t write off either technology or human ingenuity when attempting to project the future. There are many tricks up humanity’s sleeve, and the final card in this game hasn’t even yet been dealt, let alone played.  

As an occultist, I have always been interested in looking into the far future to try to see what might be the fate of the human race long after I am dead. In my early years I used a number of techniques to assist me in seeing far into the future, as if to test my psychic abilities to the maximum degree. What I saw was both a utopia and a dystopia, and that double vision was some cause of concern. Later on I rationalized it as the fear of what the future might hold, and that such extremes were less likely to actually occur. Now, in the beginning of my autumn years, I believe that what I saw so many years ago during my youth was the true fork in the road for humanity’s future. There are in reality two potential futures, but only one will be the final outcome. The odds are probably against a positive outcome, and it is more likely that the future world will be a quixotic place where the few scant surviving members of the human race will live in a primitive paleolithic world surrounded by the massive ruins of a profligate advanced civilization whose mountainous debris will hide constant dangers, horrors and death for those brave (or stupid) enough to scavenge through them. I, for one, don’t subscribe to this scenario, and I have a better science fiction story to propose as a possible outcome for our future, and that would be Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.”

You see, I am afflicted with a boundless optimism, and I believe, perhaps foolishly, that humanity will manage to reach the Singularity of the exponential developmental curve at the last hour possible. Humanity will wait until dire necessity forces them to make radical changes and adjustments, and then they will do so with an alarming speed and purpose. The many promising arenas of scientific and technological discovery will all collectively deliver the final push that humanity needs to achieve a miraculous and profound transformation of itself, its work and the planet at large. Humanity itself will be redefined and reformulated in a fashion that we couldn’t even begin to understand. We might even, at that moment, receive ambassadorial visitors from the far flung stars and galaxies who might assist us in making this final change. Certainly, when we become ourselves a star-faring people, we will find those who also made it to the Singularity.

History as we know and understand it at that moment will end, and technology will appear to be more like invisible magic rather than encased in material gadgetry. When I saw my vision of the utopian future so many years ago, what I saw was that the human race would split into two groups: those who would leave the Earth and be a star-faring populace and those few who would stay behind and steward the planet. The planetary stewards would labor over the centuries to remove all traces of the scars of the ascent of the human race and repopulate the planet with the countless organisms and creatures that were made extinct by human neglect and waste. In that time, there would be only a few small cities on the planet, and the rest of the world would be restored back to its original state, some million years before humanity even existed. Once their work was done, they would await the return of the star-faring race to take them to their final destiny.

And what, do you ask, would be that final destiny? Humanity would become something else entirely, and not at all human as we would define it, since there would be a complete fusion between human, machine, artificial intelligence, all supported by massive biological and genetic alterations that would astonish and maybe even repel us today. Humanity would become one massive sentient being of energy, completely unified in its multiplicity, since the container of consciousness itself would have become a repository for all of the diversity of the human spirit.  Such a brave new world it would be, indeed, perhaps as frightening to us today as it is astonishing. Even so, I end this article with a prayer for the future. May our future progeny inherit both the planet restored and the vast and distant stars and galaxies, and all of this in the most constructive and peaceful manner possible. May we also end once and for all the reign of the five horses of the apocalypse and discover our transcendent future.

Frater Barrabbas