Saturday, September 3, 2016

Tinfoil Hats and the Folly of Magicians

One of the more common questions that practicing magicians usually have to field from those who are either interested or just curious is whether or not magic is harmful to an individual. Can magic drive a person insane? Can it be the very cause of self-destruction and even death? Can magic kill a person?

Such a series of questions open up the door to a deep inquiry about individual and collective psychology. I don’t really feel particularly qualified to have an expert opinion on this subject, or at least one that is medically and scientifically based. Psychology is the key to all of these questions because of the fact that magic is something that is perceived and experienced. It doesn’t actually possess any kind of material qualities that could cause it to be labeled dangerous, toxic or otherwise harmful to an individual or a group.

We know that ideas can cause all sorts of harm in our society; they can cause harm to the individuals who espouse them or to the victims of those who seek to act on them. It could be said that ideas can be dangerous or that they could even kill people. Yet in this case an idea is functioning as an agent to spur action on the part of the people who believe it. An idea merely by itself can neither kill or harm someone. It can negatively impact their mind if it is taken in a certain way. So, psychology is the background where someone or a group could be harmed by magic, either by practicing it or by being the target of someone else’s expertly directed ill-will.

However, from an experiential standpoint, I think that I can present a number of practical considerations about magic that should be able to answer these questions about whether it is harmful to the practitioner and the public at large.

Problems and Practical Approaches to Magical Experiences

First of all, anyone who seeks to work magic brings into that study and practice all of their psychological virtues and flaws. If the statement that one out of five individuals suffers from some form of mental illness in our country is true then it would also be more or less true about occultists and magical practitioners. If a person is suffering from mental illness, whether they know it or not, then the magic that they perform will be tainted and qualified by the effects of that illness.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, magic is a very subjective experiential practice. Magicians experience a lot of internalized psychological phenomena that also powerfully impacts their emotions, beliefs, ideals and motivations. It can make a person feel like they have an exclusive and elevated perspective on nearly everything. Profound experiences seem to expand one’s self definition and also one’s self valuation. Magic is prone to making the practitioner experience what could be called ego-tripping. A magician’s sense of self-importance can become expanded to the point of ridiculousness. This is because everything that a magician experiences must be carefully considered and interpreted in order for it to be useful. 

Some magical experiences, however powerful and grandiose they might be, can be nothing more than a kind of meaningless romp that actually has little value or import. This can happen to even the most sober practitioner, since “magical power” affects the emotions and this can lead to a case of motivational reasoning short circuiting critical thinking. Motivational thinking can cause anyone to build a “house of cards” and think that it is an enduring edifice, when actually, it is an illusion, or worse, a delusion.

Another important consideration is that the practice of magic doesn’t reveal truths unless one is already disposed toward seeing them. Magical power is like a kind of drug that inflates the ego and triggers an intense emotional response. While in the “state” of working magic, a person needs to understand that the experience itself has no real meaning or value outside of the context of that working until after the magical operation is completed, and one has emotionally and psychically decompressed. This is particularly true when using the energy model of magic. 

Using the spirit model can produce similar results, since the revelations and manifestation of a target spirit can have the same kind of ecstatic emotional response as working with magical energy. However, the trigger for all forms of magic is some kind of self-generated ecstasy, where one surrenders to the “power” of the moment and where the normal determinants of consciousness are greatly augmented. This is why I like working magic, because it makes me feel very high and it is like an orgasmic release. I do have to return to earth and then make sense of it all, but the exalted emotions are quite exquisite.

Perhaps the most important mechanism that every magician must learn to master early in their career is to ground themselves after a working. Retaining the “high” of magic, while it might serve some kind of perverse pleasure or even an imagined desire to keep the vision intact, it can actually cause a lot of problems for the magician. Magical workings are a cyclic process, especially a magical working that produces an internal and transformative change, which I call an ordeal. The magical working cycle has a beginning (preparations), commencement (circle casting, focusing, declaration of intent), incremental processes (magical ritual work, invocations, exhortations), climax (magical results directly experienced and projected), conclusion (closing, sealing, banishing) and then grounding.

A grounding should function as a form of objectification, where the very subjective experiences of magic are brought back to earth and into the context of the mundane world. This cycle is integral to many kinds of psychological processes, and it’s archetypal representation is the Hero’s Journey, or the cycle of initiation itself. Therefore, to omit the act of grounding is to also omit the power of objectification, which is very problematical. I have talked previously about grounding, in both articles and in my books. I believe that it is critically important.

Finally, after the magical working is complete and the magician has fully decompressed and had time to ponder and meditate on his or her experiences, only then does the real of work of magic begin. The magician must carefully and critically examine the results of the working and make some judgements about it. Writing up all of one’s magical experiences in a journal is important, but it is not absolutely necessary. The real work is to derive meaning and significance out the experience.

Magical experiences that the magician has undergone are distilled, examined with a critical mind and even researched if necessary. In order to do this, the magician needs to be dispassionate, objective, and most importantly, skeptical. He or she should examine the magical working and all of its associated experiences as if it were something experienced by someone else. This kind of dispassionate thinking will greatly help the magician to understand what happened during the working, and more importantly, what did it signify. It might even be important to perform the same rite at a future date and measure that experience against what was originally experienced.

Having recourse to a peer group or even performing an intense working with other magicians can help one more objectively judge a magical working. If you think that your magical working revealed that you are the true Messiah, but your friends strongly disagree, then you might be well served by taking their advice and re-examining what you experienced.

Not all ritual workings are either successful or meaningful when examined from an objective viewpoint. If you are working magic to just make something happen and it turns out the way you wanted it to, then that is all that one can say about it. It doesn’t mean that you are a god or that you are better than everyone else because your magical operation was successful! However, much of the magic that I have worked did a lot more than just make something happen, and I had to distill and objectify it in order to give it meaning and significance.

I have found that over time even some of my more vaunted magical workings were actually communicating something to me that I either couldn’t see or understand at the time; but reviewing them today makes that missing insight quite clear. Sometimes we are too close to our own psychic processes and that makes it difficult to properly objectify them. Thus, time and distance helps to confer a greater wisdom and understanding to one’s own magical and spiritual processes. It also helps to have someone else not so involved with your process to look over your notes and discuss with you the nature and meaning of your magical workings. Without this very important element of objectivity a magician can devolve into illusion and delusion.

Dealing with Delusions

Even taking all of these factors into consideration and effectively implementing them will not necessarily keep a magician from engaging in delusions. If a magician suffers from any form of mental illness then he or she will be adversely affected by it. Certainly, someone who suffers from mental illness will find it more difficult to objectify his or her magical experiences. He might make excuses to himself and shy away from revealing to his peers what he is experiencing or undergoing. Without the ability to distill and objectify a magical experience, a magician becomes subject to illusions and delusions.

Magic can be a great enabler of self delusion if it is not properly subjected to the rational and objective mind. Over time, these individual delusions can coalesce into full-blown paranoid delusions that erase the border between what is real and what is imaginary. While it is important to have a very vivid and powerful imagination in order to be proficient at working magic, it is also important to live a balanced life and to know the difference between reality and fantasy. When the borderline between these worlds becomes confused or destroyed then that is when magic starts to have a regressive affect on the magician’s mind. Over time this could, if other factors are active, cause a complete mental breakdown - a descent from borderline disorders to complete psychosis.

Therefore, magic, if practiced by someone who is mentally ill can lead to psychosis and the destruction of the self. It can also impact outsiders who are magical targets in the same manner by attacking their weaknesses and bringing out a nascent mental illness. However, magic is not dangerous if the person who encounters or engages with it isn’t also suffering from a borderline disposition or a psychotic malady.

What this means is that you have to be already suffering from mental illness in order for magic to be considered dangerous. A person who is unable to maintain a sharp distinction between reality and fantasy shouldn’t engage in magical workings. He or she should also avoid contact with magic and magical practitioners and when faced with such encounters, to seek out both spiritual help from a qualified source and special psychological counseling. Only those who are strong enough to maintain this important boundary between reality and fantasy should seek to engage with the magical arts. Because magic in particular plays with the “As If” components of the mind, it is important for one to be flexible and well grounded in order to be able to function in both the mundane and magical worlds.

Where the “tin hat” meme comes into play as a part in the practice of magic is when a body of ungrounded and raw magical experiences impacts one’s sense of self to such a degree that paranoid delusions invade one’s conscious mind. Emotional based motivational reasoning can completely replace one’s ability to be objective and grounded in reality. It can shunt one’s ability to reason and critically think, thereby making the most outlandish presumptions into emotionally determined facts.

This happens quite often in the areas of religion and politics to supposedly normal people, so imagine what a rarefied magical atmosphere would do to someone who is not equipped to handle it. Since magical power inflates people’s sense of self importance and significance, it can, if not counteracted with a degree of objectivity, make people feel like they are the very center of their psychic universe. It can make magicians feel as if they are almighty God, or it can make them feel that their exalted specialness has become the target of a maligned and evil world conspiracy. Under such rare but critical situations, magicians could lose all ability to recognize the real world and their humble place within it.

From a rational perspective we are never separated or isolated from the world at large. We are, in fact, a small part of that world. If we are not acting as a known public persona acting on the world stage then we are confined to our small, microcosmic part of that world. However exalted or great we might feel when we are at the climax of a magical working, we are just simply “who we are” when we come back to earth. It reminds me of the cartoon character Popeye, who said “I am what I am, and that’s ALL that I am!” It is another way of saying, “We are who we are, but we are also limited to that moment and persona in time and space.”

Magic also has boundaries and built-in limitations, although they are often more expansive than the mundane world would admit. If we cannot understand nor act in accordance with such limitations and boundaries then we have begun the journey to self-delusion. Things can change, undoubtably, and such a journey can be thwarted by practical insights or by the intervention of other people. However, illusion and delusion are “opiatic” mechanisms in magic that help to keep the magical “high” somewhat intact, but they also cause a loss of objectivity and produces an effect that causes the self to regress.

Regression vs. Progression

How can we judge regression? How can we judge positive personal evolution? How do we know when a magical practice is causing us or someone we know to be regressive? How can we tell if our magical practice is actually causing us to be progressive? Curiously, we can use a simple test to determine which side we fall on. 

Just ask yourself these questions or consider them for someone you know. Is the magic being worked causing me to become more clear, grounded, mature, centered and rational? Do I seem more compassionate, curious about others and have a sense of humor about myself? Am I open minded, emotionally connected and empathetic with people? Am I often composed, relaxed and seemingly imperturbable? These traits are the effects, in my opinion, of someone who is properly practicing the art of magic, and who is progressing.

If the magic being practiced causes one to behave in an obviously immature manner then it is likely that the practitioner is regressing. Do they act childish, do they seem unstable or emotionally volatile? Do they often appear manic, depressed, or do they declare fantastical things about themselves or the world that they live in? If someone acts in this way for a sustained period of time whether in private or in public then they might be suffering from mental illness. 

In my long years of meeting and talking with magical practitioners I have met more individuals who show some regressive tendencies than progressive ones. It seems to be the rule that true masters are rare and they often seem ordinary and normal, and for this reason, they are often unrecognized, perhaps even to themselves.

Conclusion and Reminders

We can therefore now make the tacit judgement that we are all prone to illusions and delusions, since it is one of the risks and problems when engaging with a magical practice. Grounding and objectivity, along with peer review, will help us avoid the worst tendencies that magical experiences and the orgasmic impact of magical power can cause. We also can judge, hopefully, when either we or one of our peers is consistently behaving in a regressive manner. We can also understand that many of us are affected by psychological weaknesses and flaws. It is just part of being human. 

We can also judge both the public personas and also our personal and private encounters with magicians who have obviously begun the devolving process of regression. Some of these individuals are even promoting themselves as occult and magical leaders. However, armed with our knowledge about how someone should comport themselves when actually evolving as a human being, we can avoid having contact with these individuals and their organizations that are functionally regressive. 

It is important not only to guard our own mental health when practicing magic, but it is important to engage with peers and other occultists who are progressive and cogent, and who can actually add to a person’s magical evolution instead of detracting from it.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, August 29, 2016

Standing at a Political Precipice

We are definitely living in interesting times, unfortunately for us. The 2016 U.S. election campaign for president has been one of the strangest that I have witnessed in my lifetime. I have seen and recalled fifteen of them, so I have something to compare against. We have on one side of the two-party divide a long-time politician of notable experience and achievement, although not without some negative public disapproval, and on the other side we have a self-proclaimed messianic businessman without any political experience or achievement. Some have said that Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee, is the most unprepared and unfit individual to ever run for a national political office. However, he seemed to easily defeat over 16 other political opponents and became the most controversial and divisive candidate ever nominated to a political office, at least in my memory. So, there must be a reason why he has been such a successful candidate so far.

We are used to politicians mostly talking and behaving in a genteel and polite manner. When they don’t, it’s considered a verbal gaffe. It can actually doom the one who commits it to political obsolescence. When conservative politicians speak to their political base they tend to do it using insinuations and innuendoes, which the press calls “dog whistles” even though most people understand what was really being said. Now, we have a presidential candidate who comes right out and says what’s on his mind at the moment, although what has been communicated so far is vile, racist, bigoted, crass, and demeaning. He bullies his opponents, incessantly brags about himself and talks about making America great again. What he is really talking about is making America a place where white privilege can be made irreversibly prominent, just like it was before the Civil Rights era. This message is a kind of opiate for some people, and that is why he has been so successful in his campaign up to this point.

To those of us who are opposed to Trump’s message and who find him a vulgar and ignorant plutocrat, we are mystified as to how anyone could support and vote for him. He is obviously so transparent, at least to us, in his naked lust for power, his need for public adoration and his not so subtle personal avarice that not to see him as such, at least to us, is just short of astonishing. However, there were quite a number of people who voted for him in the primaries and who attended his rallies, where all sorts of disturbing and angry displays of loathing, fear and hatred were on display. This is still occurring at Trump’s rallies for the general election.

What could possibly have happened over the years in our nation that has made part of the population succumb to such angry and outrageous displays of racism, misogyny and bigotry? Why do people eagerly support a man who is so clearly unfit and unprepared to be president of the United States? Has part of our population gone completely mad, making them unable to dispassionately and critically see through the lies and deception that the would-be emperor Trump has no clothes? However, if over a third of the population of the country sees something relevant and meaningful in what this man represents, and that it emotionally resonates with them, then it is doubtful that they are mad. They are more likely deceived, or more accurately, deceiving themselves out of a scornful need to be heard and their grievances given due consideration.

Arlie Russell Hochschild has penned a thoughtful and insightful article that recently appeared in “Mother Jones” entitled, “I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump's Biggest Fans. Here's What They Won't Tell You.” In that article, the author spent five years performing research in the heart of Dixie, most notably in the state of Louisiana, where she met and interviewed many of the very people that support Donald Trump for president. While their reasons might vary from person to person, each of them had specific grievances about the way the country was being run, its current course and likely future. She noted that people are pessimistic about the future, and that many have personally experienced a profound decline in their standard of living over the last couple of decades. They have a steadfast belief on how things should be that is in stark contradiction to the way things are, but they see the source of their dilemma as the loss of social privilege and the intercession of the Federal Government in helping blacks, immigrants and other minorities at their expense.

While it is true that the manufacturing infrastructure has more or less collapsed in various parts of the Southeast and the Midwest, depleting local economies of good paying jobs, those affected don’t see their problems as the result of the forces of economic transition and the arising of a global economy. They see the rich and powerful as members of an exclusive club that they too, because of their race and its intrinsic privileges, should be able to join through hard work, education and self-improvement. The fact that such efforts have been thwarted and shown to be fruitless is the whole basis of their pessimism and malaise. To them, the U.S. has already fallen from its greatness and is now controlled by liberal-minded political elites and their various constituents. The common blue collar worker seems to have no voice or consideration in the political process whatsoever. This, of course, belies the fact that for the last several years the Republicans have controlled the House, and the Senate for more than two years. The obstacle appears to them to be the doings of the President, the Federal bureaucracy and some of the Federal courts.   

The author talked to a lot of people and she was able to distill their perspective about America in the following brief narrative. 

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.

There are quite a few problems with this story, but the most striking is that the “unmoving line” is immobile for two reasons not at all implied by the thinking behind it. The first is that the wealthy 1% are already at the destination - the American Dream - and they are the one’s who have effectively worked against the possibility of social and economic mobility. The “line of people” is unmoving because the 1% have taken steps to frustrate mobility and to ensure that they maintain their status as the wealthy and powerful. Secondly, immigrants typically start at or near the bottom, since in most cases they come to this country with very little capital and lack the ability to immediately integrate into our economy. There are some who come here because they have a desired expertise, such as medical doctors or IT specialists, but these are a minority. Still, all immigrants ultimately have to go through the process of legally becoming citizens, which is neither easy nor quick.

Also, the tax dollars that are supposedly being largely redistributed to the poor are actually going into the pockets of the wealthy. What is given to the poor and disfranchised by the Government is really a pittance when compared to what is given to the rich. Finally, ensuring some degree of economic equality has been part of the American psyche only since the 1930's. What all people really want is a level playing field and a chance to earn their way, slowly and steadily, into the economic classes above them. This kind of mobility gives them a goal and an incentive to work and better themselves. Hope encouraged by fairness is the counter force to despair and neglect.

Additionally, the “people standing in the middle of a line” assumes a kind of ranking based on the level of privilege that one is born into, and is only occasionally and easily abrogated by someone who is more intelligent or capable than the average person standing in line. That ranking has to do with one’s economic situation and also, unfortunately, race, ethnicity and less so, one’s religion. This isn’t a meritocracy, as far as assumptions go (even though the American Dream would assume that it is all a meritocracy), so when someone who is gifted or has specific talents achieves the American Dream before the others supposedly standing in line ahead of him, those who are still in line are justifiably envious and resentful. This is particularly true when that person is not a proper white Protestant Christian. A black man in the White House seems like an ironic and terrible inversion of the proper order of things, which is based on the privileges and prerequisites of the white Christian populace. These assumptions are ridiculous because the real opponents to the middle and lower classes aren’t the same people who are part of those classes, but who look different or practice a different religion. The truth is that we are united in our new-found victimization caused by social oppression and economic stasis. The real opponents are the wealthy 1% who are seeking to protect their wealth and power by making certain that the rest of the classes are kept in their place whatever the means. 
We should also keep in mind that this social and economic mobility (called the American Dream) is a recent phenomenon in the history of the U.S. It really began at the start of WWII when the Great Depression effectively ended. That mobility began to slow down during the early 1980's and for most people, ended completely in the late 90's. Social and economic mobility was not something that was an expected feature of American culture, from it’s founding in the 18th century and through the middle of the 20th century. The status quo meant that the rich and powerful were the privileged “better folk,” and the teaming masses of the lower classes were meant to be servants and laborers for the upper class. That attitude began to disappear when government and unions joined together to deal with the issues of economic and social inequality during the 1930's. It was due to progressive policies that became the law of the land as put forth by FDR and Congress that actually changed this equation. Prior to the 1930's there really wasn’t a true middle class in the U.S. Most people were essentially blue-collar laborers, and only a few had college educations. That radically changed in the 1930's, but it wasn’t until the 1940's that economic equality and fairness began to become a reality. It was also a time when the top wages also had very high tax brackets. Those high tax brackets continued through the 1950's and helped fund the Federal Government to make massive changes to the nation’s infrastructure, such as the Interstate Freeway system, the space race, the military build up of the Cold War, and many other major changes that benefitted nearly everyone. Government spending was the great mover that pushed corporations and state and local governments to achieve great and lasting changes, many of which we take for granted today.

Since the 1980's things have been going the other way, as wages for the 85% stagnated, and it finally caught up to the rest of us so that only the top 1% have achieved all of the wage and wealth increases for the past 20 years. This change is not coincidental, since it was fostered by crafty legislation bought and paid for by wealthy corporations and individuals through their lobbyist handlers and political operatives. It would seem that some of the wealthy and powerful have an agenda; they want to put the middle class back in the bottle with the lower classes where they resided previously. Fundamentally, it doesn’t make much economic sense overall because if the middle and lower classes don’t have much in the way of disposable income then they will hardly be able to buy anything except the basics. That would seriously diminish our economy, which is based after all on consumerism. It isn’t rational, but it is very human for those on top to ensure that they remain on top by controlling and suppressing those who are below them. That kind of economic feudalism was a staple of Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century, but it had been eliminated (so we thought) in the 1930's.

You see, the wealthy belong to an exclusive club and they really don’t want the rest of the citizens of the U.S. to be able to reap the rewards of our corporatist society as they did, and thereby become members of that exclusive club - making it not so exclusive. That would dilute their wealth and power! Now, the road to the American Dream is just empty rhetoric, and it has been functionally a myth since the 1970's. There was a brief period when our country saw a tremendous movement of multi-generational social and economic mobility that gave people a sense of purpose and hope. Prior to that the lower classes had to know their place in life and live within the status quo. So, it would seem that there are social and political forces that are pushing the U.S. back to the way things were before the American Dream and economic equality gave the lower classes a sense of hope and purpose to their lives.

If we wish to reinstate that upward economic mobility that we briefly experienced as a people after WWII then we need to unite and fight the 1% on both the political and economic fronts. If we are divided by bigotry and racism then we will only make ourselves more vulnerable so we can be manipulated and controlled by the rich. There is still a chance to make our nation a better and more fair place to live and work in. We can, by being united, fight to get the line moving again so that many more Americans can achieve the American Dream. This is because we are stronger, obviously, when we work together as a people than when we are divided.

This brings me to talk a bit more about Donald J. Trump and his campaign for president. I won’t talk about the typical and usual complaints about his supposedly policy ideas, nor his rather vulgar and obnoxious perspectives when it comes to people who are racially, ethnically, or religiously different than the typical WASP American. In fact there is very little of any kind of substantive policy that the Trump campaign is actually promoting. Still, Donald Trump has arrived on the political scene as the savior of the supposedly disenfranchised white working class. He alone can single-handedly change the national economic equation so that the declining middle class (of privileged white people) will once again thrive, or so he has declared to one and all.

It is curious to note that while Trump vilifies non-white and non-Christian folk, he isn’t talking about getting rid of the very programs that are helping the economically disadvantaged white middle and lower classes, such as food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of public relief. He has, therefore, subtlety made it acceptable for these white people to feel good about taking Government assistance as long as it is given to their privileged race. Trump has said that he will bring back all of the good paying jobs lost over the last few decades, although such a promise is unrealistic and empty. He is called the Blue Collar Billionaire simply because he is vulgar, ignorant, brash, ostentatious and intemperate. However, Trump was born of the wealthy elite, and he is just as interested in keeping himself that way whatever the consequences. He is also a ruthless, thoughtless, bullying, mendacious and dishonest businessman, which is hardly a model that our country needs to assist it to overcome the current crisis. Anyone who thinks that Trump is our potential savior has succumbed to their own wishful thinking, since even a cursory glance shows that he is everything that is wrong with our country today.

Those who are planning on voting for him because they think that he will restore prestige to the white race are just fooling themselves. If anything, once in power, Donald Trump would enable the previously promoted Republican legislative agenda of completely gutting the government sponsored safety-net, thereby rolling back all of the perks for the indigent and working poor, not to mention those who are aged and retired. It would represent the final nail in the coffin for the lower and middle classes, since not only would the poor be screwed, but the rest of the middle class as well. They would be forced to pay greater amounts of their income as taxes to offset the massive tax breaks given to the 1%. It would turn our country into a dystopia of Libertarian neglect and selfishness, similar to such great failed states in our global hemisphere as Guatemala or Honduras. The only way that the rich could maintain this social structure would be to enforce a rigidly controlled police state backed by a regime consisting of aggressive authoritarianism. None of us would be safe or secure within that nightmarish scenario, and I suspect the rest of the world would feel a bit frightened as well. The only ones who would be safe and secure would be rich and powerful, and such a regime, once established, would be difficult to either circumvent or overcome.

A Trump presidency with the Republicans fully in power would create a nation where only the elite or the occasionally gifted (white) individual would be able to achieve the American Dream. For the rest of us, we would be living the American Nightmare, where any avenue to self-improvement or economic mobility would be completely shut down. Colleges would be too expensive to even consider attending, and the economic classes would be closed to anyone who aspired to greater things. Entrepreneurism, inventiveness, creativity, and futuristic envisioning would be completely suppressed, replaced by a static and strictly ordered society where the workers would be completely enslaved by their corporate masters. Democracy would be a wistful dream, since the power to make laws and enforce them would be solely in the hands of the rich and their instruments of enforcement, the police and the military. Some would be given undreamed of privileges in this dark world, while the masses would be severely restricted. Gone also would be our representational form of political government, our constitution and our freedoms as outlined in the Bill of Rights. That means that all of those most important amendments, from the 1st to the last, including the so-called “sacred” Second, would be abrogated. Cartels that hold absolute power cannot tolerate any social phenomenon that might ignite a possible rebellion. The people would fear their government, and that fear would be the key to keeping the lid on any kind of dissent or counter movement. That, in my opinion, is the terrifying ultimate conclusion to the right-wing fever dreams for some of the wealthy and powerful players backing the Trump political phenomenon. It would be the dawn of a Fascist America, where inequality and coerced anonymity would reign from sea to dismal sea.

Think that I my words are hyperbolic about this crisis that besets our nation? Look at the people who are eagerly promoting Trump’s campaign. The Republican Party seems to have been taken over by the fringe politicos of the far-right wing. When Trump made Stephen Bannon his campaign CEO, who was the chairman of the ultra-right wing online news site, Breitbart News, it seemed that he was going all in on the fringe right-wing political perspective. Breitbart News is an organization that has been labeled a right wing hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, declaring it as the “media arm of the alt-right.” This is a new term for an old social malignancy consisting of extreme nationalism, racism and bigotry. You can find that article here. Trump is also cultivating and enabling the support of such fringe right-wing radio stars such as Alex Jones, who is considered one of the most prolific right-wing conspiracy mongers in our country. You can see what the SPLC has to say about him at this web page.

The Wall Street Journal, a steady conservative news outlet, has defined the alt-right movement as one that completely rejects mainstream conservatism and seeks to replace it with white nationalism, where any form of multiculturalism or immigration is considered threatening to the white social identity. Bannon is not someone who wants to unify the Republican Party as much as he wants to destroy it completely, and then replace it with a form of American fascism. Now that he is the head of Trump’s campaign, he is bringing into the mainstream what should have been kept at the very fringes of our society, where it can become a powerful social force. The press isn’t really being very critical of this movement yet, nor are they making any critical judgements of this troubling situation occurring in a presidential campaign. It is a frightening escalation of a process that seems to be “goose stepping” our nation into a cloudy future. We must, armed with our votes, reject this emerging dangerous political situation by voting against Donald Trump and his down ticket supporters. It is hoped that a humiliating election defeat will force the Republican Party to reject fascism and move more towards the political center. However, I believe that it will be a close election, and this emerging social power of the alt-right will be a major problem for our nation long after Trump has faded into the history books.   

This is what the right-wing wealthy plutocrats have in mind for our nation, and it has become nearly an unstoppable force in our culture today, simply because it has stealthily emerged into a kind of respectability to those people whose grievances makes them credulous and easily manipulated. Donald J. Trump is just a manifestation of this problematic body politic, but it can and must be stopped before it becomes fully realized at the voting booth. This is why I will be voting for the Democrats in the fall to help make this a wave election. They are certainly not the ideal party, but the stark differences between them and the Republicans couldn’t be more pronounced at this time. As a pagan and a witch, I find Trump to be quite disturbing and inimical to my interests. We, as a united people, this time need to truly vote our economic and political interests, since only this kind of conscientious counter-measure can actually thwart the looming take-over long in the planning by the alt-right and their wealthy sponsors.

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How Have I Offended Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

When I was a young man there wasn’t the plethora of books on magic and the occult and there wasn’t the internet to search for topics or contact other like-minded individuals like there is today. There were libraries that had little or no books or information about the topics that I wanted to know about. Some of the more popular occult books in the library were stolen or lost and seldom replaced. The few occult bookstores that existed were stocked with either prohibitively expensive books or cheap or almost useless paperbacks. As a youth with limited resources, I was left for the most part to the ministrations of my limitless imagination, and in the early years it functioned in an almost unbounded manner.

What I had to do in order to practice the art of magic was cobble together the various bits and pieces that I found in the sparse book sources available to me and fill in the gaps with a great deal of imagination. In those beginning years my magical system was more imagination than actual magical facts, and its effectiveness suffered accordingly. Over time, as I acquired more information, most notably from the Golden Dawn and Crowley’s writings, I was able to assemble together a very workable system of magic that was quite effective and worked for me. It was very individualistic and personalized, but it did allow me to begin to explore the magical world as I understood it.

I had very few teachers at that time, and except for a four-year stint in the coven from hell, I didn’t belong to any traditional groups or orders. I was, for the most part, self-taught and self-directed. By the mid 1980's I had developed a system of magic that was capable of achieving a full invocation or evocation of a demigod or spirit, although the mechanisms were cumbersome and laborious. I had managed to bring together the energy and spirit models of magic, adding some elements of the psychological and informational models as well, to produce a magical system that I considered unique at the time.

A few years later I was asked by some friends to write up the operant rituals for a magical order based off of the personal magical system that I had already developed. This new magical system was like the old one except all of the personalized and idiosyncratic elements were replaced with the elements and themes that the group as a whole had agreed to. I continued to work on this new depersonalized system of magic and pushed it to a number of directions that I though prudent, although I did receive the affirmation and buy-in from the members of my group. When the magical temple group dissolved I continued to develop this system of magic and it’s what I use today.

Because I had started my magical avocation in a time of limited resources, I had gotten into the habit a long time ago of appropriating lore and techniques from other magical traditions to build up my own magical system. Of course, if someone asked me where I got this or that particular technique or lore I would tell them instead of pretending that I had invented it myself. There were plenty of elements of this magical system that I had invented, but I never tried to take credit for something that I didn’t invent myself. I was happy to appropriate techniques and lore from other traditions, but I didn’t feel the need to lie about it. I just naively assumed that what I was doing was natural for anyone who practiced magic. I believed that we were all, more or less, thieving magpies when it came to the cool stuff that we encountered in our studies. 

My course work and study path was also motivated by what I might be able to appropriate and make usable in my own system of magic. What I didn’t know at the time is that there were quite a number of people who were devoted to their external traditions of occultism and magic, and who would take a very dim view of anyone who appropriated their lore to pad their own personal system of magic. I was truly innocent and I felt that most of this lore was antique, part of the common domain (if it was published or publicly posted), and available for me to use or not as I wished. Since I was generous with my knowledge, to a point, I felt that everyone else would be as well. I gave copies of my ritual lore to friends and associates and never thought that this material was my exclusive property nor part of some traditional edifice that I had to protect.

Extracting lore and magical techniques and ritual structures from the Golden Dawn didn’t earn me any criticism or demerits from the members of that tradition because back in the 1970's there wasn’t really any official Golden Dawn order that was functioning. Regardie had published the rituals and initiations of the Golden Dawn decades ago and I happily pillaged that lore to figure out how magic really worked and how I could develop and produce my own rituals. Later on, what I developed was far enough removed from the Golden Dawn that there were only some remote similarities to that lore and my own. I certainly deviated from that tradition when I adopted the septagram as my emblem for planetary magic. I was also developing a system of magic that had as its foundation the magical practices and methodologies of witchcraft, so I was following a path that was contrary to the one of ceremonial magick and unique to my own situation.

During my early years I had been exposed to the Protestant Christian church in the Midwest, and I recall that it was a church devoid of magic and supernatural emanations. The liturgy was dull, monotonous, and had little or no artistry. It had wonderful music, but it was only the gigantic pipe organ and the trained choir that elicited any kind of artistic appreciation from me. The congregation sang hymns together (some loudly out of tune) and the pastor monotonously preached his meaningless and banal sermon. The whole religious travesty lasted around an hour or two, grinding through a predictable schedule of events, depending on if there was a special religious holiday (and there were few of those) or if it was just another boring Sunday like all the others. Because I was a kid with a very over-active imagination, my church experience was as bland, dismal and forgettable as any other enforced activity. It is no wonder that I abandoned the church as soon as I was old enough to do so. I sought out other forms of religious experience later on when I realized that I had a powerful sensory ability to “feel” and “sense” spiritual occurrences, unlike many of my friends and acquaintances. I was drawn to the gothic media displays of supernatural fantasy at a young age, and when I entered my mid-teens I discovered Witchcraft, much to my joy.

Since I was raised a Protestant, I had always been curious about the Catholics who went to other churches that appeared more exotic and seemingly magical than what I had experienced. They even had their own schools to teach their children all about their religion and other obscure topics. I always sort of envied my Catholic friends, and for the same reason I had envied my Jewish friends, even considering at one point to convert to Judaism. However, once I got into Witchcraft, I had spurned all things Christian and particularly the Christian youth movement that I called “Jesus Freaks” or “Hippies for Jesus,” which had left me cold. I verbally sparred with them and acted the antagonist because I found that their aggressive attempts to convert me were both insulting and demeaning. I had left Christianity behind me, or so I thought. Still, it was hard to be deaf to Christianity when you lived in a society that was so Christian in its bias and perspective.

Later on, when I was in the coven from hell, my teacher and mentor, Christopher Synn (Bill Schnoebelen), pursued a religious and magical path that coopted Catholic liturgy for its magical practices. When I was exposed to Michael Bertiaux at the same time, he too used Catholic and Orthodox liturgy as part of his magical workings. Christopher took the Tridentine Mass and rewrote it for his own purposes and the resultant ritual working was very impressive, so I followed his example. He also bestowed on me an Old Catholic ordination, and later on, one of his woman students who had received a consecration from him, conferred upon me the consecration of a bishop. Christopher had been consecrated by Michael Bertiaux, so I now had that lineage as my own. I developed my own set of Mass rites and used them to establish a sacramental system of magic. I used this magic to charge and empower my temple for the greater ordeals that I sought to perform within that sacralized space.

Over time I had mixed selected and rewritten Catholic liturgy into my magical system and had made it friendly to my Wiccan, Pagan and Gnostic sensibilities. I considered myself to be a gnostic pagan bishop with a heavy slant towards the magical use of sacraments to empower my tools and working space, and also to declare my higher spiritual perspectives and insights. I was using the Mass rite and the benediction rite for specific magical purposes, and my overall magical perspective was quite medieval in its use of sacraments, reliquaries and sacramental tools. I even blessed my parchment sigils used for invocation and evocation with the sacramental wine produced in the Mass rite, and I offered to my personal deities and tutelary spirits the consecrated host and wine.

My first experience at outrage against what I was naively doing was when I met one of the foremost gnostic bishops operating in the country at that time. I won’t reveal his name, but he was also an author and was involved with the Theosophical Society. We met and seemed to get along quite well, but when we were alone in my car while I was driving him to our order’s temple, he asked me if I followed the horrific practices of Michael Bertiaux, using semen and blood to charge and bless talismans. I assured him that I didn’t engage in that kind of practice, and he seemed quite relieved and happy. Then I told him that I had written my own Mass and benediction rites and used the sacramental host and wine to do the things that Bertiaux had been doing. He turned white as a sheet and gave me a look of complete horror. We didn’t talk about it for the rest of that evening and he seemed to have gotten over what I had shared with him. Later on, long after he had left to go back to his home, he wrote a missive against anyone who either wrote their own unsanctioned Mass rites or who used the sacraments for anything other than what they were intended, to communicate the congregation. I had outraged him with my heterodoxic  practices and my allegiance to (what he had called) magical superstition. He was only the first of many people that I had outraged with my magical system, but he would not be the last.

I have always approached my magical study and work with an idea of expanding what my magical system was capable of achieving. I was following a system and a regimen that was quite plain to me, and also to those few who had been part of the temple work done years ago. I have always approached a problem with the knack of trying to resolve it with what I already had, and to use my well developed techniques and lore to build a working or a series of rituals that would accomplish what I needed them to do.

In this way I had decided to apply this expertise that I had developed for many years to achieving the Knowledge and Conservation of my Holy Guardian Angel, or what I had conveniently perceived as my Atman or Higher Self. Since the Bornless or Headless Rite had been appropriated to work this kind of ordeal, and the Abramelin ordeal had been promoted as a more arduous alternative, I decided to combine them together. However, what I was going to produce was not only a hybrid, but it would likely produce a different effect and impact than the original workings. I understood this, yet I believed that I could achieve the same outcome, which was the vaunted K and C. I didn’t want to approach this ordeal in a passive manner and spend 3 months unemployed to successfully completed the Abramelin working. So, I chose instead to use the cycles of the moon, since the Abramelin working called for at most (in the German edition) 1.5 solar cycles, or 18 months. I would instead formulate my working using lunar cycles, and 1.5 lunar cycles is 90 days. I also would seek to invoke the four Cherubim and Seraphim consecutively as part of the ordeal and crown it with an elaborate Bornless Rite. It worked quite amazingly well and it did powerfully transform me. It gave me the ability to establish a connection with my HGA, Atman or Higher Self, and as far as I am concerned, that was the objective.

However, my joy was short-lived, because there were a cadre of individuals who had performed the Abramelin ordeal exactly as it was written in the grimoire, and who spent enormous amounts of time and resources to accomplish it. The fact that I was saying that I did it in 90 days without having to retire from the world for a few months was quite galling to them. I had written up all my experiences and techniques into a series of blog articles and I had maintained that what I did was indeed different, but I knew that it had at least achieved for me the same overall goal. Their opinion was that I couldn’t have accomplished anything other than self-delusion, and I was an obvious fraud for suggesting that anyone could come up with a replacement methodology on their own. I had violated a tried and true tradition, and I was something of a upstart or worse. That was the second group that had I offended, and I am sure that even today when one of these stalwarts discovers my blog articles on this subject that they will continue to be offended. (I do get emails from time to time to let me know how wrong or evil I am for crafting this alternative proposal.)

The next outrage was when I put together my own version of the Portae Lucis working, as formulated and written by Jean Dubuis. I had found some of his translated material on the internet and I was greatly intrigued by what he had written. I also bought one of his translated books and I steeped myself for months in his writings. Based on my studies, I determined that the Portae Lucis was a powerful and very valid working. However, there were a number of elements in it that either didn’t interest me or I felt was incompatible with my own system of magic. I understood what needed to be done and how Mr. Dubuis had done it, so I took that working and translated it into a specific talismanic working with strong Qabalistic overtones. 

I understood the objective of the rite, but I found that I had other resources that would get me there. What I left out were the Spagyric alchemical operations producing specific magical medicines that would aid in the physical component of the working. I also used an active method of charging the talismans, and expanded the working to include all 28 of the lunar mansions deployed into charging seven metallic talismans, four of which would be used in the operation. Because I was using planets and elements, I felt that the combination would be magically potent enough to replace the alchemical medicines. In my opinion, the revised method worked, even though I couldn’t (and didn’t) declare that they were the same. What I achieved was different than the traditional method, and the effect was different as well. But I believed that the objective achieved was similar, and the results of the magic that I experienced are still being felt and processed by me to this day, four years later.

However, when a group leader of a Yahoo group dedicated to the Portae Lucis working asked me to join his group, I happily agreed. He had wanted me to join because he felt that my different approach might be valuable to the group. I thought that this kind of openness to other techniques and alternative approaches was very broad minded, and I foolishly believed that I would be welcomed and treated as an equal. 

When I joined the Yahoo group, introduced myself and then posted links to my blog articles where I described what I had done to accomplish this ordeal, I was astonished at the outrage that I experienced from its members. I was verbally savaged by a few members of this group! They declared that I had no right to take this material and adapt it to my own needs. They thought that I was audacious and delusional to think that something that I had developed could even be considered as an alternate to what the great occultist Jean Dubuis had laid down for his followers. Who the hell did I think I was to even consider modifying this great traditional working? I quickly left the group, with apologies to the group leader, and I didn’t look back. (I felt the door slam on my butt as well - poor innocent fool that I was.)

Now I understand that not everything I do or say is right and perfect, nor do I have any kind of monopoly on truth when it comes to magic. I am first and foremost a student of the occult and magic, and also religiously, a Witch and a Pagan. I have written things in the past on my blog that are either wrong or based on incomplete information. Over time my opinions have evolved and changed, and I have left a record of these changes over the last several years in my various writings. I am not ashamed to be either schooled by others or shown to have made erroneous or incorrect statements. It is in my nature to acquire lore and information from any and all applicable sources, so I have no problem being shown something new or given a more accurate perspective on something. I have, if nothing else, developed a certain resilience and adaptability in the many years that I have matriculated my own way of working magic and worked on my particular system of ritual magic.

However, the fact that I am able to perform the same kind of magical evocations as others who are vested in the nascent tradition of grimoire magic seems to have annoyed some people. Add to that my propensity for appropriating materials from these same grimoires to serve my personal magical system seems to them cavalier, unsanctioned and disrespectful. That I have stated my opinion that many magicians (having no other recourse) seek to pull together their own system of magic because the various grimoire sources are incomplete, incompatible to current religious perspectives or no longer part of the social-cultural context has also gained me some rather intense condemnation and even personal attacks. From my perspective of having spent decades building up my own magical system from very sparse occult and magical resources (until recently), such a pathway seems intuitively obvious to me, but seemingly highly untraditional and unorthodox to them. According to some, I appear to lack the requisite qualifications to have any opinions on the grimoire tradition, so it would seem that there is another group that I have offended with my magical workings and associated opinions.

Perhaps the only group that I haven’t offended yet are the chaos magicians. I have picked up a number of useful techniques from that group, most notably the methodology of sigil magick, and I continue to find their perspectives and insights both refreshing, baffling and intriguing. I am not crazy about some of their operating philosophies and I would never mix and match deities and demigods from disparate religious traditions. I would also never bother to invoke Cthulhu or Yog Sothoth, since I consider them fictitious entities produced by the neurotic nightmares and racist insinuations of the author H.P. Lovecraft. I have a strong and intimate connection with the entities that I work through and with, and I would never approach them in a cavalier and dismissive manner. However, I understand that the anti-tradition of Chaos Magick consists of a series of working ideas and suggestions, and that each chaos magician pursues their own path and develops their own magical system replete with paradigms based on personal experience. I probably have more in common with them than any other group, including the hosts of the BTW and Wiccan groups that I have met and know.

What can I deduce from all of this outrage and anger that I appear to have caused in some folks in the various occult and magical traditions? I have steadfastly proceeded on my path without any malice, greed or egotism. I am nothing more or less than a student, and my knowledge, even based on years of experience, is decidedly imperfect. Do I insist that I am always right in whatever I do or say - absolutely not! Do I listen to others even when they shower me with disdain and disapproval, of course, how can I not?

Regardless of what others may think, I am still working with the system of magic that I have matriculated and built up over the decades, and I am loath to drop or discard it for the next new shiny thing that others are infatuated about, however compelling. Instead, I will look it over, and if it looks useful or fills a need that is lacking in my own system, I will shamelessly appropriate, modify and mutate it so that it fits seamlessly with my existing magical system. Some may think that I am just being a pirate or a magpie, but because I do spend time altering the lore to fit into what I am already doing then I think that I am more than just an occult or magical-lore thief. I am an artist, but more like a spray-paint graffiti artist, perhaps. However, it still angers and outrages those who consider themselves the arbiters of a sacred tradition and the defenders against revisionism. I just think that nothing really is sacred or forbidden for me to purloin if I find it needful unless it is oath-bound material, and if it is published by someone then it is no longer oath-bound.

To all of those magician magpies out there who see some merit in what I am doing, if nothing else than justifying their own eclectic approach, I make common cause and solidarity. For those who are outraged by my activities and who condemn my unorthodox approaches I can only wonder at their emotional insecurity and baseless complaints, and they are quite baseless as far as I am concerned.

You could say that I am naive and stupidly innocent in my piratical approach to occult and magical lore because I don’t understand how my actions are a cause for outrage and dismay among the proper adherents of these traditions. Crossing these boundaries is just asking for trouble, you would probably declare, but still I am steadily proceeding with the activity of building up my magical system and will continue this work until the day I die. If you have a problem with what I am doing then you can either seek to school me, guide me with additional and important insights or just get out of my way. Otherwise, I am pursuing what I deeply and passionately believe I need to pursue, and I will not be stopped by what I see as puffed up posers who think that they are proper representatives and information marshals of an imperious and perfected tradition. To them, I will make my braying donkey call and scornfully but inexorably move on.

Frater Barrabbas - the Lone Donkey, braying in the wilderness.       

Monday, May 16, 2016

My Problem With Grimoire Purists and Strict Traditionalists

"My wand is better than your wand!"

There seems to be a never ending argument between those who espouse the literal adaptation of Grimoires as they currently exist and those who follow a path of eclecticism, experimentation and creative adaptation. Neither point of view has any kind of absolute correctness or truth about it, because in many ways both approaches have their own virtues and failings. What bothers me about those who are strict followers of tradition and who declare that the old grimoires are the only pure source of magical lore is their smug certainty and absolutism. If someone wants to use the methodologies and tools as they are depicted in one or several of the old grimoires then that is wholly their own choice and personal obligation. If they honor a particular traditional path through their unstinting adherence to every detail and nuance then that is clearly their chosen path, and I say more power to them. However, the moment someone says that their path is the only legitimate way to practice ceremonial or ritual magick then they have completely lost me.

I have written about this issue in previous articles where I have discussed what I consider to be the actual issues facing anyone who wants to use one of the old grimoires. I have also talked about the obvious fracture in the community between those who are engaging in a creative adaptation against those who advocate a strict adherence to the old traditions. You can find those articles here and here.

The real issue here is whether the magic that one practices actually makes a difference in the life the magician. The core question is whether the magician is competent at working magic and that he or she can produce tangible and verifiable results through their magic. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter if one is using a grimoire in an exacting and precise manner. It doesn’t matter that his or her magical tools are perfectly fashioned according to the dictates of the tradition or that the rites and liturgy employed are accurate and valid. What is important is whether the methods and tools employed by the magician are executed with the magician’s full intention, realization, and personal empowerment; that they ultimately produce the intended results.

What I have found in over 40 years of working magic and sharing lore with many magicians is that magic is a very individualized phenomenon. That magicians can employ many tools and techniques whether from traditional sources or modern inventions and still get the same comparable results. Whether the wand was made out of alchemical gold engraved with rare arcane symbols and glyphs or it was just an unusual stick found in the woods, the magic generated doesn’t seem to vary much. Esthetics are a good mechanism for refining tools and techniques, but still, a competent magician makes do with whatever he or she can afford to buy or make themselves. Just to make certain that my point is completely understood by everyone, esthetics, by itself, doesn’t produce better magic. There is no point in arguing how much better your wand is than someone else's, not to mention that it sounds a bit like grotesque posturing.

One of the more popular tropes going around these days is the grimoire-only purist or traditionalist approach to performing forms of spirit invocation and evocation. The argument goes something like that the magicians of the previous age knew what they were doing and the grimoires that they wrote represent a true tradition of magic, and that now, after centuries of neglect and omission, we should pick up what they unwittingly passed down to us and use that above all other methodologies or techniques to work magic. In fact, it has been implied that we would be better served if we tossed out all of the current magical lore collected over the last hundred years or so and started fresh with one of the more older grimoires.

It is believed by these pundits that the older grimoires represented a purer time when magic wasn’t so encumbered by the corruption and fallacies of our modern times. In fact, I have heard it said that the better magician is one who didn’t bother to learn any of the modern systems of magic. They say, start with one of the old grimoires and master it over time, and only then you will be guaranteed to be competent, powerful and masterful in all things. Well, that is the ideal, but in my humble opinion it falls quite short of producing the awesome results that some have said it would. Why is that? Is there something more to mastering magic than just mastering one of the old grimoires?

That is an important question, in my opinion. If you follow the supposed traditional lore, how could you possibly go wrong? Well, I believe that you would be missing quite a bit, since the culture and mind-set that produced that grimoire has long since vanished from our world. We can attempt to approximate that culture and mind-set, but then we are entering into the debatable world of reconstructionism instead of actually attempting to learn how to work magic in this current time and age. That is a problem, but it is only one of many problems.

The grimoires available to us today are translations from original manuscripts or in some cases, rare published documents. The manuscripts can include additional or appropriated materials not part of the archetypal original, and some of early published books are sometimes distillations of several manuscripts. The fact is that there wasn’t one definitive version of a grimoire. There were hundreds of variations of a specific titled grimoire, and many of these variations didn’t survive to the current age. What we have today is only a small fraction of the actual grimoires that were available to savants in the 16th and 17th centuries. We know this is true because the notables who collected books and had their own libraries often employed someone to compile lists of the books that they possessed, and these lists varied over time. From these lists of books library historians today have been able to determine that over one third of the books owned by notables in that time had something to do with the occult. (A smaller number were hard-core grimoires.)

So today, we have only a small portion of that written expertise, and from that small fraction of lore we are supposedly capable of reconstructing a culture and world-view that has been gone for over five centuries? It is hard enough to derive meaning and significance from occult books written in the 19th century. Attempting to do this with books written in academic Latin from the 16th century would be a daunting challenge. I know that I am not skilled enough to do this, and I doubt that most magical practitioners are either. A few of us might have this skill, but in the end, I think that it won’t make up for all of the missing cultural beliefs and the mind-set of the time. That, I believe, is lost to us forever, and it is one of the more important keys to being able to reconstruct the grimoire tradition from the previous age.

If reconstruction to that degree of viability isn’t possible then what is? It doesn’t matter what you do to learn how to practice magic nor does it matter what tradition or technique you use; you will have to spend a considerable amount of time developing, practicing and experimenting. It doesn’t matter how much material, knowledge, expertise you or your mentors might possess. In the end it is simply and clearly necessary for you to practice and experiment, and to do this intensively and consistently for a period of several years. Over time you will discover what works for you and what doesn’t work. You will discard things that are unworkable or clearly wrong and you will pick up ideas from your own experimentation or from books or other magicians. Your early years will be frustrating and you will likely experience many more failures than successes. Clearly, whatever intentions or ideals that you brought into this enterprise will change over time, and it is more likely that they will change quite a lot. When you finally build up a competent practice of magic, you might not even recognize the lore that you started out with.

What I am saying is that in order to master any system of magic you have to first learn how to practice it. Another important point is that each magician is tasked with developing a magical system that works for them, and this is, as I have said, an evolving process. I believe that we, as magicians, are tasked with making our magic relevant, workable and effective in this post-modern world that we live. We learn, we adapt and we evolve our own system of magic, even if we are engaged in a traditional path, or we are learning experientially by the seat of our pants. This is a process that has been a part of the regimen of learning and mastering the art of magic for a long time, and it has probably been that way since the very beginning or origin of magic itself.  

Therefore, with these important points in mind, it does seem foolish for someone to claim that all magicians must practice their magic using a specific approach or by adopting a methodology that was used in the previous age. What is important is engaging in a system of magic that works and is relevant to our current epoch. We can’t go back in time to try to determine how people thought, believed and practiced their magic back in the 16th century, so we might as well admit that our modern approach is to adapt, evolve and develop something that is actually new and different than what has been practiced in the past. I think that admitting this common approach to all forms of magical mastery is not only important, but it is also honest and inclusive. There are no absolute rules associated with a competent practice of magic and I think that chaos magicians have shown this to be abundantly clear.

That being said, if someone seeks to use one of the old grimoires then there will be some substitutions and adaptations that one will need to make in order to successfully perform the operations listed in it. Of course, this is where one’s own particular spiritual perspective comes into play. If you are a Christian then you will can take the prayers and the spiritual hierarchy found in the grimoires at face value. I do think that Christians who evoke demons and deal directly with the various Infernal Princes and Chiefs is likely compromising their faith, but that’s just my opinion. I am not a Christian nor a monotheist. Thus I wouldn’t approach any of these entities in the same supposedly hostile manner that adherents of the Abrahamic faith would have to in order to maintain their religious integrity. Giving offerings and making deals with various spirits is a necessary part of the magic that I do when fully engaged with the Spirit Model of magic.

However, I don’t have much spiritual affinity with Satan, the Devil, or any of the other many names that this entity has been labeled over the millennia. My religion doesn’t have an dualistic archenemy who must ultimately be vanquished, so I don’t believe in the Devil. I also don’t think that the name Lucifer signifies what either present day Christians and/or grimoire traditionalists believe that it signifies. As a Witch, I have reserved the name Lucifer to be understood using the actual Latin translation of “Light Bearer” and therefore would consider it to be an alternative name for the Sun God. When I encounter the name Lucifer or Lucifuge Rofocal in a grimoire, I am not convinced that the entity's name is synonymous with Satan. I also think that the name Beelzebub sounds kind of silly and I would have a hard time trying to summon that entity without laughing out loud, but I digress from my topic.

When it comes down to the names of the Infernal Princes, I find that these entities are more silly and childishly bugaboo than dark, evil, scary and awesome spiritual intelligences. Many would disagree with me on that particular point, and it is after all, just my opinion. Still, if these entities represent the kind of spirits that you want to engage then that is your business and it is none of my business. Just don’t tell me that what I am doing is not being true to the magic of the grimoires, or spirit magic writ large, if I happen to pass up dealing with those entities. If that is the basis to your magic then so be it. You can treat them like demigods or as hostile and evil intelligences, but it will not affect me nor what I do. We can just agree to not agree and move on with our collective work.  

One point that I will make about engaging with these entities as they were depicted and perceived in the 16th and 17th centuries and written about in the various contemporary black magic grimoires is that they seem to perpetuate and glorify what I believe to be the ignorance and superstitions of those times. To push this theme forward and to lionize it as an important part of the work with old grimoires is, in my opinion, perpetuating the vices and blindness of the previous age. I believe that what we should be doing is basing our work on a foundation of modern thinking and scholarship. We should not promote the superstitions and absurd notions of a previous age, however legitimate they might contextually seem to be. I think that those who have taken this approach would be better served if they instead questioned what is authentic and real in these books regarding our present post-modern world.

Once you have to actually work magic and engage with the spirits found in the old grimoires then you end up being schooled on what is real vs. what is legitimate. This is one of the many ongoing battles between pragmatic and creative practitioners of the magic and those who seem to have a more scholarly and reconstructive bent, but I think that there really isn’t any battle since both methods appear to produce useful and workable systems of magic. The difference is that no system of magic performed today by magicians is like what was practiced in the previous age.

Thus I feel that the snobbery of traditionalist, grimoire-only practitioners and purists is completely unwarranted and exaggerated. Their swagger and smugness is only a pretentious and shallow act hiding their obvious insecurity and likely incompetence. Let us not give them any more credence than what they actually deserve, which is none.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dirtiest Trick in the Book

Ever since I got involved in magic and occultism when I was a teenager I have fantasized about some great and exalted secret order of adept master magicians who, from time to time, recruit some promising seeker and train them in the ways of their arcane secrets. There are certainly a lot of myths and stories that appear to promote this idea. I suppose that many of us, whether secretly or blatantly, hold on to the belief that there are true masters out there in the world. The idea is that if you’re a truly gifted occultist and magician and you perform the work in an exemplary manner then over time you will be approached by one of these super adepts and tested, perhaps even unwittingly. If you pass the test then your life will suddenly change in a profound and remarkable way as you are introduced to a fantastical history and taught the secrets of the ages.

According to the stories, these masters congregate in some highly secret monastery or lodge house located in some very exotic and obscure location in the world. They are ageless, immortal and possess super-human powers; but they steadfastly refuse to directly interfere with the daily happenings of the rest of the world. When they do intercede, it is through proxies or some other mechanism that keeps them veiled in secrecy and unknown to the rest of the world. They possess a secret forbidden knowledge and wield incredible powers that they jealously keep from an unsuspecting humanity. As custodians of this great store of secret knowledge, they will allow a small bit of it to seep into the world at large, to be discovered and used in a safe and sane manner, often in the published lore of some exoteric occult organization.

This is a common trope found in many books, both fictional and non-fictional, and many exoteric organizations claim some kind of connection with this supposed secret order of masters. It is a very romantic and intoxicating notion, and it is one that even the most cynical individual can be seduced into believing if approached in the right manner. Because there is no evidence of such a secret society (by definition, how could there be?) it remains something of an urban myth that haunts the various occult organizations and traditions that are known to the public. Many have claimed this august body of occultists as their source and superior order, but not one has offered any proof that such a group does indeed exist. Still, the promise of such a possibility can make a person giddy, credulous and completely foolish, particularly if they are being passed a fraudulent claim that seems astonishingly too good to be true. Some of us, though, are so cynical or narcissistically self-absorbed that we are immune to such a possibly. Unfortunately, I am not one of those individuals. I can be made a fool of when someone comes along with what seems at first glance to be a credible claim.

What I have learned through the many years of research and practice is that there is no replacement for hard and consistent work. What I have achieved in my life has been the product of hard work accomplished slowly over many years. I have never been given much in the way of handouts or unearned opportunities, so I can readily claim that I have achieved whatever goals I pursued in my life by my own initiative and persistence. This is true in both my career, private family life and especially, in my occult and magical practice. I have had mentors, people who have inspired me, friends, family and lovers who have influenced my direction in life, but it required me to act and to persevere on my own. I can safely say that I am a self-made man, but didn’t gain whatever I managed to acquire in my life without being influenced or inspired by others. What this means is that I can’t take exclusive credit for any of the successes in my life, but without my consistent efforts, nothing would have been achievable. However, I can say that I have achieved much in my magical and occult work due mostly to my own efforts. I had some teachers here and there, but mostly I worked either alone or in small groups. Such is the way of Witches who are ritual magicians.

One would think that such a life experience based on individual hard work over time would have made me quite cynical and disbelieving if someone were to present me with an opportunity to greatly accelerate this process. I should be completely immune to such an offer, considering it to be snake oil or highly suspect until objectively proven to be true. Yet, I am a sucker for the old myth of the Masters and the promise of instant enlightenment, and like I said, as a young man I really believed that such a group existed. That belief left its mark on me, so I am susceptible to being defrauded. I have to watch out because I have been recently fooled, but hopefully, I am closer to knowing that such a secret organization probably doesn’t exist. Let me state a few reasons why I think that this myth is a complete fiction.

As the world becomes ever smaller and nearly every location becomes known and documented, it would be quite difficult to keep any kind of active organization and its headquarters completely hidden or obscure. The only kind of secret that is kept is the one that is not divulged to anyone, and the only conspiracy that is maintained is the conspiracy of one person. Any other variation is always subject to leaks and revelations. If such an occult order existed, it would be known in some manner because it would possess property and other financial means. It could be obscure, but it would always be known especially to those living nearby. We live in a world of 24 hour cable and internet news and gossip - nothing can remain secret for long in such a world.

Possessing super-human powers and being immortal, or at least living far beyond the normal life-span, would have to use and engage materials, technologies and innate abilities that would have been discovered by science by now. Human beings can live past one hundred years, but such a person is very elderly and frail. No one has yet determined how to stop the aging process. Science does understand how the aging process works, but to block or modify it would likely require technology that doesn’t yet exist. Super-human powers would require the extension of technology to human physical limitations because the boundaries of human abilities, although remarkable in certain gifted individuals, have been determined and known for quite some time. All that is left is the subtlety of shifting probabilities, so the ideas of untapped mental powers that defy gravity or scientific law are more fiction than science. The only exception to this argument would be if the masters are actually Aliens, and that is a whole other area of consideration! (I won’t bother to expound on that idea in this article.)

Check out the global, national or local news on any given day and you will see that the world is chaotic and disordered. The fact that we can make any progress forward with such a diversity of thought, opinion, cultures, perspectives and even languages is nothing short of an astonishing fact. What drives the various cultures and nations of the world today is the same thing that has been driving them for centuries. Technology has changed, but the various vices and failings in human nature seem to be just as powerful as they have always been. Terrible tragedies continue to happen in the world and often technology seems to create more problems than it solves. This is a human-based world, and there doesn’t appear to be any easy solutions or remedies to what ails it. 

We, as the people of this planet, have created the mess that we live in, and we will have to clean it up and square it away if we are to survive as a species. What passes for miracles these days is nothing more or less than the good will, compassion and the desire to engage in collective assistance that has been humanity’s blessing since the beginning of our species. We are always discovering something new, but everything that we discover exists within the rational and material boundaries of our physical and mental existence. However, you would think that if there was some kind of secret order of super adepts that they would be mitigating some of the more tragic and fiendish things that have happened in the world. Of course, the only thing that mitigates tragedies is the philanthropy and assistance given by other human beings. Similarly, there is no simple or single solution to the world’s problems, so correspondingly there is no secret organization that steps in and helps to push humanity in the right direction.

A careful examination of the facts can readily prove that there are no god-like super adepts operating in our world. There are only remarkable human beings who operate in the mundane world, and who are known and identifiable even if they are obscure and anonymous. I have met a couple of these remarkable men and women, and I have also read about them in books or talked to others who have met them. These are the real teachers and great minds who challenge our assumptions and preoccupations - but they aren’t masters in the Theosophical definition of the term. In fact, based on that definition, there aren’t any masters living in the world. It’s a nice fantasy to wonder about, but it isn’t real. I should know this in my heart and soul after researching the occult and magic for so many years. However, I possess one very profound flaw in my reasoning - I often doubt myself.

Yes, it is true about me. After so many years of study, research, practice and experience, I find myself often locked in the grips of self-doubt. I guess you could say it is because I truly know that I don’t have all of the answers, and that I am not the most intelligent and cleverest person around. As Merlin the Magician said in the movie “Excalibur” as he was trying to capture a fish in a pond with his hands, “You can always someone more clever than yourself.” I have found that to be true, so I often ponder what I know and I doubt the truth of my own beliefs. This makes me open to other ideas, even ones that are completely contrary to the ones that I already hold. I am open minded, perhaps to a fault, but not about everything. Yet this is one of my greatest vulnerabilities. It means that I can be made into a fool, but not for very long. I give people the benefit of the doubt over time until the evidence reveals the truth about them. I am very patient, and those who are false and deceptive will expose themselves over time.

This leads me to the main point of my article. I know that there are no masters in the world, but I am open to the possibilities that they might exist because I realize the limitations of my own knowledge and experience. I am open minded, but I am also skeptical. If someone presents to me that they either represent or are a member of that supposed august order of secret masters then I will take what they say as conditionally true unless it is presented in such a manner as to be ridiculous. It is probably better for someone making such a claim if they have some kind of proof, or at least, that what they are saying has a likely possibility of being true. I will accept what someone claims, but I will reserve judgment over time to see if what they are claiming is true or false. So far, a few have made this claim to me over the many years of my occult work, but I found all of their claims to be false. If the messenger of such an august group doesn’t have his or her shit together to a degree that is impressive (and remains so or increases over time) then I can dismiss them and their claims as false.

There are delusional people in the world who have all sorts of beliefs and ideas, but a detailed examination of their claims can show them to be based on either imagination or on facts that are grossly exaggerated. I can forgive people for their delusions, but when people make astonishing claims that are very cleverly assembled in such a manner as to fool a large group of people, then I am quite unforgiving. I think that promising the public spiritual or magical mastery and personal ascendancy for money is probably one of the dirtiest tricks that has ever been perpetrated on honest seekers. I really despise individuals who play these kinds of games with the public, because I know from experience that any kind of personal transformation only occurs with a great deal of work, persistence and personal drive. You cannot buy enlightenment or spiritual mastery - it has to be earned over many years of arduous struggle and effort. The same could be said for achieving unearned wealth, health, or any other desired outcome. Also, no one can make something happen for you along these lines - it requires you to do the work yourself. You can be inspired, taught some basic concepts, share ideas, but in the end, it is completely your responsibility.

The current internet and social media-based occult world now has a certain degree of slavish salesmanship and “self-mastery for sale” that is both shallow and shameful. I won’t name any names, but if someone promises to make you an “Ipsissimus,” a “Living God,” or if such an individual or group has the backing of some order of “secret chiefs” then you should be very skeptical of what they are selling. They just want your money and they really don’t have anything to offer you in return except what is already out there in books and internet based information. They are not truly selling snake oil to you. Yet they are grossly misrepresenting their own abilities, teachings and their role in your personal transformation. It will take you years of effort and work in order to achieve a modest degree of personal ascendancy. There are no guarantees in matters of personal spiritual attainment, so goes the saying “caveat emptor,” buyer beware!

If you really desire to achieve spiritual transformation then do whatever you need to do to learn, grow and to make achievements without selling your liberty or your ability to think for yourself. Read and study, but also look for loose affiliations or groups of other like-minded practitioners who offer their friendship and comradery as well as their rational appraisal of your work. Avoid the seductive sirens of irrational and unearned personal attainment and the egregious hucksters who peddle them. These individuals are true barriers to actually achieving anything in life. They are the despicable purveyors of the dirtiest trick in the business of magic and the occult.

Frater Barrabbas