Monthly Archives: February 2011

Digital Discussions and the Esoteric Renaissance

In 2004 the Esalen Institute Center for Theory and Research hosted it’s inaugural conference under the interesting title: Esoteric Renaissance.

The conference was organized by Wouter Hannegraff, professor History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam,  and Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, and hosted some of the finest scholars from around the world working in the field of esoteric studies.

During the 1960’s Frances Yates and A. J. Festugiere began to look deeper into the history of science and Western thought, addressing areas that the academy had largely ignored. Up to that point the insurmountable evidence of alternative paradigms at the root of our culture had remained the ground for artists and specialists who were less direct in publicizing their explorations. By the late 1990′s a number of colleges and universities around the world began to offer courses in the history of esoteric movements and philosophies to support professors who took up the torch to organize these investigations with more discipline.

The Esalen conference marked a further development of this organizational interest. Jeffrey Kripal’s remarkable history of the Esalen Institute, and his work on the history of heterodox religious movements in the 20th century, shows that an undercurrent of mystical thought has moved throughout the major cultural changes of the last century. With this in mind he has organized a ground breaking series of conferences at the Esalen Institute to bring together scholars, writers, public intellectuals, artists and academics to discuss this ‘hidden’ history.

With the global economic instability formal support for these initiatives has become less forgiving, but communications technology and digital media is making these efforts even more accessible to the global community.

Jeffrey Kripal is currently working on a documentary called Authors of the Impossible which focuses on what he sees as phenomenon that exist in the liminal ground of the convergence of the subjective and the objective, of narrative and science. Along with the documentary itself he also hosts a series of podcasts that go deeper into the individual scholars and scientists featured in the documentary.

For Kripal the problem with the hardline skeptics is that they fail to appreciate the subjective power of the mystery narrative. He thinks there are better tools for investigating human potential that allow for both subjective and objective techniques to aid each other in the investigation.

Other initiatives have sprung up with the support and foresight of Esalen conference attendees. Arthur Versluis, Michigan State University and Editor of Esoterica: The Journal of Esoteric Studies, was at the commemoration of the Phoenix Rising Academy of Esoteric Sciences and Creative Arts, a digital school that is seeking to fill the gap left by the closing of many humanities departments. They are using communication technology to facilitate scholarship and discussion across the field.

Erik Davis and Mitch Horowitz, both authors and scholars who explore the esoteric influences behind pop culture, will be hosting a workshop at the Esalen Institute on the weekend of March 25-27, 2011, called The Occult in America: An Adventure in Arcane History. Both Erik and Mitch attended one of the conferences in the Esoteric Renaissance series, bringing a contemporary perspective to the role of esoterica in the cultural narrative.

Erik recently released his latest study on the intersection of culture and anomoly titled Nomad Codes. It features essays published in the Village Voice, Wired, Salon, and Slate over the last decade exploring a wide range of mythically resonant topics from the pulp horror auteur H.P. Lovecraft to Burmese transsexual nightlife.

Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation is Mitch Horowitz’, editor at Tarcher/Penguin, latest book dealing with history on the fringes and the intersection of mysticism and politics in the United States. This is not a conspiracy tome, but a serious work of popular scholarship which investigates some of the more baroque aspects of American history.

With the continued development of online networks and digital connectivity it will be interesting to see how these efforts grow and influence the emergent field of esoteric studies. Through new insights from scholars like Jeffrey Kripal, Woulter Hounegraff, Arthur Versluis, Erik Davis, Mitch Horowitz and the innovative teaching techniques of the Esalen Institute and the Phoenix Rising Academy, we are seeing a return of the academy to public discourse and a renewal of investigations that have lain dormant for quite some time.

*Resources and references are linked in the text, this article was originally posted at openmythsource.com

The Crown of Glory & the Decadence of Contemporary Conflict

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 

When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

John 6:60-62

In a post on the Templar Wisdom blog regarding the treatment of captured Templars during the crusades  I came across the following observation:

Historian Karen Ralls claims that Saladin often reserved the nastiest post-battle treatment for the Templars and Hospitallers on account of their penchant for pain

I had noticed this the other day while reading Ralls’ work and it lead me to reflect on the conceptual barriers we encounter in seeking to understand traditional warfare. We see through eyes darkened by our present leaders and conflicts, and never guess that there could be more to the art of war than the debased sadism and chaos that we see today.

This is not to whitewash the terror of war in any age, nor to support some idealized vision of conflict. The important point to realize is that there are different perspectives that can be taken, different understandings that can help to mitigate the horror and move towards a greater understanding of peace.

In the Islamic Tradition Martyrdom is considered a gift which immediately negates all past sins, this is the same in the Christian Tradition where the “Crown of Martyrdom” or “Crown of Glory” is seen as the assurance of faith. It is an aspect of the Mystery of sacrifice, and despite what fundamentalists think today, is not an active pursuit, but something made necessary in particular situations, such as times of war or oppression.

It  should not be taken in the sense of suicide bombers who take the lives of others, or any other forms of outward violence. Martyrdom is an inward process, and a last resort. In the traditional depictions of martyrs they are faced with a situation from which there is no escape other than an affirmation of faith and an acceptance of their fate. It is the ultimate seal of patience with the horror of a world that has lost it’s central guide post.

For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” – (Galatians 6:17)

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” – (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

“”Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

And most specifically in the figure of Stephen, the first Martyr, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) where Martyrdom is equated with the Transfiguration.

Within this mirrored tradition  Saladin was in part honoring the Templars by making them Martyrs.

Friends on that day will be foes one to another, save those who kept their duty,” Quran Surah 43:67

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged.” Quran Surah 23:62

These verses from the Quran form a counter point to the writings of the Apostles:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? ” 1 Peter 4:13-17

Which then leads back to the Quran:

And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.” Quran Surah 43:61

In our contemporary understanding we have a difficult time coming to terms with this relationship to G-d, however Muhammad had nothing but praise for Jesus and the Quran is fairly explicit about the validity of his Spirit.  Stories about Saladin and Richard Coeur d’Leon outline the mutual respect that was shown between these leaders during the 3rd Crusade. This is the same level of respect Saladin was showing the Templars when he gave the the highest honor he could to those who took up arms for their faith. The brutal realities of the situation should not be forgotten, however the cultural narrative in which the events took place is important for understanding the actions.

Richard Coer d’Leon’s historical track record is not necessarily as honorable as the stories told about him,  and it is important to distinguish between the possibilities pointed to in folklore, story and myth, and the reality of war. There is, however, a sense that something has changed, today the possibility for this kind of mutual respect is greatly mitigated by the use of contemporary technology, theory and techniques.

The traditions of Chivalry in Islam and Christianity are nearly identical. Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh gives  a helpful outline of Islamic Chivalry, which shows the similarities, and parallels to, the development of this Tradition in the West:

Before Islam appeared, the tradition of chivalry (javanmardi) in the Middle East was maintained through the training of men to be chevaliers (javanmardan).

The tradition of chivalry involved consideration for others (morowwat), self-sacrifice (ithar), devotion (fada-kari), the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected, kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement – all qualities that were later to emerge as the noble attributes of the perfect human being from the point of view of Sufism.

In addition to these attributes of a true human being, the chevaliers were committed to a particular code of etiquette and conventions, from which the main objective and principles of chivalry or javanmardi were derived.

With the appearance of Islam, these chevaliers embraced the religion of Islam while retaining the conventions of chivalry, thereby founding the creed of Sufism on the basis of both Islam and chivalry. Thus, the etiquette of the chevaliers became part of the practice of the khaniqah and of the Sufis.

Gradually, as the philosophy of the Unity of Being (wahdato’l-wojud) and divine love were made more profound and appealing by Sufi masters, the tradition of chivalry, hand-in-hand with it, gained an extraordinary influence and currency. The spirit of Sufism consisted of focusing one’s gaze in one direction (towards God) through the power of love, and its method was to cultivate a humane code of ethics, which was equated with that of the chevaliers.

In Hinduism we can see this in the Kshatriya, or ‘warrior caste’. The Bhagavad Gita gives a succinct description of this Tradition:

Arjuna told Krishna, “Take us out between the armies.”

Krishna positioned the chariot halfway between the armies, and stopped. It was quieter there; both armies were distant; Arjuna looked out.

“I see my brothers there, my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends.”

He swung around.

“And there also, there are my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends. They are all my brothers, Krishna. It cannot be lawful to kill them. I cannot kill them. I will have no part of this action.”

Krishna answered. “There can be no blame for law-minded action, if you act with the proper dispassionate attitude. You must do the right thing, and be heedless of consequence.”

Arjuna said, “Krishna, all those people are going to die. I will not be responsible for their deaths.”

“Quite right,” said Krishna.

“What do you mean?”

Krishna explained. “We act as instruments of dharma. Everybody on this field today is working out karmic dramas that extend back through lifetimes upon lifetimes. You and I, my best true friend, have been preparing for this battle for hundreds of lifetimes. I remember every one of them. You don’t.”

Arjuna studied his friend.

“Krishna, who are you?”

And there was a flash of light, bright as a thousand suns, and Arjuna saw Krishna’s cosmic form as Narayana, one of the great gods. There, all at once, were all of the planets and all of the stars and all of the gods and all of the demons and spirits, gandarvhas and apsaras, all of the sages and saints, all of the priests and warriors, all that is and all that ever was and all that will be. Arjuna saw, and felt, endless perfect love swelling to fill the everything that Krishna had become. And he saw all the gory deeds that were ever done and the carnage that must come with time; he saw Krishna tall as mountains, black as night, his eyes blazing as he waded through rivers of blood, the mangled corpses of Duryodhana and his brothers dangling from his bloody jaws.

“Krishna, stop!” Arjuna fell to the chariot floor, his head in his hands. “Be just my friend again.”

“But you see how it is, Arjuna,” said Krishna, as he helped his friend up. “You cannot kill them, because they are dead already; their own actions have doomed them. You cannot be responsible for their deaths, because each one is responsible for his own death. In each lifetime, each one does what he has to do, and if he does it selflessly, in love of me, without regard for gain or loss, he may come finally to rest in my perfection and be free of the cycles of action and death.

So was it maliciousness on Saladin’s part that lead him to treat the Templars as he did? Or rather respect and full faith in the Divine Will outside of any temporal appearances? In exploring the second possibility there is no need for a justification of violence.  These same Traditions speak more highly of Peace than they do of war, and it would be foolish to use specific examples to put what has been taught out of necessity above what is longed for by any rational person.

These Traditions only hold true for those living within their narrative, and none of the leaders in today’s conflicts show even the slightest hint of this being the case. We are lead to mistake the contemporary secular and sectarian organizations that have assumed the outward trappings of religion for a true tradition.

Remember that John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and Therese of Avila were all persecuted for “excessive piety” by secular factions within the Church hierarchy.  Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, known as Shaikh al-Ishraq (Master of Illumination) and  Shaikh al-Maqtul (Murdered Sheikh), was Martyred by Saladin’s son when he took over his fathers place.  Al-Hallaj was Martyred by Fundamentalists for the same crime as Jesus the Nazarene.

To view the Church or religion as a unity in it’s physical manifestation is to miss that the only Unity that exists is in G-d, thus Muhammed can speak in praise of the “People of the Book” and Buddhism can speak of “hidden buddhas” and “buddhas of all times and places” and Prophets in Judaism can say that the people of G-d will be taught by a stranger.

Islam means “submission” and Muslim “one who submits”, Catholic means “universal”, it’s only when we start taking secular authority and secular organizations for the truth that divisions arise due to sectarian beliefs that are inconsequential to the teachings of any Tradition. Pythagoras, Diogenes of Sinope, Aristotle, Plato, Avicennia, etc. were all accepted by Orthodox authorities within the Christian Tradition. Similarly Islamic Tradition affords the utmost respect to all people of Faith. Whether this is carried through by the fundamentalist secular organizations that assume wearing a cross or a star and crescent give them authority over the Faithful has no bearing on the reality that these Traditions speak of.

If these Traditions do not justify today’s conflict, they serve as a heavy critique for the inhuman, technologically driven, and calculated massacres that are sanctioned by the world’s leaders. These are not battles with the possibility for redemption, these are a vile continuation of the same debased logic that lead to the tragedies perpetuated in every conflict since the first World War.  The mechanical horrors of mustard gas, aerial bombings and automatic weapons have progressed to the point where we have adopted their logic into our own concept of warfare and at the end of that road lies only a cold metal abyss.

Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos, loquebar pacem de te:
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri, quaesivi bona tibi.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: et abundantia diligentibus te. (Ps.121.)
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Mytho-Poetic Returns and the Fine Art of Grey Truths: Robert Cochrane’s Letters to Robert Graves

Like any true craftsman, he was able to mold raw material into a magical synthesis, creating a marvellous working system, at once instinctively true and intrinsically beautiful.” –  Shani Oates on Robert Cochrane, Founder of the Clan of Tubal Cain

Who tells your story? Is it the fallen leaves that line your door speaking of your past travels, the lines etched by experience on skin and bone, or do you stand ready to relate the world through words that you alone craft with care?

While digging in to Judika IllesField Guide to Witches, one of the latest in Weiser’s Field Guide series*, I ran across a familiar name that’s intrigued me since I first encountered him while researching contemporary Pagan traditions years ago.

Robert Cochrane (born Roy Bowers) is an enigmatic figure in the world of emergent beliefs. While claiming a hereditary lineage to the “Old Religion” as the impetus for his Clan of Tubal Cain traditions, he  worked studiously to support, develop and literally create his beliefs whole cloth through research, ritual and practice. His teachings were built on fragments of myth, religion and suppositions based on archaeological evidence, all filtered through an active ritual practice that shaped the interpretations put on the underlying ideas.

As with many spiritual explorers and would be leaders, Cochrane’s life was not void of controversies, however, he is one of those rare few whose ability to weave stories, traditions and innovations that connect to the deeper truths, move him beyond charges of fraudulent intention and into the realm of true storytellers capable of bringing their “lies” to life.

All That’s Old is New Again

Critics have often questioned the legitimacy of Cochrane’s (and really all Neo-Pagan) claims to tradition. The historian Ronald Hutton’s research seems to discredit the idea that any vestiges of pre-Christian belief were able to maintain an organized foothold in the Western world through 2000 years of dedicated persecution by Roman, Christian and secular authorities. 

This is a legitimate question for historians, but I would argue it is not necessarily important to the value of these practices and beliefs. In the Judaic traditions this process of invention is clearly detailed in the Torah and Tannak during the many “rediscoveries” of G-d’s word throughout the history of the Hebrew people. In Christianity this process formed the basis for the religion itself, with the early Christians utilizing Jewish, Greek, African and Eastern sources to formulate their basic understanding of the events that provide the basis for their beliefs.

Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, all have their basis in this process of reworking older traditions. Hinduism is perhaps the most stark example of this with it’s foundation resting in British Colonial experiments to unify a diverse system of local beliefs with overarching religious systems developed by the upper castes of Indian society.

Mytho-Poetic Returns

One of Cochrane’s sources for the development of his ideas was the poet Robert Graves. The White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, which Graves published in 1948, claimed to explore the true nature of poetry as a devotional practice to a Neolithic Goddess. Exploring these ideas through Celtic mythology and the interpretation of archaeological clues Graves created a vision of a long hidden tradition rediscovered during a time of crisis and change. 

Published shortly after the end of World War II, The White Goddess provided the public with a reassessment of the very same quest for tradition and archaic continuance that had been the basis for much of the Fascist propaganda in Italy, Japan and Germany during the war years. Academic historians, however, were quick to point out the inaccuracies, speculations and quite bluntly, lies, used to prove Graves’ thesis.

To judge the work in such a harsh light misses one of the key elements that Graves was working with, poetry. While academics handle facts with some amount of precision, poetry and practicality are not areas that they move through as easily. Graves work, while being factually inaccurate, was  practically relevant and in turn actionable in a way that historical facts are not.

Action at a Distance

The same questions can be raised today for groups working with the ideas of alchemy, myth and storytelling to guide society towards sustainable solutions. Did Medieval alchemists concern themselves with the triple bottom line? Would they recognize contemporary concepts that are labeled alchemical? Probably not in the way we would hope, but they might recognize within our contemporary understanding the seeds that can give birth to true transmutation if properly cared for and watered.

In a text attributed to Edward Kelly, the conman and seer who assisted Dr. John Dee, there is a personal reflection that fits well the path of Cochrane, Graves and all those who seek to renew the body of truth through fragments of the past:

“My mind, remaining unbound, has all this time exercised itself in the study of that philosophy which is despised only by the wicked and foolish, but is praised and admired by the wise. Nay, the saying that none but fools and lawyers hate and despise Alchemy has passed into a proverb.”

So who tells your story? Is it hedged in by historical facts? Lost in the lingering legalism of shortsighted lawyers? Have you taken it upon yourself to craft your own tale?

Or, is it built on conversations, letters from friends, tale tellers and poets?

Dear Robert Graves,

I have read and re-read your book, ‘The White Goddess,’ with admiration, utter amazement and a taint of horror. I can see your point when you write of inspirational work, and realise that it must have resulted from quite an internal ‘pressure,’ since from my own experience, that is the way she works…” from Robert Cochran’s Letters to Robert Graves

*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires. Article originally posted at openmythsource.com

If the land is being poisoned, Witchcraft must respond…

13239333_233172703740964_4768359609126465292_n.jpg

The Old Ways have never been forgotten, but false histories propagated during the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras still taint our understanding of what is commonly called ‘witchcraft’ and the hallucination of rationality has enchanted many of us to miss the signs all around us that Isis remains unveiled. Our images are often either skewed toward malefic personas bent on the corruption of society, or people lost in a feverish illusion damning them to a life of futile imagination.

We think of the infamous ‘witch hunts’ that raged through the Renaissance and Reformation, or are mislead by the rationalist attempts to cut the chord of the reality of the ‘witch’ in order to counter the fires of malice and ignorance that caused so much suffering. Between these poles we’re pulled back and forth while the Truth walks freely around these easy classifications.

In the contemporary setting other groups have arisen to take claim of witchcraft, such as Wicca and certain Neo-Pagan sects, attempting to use the powerful image of the witch as a centering point for their practice. Beyond all of this, however, lies a more subtle truth.

Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimetch are the proprietors of Scarlet Imprint, a publishing house that specializes in exploring contemporary esoteric currents. Their Work is focused on revitalizing the Path and practice of  Magic, and rediscovering the long line of Tradition that ebbs and flows through the Art. They were kind enough to take a few moments to discuss their thoughts on the Craft and it’s place in our time,  offering up a potent rejoinder to all who walk the Crooked Path – “If the land is being poisoned, then it is witchcraft which must respond, and do so with compassionate anger.”

What is different about the Witchcraft that you espouse and something like Wicca which more people are generally aware of?

We should probably define Wicca to begin with here, as the English usage refers to the initiated witchcraft tradition invented by Gerald Gardner (and subsequently copied by Alex Sanders) rather than as an umbrella term for various flavours of neo-paganism which it is often taken to mean in the United States. Wicca is essentially constructed around a core of the Masonic grade system, the ritual accoutrements of Solomonic grimoire magic, and a liturgical Crowley cut-up with a sprinkling of folklore. It has no demonstrably older codified origin than the 1940s. The work of Ronald Hutton here seems decisive. Furthermore, claims of any traditional witchcraft survival are taken in Europe with a pinch of salt. Though there may be fragments preserved in some groups and families, it hardly constitutes a cultus which is rather an inspiration rising from the example of Austin Osman Spare. If you want to understand European Witchcraft then you would be better to start with Catholicism, which is the old religion.

Certainly Gerald created a very workable fusion of the material available to him, and one which fitted the spirit of his time and certainly Alex and Maxine had more flair in their presentation of it. Wicca fused with a spirit of sexual liberation and a rebirth of female and earth-based spirituality. It was bolstered by the myths of Murray and Gimbutas.
It was a necessary stage in the re-emergence, or re-imagining of witchcraft.

Yet Wicca has profound limitations, in the same way that the Golden Dawn and the OTO have profound limitations. These are the limitations of its time and its founders. They are systems in entropy. We would ask those who consider themselves witches, rather than more narrowly wiccans, to look at the source material. To consider that Gardner and Sanders did not have the access to what we do now, and that their world is very different to ours. We suggest that their witchcraft should go beyond that of their godfathers.

This is a world in crisis, we are seeing a mass extinction of plant and animal species, the death of the oceans, climate change, and peak oil. It is not only our way of life, it is life itself which is under threat. Wicca did not predict this and neither did Liber Al vel Legis. We need a culture of radical resistance that understands that we are part of the whole ecology, that we are intimately connected to the web of life. Witchcraft has this vision.

Furthermore, Witchcraft is the recourse of the dispossessed, the powerless, the hungry and the abused. It gives heart and tongue to stones and trees. It wears the rough skin of beasts and turns on a civilisation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Reading fantasy novels is not a valid response, and neither is hiding in a thicket of studied archaic English and obfuscation. Witchcraft is rooted in the land, whether that is Benevento, Cornwall or Pennsylvania. If the land is being poisoned then it is witchcraft which must respond, and do so with compassionate anger.

We hope to, and do, find many points in common across all expressions of witchcraft: the connection to the land, work with familiar spirits, herb and plant lore and malefica, to name but a few. We differ in our focus in that we are actively engaged in the world and that comes from both an apocalyptic and eschatological understanding of events. We dare to utter prophecy.

Our position is quite distinct:

Witchcraft is a force and not an order or cult.
Witchcraft is non-hierarchical. It utilises the rhizomatic structure of underground resistance.
Witchcraft is unbridled female sexuality. It is the woman who initiates.
Witchcraft is folk magic, the magic of the people and for the people.
Witchcraft is a myth, an invention, a story, and one which though drawing on the past, clothes itself in the symbols of its time.
Witchcraft is oracular.
Witchcraft is found in the ecstatic possession state.
Witchcraft flies to the Sabbat.

We insist that Witchcraft has power and requires the use of drugs, sex and ordeal.

The example we follow is that of Michelet who saw in the figure of the witch a revolutionary spirit, this is something which Alkistis discusses in XVI. We do not mistake these stories and myths for history, but we harness their emotional power to transform the future.  ‘
Of the modern writers, we feel it is Jack Parsons who embodied the spirit of witchcraft, which is one of revolution and of the power of female sexuality. The Goddess who possesses these qualities, and who speaks to us is Babalon.

How is Witchcraft and the pursuit of knowledge tied together? Are Witchcraft and Gnosis the same thing?

Knowledge enters us through the body. This is an internal alchemy which requires huge emotional reserves and cannot be accomplished in icy detachment or by effort of Will. The highest form of this knowledge is Love. The process needs passion and heat.

Ritual is the orchestration of the primal states such as innocence, fear, flight and fight and their alchemical transformation through experience.

Witchcraft concerns itself with mystery and it is through the gates of mystery that we come to knowledge.

Our counsel is to forget the nebulous modern use of terms such as Gnosis and concentrate on Work, or perhaps here we can use the German term, kraft.

Why are people so reticent to meet with the full impact of Magick? The major avant garde artists of the 19th and 20th century were all heavily involved in esotericism, whether organized or through individual practice, but it seems most practitioners today are happy with a few popular occultists they can reference.

Art has become a commodity. A tool of commerce, as safe and dead as a shark in a formaldehyde tank. It talks the empty language of advertising. These so-called artists are merely reflecting our secular society where spirit contact has been lost, and we have been alienated from the raw forces of nature. They have nothing to draw on, and their patrons reward their product which is destined for the vaults of investment Banks.

This is in stark contrast to the avant garde which ardently pursued the esoteric arts in paint, word, gesture and life whether implicitly or explicitly. This was done for art’s sake, for the sake of life. In our litany of Saints we must include Artaud, Nijinsky, Rimbaud, Jarry, Genet, Arthur Cravan, Kinski et al. Like Debord, we can say that we have been led by poetry and the belief that we should carry out its programme in reality.

To be alive is to be able to respond and resonate to works of art, literature, poetry, sculpture and dance. These are all forms of evocation, invocation and possession which inspire us to create our own.

By focusing on popular occultists, if that is not in itself an oxymoron, their wider context is lost. Is our idea of Crowley not enriched by Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley? Can Spare really be the only painter of note? Our minds should range widely.

10349208_1042164132480125_2802212991339206395_n.jpgWhat is worse is the claustrophobic drawing room atmosphere that surrounds a small selection of occultists whose biographical details are deemed more important than the living practice of magick. It is time to turn over the tables in the temple again.

Perhaps we must ask, where are the avant-garde esoteric artists today?
Magick is reflecting that absence of art in our materialist culture. If a work of art is truly of value it should be able to stand without ‘esoteric’ as a prefix, which is often simply an excuse for poorly executed derivative doodling. Magick can seem to be a myopic ghetto, a support group for losers seeking affirmation from an uncritical and needy subculture.

But there is an antidote: All art is magic, again something many of our writers emphasise in XVI. We continually encounter, correspond with and seek out artists. Our readers write to us and reveal a deeper and richer seam than the truncated internet profiles suggest.
Art cannot help but pursue the esoteric, as it goes beyond what is acceptable in search of the expression of truth. Art will not stop at the surface. Canvases are being savaged, poems wrought, movements found. The full impact of magick will unfurl in this century with a raw artistic beauty as those with nothing left to lose will choose to dare all.

How are poetry and magic related?

Intimately. Poetry is invocation, evocation and congress with the world of spirits. Poetry is vision which makes the mysterious manifest. Words carry their shades with them, they strike like shamanic darts. In vocalisation, rhythm and incantation the body resonates into other worlds and we are renewed by these glimpses. Poetry is also work. Hammered into shape, ruthlessly wrought, it is the process of self mastery.

Our answer could also be, read Peter Redgrove, Ted Hughes, Penelope Shuttle, Rene Char, Gysin, Shakespeare, Bukowski, Hafiz, The Song of Songs, the metaphysical poets, read everything and read it aloud.

We are totally committed to poetry as an art form, which is why we published Datura, and why we have followed up that commitment with a call for submissions to our next anthology Mandragora.

What do you see as a means to draw more neo-pagan and Wiccan groups into environmental thinking? It seems an obvious fit, yet there is very little action there.

Collapse. The inevitable decline of modern consumer capitalism which is in the final rapacious phase of destroying our natural resources cannot fail to wake people up.

The lack of movement is because many of those professing witchcraft are urban, industrial, sedentary and plugged into the internet rather than the biosphere.

Hunger, scarcity, ecological disasters will create a new generation of pagans who will have to find solutions. The speed of the rise of this new social movement will be completely unexpected.

Already those with eyes to see will have seen the signs of change. John Michael Greer seems to be doing this, and there are clearly other individuals such as Raven Kaldera with their fingers in the soil. There will be many others.

Those groups which do not understand eschatology will simply be unable to interpret the catastrophic chain of events as they celebrate a wheel of the year which has broken from the axle. Nostalgia is no protection from the end of the age of oil and a witchcraft which does not recognise this fact is irrelevant.

What myths would best invoke ecological responsibility?

The critical lie we are currently confronting is that of infinite economic growth on a finite planet with finite resources.

This pernicious myth can be traced back to the Bible which is full of ecological horror stories as the chosen people murder their way to dominance and cut down the sacred groves at the behest of their tribal god. Christianity continued this insane trajectory until their invisible god was replaced by the invisible hand of Adam Smith and finally the insanity of the Chicago school which believes that everything is for sale and profit alone is G_d.

The American dream is simply a variant of this myth structure supported with both an inquisition (Homeland Security) a devil, (the many-headed Al Qaeda) and a New Jerusalem (for sale piece by piece in your local Wal-Mart and propagandised for incessantly by Hollywood).

The myth we choose to oppose this with is Revelations. We read this by recognising the defamed whore as the pagan Love and War goddess, Her history made explicit in The Red Goddess. And we are all whores, proud to celebrate the luxury of our living flesh. In divine intoxication we seek communion with the Beloved. Every drop of blood sacrificed to the grail. Love cannot be bought with any other coin. We celebrate life, in radical opposition to the archons and our bridal bed is the battlefield of the earth.

By understanding the Antichrist, Dragon and Beast as Her lover we challenge man to be the equal of woman.

By disentangling the stellar myths we orientate ourselves.

By seeking and drinking from the forbidden grail we intoxicate ourselves with Her wine.

We recognise the continuity of this myth in the work of John Dee and Edward Kelley and further, we take this as a dynamic process which flowers in our midst.

When we say myth, we are stating that this is our direct living experience of Babalon that this story is being played out through our bodies. Her time is Now.

Shamanism seems to be an element that is missing from the outer manifestations of the Western Tradition; Jake Stratton-Kent and your own practice seem to be trying to bring that back into the fold. When/why did this practice fall away?

It never does. The practitioners simply go through periods of vilification and periods of mass ecstatic participation in defiance of the approved State religion. Whether this is the Dionysian cults or free festivals or rave culture, or ayahuasca, the shamanic connection cannot be prevented from spontaneous eruption and attendant social upheaval. But we do not mistake everyone who drops acid as a shaman.

The Western Tradition has fallen over itself to be respectable, and in doing so has pulled its own claws. Seeking tax status and social acceptance it has been craven in the war on some drugs, the war on consciousness expansion, and has rather tried to ritually script altered states rather than explore genuine ones. This is hypocrisy.

Our own work and that of JSK shows that divine intoxication is a central part of the Western Tradition.  From the goetic use of psychoactive incense to flying ointments, to the spiked ritual wine, the use of dance and drumming, to the role of the necromancer and psychopomp, this is the true Western Tradition and one which has retained the shamanic elements, most notably through a coded survival in the grimoire tradition. Jake is explicit about this in Geosophia, and we can also point to the work of Aaron Leitch in this context. The drugs do work, but they need to be part of a wider discipline.

Would you agree with Ralph Metzner that Alchemy/Shamanism/Yoga (in there various expressions) form the core consciousness changing technologies of humanity?

We could equally say drugs, sex and rock and roll, preferably in combination with each other. The magical body needs to be built, rather than simply a well stocked library, and it is perhaps the physical and subtle energy building practices which have been neglected in the West. As we work with a Goddess of Love and War then we understand the importance of being able to run energy, whether to fuck or to fight.

What is it that draws you to Jack Parsons?

Jack, like Henry Miller or Bukowski, was fuelled by a deep love for woman. He understood that the source of witchcraft is the body of woman. He grapples relentlessly with the need for liberation, ideas of sexual freedom and social change. He sings for the new woman in the way that Nietzsche tells us of the coming of the Superman. Jack stands on the threshold of change, and dares to innovate, dares to dream. Now it is for women to create the Witchcraft following the teachings of their own bodies. We are post-Parsons as much as we are post-Crowley, and it is time for this generation not to fixate on dead pin-ups and their magical misadventures but to have the courage to start the fires in themselves.

In The Red Goddess I am as critical of Jack and I am of Crowley or Dee but his story still needs to be told. He is a vital link in the history of Witchcraft. The telling of his story can span the gulf between the magick and pagan communities.

I love the idea of ” gnostic strategies for liberation.”  Does this concept encompass all forms of Gnosis? Psycho-Spiritual-Physical?

We mean: By any means necessary.

What are the best techniques for seeing through the spectacle? Is it unique to each individual?

The spectacle is increasingly unique to each individual, and the individual is increasingly homogenised.

The technique simply put, is to turn off the connections whilst ensuring you are building a community to sustain you and your loved ones.

Decouple from the failing structures. Simplify your life. Build parallel structures utilising a mix of high and low tech solutions. Find the others.

If you have no price you cannot be bought.
If you do not want anything you cannot be bribed.
If you are not frightened you cannot be controlled.

Understand that the Empire has ended, that what you are seeing is a mirage, an afterimage of the age of exuberance. It has no more reality than the light from a distant star whose rays are transmitting the ghost of a body which was extinguished millennia ago. Your paper money is worthless. Your career a trap.

Every individual is on their own path, but there are physiological and psychological principles that are generally applicable. Methods for destroying normalcy bias are essential to pursue and are explored in the essay Seeing Through Apocalypse in XVI. We must be vigilant, and constantly devising methods to sabotage the architecture of control.

Is it easier to operate outside of an Order or organization these days?

Perhaps we could say it is imperative to operate outside an Order. Though we recognise the value many gain from fraternal structures, they are woefully out of date, clustered around secrets which are not only published all over the internet but are often simply threadbare.
Our suggestion is that individuals honestly appraise the methods of transformation most suitable to themselves and work either alone and/or with their peers when necessary to reach attainment.
Orders whether intentionally or not, represent restriction and only seem to mould people into poor copies of their guru. Magic is not about being a follower or a spectator, let alone suckered into the latest personality cult. Hierarchical orders tend to self preservation through an artificial construction of secrets and the drip feed of complex sounding jargon dressed up as teaching. Human history is full of these pyramid schemes. Enough of this. We would like to see the individual brave enough to walk their own path, whilst recognising that they can learn from others and contribute to the evolving paths of those they touch on the Way.

What do you see as the next step for Magick in the 21st Century?

We are in a position of radical change where eschatology will be of vital importance. The world is entering a period of revelation, the like of which has never been seen. It is going to get hotter, and magick will be born from the female furnace. We predict that women will take a place in magick that they have not had since the ancient world. We predict revolution.

The publication of the grimoires has given us our magical history back. We are weaving together the severed ends of the Western tradition. Jake Stratton-Kent has done an immense service in reconnecting us to the Ancient Greek Goes, the PGM and the Picatrix. These are our ancestors, these are our goddesses, gods, demons and heroes. Finally we are getting right with the restless dead rather than ransacking the tombs or striking empty pop culture postures.
We are learning that we have a Western Tradition which is not 14th Century Qabalah and deco Egyptian dress-up. We have stellar lore, spirit contact, entheogens, possession states, poetry and bodywork.
Our Tradition can enter into an equal dialogue with the New World, which has preserved other missing fragments, just as the Arabic world preserved the teachings of Egypt and Ancient Greece. This is more honest than engaging in neo-colonial exoticism that seeks to exploit the darkness of the Other. From this fusion we can achieve an erotic explosion of human potential. A future that has a rich magical ecology which is engaged with the world of humans, plants, animals and entities. One which respects and works with the forces of nature. Where woman and man encounter each other as equals. This will not be achieved without struggle.

What are Scarlet Imprint’s upcoming plans? What should we anticipate next?

Everything we do is sub rosa, our stratagems are always evolving.

www.scarletimprint.com

Biographies –

Peter Grey –

Peter is a writer, the author of the acclaimed devotional work for Babalon, The Red Goddess.
He is the co-founder of Scarlet Imprint. He is an exponent of the antinomian and libertarian strand of the western magical tradition. his work comes out of physical praxis. his path is one of ordeal, ecstasy, and Love.
Much of his time is spent in the mountains following his devotional path.
he has spoken internationally and contributed articles to many magickal journals.

Alkistis Dimech
Alkistis is a dancer, artist and writer; her work explores the erotic, irrational and primitive, using techniques derived from Butoh, asian dance and martial forms, as well as shamanic practices to access states of expanded consciousness.
Alkistis is an alumnus of the Courtauld Institute and the school of oriental and African studies.  She has studied Butoh under Ko Murobushi, Masaki Iwana and other Butoh Masters.

She is the co-founder of Scarlet Imprint.

What is the Stone That These Buildings Are Built On?

Streets scattered with the bodies of birds, feathers and wings, sacrificial remains of the morning commute.

One day walking a longer mile I came across a coyote in a ditch. This is the price of progress. Coyote who once inspired dances and masks, fear in the night, stories of creation, conflict and resolution, now a broken body alive only with bees.

“Then the silence increased. As we listened to the last faint prayer of the old canal and the crumbling of the bones of the moribund palaces with their green growth of beard, suddenly the hungry automobiles roared beneath our windows.

“Come, my friends!” I said. “Let us go! At last Mythology and the mystic cult of the ideal have been left behind. We are going to be present at the birth of the centaur and we shall soon see the first angels fly! We must break down the gates of life to test the bolts and the padlocks! Let us go! Here is they very first sunrise on earth! Nothing equals the splendor of its red sword which strikes for the first time in our millennial darkness.”

We went up to the three snorting machines to caress their breasts. I lay along mine like a corpse on its bier, but I suddenly revived again beneath the steering wheel — a guillotine knife — which threatened my stomach. A great sweep of madness brought us sharply back to ourselves and drove us through the streets, steep and deep, like dried up torrents. Here and there unhappy lamps in the windows taught us to despise our mathematical eyes. “Smell,” I exclaimed, “smell is good enough for wild beasts!”

And we hunted, like young lions, death with its black fur dappled with pale crosses, who ran before us in the vast violet sky, palpable and living.”

The Futurist ManifestoF. T. Marinetti, 1909

So what is the stone that these buildings are built on, and what does it cost to cut it to size?

Rethinking the Year in Natural Cycles

In his book Cosmos and Psyche the theorist Richard Tarnas discusses how a structured cosmology can affect the cultural narrative.  He focuses on astrology as a way to map changes in the global culture against recurrent celestial patterns. Through a mytho-poetic relationship to the celestial cycles he explores holistic relationships that bridge the gap between science and religion, microcosm and macrocosm.

In looking for sustainable systems our best guide is nature itself. We often forget that the calendar we follow is an inorganic tool, an artificial construct that has grown with the technological reification of our culture.

The Flow of Events

Calendars are used to measure the interaction of time and meaning, they organize our relationship with the flow of events. In seeking sustainable solutions we have to keep in mind that something as subtle as our understanding of the year affects our relationship with the environment.

This applies to our individual lives as well as to the way we order our communities. The cultural traditions of the world have long addressed this issue, and their explorations are outlined in allegories, mythologies, folklore, songs and symbols. By readdressing these lessons we can gain a valuable understanding of the natural cycles that our current calendars ignore.

Beyond the Pale

It may seem odd to consider astrology as a valid tool. Before we dismiss the thought, however, we need to take into account the ability for astrological symbols to carry narrative meaning in connection with the recurring natural cycles.

At the present time our general understanding of the calendar is based on economic cycles. In order to reconnect to the living systems around us we need to go beyond the pale and adapt new systems, or reconsider older systems, that emerge from an understanding of nature.

Rethinking our relationships

Something like Weiser’s Witches’ Almanac* is a surprisingly effective tool for this undertaking. There is a wealth of fragments from mythology, folklore, urban legend, weather lore and a calendar system that follows the lunar and celestial cycles.

Each page provides another opportunity to reexamine the world through a mytho-poetic lense. In the Spring 2011 – Spring 2012 issue Shannon Marks has a wonderful essay on Genius Loci, or the Spirits of Place, addressing a deeper way to understand our connection to the environment based on past traditions.

“Every locality has a unique character or atmosphere, its Genius Loci…Saint Augustine wrote a great deal about the subject, particularly pertaining to gardens. He declared that the gardener should seek to honor the natural landscape, remaining true to the aspect suggested by rocks, trees, rivers or hills.”

Examples from the past

Shannon outlines a perfect philosophical basis for permaculture and provides another avenue to explore sustainable ideas within the foundation of the cultural narrative. Western traditions have been mired in a revisionist model of the enlightenment that stunts our vision of life. By seeking out the roots of our culture we find intersections with the past that have been passed by or glossed over.

So much of our thinking on issues of sustainability and the environment focuses on futuristic narratives, by drawing upon mythology and older traditions we gain alternative solutions and valuable counter arguments that bring us closer to a true solution.

*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires.  Article originally posted at openmythsource.com

Vocatio Sol Aurum – The Calling of the Golden Sun

During a brief exchange on Twitter, author Peter Bebergal highlighted an interesting observation regarding the New York Times’ piece on Isaac Newton’s alchemical interests.  Newton pursued alchemy without any allegorical or spiritual (as we understand it today) intent, it was pure science.

The term alchemy,  as it is popularly used, has a fairly open meaning. When used by skeptics it usually relates to the legendary search to transmute lead into gold, when used by others of a less skeptical bent it often pertains to the use of allegorical models to explain spiritual truths. What is missed in these interpretations is the real meat of the matter, what were the alchemists actually doing?

Stories can outgrow themselves, they become more than they were ever intended to be. In the case of alchemy it has become less. Through changing fads and fashions in science we’ve come to focus on specialized parts of the whole. The way we understand science today, as a highly specialized, compartmentalized, and in some ways myopic endeavor, is quite different from science as it was understood even as recently as the late 19th century.

Eliphas Levi may not have been the most accurate scholar or diligent scientist, but his dedication to the Royal Art of alchemy is without question. In his work, Doctrine and Ritual of Transcendental Magic, Levi provides a description of the alchemical quest, the Vocatio Sol Aurum (Calling of the Golden Sun), that seems closer to the scientific focus of Newton than either the skeptics image of the Puffer, or the common interpretation of mere metaphor and allegory:

“The disciples of Hermes, before promising their adepts the elixir of long life or the powder of projection, counselled them to seek for the Philosophical Stone. What is this Stone, and why is it so called? The Great Initiator of the Christians invites his believers to build on the stone or rock, if they do not wish their structures to be demolished, He terms Himself the corner-stone, and says to the most faithful of His Apostles, “Thou art Peter (petrus), and upon this rock (petram) I will build My church.” This Stone, say the masters in Alchemy, is the true Salt of Philosophy…it is the foundation of absolute philosophy, it is supreme and immovable reason. Before even dreaming of the metallic work, we must be fixed for ever upon the absolute principles of wisdom; we must possess that reason which is the touchstone of truth. Never will a man of prejudices become the king of Nature and the master of transmutations.”

As pointed out in the New York Times piece, it was Newton’s study of alchemy that lead to his deep understanding of optics. Professor William Newman, of Indiana University, has spent nearly a decade studying Newton’s alchemical ideas and he is under the opinion that it was Newton’s quest for alchemical truths that lead to many of his surprising scientific discoveries.

What hit me when Peter drew attention to the fact that Newton was focused solely on science was that it’s obvious. All of the surprise over Newton’s alchemical endeavors is based on a complete misrepresentation of alchemy and a misunderstanding of science. Alchemy, as classically practiced, is the ultimate science. It’s practitioners  do not pay lip service to the truth, or travel down paths dictated by their pleasures, whims or interests, they seek truth. Charlatans exist, so what? This takes nothing away from those who truly walk the path.

We’re surprised by this idea because science and commerce are so closely tied in our culture that we’ve come to think of organizations like pharmaceutical companies as scientific. They hire technicians seeking to turn lead into gold, not scientists who are seeking for truth. What we think of science today on the popular level is pure mechanism, and those we think of as scientists are mechanics, more often than not they aren’t even concerned with the craft of their mechanisms, just raw result.

Antonin Artaud addresses this in his preface to Theater and its Double:

“Never before, when it is life that is in question, has there been so much talk of civilization and culture. And there is a curious parallel between this generalized collapse of life at the root of our present demoralization and our concern for a culture which has never been coincident with life, which in fact has been devised to tyrannize life.

Before speaking further about culture, I must remark that the world is hungry and not concerned with culture, and that the attempt to orient toward culture thoughts turned only toward hunger is a purely artificial expedient.

What is more important, it seems to me, is not so much to defend a culture whose existence has never kept a man from going hungry, as to extract, from what is called culture, ideas whose compelling force is identical with that of hunger.

We need to live first of all: to believe in what makes us live and that something makes us live – to believe that whatever is produced from the mysterious depths of ourselves need not forever haunt us as an exclusively digestive concern.

I mean that if it is important for us to eat first of all, it is even more important for us for us not to waste in the sole concern for eating our simple power of being hungry.

If confusion is the sign of the times, I see at the root of this confusion a rupture between things and words, between things and ideas and signs that are their representation.”

By mocking the alchemist, and poking fun at Newton’s closet of supposed skeletons, we mask the fact that the real absurdity is our own understanding of science and progress, our complete dismissal of the true quest that has been written about since Gilgamesh was tooled onto a clay tablet.

A truly viable social system is one that is eternal, perpetuum mobile, achieved through the quest for reality beyond opinion and preference. Mechanically this may not be possible, but what if we saw things in a different light?

“Thus in divers things
They produce untold, precious fruit.
They perish never more,
And laugh at death.
By the grace of God they abide for ever…”

– Book of the Lambspring