to have, and to have not

In modern Satanism, there is a very strong thread of pragmatism and self-interest. This is very sensible and practical. You should go for all you can in life, and get the very best, most fulfilling life you can. On the other hand, there’s no point barking up the wrong trees, deluding yourself, or yearning for the impossible, if you can avoid it. But some things are genuinely hard to avoid, because they are too deep, or their denial  is too overwhelmingly circumstantial. People don’t get dealt equal hands, just a fairly standard set of needs, not all of which can be met for everyone. Anton LaVey was very clear in his admiration for the personal qualities of severely deformed individuals who had managed to put their situation to advantage by being sought after as “circus freaks”, and got people to pay for the privilege of seeing them. The strength, determination and individualism of these people was outstanding.

With some things it’s fine to say “suck it up”, and “bite the bullet”, but there are points at which a person suffers in a way which is so psychologically potent for them, that such advice doesn’t go very far.

What I would like to highlight here is that people face real losses and deprivations in life, inequalities and what  would be obviously unfair, if there were any expectation of existence being “fair” (which there clearly cannot be). However, without engaging in sentimental concepts of “everything being for a reason” (which really isn’t the point), the way life and human nature works out, there are often compensations, and ones which only become apparent through hard experience. These sort of areas I think go deeper into universal aspects of spirituality, as they deal with areas of self-realisation which we discover through facing life as it is, sometimes making surprising discoveries in the process.

I use the term “warlock” to describe myself because I am male, and I like the resonances of “warlock” as a Satanist. But I also like the term “witch” for its sexual ambiguity as a male. My inner life is a door, not a thing; a space, not an object. Beyond that door, you’d have to know me beyond words or appearances, or available categories, to see.

I have relationships with deities and spirits, with the “other world”, a world which could be judged “non-existent”, indeed you might well consider it such, if you hadn’t experienced yourself as part of it. Being and nothingness are threads in one cloth, and if you held that cloth to your face I would defy you to tell me which was which. That is the love of life for itself.

If I had experienced a happy, fulfilled younger life of relationship and love, I would not have fallen into the arms of that world. I would not have been seen from the other side, and found a kind of recognition. These bonds don’t come from practice, but from your own soul, that part of your being that recognises the stuff of life as poetry, and poetry as life. Why these things happen, why they are, I do not know, other than that they carry a meaning that bears its own gravity, attracting us and the events of our lives across fields to their ends, however distant and forbidding, hard or verdant, towards the meaning we most deeply share.

With time we see who we are, and lack becomes fullness. We see what we can do. We see how we can love.

The heart is bigger than we think; red as blood, luminous as dreams, warm as our lover’s flesh. And it is open.

There may be many kinds of want, each in their way revealed through different circumstances. The crucible is hollow, the pot useless without its emptiness. The fire is real. And we have lives to live, and meanings that may take time and experience to uncover.

dancing_with_helen_moller3b_her_own_statement_of_her_philosophy_and_practice_and_teaching_formed_upon_the_classic_greek_model2c_and_adapted_to_meet_the_aesthetic_and_hygienic_needs_of_to-day2c_with

Dancing with Helen Moller by Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

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common wealth

The other day I was starting to get quite depressed. It’s something I’ve probably suffered from, on and off and to varying degrees since my late teens, though I’m pretty good at drawing on inner resources I’ve developed over time, and have got some help over the years with counselling, CBT and occasional, short term (and not very successful) medication. I also don’t do Winters well, so there is that seasonal thing.

We lay down for a while, and as I was drifting I got to thinking a great deal about my mother (who died in 2004). We were very alike in some ways, and I think you could say we both had “unusual” relationships to “reality” and its demands, though we mainly handled it differently. I’m very glad of the mother I had (she was very unnarcissistic, not at all into that conventional mother-gave-you-life  bullshit), but I’m quite unsentimental about her. I genuinely appreciated her and liked her as a person though, and thought she did a very honest job of parenting. High five Jean, we even had some laughs together.

She did have a hard life though, and we shared a lot of emotional characteristics, and separation from her was a necessary part of maturing as a person for me. I expressed my appreciation as I was drifting there though.

At some point, either when we got up or shortly before, I realized that the depression I was feeling was in part her’s. You only glimpsed it at times as a child, and forgot it quickly (of necessity), but from behind her fortress of coping there would sometimes slip just a tone in the voice that betrayed what you could only describe as despair. Like I said, we were quite alike, and you need to develop distance if you aren’t going to turn into your parents.

Later I was talking with a friend of mine online who is another Satanist, and he was recounting the community of Satanists he used to be a part of, celebrating together, as a kind of brotherhood. It was very heartening, and funnily enough, I had only shortly before read Anton LaVey’s opinion (in 1969) that Satanists should seek out others to celebrate with:

“The pageantry of religion is what sustains it. When religion consistently becomes a solitary situation it reaches into that realm of self-denial which runs concurrent with anti-social behaviour”

The Satanic Bible

I am used to focussing on the individual aspect of Satanism (indeed I think it is primary), and with the advent of the internet it is possible to be in touch with people as a network rather than  a conventional community, thus neither properly isolated nor in community, but I do realize that there is a need for fellowship and companionship in the actual bodily sense. Where it is possible, this is a very fruitful thing, though it has to be right for us of course.

The other thing that came from chatting with my friend was the shared enthusiasm we had as theists. I actually believe that the appropriate public form of modern Satanism is agnostic and tolerant of many different approaches, but I am by nature a Devil worshipper and I will not deny myself that. And that brings me to what I think was a perennial cause of depression and pessimism for me, which is the conventional veneration of a world supposedly ruled by a “natural” law that excluded me, or of social norms that devalued the lives of me and my loved ones, or of hypocritical moralities. With my gods there is no such requirement to take care of that world and bow to its requirements or norms. It is up to us.

And with that the war is over. The Devil and his darlings make their own way. Peace; just not as you have been taught it.

Unlearning all the bad lessons that keep you unfree can take time. Breaking your forced vows. Looking after your own. It takes time to undo all those things which, set up as they are, leave you in just the place to lose, to not be counted, to be quietly buried.

The “Creator” who knows best. The “greater good” that doesn’t include you. The “karma” that never happens to makes just sense. The “law” that sacrifices those considered moral collateral damage. The collective valuation of lives that is anything but equal. The body of respectable men and women that, when the scab is knocked off, bleed through as villagers with pitchforks and torches in the night. The exhortations to “do no harm”, to save the world, to put others first, when that is not the way the world works, and it turns you into a target and a liability if you aren’t privileged and protected. It takes time to unlearn these habits, and do the real good you can do for yourself and your loved ones. It takes time to learn new ways to be human.

We all need the warmth of faith and common humanity at some level; it’s just part of our make up. It’s not a big moral deal, but it’s like food, or clean air psychically. For some that faith might be in reason and our own capacity to solve the problems we are faced with. Getting to Mars would be pretty hardcore, and it’s about time we picked up where my parents’ generation left off. But some of us need the kind of faith we get from polytheism too, and understanding that it is not monotheism with cool looking angel substitutes tending the Universe is pretty important. In fact it needs to be an anti-monotheism (sorry interfaith, but I don’t want you and your hangers on), just practically.

The Devil to his darlings is that warmth. And we are warlocked with love.

The History of Witches and Wizards, 1720 by Wellcome Trust [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

a gloomy Saturday and a different time

It’s a chilly day and grey, and we are seemingly in the pall of Autumn now, though only a day or two ago it seemed warm and sunny enough for mid September. Today though, I have closed all the windows and doors, and I am in cocooning mode. We are also post-flu-shots, in that immediate ghost virus phase, like we’re stumbling round a film where we play two people who actually have colds. It’s oddly pleasant, in a drunkenly Winter welcoming sort of way. The tiny ash sapling in the garden has gone all golden, and the amaryllis is foolishly thinking it is Christmas and trying to bloom.

I got a reminder this week of the Pagan and occult communities, and why I love both books and the internet. Some people still assume that if you are Pagan, or an occultist, or witch, that you will be part of a world of groups and orders and covens. They still think that is “the real thing”. They really haven’t caught up with how things are nowadays. That might apply more to the UK than to places like the USA where Paganism has been more community and festival oriented for almost 50 years. Here Paganism has always seemed to be more rooted in the occult and in recognized orders and traditions, something which I think only started to change significantly in the 90s or 00s. You had to find occult bookshops, specialist magazines, find out about rare conferences or symposia, buy fanzines and books and write off to people.

And it’s quite true that we owe a debt to the people who wrote the books, and got together to do things, but since the advent of the internet the majority of unrepresented and unacknowledged people who bought the books and found inspiration in the romance of occultism and Paganism have found their own representation. The independents have come into their own. It started in the 80s really, when things like DIY witchcraft really started to take off. Actually, way before then with the likes of Israel Regardie publishing detailed “how to” books, and before him Aleister Crowley with his own works spilling the beans. It was all part of the “new age” (before the commercial version), the “Age of Aquarius”, the dissemination of “ancient wisdom” to a new world, freed from the constraints of secrecy and hiding.

There’s no question really that both the publishing of magical material, and the democratization of DIY participation catalysed by the internet are both consistent with that “Aquarian” ideal, but the resistance seemed to be considerable, in the resentment and contempt expressed by elements of the “old world”. But times have changed, we’ve moved on, and the orders and covens and traditions can’t speak for people at large, and can’t define who is or isn’t part of “it” anymore. The idea that a bounded group can have the obvious authority to define a spirituality better than an individual now seems … not so obvious at all. Defining validity through which group you might be seen to belong to is an idea that is just falling apart. In that sense, I feel we do live in a more Satanic time.

And about time too. The figure who was the greatest single inspiration to me was the artist-magician Austin Osman Spare, a truly wonderful man with a superb, unique vision. He belonged to no group for any amount of time. He shunned both the art world and the occult world. He was a genius in both areas. Things like Chaos Magic claimed descent from his ideal, but they never caught his spirit, his poetry, his unique flight to the imaginal Sabbat. He had gone.

Don’t drop into the mundanity of groups and qualifications, if what you want is more. Don’t fall from individuality. Fall, or stray, from that unvital consensus. Don’t listen. Your night is young.

Go on.

detail of self portrait of Austin Osman Spare, sceeen capture from video by Alan moore at https://youtu.be/sjtK7vQdgEg

detail of self portrait of Austin Osman Spare, sceeen capture from video by Alan moore at https://youtu.be/sjtK7vQdgEg

bringing the Sun home

I realized after writing my last post that I hadn’t said much about what I think Lammas is, as oppposed to what it isn’t for me. So here it is.

If I had to put Lammas in a phrase I would describe it as the materialization of the Sun. Each of the solar festivals is followed by a cross quarter day, approximately 6 weeks later. The solar festivals are the solstices and equinoxes. The cross quarter days are Beltane/Walpurgis Night/May Day, Lammas/Lughnasadh, Halloween/Samhain, and Candlemass/Imbolc. The cross quarter days manifests on Earth the change that has taken place in the heavens. I find this the simplest way of understanding the “wheel of the year”.

Thus Walpurgis Night and Halloween manifest the rapid change and shifts of the equinoxes, but in grounding them they take them right into the place they are heading for (but you will still note the sense of being on the edge).

Lammas and Candlemass manifest quite different qualities. Winter Solstice is solar low point, and there is a regenerating, reviving and transformative quality to it, as well as a starry, nocturnal aspect. Candlemass manifests both the starry, reviving quality of the time, and the barrenness of the lack of Sun in midwinter. Summer Solstice on the other hand is solar high point, and has a trippy but very daytime feel. Lammas brings the Sun to Earth in maximum warmth and fruitfulness. Also, being so solar, it is also a time for the individual and creativity, which gets its astrological representation in the sign of Leo (ruled by the Sun).

So that is how I see Lammas.

July/Leo, Book of Hours, Bodleian Lib. MS Auct. D.inf.2.11., fol 6r by Fastolf Master (cf. license) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Upside Down Loaf Mass

Today is August 1st, which is Lammas for quite a few people, a harvest festival of high Summer.

Love of this time comes quite naturally to me. Many Wiccan influenced Pagans associate it with the sacrifice of their god, but as the Warlock I am, I would find that quite abhorrent. They ain’t getting their hands on my Horned One.

As someone who grew up spiritually through Thelema, the whole place of “dying gods” is not something that I attach much relevance to. The parallels with the Christian myth are pretty obvious, but I have no intention of celebrating his torture and death either. He sounded like a pretty cool and liberating figure, and if he did exist, I would rather he was set free from that cross.

Further, the traditional pinning of the role of sacrifice and death on male figures is something I am not going to take part in.

None of that is my god. But I will celebrate him, as ever, my beautiful, musky Sabbat Lord.

And if you were thinking of going into the fields and woods to make love, this would really be a much better time to do it than May eve, if you live in the British Isles.

Have a lovely Lammas.

"Night-time Wheat Field" Image constructed and manipulated from three images: “Wheat Field” By Skrissh2013 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), and “the cross in Matiaška, village in Slovakia” By Przykuta (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), and Starry Night by Jean-François Millet [Public domain], all via Wikimedia Commons. As per the creative commons license conditions, the image is under Creative Commons 3.0 license also.

“Night-time Wheat Field”
Image constructed and manipulated from three images: “Wheat Field” By Skrissh2013 (Own work), and “the cross in Matiaška, village in Slovakia” By Przykuta (Own work) both under CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), and Starry Night by Jean-François Millet [Public domain], all via Wikimedia Commons. Under Creative Commons 3.0 license also.

18th August 2014 – illustration swapped for the more nocturnal version now showing

good life

When life gets hard, for whatever reason (and that can be mental fragility as much as anything else), you can get brought home to subsisting truths. For me one of those truths is the spiritual need for a “good life”.

I think that’s quite a universal thing, and when I say “spiritual” I mean of that quality of integrity and wholeness, which in itself can give a sense of protection or shelter in the face of danger.

Having an unconventional spirituality, I do sometimes think on the basic nature and function of religion, and certainly an important one for me would be the facilitating of a good and wholesome life for the people that a religion serves. A religion should help you live better, and be a better person. I think this is where the quality of peace comes in, and it’s also part of what you learn when you fail, and when the confrontations with shadow are not successful. Some forms of understanding only enter through a wounding. I would maybe characterize that a savage grace, because whatever the experience, and however unrecognizable the healing is initially, it is a process of grace. I have never had a great understanding of faith, but I do understand the things one sometimes cannot help but intuit, in the incomprehensible, and the glancing, almost subliminal recognition of help and love that underlies the world of appearances. These intuitions are not constant in life, and I think that is why remembrance is such a strong practice in some traditions. We have to build the bridge, as well as sometimes finding ourselves flung across it.

There are certainly other aspects to spirituality, for instance areas that are more of the nature of straightforward trial and ordeal. Growth isn’t easy, and healing isn’t always easy either. For me I think that has been to do with the experimentations that lead to authentic individual self-actualization, and the extension of spiritual vocabulary to include the previously excluded. There is no point trying to lead a good life that is designed to not include you. Sometimes you just have to do work.

But there is a great part of spirituality which is to do with finding and living a good life. That most certainly has its magical counterpart.

One has to declare peace and live peace, if one can, without losing the freshness and nakedness of its self evidence.

Castle Campbell – green man by Otter (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

words, words, words

I’m still grappling with that term “warlock”. Warlock or witch? Warlock or witch?

If I was witch, I’d be a witch after the type of Marion Weinstein, a scrupulously clear, equal opportunities magic worker, going my own way.

But we all know the term “witch” has been co-opted by something else. So should that bother me? Should I just carry on and say “but it means this to me”?

And then magic, truthfully, is more than what Marion Weinstein goes into, much as I love her.

Then there is the reviled term “warlock”, and behind the reviling there is an unknown. Witch was reviled once (and still is quite a few places). Is that meant to stop us? No, clearly not.

Warlock, should we do the work, could be a good balance and a new start. But I am clear, the work has to be positive, because that is what builds lives, and we cannot only be getting free of bindings – we have to build the new lives too.

Warlock, breaking oaths, breaking bad spells, making anew.

Witch or warlock, warlock or witch? Whatever works for you. Words are powerful, and then again they are just words. Sometimes you have to work with them, transform them; sometimes you have to get free of them.

Do it all with love.

By Skye.marie (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons