Light, dark, crowns and reversals

Coronadolores By Cofradía de Ntro. Padre Jesús Nazareno (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons - digitally altered

I’ve been finding it good to do videos at the moment, having found a nice way of recording them on my phone while pacing around the flat, which makes the flow and spontaneity work for me. I’ve been focusing on Spiritual (Theistic) Satanism, and things like Qabalah, and it has been a relief to be able to just focus on the kind of Satanism that speaks to me, without qualifying it with an attempt to (not mis-) represent Satanism more broadly. In fact, since really embracing the sense of Satan as a being, things have really slotted into place, and I’ve come that much closer to finding the next steps of my path. In some ways this was inevitable for me, as I am a polytheist and occultist, and the spiritual (rather than the materialism of more purely LaVeyan inspired Satanism) was bound to play a large part for me.

My last video was more of a video diary entry, and in it I was musing on the meanings of “dark” and “light” which people refer to.

One of my problems with neopaganism was its prosaic use of what were meant to be significant insights. We were told often of how monotheism “demonized” the dark and exulted a sense of the “light”, and how Pagan religions, being far more “natural”, accepted the different parts of life, the dark and the light, the painful and the blissful. We were given the sense of dark and light being a polarity of Nature, embraced by naturalism. Night and day, Summer and Winter, sunrise and sunset, birth and death. But there’s a catch here.

Is all that we have to consider really natural? Are we really accepting suffering equally with happiness (and should we)? Are we, in all our apparent aberrations as human beings, not also Nature? And when you have gone through the cycle of accepting day and night, birth and death (speaking as an ex-nurse, I have never got used to death), with that panacea of “reincarnation” as the supposed solution – have you really done the dark? Even if we talk about “facing the shadow” psychologically, what do we really mean? And what of “evil”, that ultimate emotive term of condemnation? I have no doubt that none of this is as the monotheists claim. But is it really so easy, so clean, so tamable?

As you might guess, my answer is “I don’t think so”. It’s good as far as it goes, but it only really goes as far as the insights of secularism and a tolerant common sense, which is fine, but not profound.

If you want to enter into a spiritual understanding of existence, then the darkness you deal with can’t just be “psychological” or symbolic, and can’t just be natural. And beyond a certain point, neither can magick. My critique here is not of the “Paganism” of old, which while it may be only partly known to us, dealt in grittier, dodgier stuff. It’s more modern, mainstream Paganism that I think hasn’t got it. The monotheisms, while I am opposed to them on pretty fundamental grounds, at least know something is there, and have the guts to call it “evil”, even if they don’t understand it, or its place in self-actualisation, and are antagonistic to the latter.

At some point we have to deal with the alien, the monstrous, that which doesn’t even belong to this Universe, which cannot for that matter be said to either exist nor not exist. This brilliant, lawless darkness we glimpse through the cracks, the points inbetween, and in so doing breathe a freedom we have never known before, an original creativity which lies also at the heart of ourselves. At that point, all bets are off. It is neither evil nor good, but ecstatic, yet in the absence of goodness will always be rationally and conventionally viewed as “evil”.  This freedom is part of what I see as being at the heart of both Satanism and Thelema.

The Left Hand Path has different goals to the Right. It is not “one of the infinite paths up the mountain”. This is no holism or universalism.

The Right Hand Path would have us ascend the Tree of Life, and merge ultimately in egoless union with The One. At least I believe that is the general picture. At the top of that tree (qabalistically) is Kether, The Crown. I don’t see any point in this, the coming here, only to go back, not even to a heaven, but blissful extinction in the unity we were meant to have come from, and should necessarily still be a part of already. So the Left Hand Path (in my view) takes another crown for its system, the sphere of Da’ath (knowledge, I think as gnosis), the gateway in the abyss, to other Universes, to the reverse of the Tree of Life.

Here we have the mystery of time and space, multiple alternate realities, and the labyrinthine, lustrous, black mother of pearl of the tunnels of being. And here the lawless creativity and gratification, the Sabbat of the dark of the Moon, the New, the brilliant, the free.

Here poetry, art, criminality (inevitably though not necessarily), and the savage desire that fires genius and the crackling, reckless impulse of science.

Here a figure dances and glitters between dark and light. An illicit Mercurius; magician, trader, thief, demon.

The fruit of Saturn, and Pan and our deepest dreams.

The new flesh.

 

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The Devil’s Due

This is just a little shout out for the group I set up on facebook. It’s called The Devil’s Due and is a place for the overlap between Satanism and Paganism, but has turned into a friendly place for Satanists and people interested in Satanism, and Left Hand Path philosophy and spirituality to come together.

Not all Satanists are described by atheistic Satanism, and not all Pagans are described by Wiccan-influenced goddess spirituality. We are kinda here for the people who don’t fit and don’t need to fit, but anyone is welcome who has an open mind and an attraction to the Left Hand Path.

Recently I found that two of the open and welcoming Left Hand Path message boards I frequented had gone offline, and that prompted me to make this post. So if you are looking for a friendly, fraternal LHP group that welcomes beginners and the curious, you can give us a try on facebook. You can find us here.

V0019447 A bacchanalian scene with Pan sleeping and many drinking ves

A bacchanalian scene with Pan sleeping and many drinking ves Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Etching by F. van den Wyngaerde after P. Rubens, mid 17th century. By: Peter Paul Rubensafter: Frans van den WyngaerdePublished: – Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

union or relationship?

Without going into too much detail (because the subtleties and variations really are a bit more complex), as a broad generalization, people characterize the spiritual goals of Right Hand Path and Left Hand Path in fairly diametrically opposite fashions. The Right Hand Path tends to get characterized not just by the control of things like desires and pleasures, and service to “the greater good”, but by the mystical goal of “union with the divine”, sometimes characterized as annihilation in God, or other forms of transcendent extinction. The Left Hand Path tends to get characterized not just by the acceptance and even indulgence of desire and pleasure, but by the development and ultimate realization of the individual self in godhood. The Right Hand Path involves union, the Left Hand Path involves (at some level at least) the fulfilment of separation and separate existence, though I would personally modify that terminology on the basis of the distinction between separation and individualization, and union and relationship*.

From my point of view, it is really not quite as simple or polarized as sometimes presented. However you want to envisage the Greater (or transcendent) Whole with which we supposedly achieve ultimate union (according to much orthodox mysticism), it seems clear to me that we actually are already one with it, but without loss of individualization. We might not be aware of it, but it is so. Of course, I do not believe in a “creator God” myself, but whatever it is which is referred to here, we are in a sense already part of it, albeit individualized, and capable of self-realization. I could never see why we would come from something, only to disappear back into it. There are all kinds of stories about God gaining experience in separation and multiplicity, but the most consistent of them that I am aware of make us the conscious ones, not “God”. But really, why go  through this just to go back again. It is all stories, but the more abstract they become, the more childish they sound to me. Yet there is a greater whole which we can find connection with, and benefit from, and find our place within (just not a pre-ordained or subsumed one). There is relationship. But it does not abrogate our individuality or our freedom, far from it.

Which brings me to the goal of Left Hand Path “mysticism”, which is the realization and liberation of the self. Here there are few stories, because rather than  stories, there is life, and moreover the life that you, and only you, can create.

My suspicion is that in the reality of mysticism and magick (rather than our definitions and thought structures around these things), there is only one basic thing, with immense freedom as to what the individualized consciousness does with it. It is not that “all paths lead to the same goal”, in the rather facile, greetings card way that is usually presented. But I suspect that anyone who has actually realized a truly deep mystical goal has got there by straying from every path except their own, whether their “tradition” allowed it or not.

screen capture stills from

screen capture stills from Invocation of My Demon Brother by Kenneth Anger on YouTube

* this might seem a bit academic, but I like words to have emotional as well as rational resonance.

roses for southpaws

I’ve been through what is quite an awesome journey since last Winter, in terms of personal unfoldment, and accepting aspects of my own path and nature. None of this would have been possible without my husband, who is so much the better half of my world that he really is my path. In some sense we always journey together, and his acceptance of me is all the validation I need. Whereas I measure and process and craft and test (and think too much), he seems to just go straight to it and be there already. I’ve learnt to listen to him and his way of being. I used to think I was listening already, but I wasn’t aware of how much of me didn’t, so I’ve learnt to listen more consciously.

I guess I’ve been working on something in myself, back and forth, since the Summer of 2009, when I had a resurgence of appreciation of Thelema and Crowley. Phil was right there, encouraging me, and liking The Beast for his own direct reasons, in his own way. I love Phil, not just ’cause he’s my husband and my life partner, but because I feel so proud of everything he is. He doesn’t care what people think, and he does what he wants, and he knows he’s as good as anyone. I have to learn that lesson, but I’ve really been working on it. The kind of Pagan Phil is, it’s the perfect antidote to all the “court mentality” of some of our imaginary kings and queens and priestesses and politicians. No big deal (kinda the point really), but it’s really good to be free.

Last October something did come home when I wrote this entry to my blog, looking back on the episode of Maat magick which had preceded my breakdown and break through spiritually in 1990. It isn’t quite done to admit any kind of mental instability in magic, and indeed you need to be pretty strong and resilient to go through some processes, but at the same time there is an undoubted kinship between the two areas which may leave some people very uncomfortable. While you do not want people to suffer the awful losses of mental illness (and any responsible person will guard against this for both themselves and others), it remains that there are areas of both which can only be distinguished from each other by where they are going, rather than what they are. “Facing the shadow”, or encountering the “dark night of the soul” are experiences of  failure as profound as anyone could subjectively imagine. They are not symbolic dress rehearsals but, as spiritual experiences, the manifest beneficence which underlies them makes of them a healing and refashioning which defies description. It’s appropriate in some ways that I wrote that blog post after I had completed the elemental reflections that I was engaged with last Summer, ending with fire, as the crisis can be compared to the crowning of elemental existence with spirit (even if the process felt like you were going off the rails and dying!).

The first magical operation I did after my breakthrough (as far as I remember) was a little Hoodoo ritual of Michael Bertiaux’s, which was quite trippy and opened me up dramatically at a certain level, but I had to say a friendly goodbye to the spirits involved after about three nights of strange sleep, crystal clear inner visuals, and the sight of astral black fire which to this day remains one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen, due to its dense blackness and fluid flame motion. Second chakra felt kinda sore by then. It felt entirely benevolent but apparently wasn’t right for me. An intentional and affectionate goodbye, and the spirits were gone on their way.

Both Nema’s Maat Current and Michael Bertiaux had turned up in Kenneth Grant’s “Cults of the Shadow”, a book I had come across while working in a warehouse in Limehouse in 1979 (literally, I was packing the books for mail order). Kenneth Grant had been a deep but mystifying inspiration to me throughout a good deal of my twenties. His exposition of Crowley’s work in “The Magical Revival” was an epiphany for me, and his introduction of Austin Osman Spare through his “Oracles and Images” book was immensely liberating. He also introduced an illuminating exposition of what he termed “the left hand path”¹, a term which was often used elsewhere in a condemnatory sense (an esoteric cross between degenerate, pervert and criminal) but which Grant validated and took back to its Indian tantric roots.

The main reason I bring up Grant is because, along with a renewed affection for the person I was in my early and late twenties, I’ve come to remember how important a vision of the Left Hand Path was for me, and how much it has shaped me spiritually. I had not followed a conventional path by anybody’s criteria, the central part being art with magical intention or inspiration, a very personal practice that sought to both explore the self and its inward worlds, and open doors to other places. Spare was my biggest inspiration, but I also felt a great kinship with the Australian artist Rosaleen Norton. That was buttressed by Crowley and more conventional material from the likes of Israel Regardie.

I was in a position though where I needed to explore conventional (“right hand path”) material to gain psychological strengths that I lacked (to “grow up” basically), but “the way” was clearly left hand path to my view and sensibility. This was further complicated by the fact that, as a gay man, conventional right hand path material could not help me reach psychological strength and maturity, as it did not accept my valid existence. Grant’s presentation of the left hand path, for that matter, seemed to skirt my existence also in his overwhelming focus on heterosexuality and an objectified vision of the magickal power of “woman”. How dated that use of the term “woman” seems now (and it was irksome then), but I believe it can actually be seen to underly quite a few physical gender obsessions within neopaganism, like we never got past 1960 or something. I believe in “Cults of the Shadow” at one point Grant also puts forth a theory to explain homosexual oral and anal acts in terms of chakra imbalances. There was so much fascinating material and inspiration, but nowhere to stand. One of the reasons I felt so close to Spare was that with the ecstatic content of his work, there was no judgement. Also, with both Crowley and Spare the individual was sovereign, and there at least there was sanctuary, and an exultant one.

Of all the gods I saw mentioned in my readings of Thelema, the one that stands out is the Egyptian Set. You couldn’t find a more demonized figure to western esotericism really, as the later myths that came down cast him as a cosmic Cain, and what he does to Osiris there is a kinda Sweeny Todd study in  mythological forensics. But the ambiguous, complex figure of Set is much older than that story, and he was indeed worshipped and accorded great honour in his time. He could never be quite kicked out anyway, as he remains on the solar barque at the crucial moment when Ra is threatened by the serpent monster Apep, and there Set is, the only one capable of defeating the monster and letting the Sun go on to rise again. It looks like later ages couldn’t live with him, but they couldn’t quite live without him either.

My feelings for Set have proved to be deep and abiding, sleeping at the back of my being like the peaceful, low hum of bees at rest, waiting for over twenty years for me to turn around and notice. Words do fail me here, but I can add that this is another place where Phil has just understood immediately and without question. There is a beautiful and tantalising exposition of the nature of Set in Katon Shual’s “Sexual Magick“, as a god of ambiguity and confusion, sexuality (especially non-procreative sexuality) and sexual magick, and the many formed reality (and unreality) of gender, as well as being a god of foreigners and frontiers. This book has some wonderful treasures within it, such as the account of Moses Long’s experiments as a 17th century conjuror in the field of sexual magick in “the conjuration of Angels”. There were things in this, the latest, revised edition of “Sexual Magick” that had me laughing with recognition, and the author treats the subject with great kindness and humanity. I recommend this book very highly.

The chapter dealing with “The Mysteries of Seth” features a section which takes on the form of a communication from the god in response to questions, and I was really struck by how much this reminded me of some of my old inspiration Richard Gardner’s writing in books like “The Tarot Speaks” and “Evolution Through the Tarot”, where he tried to let the images of the cards speak through him. Richard, like Katon Shual, rated Wilhelm Reich, and though the time he was coming from had a strong sense of the gender binary, he would have been the first to throw off anything that he saw as closing people’s minds to the realities of sex, sexuality, love and consciousness. Richard had enough of the benign trickster to him to be a little god of confusion himself, but reading that section of Katon’s book, I almost felt like I was hearing the same voice at times.

Inevitably, if you follow the path of magick, you follow a road to a place which has been culturally outlawed for a very long time. We sometimes persuade ourselves that we have come a long way since the Victorian era, but our collective life still cherishes ignorance and a repression of love and sex under so many of its polished, professional or sentimental surfaces. But still people have the courage to follow that other call. It can be done, and anyone who has the heart and soul for it should follow their heart.

Some of the things I remember from Kenneth Grant’s exposition of the 93 current² and its aquarian implications were the shift in the formula of magic from ritual (Virgo-Pisces) to direct astral magic, and especially the use of sexuality and the sexual current (Leo-Aquarius). The other was the sovereignty of the individual. Grant could sound rather daunting and clinical at times, rather unfeeling, but I’ve come to understand that the actual work is anything but that. I am neither the thelemic hero nor the scarlet woman, and the stereotypes don’t really speak to me or my experience. I am exactly the post-punk hippie tree hugger that I am, with a husband that means the whole world to me, living happily in our home in East London. But I actually now recognise that, as the person I am, I have largely followed this path, through an emerging predisposition rather than conscious design. With my husband, and in completely idiosyncratic ways, I have left behind ritual of all but the simplest form, and focussed on sexuality and eroticism, natural trance states arising from the body and emotions, and congress with our beloved deities and spirits. And that is a very loving, practical, authentic and nourishing experience.

Of course terms like “left hand path” and “right hand path” are categories in our heads, but I’m happy to acknowledge the strange, beautiful and liberating garden I once found under the left hand sign. Though the path has been a long one, I realize I still live in that garden, and you can live in that garden with love.

photo of altar with votive figure of Set animal, hand made by Nicholas from Shadow of the Sphinx (http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/shadowofthesphinx). He now has his own altar :0)

¹ a reasonable jumping off point discussion of the terms “right” and “left hand path” can be found here.

² ie of Thelema