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Wednesday, 06 July 2011 21:23

Another Octavo Review

The Octavo comes hot on the heels of The Apophenion and represents another salvo in Pete Carroll’s assault on the unenchanted reality of modern physics. The Octavo is a new map for the new aeon (or Pandaemonium as Carroll terms it). The logic runs that in the old days magicians built maps of reality based on simple cosmological architecture; you had your 9 worlds of the Germanic sorcerers, your 10 worlds of the Qabalist, your 12 signs of the astrologers and so forth. In The Octavo the author seeks to create a full blown model of reality that both describes and supports the practise of magick. Enter some fairly simple, though at first daunting, equations and some humorous parallels that are drawn between the way reality appears to be in Terry Practett's Discworld and our universe (aka 'Roundworld' – hence the subtitle) .The cartography of the magickal map in the modern age requires us to understand and describe the basic forces (rather than plotting territories or regions) that hold reality together. Carroll does an excellent job of this in ways that may even be amenable to scientific testing. More importantly for me (as an occultist) he shows what this map could mean for the use of practical magick.
 
Those who have been following Pete’s oeuvre will not be surprised. In the Octavo we see the distillation and indeed computation of many of the ideas sketched out in The Apophenion. Once more we invited to explore the model of a universe that exists as a vorticulating hypersphere and not as the (increasingly unlikely looking) big bang/big crunch conjecture of the Standard Model. Panpsychism, magical links and more are discussed. Also important in this work are the conjectures about the limits to magick, where the author analyses how and why magickal effects can be very tiny and/or capricious.
 
Don’t read this book if you want a list of how-to instructions about casting sigils or whatever, but if you want to see the work of someone who’s really trying to examine the wiring under the board of how and why esoteric techniques work, then this book is a must. Personally I feel Pete’s analysis could do with a dash more psychology or phenomenology. After all magick isn’t just a science it’s also an art and that requires a different, though complimentary language to describe it. However all magicians should strive to be technicians of the sacred and with The Octavo they may finally have the first-steps towards a manual for the operating system of the universe.
 
Julian Vayne
Tuesday, 05 July 2011 21:23

Thoughts

A brief essay on the origins of some contemporary esoteric ideas.

 

Over a recent lunch, Professor Ronald Hutton surmised to me that H.P. Lovecraft’s idea of the Necronomicon probably arises from the Arabic Gayat al Hakim manuscript which later appeared in Latin as the Picatrix Grimoire.

The Gayat al Hakim/Picatrix itself shows the strong influence of Egyptian magic and Neo-Platonic and Hermetic magic and leads to conceptions of Planetary Theurgy, which later appear explicitly in the medieval and renaissance grimoires.

 

The whole idea of a dread grimoire having as its author ‘Abdul Alhazred, the Mad Arab’, fits in rather well with the Gayat or its derivatives having inspired H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos stories, or at least his idea of the Necronomicon.

 

Planetary magic or at least planetary religion seems to have begun in Hellenic classical cultures when the ancient Greeks and Romans identified some of their gods and goddesses with the planets of the solar system, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon, although the beginnings of this idea appear in the Babylonian culture.

 

As the classical religions fell to creeping monotheism, the idea of planetary powers or spirits survived in Gnosticism, reappearing as Archons, entities attributed to the various planets which the aspiring Gnostic had to master to achieve spiritual progress. Some Gnostics viewed the Archons as malignant or obstructive spirits standing in the way of the ascent of the adept back to godhood. In the medieval grimoires we also see the idea of some of the planetary intelligences and spirits having malignant characteristics, and such ideas may well have also fed into the Necronomicon mythos, after all the title itself implies a book of ‘dead names’, or at least those of long forgotten gods.

 

Eventually, ideas from Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, Classical Paganism, Late Classical ‘Pagan Monotheism’, and Gnosticism, The Medieval and Renaissance Grimoires and a late form of Kabala, (together with a dash of spiritualism and colonial orientalism), all come together in the late 19th century to form a grand synthesis that we could call “The Standard Model of Magic’ forged by the adepts of the Golden Dawn (mainly MacGregor Mathers it seems).

 

From this synthesis comes most of the magical theory and technology on which various people built such traditions as Thelema, Wicca, Neo-Paganism, Neo-Druidry, Chaos Magic, and indeed most of the esoteric components of the New-Age movement, in the second ‘occult revival’ beginning in the last three decades of the 20th century.

 

In contra-distinction to the prevailing but declining monotheism and the increasingly dominant mechanistic-materialistic scientific world views of the late 19th and 20th centuries, this new esoterics began to view its ‘deities’ not as almighty cosmic creators but as archetypal ‘god-forms’ representing human scale abilities and aspirations, and ‘spirits’ as fundamentally arising from the activities of ourselves and living organisms and natural phenomena, rather than as the authors of such phenomena. Thus magic became again the art and science of theurgy; making ‘spirits’ and ‘godforms’, (or your own subconscious archetypes and parapsychological abilities), perform on demand.

 

Thus Invocation, Evocation, Divination, Enchantment, and planned Illumination came to replace the religious practices of worshipful prayer or prayerful supplication, and semi-mechanistic parapsychological models of apparently magical phenomena came to augment the developing ‘hard’ scientific paradigm.

 

The basic techniques came down to ritual enactment, the drawing of various mystical signs and symbols, incantation, visualization, and altered states of consciousness by various physiological means, to which Crowley of course added sex and drugs.

Chaos Magic then added an additional battery of consciousness altering techniques from many sources, and the theory that sacredness, sanctity, and meaning depend entirely on operator choice, rather than on historical or spiritual precedent, thus defining belief as a tool rather than as an end in itself.

 

Perhaps the most significant development of the second magical revival lay in the realization that you could use any symbolism you liked, ancient or modern or imaginary, and write your own rituals and incantations, and that these would have magical effects so long as you used the appropriate practical techniques, altered states of consciousness, and sleights of mind. This development lay implied in the great synthesis that the adepts of the Golden Dawn created, although they attempted to disguise the fact by attributing their creations to certain ‘secret chiefs’. It became fully explicit only in the second magical revival under the aegis of Chaos Magic where practical techniques assumed primary importance and the symbolic representations of antiquity became regarded as mere window dressings of choice.

 

Rather than adopt any particular ancient or antique pantheon Chaos Magic built a simple color coded psychocosm based on magical intent;

 

Blue for works of wealth and power. (~Jupiter)

Orange for works of intellect and quickness. (~Mercury)

Green for works of love and friendship. (~Venus)

Red for works of vitality and aggression. (~Mars)

Black for works of death. (~Saturn)

Silver or Purple for works of Sex. (~Moon)

Yellow for works of Ego and Extraversion (~Sun)

Octarine for works of Pure Magic Research & Quest. (~Uranus)

 

This scheme functions rather like the modified tree of life kabala that the GD originated except that the spheres do not lie in an hierarchy, but rather in a round table of equality with the possibility of combining archetypes for less straightforward entities, for example the newly revived goddess Eris might appear as having Red-Purple characteristics which we can use to structure an Invocation. Odin for another example; does not equate well with any single sphere derived from classical-kabalistic considerations.

 

At Arcanorium College, www.arcanoriumcollege.com, an international internet based adventure; we have an ongoing project to create what we have provisionally called The Portals of Chaos, a graphic grimoire. This will consist of a set of CG images on moveable cards which the magician can use for Invocation, Evocation, Enchantment and Illumination as well as just for Divination.

It will bear little resemblance to a conventional Tarot for it will have the above 8 major god forms and their associated planetary ‘spirits’ and intelligences’ as well as 28 god and goddess forms representing ‘mixed’ attributes corresponding to various personality types, assorted deities from many pagan pantheons, and various magical intents.

Plus it will probably have a number of ‘random’ event cards for the anticipation of such in divination or the imposition of such in enchantment.

Also we have chosen the big five entities from the Necronomicon; Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth to represent various cosmic scale phenomena such as panspsychic panspermia, higher dimensionality, eldritch knowledge from morphic fields, and so on.

 

So, if we aim to create A Worke of Magical Arte, with useful practical applications, then perhaps we continue in a very ancient tradition. All Grimoires then appear as objectively 'fake' including the imaginary ones like the fabled Necronomicon, because the deities and monsters in them derive from cobbled together bits of our own psychology and mythology, which nevertheless can have a real psychological and parapsychological power for us.

Perhaps then we should regard Grimoires in general as 'workes of arte', as convenient analogical impositions, rather than as objective maps of the incredible complexity of the cartography of our own psychology.

 

In the composition of The Portals we aim to give it all we have got, including superb computer assisted graphic design, in the hope that it will actually improve upon the Picatrix and the Necronomicon ideas, whilst acknowledging them as precursors in an historical tradition of artistic magical thinking........

Plus also magical cup Mk 2. After a fortnight's intense metaphysical struggle it came to me that a Magical Cup should function as a device to stimulate the imagination, rather than to impose a structure on perception, thus its new stochastic design.

Thursday, 30 June 2011 21:23

Smokin

Smokin

Having campaigned so ferociously for punitive taxation on tobacco, anti-smoking propaganda, and legal bans on its public use, the British Medical Association should express little surprise that they now have an epidemic of obesity and alcohol abuse to deal with.

British pubs close at the rate of about 200 per week now, and those watering holes which remain have become markedly less agreeable as people cease to pace their drinking and their tempers with cigarettes, and just keep pouring the drinks down. Personally I feel much more comfortable walking home though a street full of smokers than a street full of drunks.

How come the great magus himself rarely appears without a lighted cigarette or an electronic one in the places where they ban the real thing, many people ask.

I cite historical evidence. Adolph Hitler, a teetotal, vegetarian, non-smoker, dead at 54 and reviled for eternity. Winston Churchill, a cigar chomping, brandy swilling carnivore who insisted on the right to smoke before and after meals, between courses, and also during courses if desired. He lived till almost 90 and will remain a hero forever. He also got a Nobel Prize for literature, which is more than we can say for the author of that demented rant Mein Kampf.

Just remember that the majority of the best stuff you ever read was composed by people meditating on their texts over a pipe or a cigar or a cigarette.

Whenever some self-righteous pot-bellied anti-smoking nazi casts a disapproving glance in my direction I smile back, confident in the knowledge that I could almost certainly outrun or out-swim him over any distance.

Teenagers will always want to experiment with forbidden things. Thus it seems rather silly that we have created a situation where a packet of cigs now costs more than some hard drugs or enough cheap booze to hospitalise yourself.

Yesterday the BMA asked the UK government to impose a total ban on smoking in cars; the law will hopefully not pass. Smokers have a 2 yard advantage in an emergency stop because they’re more alert than ordinary mortals. Rather we should make smoking, or at least nicotine chewing gum, compulsory for drivers.

Sunday, 26 June 2011 21:22

Hail to the Sun

Herewith my Summer Solstice Eisteddfood poem, despite that it consists of a poem by a scientist (groan), it recieved polite to moderately enthusiastic applause, the climate skeptic did not attend the event, so I can at least claim victory by default.

Hail to the Sun

The following figures are all very true, except for the last one,

The last ones a guess, and I’m hoping it’s wrong.

This Midsummer twenty eleven, world population hits seven billion

Around the globe we burn, each and every second

Three hundred tonnes of fossilised fuel, every single second.

Last year we sent to the skies

A whole thirty gigatonnes of C O  Two,

So about a millions years worth of sunlight stored

Goes up in smoke each year now, and it’s rising,

The temperature’s gone up by one degree

The weather gets odder, new records set with every passing season

Two degrees spells disaster, four of them bring catastrophe

And at six degrees it’s another global climate apocalypse.

Welcome to another mass extinction event, and this time it’s ours.

Of our seven billion, a billion eat poorly already,

The green revolution runs out with the oil.

We could burn up the gas and the coal and the shale

Concrete the fields and fight for the food and the water,

Despoil all the oceans for the last of the fish.

World population, just one lifetime hence, perhaps fifteen billion,

More likely methinks, just a few hundred thousand,

Scratching a living in the caves and the ruins.

Yet enough sunlight falls daily to power the world as it is

Hail to the Sun; let us seek the wisdom to use it.

Monday, 13 June 2011 21:22

Mathers

The theory and practice of magic seems to have undergone two major periods of revolution and revival in the last couple of centuries, the first began towards the end of the nineteenth century and the second began in the last third of the twentieth century.

Of course esoteric and occult endeavors always continue behind the façade of mainstream culture, but in the last decade of the nineteenth century and in the last few of decades of the twentieth, revolutions in magical theory occurred which led to huge changes in practice.

The intellectual lineage of modern magical thought seems to begin with Eliphas Levi who provided us with two basic insights, firstly that we might find correspondences between seemingly unrelated symbolic systems. Specifically he managed to find or forge correspondences between Kabala and Tarot, and between various ‘god forms’ such as ancient nature deities like Pan and the Horned God and the Templar’s Baphomet and the Christian Devil or Lucifer.

Secondly Levi started a breakout from the ‘Spiritist’ paradigm, which had previously dominated esoteric thought, with his idea of an ‘Astral Light’ as the medium of magical effects. Whilst his musings on the subject remain sketchy, they did at least introduce the idea of some kind of potentially understandable ‘mechanism’ for magic that didn’t depend on the capricious whim of mysterious ‘spirits’.

After Levi the most influential Mage of recent times arises, a man whose influence on Magic equals Darwin’s influence on Biology, Marx’s influence on Politics, and Freud’s influence on Psychology, and I don’t mean Aleister Crowley, I mean Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers.

The synthesis that Mathers achieved would come to dominate western magical thought for the 20th century, yet he remains an elusive figure, he wrote a great deal, but he wrote little or nothing about himself. He appears as the leading light in the formation and leadership of the Magical Order of the Golden Dawn and the probable author of the great majority of its papers and rituals and practices.

We need to realize that at the time Mathers worked on translating manuscripts and setting up the Golden Dawn, popular western esotericism consisted largely of tawdry Spiritualism, the faux orientalism of Theosophy, and a few remnants of Rosicrucian ideas supported within fringe freemasonry.

Mathers set to work in the British Museum reading room and translated medieval and rennaissance grimoires and books on kabala into English, at a time when such texts remained the province of specialized academics only. He worked with a fringe Masonic group, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, with whose members Eliphas Levi had had some contact, and by combining some of their ideas with the fruits of his own scholarship and imagination he seems to have conjured up the whole Golden Dawn system pretty much by himself.

Now as with Darwin’s Origin of Species, or Marx’s Das Kapital, or for that matter Newton’s Principia Mathematica, few people in the respective fields nowadays read the extremely longwinded original texts. Yet everyone in those fields understands the fundamental and seminal ideas.

Mathers attempted an omniscient eclecticism in which he sought to bring together all esoteric knowledge under an umbrella decorated with a late form of kabala, motifs from late classical paganism and ‘pagan-monotheism’, hermeticism, Egyptology, renaissance magic, rosicrucianism and freemasonry. Despite that it didn’t all dovetail neatly together he just kept adding more and more; alchemy, enochiana, goetia, even bits of orientalism like tattwas and chackras, and semi-spiritualistic things like astral travel. He effectively created a fairly accessible encyclopedia of esoterics, and an order to teach it.

So where does the great breakthrough lie in all that?

I think it lies precisely in the insight that the magician can and should use ideas from all those kinds of traditions because they all have their uses in structuring the quest for perception, will, imagination, psychic ability, genius and alternative wisdom that the magician pursues.

Whilst this idea seems standard enough now, it would have seemed revolutionary at the time.

Mathers did of course employ the hierarchical gambit, and pretended to deliver his knowledge from ‘hidden chiefs’, following the model of theosophy. Whilst this tactic facilitated the formation of his order it proved a poor long term strategy and led to an eventual calling of his bluff and to schism.

All of Aliester Crowley’s ideas about magic came directly from Mathers. Crowley merely added sex and drugs and a near-psychopathic personality to the mix. Crowley seems to have virtually worshipped Mathers for a while, but after a time the rich, loud and wild young Crowley and the quieter more reclusive older Mathers fell out terminally, probably because Crowley wanted to usurp the top dog position and take over the whole system, which in many ways he did eventually.

All of the western esoteric traditions of the twentieth century have borrowed from the encyclopedic corpus that Mathers brought to light and developed. They all consist of ‘revivals’ and most of them didn’t need to look further back than Mathers to find plenty of material to re-clothe the bare bones of lost or non-existent historical traditions.

Chaos magic didn’t even bother to pretend to antique historical precedent; it simply worked forward from the Golden Dawn through Crowley and Austin Spare and added some unashamedly modern ideas as well.

Of Mathers the man, scholarship has uncovered surprisingly little so far.

Samuel Liddell(or Liddel) "MacGregor" Mathers (January 8 or 11, 1854 – November 5 or 20, 1918)

Doubt remains about his exact dates of birth and death, and nobody has attempted a biography of him yet, although many have made references to parts of his astonishing career, for he met with many famous or later to become famous people.

It seems that he rarely had much money and that he did a bit of part time soldiering and quite a bit of boxing. The few photographs of him show a tall athletic handsome man. He apparently displayed many eccentricities including vegetarianism and styling himself a Scottish laird. He enjoyed a lifelong marriage to Moina who he met in the British Museum, they appeared devoted and she kept fragments of his order going for a decade after his death. Her assertion, in a letter to Annie Horniman, that their marriage remained unconsummated and celibate sounds suspiciously like a ruse to ingratiate herself with Annie, a very rich spinster who financially supported the order for a time. However the marriage produced no children.    

Mathers could apparently read an astonishing variety of modern and ancient languages, yet he never seems to have had any sort of proper profession, apart from Magus of course………

 

Someone should write his biography. If you have any leads to unpublished material please email them to me and I will endeavor to pass them on to someone who might just do so.

Oops, a biography does exist, as someone just pointed out, http://www.scribd.com/doc/13033799/Ithell-Colquhoun-Sword-of-Wisdom- interesting stuff.

 

The theory and practice of magic seems to have undergone two major periods of revolution and revival in the last couple of centuries, the first began towards the end of the nineteenth century and the second began in the last third of the twentieth century.

Of course esoteric and occult endeavors always continue behind the façade of mainstream culture, but in the last decade of the nineteenth century and in the last few of decades of the twentieth, revolutions in magical theory occurred which led to huge changes in practice.

The intellectual lineage of modern magical thought seems to begin with Eliphas Levi who provided us with two basic insights, firstly that we might find correspondences between seemingly unrelated symbolic systems. Specifically he managed to find or forge correspondences between Kabala and Tarot, and between various ‘god forms’ such as ancient nature deities like Pan and the Horned God and the Templar’s Baphomet and the Christian Devil or Lucifer.

Secondly Levi started a breakout from the ‘Spiritist’ paradigm, which had previously dominated esoteric thought, with his idea of an ‘Astral Light’ as the medium of magical effects. Whilst his musings on the subject remain sketchy, they did at least introduce the idea of some kind of potentially understandable ‘mechanism’ for magic that didn’t depend on the capricious whim of mysterious ‘spirits’.

After Levi the most influential Mage of recent times arises, a man whose influence on Magic equals Darwin’s influence on Biology, Marx’s influence on Politics, and Freud’s influence on Psychology, and I don’t mean Aleister Crowley, I mean Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers.

The synthesis that Mathers achieved would come to dominate western magical thought for the 20th century, yet he remains an elusive figure, he wrote a great deal, but he wrote little or nothing about himself. He appears as the leading light in the formation and leadership of the Magical Order of the Golden Dawn and the probable author of the great majority of its papers and rituals and practices.

We need to realize that at the time Mathers worked on translating manuscripts and setting up the Golden Dawn, popular western esotericism consisted largely of tawdry Spiritualism, the faux orientalism of Theosophy, and a few remnants of Rosicrucian ideas supported within fringe freemasonry.

Mathers set to work in the British Museum reading room and translated medieval and rennaissance grimoires and books on kabala into English, at a time when such texts remained the province of specialized academics only. He worked with a fringe Masonic group, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, with whose members Eliphas Levi had had some contact, and by combining some of their ideas with the fruits of his own scholarship and imagination he seems to have conjured up the whole Golden Dawn system pretty much by himself.

Now as with Darwin’s Origin of Species, or Marx’s Das Kapital, or for that matter Newton’s Principia Mathematica, few people in the respective fields nowadays read the extremely longwinded original texts. Yet everyone in those fields understands the fundamental and seminal ideas.

Mathers attempted an omniscient eclecticism in which he sought to bring together all esoteric knowledge under an umbrella decorated with a late form of kabala, motifs from late classical paganism and ‘pagan-monotheism’, hermeticism, Egyptology, renaissance magic, rosicrucianism and freemasonry. Despite that it didn’t all dovetail neatly together he just kept adding more and more; alchemy, enochiana, goetia, even bits of orientalism like tattwas and chackras, and semi-spiritualistic things like astral travel. He effectively created a fairly accessible encyclopedia of esoterics, and an order to teach it.

So where does the great breakthrough lie in all that?

I think it lies precisely in the insight that the magician can and should use ideas from all those kinds of traditions because they all have their uses in structuring the quest for perception, will, imagination, psychic ability, genius and alternative wisdom that the magician pursues.

Whilst this idea seems standard enough now, it would have seemed revolutionary at the time.

Mathers did of course employ the hierarchical gambit, and pretended to deliver his knowledge from ‘hidden chiefs’, following the model of theosophy. Whilst this tactic facilitated the formation of his order it proved a poor long term strategy and led to an eventual calling of his bluff and to schism.

All of Aliester Crowley’s ideas about magic came directly from Mathers. Crowley merely added sex and drugs and a near-psychopathic personality to the mix. Crowley seems to have virtually worshipped Mathers for a while, but after a time the rich, loud and wild young Crowley and the quieter more reclusive older Mathers fell out terminally, probably because Crowley wanted to usurp the top dog position and take over the whole system, which in many ways he did eventually.

All of the western esoteric traditions of the twentieth century have borrowed from the encyclopedic corpus that Mathers brought to light and developed. They all consist of ‘revivals’ and most of them didn’t need to look further back than Mathers to find plenty of material to re-clothe the bare bones of lost or non-existent historical traditions.

Chaos magic didn’t even bother to pretend to antique historical precedent; it simply worked forward from the Golden Dawn through Crowley and Austin Spare and added some unashamedly modern ideas as well.

Of Mathers the man, scholarship has uncovered surprisingly little so far.

Samuel Liddell(or Liddel) "MacGregor" Mathers (January 8 or 11, 1854 – November 5 or 20, 1918)

Doubt remains about his exact dates of birth and death, and nobody has attempted a biography of him yet, although many have made references to parts of his astonishing career, for he met with many famous or later to become famous people.

It seems that he rarely had much money and that he did a bit of part time soldiering and quite a bit of boxing. The few photographs of him show a tall athletic handsome man. He apparently displayed many eccentricities including vegetarianism and styling himself a Scottish laird. He enjoyed a lifelong marriage to Moina who he met in the British Museum, they appeared devoted and she kept fragments of his order going for a decade after his death. Her assertion, in a letter to Annie Horniman, that their marriage remained unconsummated and celibate sounds suspiciously like a ruse to ingratiate herself with Annie, a very rich spinster who financially supported the order for a time. However the marriage produced no children.    

Mathers could apparently read an astonishing variety of modern and ancient languages, yet he never seems to have had any sort of proper profession, apart from Magus of course………

 

Someone should write his biography. If you have any leads to unpublished material please email them to me and I will endeavor to pass them on to someone who might just do so.

Oops, a biography does exist, as someone just pointed out, http://www.scribd.com/doc/13033799/Ithell-Colquhoun-Sword-of-Wisdom- interesting stuff.

Sunday, 05 June 2011 21:21

Six

The two courses of Semester 6 start on http://www.arcanoriumcollege.com/ very soon, members can commence participation anytime during the first weeks.

Semester 6, Jun 6th -Jul 16th

Sorror Res, Chaos Monasticism. Frater Hyperritual, 3D Sigil Generator.

Semester 7 Jul 25th - September

Frater Stokastikos (me), Knights of Chaos 2. Frater Kite, Evocation and Invocation.

The Eye of Agamotto working seems to have had initial effects, I have penned a poem about the Sun, full of facts and figures, for delivery at a Midsummer Eisteddfod. As poems by scientists are frequently ghastly I'll try it out there first, before publishing it here.

Just ran up an instant Chalice for my personal Monasticism work. Take one rather tacky EPNS metal cup from a charity shop, file off the meaningless decorations tooled into the outside surface and keep the filings. Mix the metal filings with araldite or similar 2 part clear epoxy resin. Use this to attach a few semi-precious cabuchon shaped stones, Rusticate to taste with pewter oxidant for that neo-medieval look.

Wednesday, 01 June 2011 21:21

The Elements

Elements.

I recall an old cartoon joke which depicts a pair of ancient Greeks standing before a Doric column on which one had just carved the words ‘Earth Air, Fire, Water’. The other one says, ‘That’s an interesting start’. The first one then says, ‘A start! What do you mean a start, that’s it!’

Most classical cultures seem to have started out trying to describe reality using similar semi-abstract, semi-concrete analogies.

Nowadays the word Element has a very precise technical meaning when it refers to a specific type of atom, for example Carbon, and more general colloquial meanings when it can refer to any components of a system, for example an element of chance in a game of cards, or the elements of the environment such as wind and rain, sunshine, temperature and terrain.

However in the classical paradigms the elements implied abstract metaphysical principles which supposedly had some sort of power over, or connection to, actual physical phenomena like rocks, winds, burning substances, and liquids. Humans have a deep propensity to think like this. To understand reality they attribute essences or qualities to phenomena and then imagine that such abstractions have some sort of independent reality.

We cannot really avoid doing this; even our so-called laws of physics consist of such ‘Platonic’ archetypes. We can however strive to derive abstractions and descriptions and attributions which correspond as accurately as possible to our observations of the behaviour of reality.

The elemental archetype theory seems to have two serious flaws. Firstly it generally lacks the concepts of mechanism and dynamics. It provides a more or less static catalogue of reality in which the elements do not really interact except by mixing to produce phenomena which we cannot easily describe as arising from a single element. Some oriental elemental systems do at least make some attempt at a dynamic representation with the idea like water generating wood, wood burning to produce fire, fire acting on stone to make metal, and water condensing on metal, providing a simple idea of mechanism at least. Secondly, the abstract elemental categories try to encompass too much, a concept which means almost everything or at least 25% of it, means almost nothing if it lacks a reasonably tight definition. The category of all phenomena attributed to ‘Earth’ tells us nothing about its contents except that we have associated them together in our imaginations.

The poor explanatory and predictive power of the theory of elemental archetypes has led to its successive abandonment, first in physics, then in chemistry, then in medicine, and only fairly recently in psychology. It has only ever tended to appear referenced in religions when those religions were borrowing the idea from the technical world views of the time.

So why has it persisted in various branches of magic and esoterics?

The short and dirty answer to this question suggests that many contemporary magical and esoteric traditions simply continue to draw their paradigms from now defunct views of reality, somehow imagining that their very antiquity sanctifies them despite their general abandonment in all other fields.

I rather suspect that the Golden Dawn bears heavy responsibility for the re-appearance of the elemental archetypes in contemporary western esoterics. In its attempt at omniscient eclecticism it tried to shoehorn just about every esoteric idea it could get hold of into a neo-kabbalistic grand unified theory that doesn’t really bear close inspection.

An apologist for the retention of the theory of elemental archetypes could perhaps argue that it serves as a tool for the sort of associative or lateral or apophenic thinking style which often underlies creativity. Nevertheless I do feel currently rather annoyed at the prospect of trying to reprogram my imagination with a symbolic system that I dismissed decades ago, in order to penetrate the mysteries of a new system that I have encountered.

Esoteric thought seems littered with concepts which got borrowed from elsewhere, and which got out of hand and led to only weak and ineffective theories.

I strongly suspect that astrology began as a purely calendrical discipline. In ancient times keeping track of the date held great importance for agricultural societies as the temporary vagaries of weather and climate do not give a sufficiently reliable guide to the timing of such critical activities as planting and harvesting. The bureaucracies which supported early empires also required accurate calendars, and to some extent so did their armies. Initially astrology seems to have remained reserved for matters of state, like agricultural and military policy.

Given a tradition of date keeping it would not have taken people long to notice some association between a person’s season of birth and their health characteristics and life outcomes. This effect remains measurable today despite that we can generally now more easily isolate ourselves from the seasonal effects of daylight, food, and temperature fluctuations, (although not from school age entry requirements).

Gradually a system of auspicious and inauspicious date keeping seems to have become combined with a developing astronomical measuring system to create a baroque explanatory scheme with precise and fairly predictable astronomical data linked to ridiculously vague generalisations and prognostications about people’s psychologies and futures. This contemporary form of astrology has no statistically significant predictive power at all, precisely because, like the elements, the astrological categories remain so broad and ill-defined. Its apologists can at best argue that it provides a personal mythology or a possible mental map to play around with imaginatively.

In making or choosing a model of reality we have to start in the middle, in the midicosm of human scale experience. From this we can perhaps abstract some concepts that we can regard as fundamental. Some of these concepts we can apply on a bottom-up principle to try to explain or model our human scale experiences. The theory of atoms works like this, so does the theory of elemental archetypes, but not very well for me at least.

Top-down approaches typically begin with things like Gods with a big ‘G’, however this approach also runs into exactly the same problem as the elemental archetypes scheme, the Gods have to have such a vast and vague and self contradictory sets of attributes that they become objectively meaningless concepts, and instead become imaginative tools for exploring the fluctuations of our own subjective experiences, and rather clumsy ones at that.

The use of both approaches simultaneously seems to lead to the worst of all possible paradigms, or possibly to a fertile confusion. If Gods structure the universe from above and elemental archetypes structure the universe from below, then we seem condemned to eternal vague speculation upon the resulting inconsistencies. (Amusingly this rather mirrors the problem of the almost complete inconsistency of the quantum physics of the microcosm with the general relativity of the macrocosm.)

Alternatively, a sideways approach starting from a bit nearer home in the midicosm has a certain appeal.

The more human scale gods of the classical pantheons resume a fairly complete psychology without the cosmic pretensions of the various monotheist Gods. Stripping these gods and goddesses back to their most basic attributes, reveals deep biological and psychological drives coming up from below to meet the pagan theology in the middle. Thus we have gods and goddesses of Sex and Death, Fear and Desire, Love and War, Ego and Magic, etc etc etc.

Armed with such an idea we can perhaps formulate a mysticism and a magic based on various intents, instincts and drives that we can identify in ourselves. To flesh out (suitably anthropomorphise) such a system we can re-clothe the bare bones with ideas from the classical pantheons for the purposes of invocation and enchantment. This sort of ‘planetary magic’ has remained a staple of occidental magic since classical times. It forms the basis of all varieties of pagan thought from antiquity to the present day.

However we can quite comfortably ignore the actual astronomical planets these days. Venus for example provides an adequate goddess-form of love, and we can add a touch of Aphrodite, Isis, Ishtar, and various others of Her sisterhood to taste. Yet although the planet Venus itself looks beautiful in the springtime sky, conditions there resemble hell, with atmospheric pressure at 300 bar, a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, and a continuous drizzle of fuming sulphuric acid instead of rain. So we may as well forget about the actual planet and its astronomy, and concentrate on interface with the Venusian archetype within, adding attributes by intuition.

On the other hand the elemental archetypes leave me with a sort of off-white night of the soul feeling, as I can find little that links ‘Water’ with my emotions, the melancholic humours, the geographical direction of west, and constellations designated Pisces and Aquarius which have by now got out of kilter due to the precession of the equinoxes.

Have I missed something here?

I raised these topics with a leading contemporary Mage recently. He suggested that we can regard The Elements as a sort of personal inventory, with earth symbolising the senses, water our emotions, air our intellect, fire our passions and spirit. Using such a scheme we can identify our strengths and weaknesses and maybe decide on making the most of our strengths or remedying our weaknesses.

He also suggested that beyond that, the concept of elemental archetypes has rather more artistic and poetic applications than scientific ones. (I shall now abandon forever my attempts to equate earth, air, fire and water with space, time, mass and energy).

And go with his interpretation.

Monday, 30 May 2011 21:20

Gnostic Marathon

Gnostic Marathon.

Friday evening and I arrive at a secret location and meet people whose identities I have oathed not to reveal, for a semi-surprise inspection of my old order, after some decades on retirement / sabbatical. Suffice to say that the location lay in a magnificent forested area with splendid facilities, a temple and outdoor circles, and the assembled throng have many and varied unusual abilities and histories. Half of them I have never met before due to my long absence up my ivory tower, they seem astonished at my visit, I’ve hopefully made some new friends and colleagues.

They have done well in my absence (or perhaps because of it?), anyway, they grant me an honorary first for the weekend and work begins.

To a civilian, the work which followed may look like a religion masquerading as a joke, or a joke masquerading as a religion, or as something incomprehensibly surreal and esoteric, yet everyone sets to it with a manic determination, git hard magic leavened with a bizarre humor that you don’t often see in the po-faced new-age community. I feel pleased to see some classic material of mine still in use, plus many intriguing innovations.

Many actually survive the rigors of the nights work well enough to participate in the physical workout wakeup before breakfast the following morning.

And thus it goes on all weekend, ritual upon ritual, spell and conjuration, for we have many tweaks that we need to apply to ourselves and to reality at large.

Towards the end I deliver an Apophenia ritual, the first mass participation one I’ve ever tried, a late birthday party for Her.

Then a dash back across country for Sacred Grove on Sunday night, and possibly something a bit less frenzied, however they have planned a shamanic dance sort of thing for the evening. Towards the end of this I get the answer to the question I posed earlier to Apophenia, I should use the star ruby Agamotto style amulet for the purposes of yellow/solar/class 6 type magic.

Then a 5 mile hike back home.

I had expected to wake up half dead or never, yet today I feel splendid and inspired.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 21:20

Apophenia's Birthday

Apophenia’s Official Birthday.

On this little rock circling a nondescript star in an unfashionable spiral arm of our galaxy Apophenia’s Official Birthday happens tomorrow, Thursday 26th of May.

At least in the northern hemisphere this means that spring has truly sprung, my pond hosts newts, the grounds of Chateaux Chaos sprout all kinds of green stuff with obscure Latin names known only to the Memsahib. Clumsy maybugs batter the windows like poorly designed toy helicopters.

I intend to celebrate with copious doses of theobromine, I may go on a chocolate only ‘fast’ just for the day, followed by an invocation with a view to discovering what to do with The Eye of Agamotto, plus any other peculiar inspirations that She, Apophenia, suggests.

I predict that the world will not end tomorrow, although it seems an auspicious day for doing or thinking something paradigm challenging.

Accordingly, after ritual, I’m packing robes (of various colours) and wands and amulets for a long weekend at various esoteric events, in contradistinction to my usual reclusive behaviour.  

A merry and discombobulating Apophenia-mass to all.

Pete.

The Book of English Magic. Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate.

ISBN 978 1 84854 041 5
550+ pages, now in paperback 14.99.
 
I felt rather intrigued when I saw favorable reviews of the 25 quid hardback appear in the quality Sunday papers a while back, but then one of the intervieweesin the book told me that I probably wouldn’t like it, so I didn’t bother, however I saw it in Waterstones yesterday and gave it a try.
 
Carr-Gomm now heads OBOD, so that sort of makes him The World’s Archdruid, although he refrains from actually calling himself that.
The book makes for light and easy reading and has plenty of pictures. It advances the thesis that England has led the world in magic for millennia, and still does. In support of this idea the book points to England as the centre for Iron Age Celtic Druidry, and latterly of Theosophy, The Golden Dawn, Neo-Wicca and Neo- Paganism, Neo-Druidry, and Chaos Magic. Most of the significant figures and movements between the original Druids and modern times get a mention or a potted history, Bacon, Dee, Newton, Barrat and so on, plus of course we get a bit on more modern figures such as Gerald Gardiner, Aliester Crowley, Dion Fortune et al.

Plus the reader will also get a whirlwind introduction to practical runes, ogham, astrology, tarot, and alchemy. Plus the book also gives lots of references about places to visit, things to do, and organizations to contact. Whew.
 
In trying to do so much in one book the authors have obviously not managed to deal with any of the topics in a scholarly manner, and I couldn’t help noticing a poorly researched bit about where and when Chaos magic developed, however I remain happy to see the disinformation multiply on this particular topic.
 
However it does make one wonder just how much of the book derives from Googlemancy.
 
Thus calling it ‘THE Book of English Magic’ does seem a trice pretentious, ‘An Rough Guide to English Magic for Beginners’ would more accurately describe its contents.

Pete Carroll. 
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