Friday, September 14, 2012

Little Steps Towards Personal Truth, pt. 1




"Kether is in Malkuth. And Malkuth is in Kether, but after another motherfucker." - William Clark


Before I explain to you what that means, I'd like to preface this deviation from my recent political meanderings with an apology. I fully realize that most people are put off by terminology like "occultism", "Hermeticism", or "magic(k)". I will try to remedy this prejudice by making all of my personal examples as clear and concise as I can. As with everything, your mileage may vary. Given that a personal foray into the murky realms of Western Esotericism, alternative psychology, and general semantics is more in keeping with the general workflow of this site than others, it isn't entirely out of place. But I am fully aware of the risk this poses to the overall sociopolitical agenda I have been working towards in the last few months. I could potentially alienate people from me by talking about this. The tendency for the overwhelming amount of humanity is to fear that which they do not understand, and that is unavoidable. There is, as the theologist Alan Watts once argued, a strong societal taboo against knowing one's self.

So be it.

I am a magician. I have been for at least a decade now. I will be coming up on my 26th birthday in 2013. I have been formally crashing my way through the harrowing, awe inspiring and sometimes frustrating world of the occult since I was 16 years old. It is a rewarding path, and I have found it to be ultimately responsible for jumpstarting much of my personal growth as an individual. When I look back on the larval state of my entire being at that tender young age, some of the stupid blunders and mistakes I have made (and often continue to make) are greatly humbling. I owe much of the progress I have made from a clueless, morbidly self-obsessed and disaffected suburban kid into a self-actualized creative person to the serious work I have done with self-integration and individuation: A four-fold process of personal evolution that is psychological, spiritual, physical and psychic in nature. In addition to this, I have come to learn that the universe itself provides the initiatory catalysts, the teachers, and the guides that we need. But only when we are ready for it. "Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek, and ye shall find." The teacher comes when the student is ready.





The ancients bid man: "Know Thyself."

That being said, the path towards self-knowledge is very rarely easy. The bulk of the work that I have done through these studies has been geared towards the exploration of the shadow self- What psychologist Carl Gustav Jung termed the "anima". The anima consists of the elements of self that we typically describe as being "other", and quite often amounts to all of the things we see in other humans that we tend to dislike the most. The real goal of any spiritual seeker is analogous to the inner-aims of the alchemical work: That of transforming lead, or spiritual dross, into gold. This only occurs once all of the rejected and demonized elements of the psyche are fully integrated into the light of one's own consciousness. This is the goal- Nothing less than a total transformation of mind and all that resembles its contents. It is also dangerous, as you will see. Hopefully, you can learn from some of my mistakes by proxy. I will attempt to be as candid and open with these failures as I can be.

But let's back up a bit. "Did he say 'magician'?" Instantly, certain cliches are brought to mind whenever the word is mentioned. Closet D&D geeks. Dungeonmasters standing in painted circles, intoning strange names of God in Hebrew, a language they can hardly be credited with fully understanding. Silly props or ritual implements, such as capes, daggers or broadswords, chalices and wands. Harry Potter and its various spinoff cultural relics. Oaths of secrecy. Conspiracy theories of hidden organizations controlling the world. I have to admit to you, this is partially true. There are many magicians who swear by such shallow theatrical trappings, and at times, I confess that I myself adopt many of these props for my own nefarious purposes. This, however, is really only the surface level appearance.

But why "magic(k)"? Isn't the term deliberately vague, antiquated, or patently absurd?

In a word, yes. It is. But that does not negate its power as a tool and an art form geared towards training the mind, the body, and one's awareness to produce what sometimes seems to outsiders to be strange, unusual or "supernatural" effects. As a practicioner and one who understands that nothing is truly "magical", many of these causes and effects appear to the mage to be a matter of focused intent and force in order to alter the world around us. Understood properly, then, Magic(k) is a series of techniques aimed at 1.) Training the student to gain a better understanding of his or her self. 2.) Training the student to create more accurate and flexible models for understanding the world around us. 3.) Training the student to have a better control over the creative faculties of the mind. 4.) Training the student to better utilize his or her time, resources, and personal energy to affect the world in deliberate and premeditated ways- In other words, living with intent.

One of the most popular definitions of Magick (with a K, a semantic differentiation I do not always choose to abide by,) comes from Aleister Crowley, circa the early 1900s. According to Crowley, Magick (with a K) is the "art and science of causing change in conformity with Will." Seen in this light, every act with Willful intent is a sacrament. Life itself is a ritual, and the universe itself is an initiating body, designed to teach us the life lessons and impart the experiences that we are here to learn.

Magic, in the vulgar sense, is often viewed to be the practice of conjuring, sleight of hand, and the employment of devious or misleading tactics designed to fool or to deceive. For my purposes, I tend to stick with this view of the subject for pragmatic reasons. It begins as a sort of sleight of mind. You "trick yourself" into believing that which is most conducive to a favorable outcome for you. A purely psychological model of the series of disciplines termed "magic" posits that all of the actual changes we are producing begin within ourselves. The catch is that they do not necessarily terminate within us. When we change ourselves, we change the ways in which we relate to the world. This changes the world.

Kether Is In Malkuth... "As Above, So Below."



It is a common alchemical and Hermetic aphorism that "Kether is in Malkuth, and Malkuth is in Kether, but after another manner." Before we delve into this, I should preface by explaining the concepts of Kether and Malkuth. The series of oral teachings that comprise the body of Hebrew mysticism is called the Kabbalah. For the sake of convenience, it would seem, the first real ceremonial magicians of the middle ages and beyond seemed to settle on the Kabbalah as the backbone for their ceremonial magic. One of the most important Kabbalistic diagrams to survive in modern form is the Tree of Life.

The whole of the Tree of Life is comprised of 10 sephira, or emanations. These emanations are the numbers one through ten, and correspond to various parts of the universe as we understand it. These ten emanations are connected to one another via 22 paths, each of which is represented by one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These, in turn, comprise the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot. The minor arcana represent the numbers 1-10 in the suits of wands or fire, cups or water, swords or air, and disks or earth, respectively. The knights or kings, queens, princes or emperors, and queens or princesses represent the elements of fire, water, air, or earth, in that order. Thus, knight or king of wands would be fire of fire. Queen of wands would be water of fire, and so on. The whole of the Tarot is a pictorial way of depicting the philosophical concepts behind the Hebrew Tree of Life.

Thus did the ancients categorize and arrange their knowledge of the sensible universe into the 10 sephira, the four elements, the four worlds or planes of spiritual experience, the 22 paths, the 7 traditional astrological planets, and so forth. Every step of the way it should be remembered that these categorizations do not represent the physical reality of the symbols themselves, but rather an internal or subjective experience of these symbols on a spiritual or psychological level. In other words, the "Venus" of the philosophers is emphatically *not* the *actual* physical planet. It is a symbol that is meant to illustrate a certain set of ideas or philosophic principles.

The number one, or "Kether", is the first sephira or number on the tree. It is also called "Crown", and it points to the idea that there is an underlying unity to the cosmos. "Kether" is the inherent unity within the world of duality. It is the "hidden" or "concealed" unity. As such, it is often not immediately visible. It remains implicit, or unseen. Malkuth is the number 10 on the tree, and it is also called "the kingdom". It is the physical world, the external shell of matter which clothes the processes of the universe in form. It is the world of the sacred feminine, the immanent or immediate. Thus, to say "Kether is in Malkuth" is to say "the implicit is within the explicit," or "As Above, So Below." "Malkuth is in Kether", as well, which is to say that within the implicit unifying singularity of the cosmos exist all possible forms and physical manifestation of forms. Within this singularity, or the hermetically sealed "egg", is the foundation or blueprint of all life.

But what does this mean to you?

If you are like me, you have at times wondered why things in your life seem to be going wrong or falling apart. Quite often, it is very easily to blame a whole slew of external factors on our own individual or personal failings. "My boss", "my girlfriend or spouse", "my parents", "god", or "the people in charge." But within the framework of a Hermetic understanding of the universe, you quite simply have no excuse, because you ARE your boss, your girlfriend, your parents, and YOU yourself are the God who is in charge. All is a reflection of you yourself. This is not to say that life in the physical world is not fraught with hardships or suffering. It is. But properly understood, this suffering is medicinal and serves as a sacrament to strengthen our resolve.


A mirror we made to look at ourselves in.

It is through these hard won life battles that the universe can manifest itself to us as a sort of a spiritual "school of hard knocks." It is often during these, our most trying times, that the universe chooses to manifest to us our own personal mentors and guides. These persons literally appear and reappear to us in many different forms and guises throughout our natural lifespan. We may lose and rediscover a lover, for example, many times throughout our lives. It is what these persons represent symbolically and internally that concerns us in a magical sense. They are, in a manner of speaking, godforms or symbols made tangible through others. They are like spirits in the flesh.

So what is "Hermeticism"?



"The secret of fulfilling the Mitzvot is the mending of all the worlds and drawing forth the emanation from above." - Rabbi Moses de Leon, Sefer ha'Rimmon

So what's the point? I still think it's silly to call yourself a "magician". What the hell is Hermeticism, and what does that have to do with anything?

The word "Hermetic" pertains to a series of studies whose origination is credited to Hermes the Thrice Great. It is generally historically agreed upon that such a person may have existed. In Egyptian tradition, this person is referred to as "Thoth", a God who is said to have invented science, medicine, the written language, and sorcery. "Hermes" is his Greek equivalent. In the Roman pantheon, he is the God called Mercury. (As previously noted, when the planet called "Mercury" is spoken of by the Hermetic philosophers, what is meant is not the literal physical qualities of the planet Mercury, but rather a set of ideas corresponding to this particular Godform. These ideas are communication, intellect, artistic endeavor, commerce and science.) 

Again, it is stressed here that through the development of the intellectual faculties, the manipulation of language or symbols, and a keen understanding of the principles of nature, miraculous and wonderful transformations can be made to occur. What this teaches us is that the art of Magic itself involves the manipulation of symbols to produce a series of changes. Whether or not these changes are purely internal, or have some external validity outside the province of the subjective mind, should be left to the individual to decide. I will here remain silent.

A magician is someone who makes a Willful and deliberate choice to work through the medium of nature to produce favorable outcomes for his or her self. This necessitates a level of personal responsibility, proactive decision making, and a lifestyle geared towards routinely uncomfortable periods of prolonged isolation and self-examination. These are exactly the same qualities that are familiar to any successful artist, and it should be noted that art is a way of conceiving and actualizing a spell. 

The artist, or magician, begins with a concept he or she wishes to implement. This corresponds to the element of fire, the act of conceiving an idea. He or she then begins to plan or to develop the various means through which this "spell" or work of art will be actualized. Will it be a painting, or a sketch? A piece of music or a book? What is the intent behind the work itself? How should it affect the target audience?  Through what medium will the ideas be transmitted? This second period of planning corresponds to water. The idea has yet to be birthed, but it is now beginning to root itself in a creative sense. The artist has begun to nurture and to sustain the progress of his intent through a period of calm, reflective planning and contemplation. The third phase of the creative endeavor is one in which the artist begins to secure the various persons or tools necessary for the manifestation of his or her creative Will. What will be needed to actualize this vision? Will he or she need to come up with paint brushes, a typewriter or a word processor, a publisher or a series of promoters? How can the idea, as conceived of in a purely theoretical sense, brooded over and reflected upon, be set in motion towards becoming a tangible reality? This formative process corresponds to the element of air. It is a gestation of sorts, and the beginning of the crystalization of an idea. The final phase of this four-fold process is manifestation. If the artist has correctly imagined and conceived, planned and sustained, formed and gestated his or her intent, the final step is executing this code and actualizing it. He or she now has a physical relic, symbolic of his or her actual artistic intent.

Thus, art is magic.

This fourfold process corresponds to the four worlds of the Kabbalah. The world of fire (called Atziluth by the Kabbalists), the world of water (called Briah), the world of air (called Yetzirah), and the world of earth (called Assiah). These are the worlds of archetypal energy, creative energy, formative energy, and physical energy. The process is also analogous to that of the birth of a child. Conception, fertilization, gestation, and birth. It is common knowledge among the Kabbalists that the name of Jehovah, the patriarchal God of the Old Testament, is actually spelled IHVH. This is a formula wherein the letter I represents fire, the world of Atziluth, the letter H represents water or the world of Briah, the letter V represents air or the world of Yetzirah, and the second letter H represents earth, or Assiah. This is illustrative of the seasonal cycle, with its solstices and equinoxes, the four elements, and the process through which an idea becomes physical. 



So what does Hermes Trismegistus have to tell us about this fourfold work?

What follows is the text of what is called "The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus", named for the Hellenistic combination of the Greek God Hermes and the Egyptian God Thoth:

It is true, without error, certain and most true: that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, to perform the miracles of the One Thing.

And as all things were from One, by the meditation of One, so from this One Thing come all things by adaptation. Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon, the wind carried it in its belly, the nurse thereof is the Earth.

It is the father of all perfection and the consummation of the whole world. Its power is integral if it be turned to Earth.

Thou shalt separate the Earth from the Fire, the subtle from the coarse, gently and with much ingenuity. It ascends from Earth to heaven and descends again to Earth, and receives the power of the superiors and the inferiors.

Thus thou hast the glory of the whole world; therefore let all obscurity flee before thee. This is the strong fortitude of all fortitude, overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing. Thus the world was created. Hence are all wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner.

Therefore am I called Hermes the Thrice Great, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. 

That is finished which I have to say concerning the operation of the Sun.

"As above, so below." When operating from a magical paradigm, the question "Is it all inside of my head, or is it real?" becomes irrelevant. The alchemist seeks to integrate his or her microcosmic self with the macrocosmic whole. He or she realizes that the differentiation between the micro or self, and the macro or the universe, is purely semantic and arbitrary. The macro is the micro. Man himself is a mirror of the cosmos. This is the secret of the fulfilling of the Mitzvot of which Rabbi Moses de Leon spoke. We mend the fracture, caused by ego and mind, between the world of God and the world of Man.





All Hail Hermes!


In the next installment, we will explore magic as a willed personal transformation, some personal anecdotes from my life illustrating the perils faced by a beginner, and the manifestation of spirits in the flesh...

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