Rat Bites & Spreading Plagues

If the rat-race is a problem, what of the rats themselves? Well, at the outset, I don’t mean to insult every occultist around. Like I said before, there are plenty of sincere, skilled, and genuinely compassionate magicians and mystics out there who are or consider themselves to be part of the occult community. Well and good. But there are those who would intentionally bring others to harm or unintentionally lead them astray. It’s too easy to fall into paranoia, but no good comes of that. It’s better just to know some of the possibilities and look out for patterns. Here are five true stories, the first four current and the fifth from about a dozen years ago:

  • There is a magician who calls spirits to force men to have sex with them, who is always surprised when the men come to their senses and leave (often in horror), and who has set themselves up as a teacher and a shaman;
  • There is a magician who heads-up an initiatory school and forces ritual spirit possession upon women so that they may have sex with those women without the women even being aware of it;
  • There is a magician who does not believe that it is possible to obtain information from spirits, and yet claims to do spirit work and sells services which rely on spirit contact;
  • There is an occult author, quite well-respected in some circles, who publicly denounced their guru and teachers for publicity’s sake, threw some friends under the bus for their lack of misanthropy, and now spends time begging women for sexual favors while using occult tropes and hints of “Tantric secrets” to entice them;
  • There was a Neopagan “elder” and Witch who traveled around in a van, going from Pagan festival to occult gathering, trying to convince much younger women to sleep with him and, when they wouldn’t, forcing himself upon them. Last I heard of him, he had been arrested for sexual assault.

The first two may sound pretty far-out, while the latter three are just occult-themed versions of unfortunately run-of-the-mill abhorrent behavior, the likes of which you will find in any group of human beings large enough to draw con-artists, frauds, predators, and the well-deluded. Those who have not seen the likes of the first two—who don’t know what spirits, properly called, or what magic generally can do—may think them the overreaching efforts of those who have nothing more constructive to do with their time than to mess with “spooky action at a distance” on other people. But consider, for a moment, even beyond skepticism, the motives behind such actions. Even if a person’s gun is loaded with blanks, if they aren’t aware of that and they point it at someone else and pull the trigger with the intent to harm or kill, should we not at least take that intention seriously? And all the moreso in that the act is obviously premeditated? Perhaps, in such a case, there isn’t enough evidence to convict in a court of law, but there’s certainly enough for the intended victim to take action to keep themselves safe.

Here, then, is the scum of the occult community. It only tends to rise to the surface when the pond is stirred or plumbed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there even when you don’t see it. Like any population, many occultists are doing their best just to get by and find some meaning, security, and happiness in life. But there are some who carry diseases, who are driven by their diseases, and who want nothing more than to infect others. Just as you can tell rabies from a distance by watching for erratic behavior, foaming around the mouth, and other tell-tales, you can often catch out an occultist or magician (whether they’re any good at it or not) who means to manipulate you or do you harm. Watch how they behave in social settings. As the old saying goes, when someone tells you who they are, believe them; they’ll often let you know their intentions more obviously than they even realize. If you are a magician or mystic yourself, tap your resources to gain more information. I find that I Ching is exceptionally good for gaining insight on how best to approach people, both groups and individuals. But, when in doubt, take control of your own sphere of influence; do not allow someone to get closer than their earned trust should indicate and, if someone willfully breaks that trust and reveals bad faith, step away. Finally, if someone finds you a bad mark they will likely walk away; let them, but be aware that they may well try a last, frustrated, parting shot.

Predators and charlatans have a lot of tells, but we often insulate ourselves from them by our own optimism, romanticism, and desire for friends with similar interests and worldviews. But as in all areas of life, a commonality with a person in one area does not mean that they will be helpful to your spiritual practice or even that they are a decent person worthy of your time and energy. Again, misanthropy, cynicism, and paranoia don’t keep us safe; they instead dissolve the social bonds which allow us to support one another when real dangers do rear up. But caution and intelligent application of one’s knowledge and skills, drawing on the knowledge and skills of trusted friends, are warranted here as in any other area of life.

Here, though, is one more reason to avoid the occult rat-race. Filter carefully, make friends, keep it simple, and don’t waste your time on superficial “community”; the practice is the thing.

Advertisements

The Occult Rat-Race

Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind. ~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutras I.2

I had a very good day, today. I spent it at work, at a job I love, surrounded by people I respect from all walks of life who form a community based around joy and the exercise of the mind. If you didn’t already know, I work in a tabletop gaming store, and for as “un-spiritual” as that may sound, it is at least constructive and brings happiness. And, best of all, not a single person with whom I interacted today—one of the biggest sale days of the year for us, so the store was a constant coming-and-going of people—there was not a single esotericist there to make the day tiresome.

As with any religion, one may lose faith in occultism, and that for a variety of reasons. One may, for instance, never apply oneself to the practices and disciplines, thus get none of the promised results, and blame the tradition instead of oneself. One may apply oneself fully to the advised disciplines and find that they do not live up to the promises—or else they give the desired results but those turn out to be far different than expected. Very commonly, loss of faith comes from some combination of these and another rather important factor: the community itself does not live up to its ideals and promises. For instance, I know people who have given themselves up entirely to atheism or nihilism because the religious communities in which they have tried to find homes were so hypocritical and full of hate, avarice, and the other regular vices that it made the whole endeavor eventually seem bankrupt.

I have duly and entirely lost my faith in occultism and, more to the point, in occultists. This has been a gradual process, not a drop off a cliff but a sloughing-off, at first uncomfortable, unpleasant, even painful, but eventually relieving. This has not come due to failure of the practice, either on my part or those of the methods themselves. It has in fact been the reverse: the more success I gain with the ritual magic of Tantra and the alchemy of Yoga, the less patience I can spare for counterfeits.

There is also the point of community to address. I know many excellent magicians and mystics. But they, too, have gotten or are rapidly getting to the point of seeing no profit in associating with the broad swath of occultism which exists in every city. Far better, they find, to keep to themselves, going about their daily lives rather innocuously, often not seeming like anyone out of the ordinary. “By their fruits you will know them,” though, so they will often find one another anyway, but it doesn’t need to be an active search.

It is true that a leading motive of spirituality is an effort to escape misery and find true happiness. This is an honest and reasonable motive. But it all too easily turns into the like of any other pursuit of happiness: social gamesmanship takes the fore as meaningless loyalties are tested among and by people who take themselves as undeservedly seriously as high school heartbreak; everyone places the weight of the world upon their own shoulders, despite a lack of meaningful action, because it makes them and their relationships appear as important as they feel; public declarations take the place of self-study. There is a parasitism among occultists who all feel entitled to access every piece of wisdom and knowledge without having to work for it or come by any of it through the honest experience of life. And, worse, there are the outsized egos who will gladly take advantage of those around them with something to give, a willingness to give it, and the well-meaning but naive belief that doing so will make any difference.

When writing about teachers, I quoted the phrase “occult rat-race” in reference to the usual, endless sorts of orders, lodges, covens, organizations, correspondence courses, and books. Almost as much as the people who engage with them, these things make up the run-of-the-mill of the esoteric world. Of course any and all of these may individually be helpful if they happen to be of better-than-average quality. The rat-race, however, is in being stuck to any of them. Attachment and repulsion have their play, perhaps more than usual when thoughts and self-identifiers of spirituality and special knowledge become involved. When active self-study and proper guidance are involved, this environment may turn the obstructions against one another and burn useless self-identity away. But under all other circumstances these conditions form the perfect hot house for the ego to grow and nescience to deepen; and when genuine magical or mystical methods are employed by or upon those who are not prepared for them, this situation becomes drastically worse, just as wires lacking insulation will start a fire or electrocute someone when a strong current is introduced.

The practice of Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind so that Awareness, pure and uncolored, may be seen to as it is, self-effulgent and eternal. The body of occultism, with its myriad organizations, theatrics, dramatic people, meddlers, repetitive books, and endless doctrines—even or especially in the presence of genuine cleverness and ability—is nothing but the continuation and cultivation of more and more modifications of the mind, leading further and further from the very illumination so many occultists claim as their desire.

Simplify, simplify! Climb the wall and leave the maze! Though it will of the necessity of health be gradual, let fall away the unnecessary and do not worry after it once it is gone. It will not always be fun, and sometimes it will be quite painful, but what is mere ballast will go on its own if you let it.

He who is free from attachment and hatred, devoted to the good of all beings, fixed in knowledge, and steady shall attain to the supreme state. ~ Avadhuta Gita II.24

Revisiting Magick: Liber ABA — Book 4

A few years back, I did a little revisiting of my work with Franz Bardon’s books. It’s always instructive to look back over where I’ve been and track how it got me here, and Bardon had such a large and unambiguously positive role to play in my spiritual growth that it was a real pleasure to express some thoughts on him. Crowley’s a different story. Like most people involved in the occult today, Aleister Crowley has also been a major influence; he’s a lot more famous than Bardon, far more likely to be known at least on a surface level by the general public, wrote prolifically in a variety of formats, and even founded a religion. In short, there’s no escaping his shadow, and it’s just about an irreducible requirement of involvement in any sort of occultism, esoteric spirituality, magic, Neopaganism, or Yoga that one have a firm opinion of him one way or another.

I’ve given my assessment of Crowley before, and don’t mean to restate it all here. Since my initiation as a Nath, I’ve been digesting a lot, and this has meant also digesting where I’ve come from. My first mentor among the Naths, Sri Dhruvanath, once said of Crowley that he’s something of a crazy uncle for us. The Guru who brought our lineage West, Shri Gurudev Mahendranath (Dadaji), knew Crowley personally during the Beast’s later years and admired him for his pursuit of truth against the world, freedom in the face of a moralistic society, and wonder in the teeth of the aggressively mundane. Crowley was a unique person, a true individual, of that there can be no doubt, and he meant his magic and mysticism in all sincerity. He was also undeniably brilliant. But Dadaji was not blind to Crowley’s shortcomings and was quite honest about them in his own writing, even in the midst of praising those strengths. Crowley was an inspiration for a young Dadaji, but not an idol. An idol chains us while an inspiration makes us light. An idol doesn’t permit serious evaluation, while an inspiration allows us to learn from the good and the bad alike.

All of this is just preamble to a little project I’ve set myself. Partly, this is for fun, but partly it is a serious effort at seeing what there is, if anything, to Crowley that I’ve been blind to. It’s been since my early 20s that I’ve read any Crowley. In the intervening years, I’ve largely despised the man—as a magician, as a teacher, as a religious leader, and as a human being. It’s only been in the recent years that I’ve allowed my views to soften, but this is the first time I’ve allowed myself to go back and really look upon his work without emotional blinders.

I will therefore be re-reading Crowley’s magnum opus, Magick: Liber ABA — Book 4, for the first time in a decade and a half and reviewing each of the four principle sections—Mysticism, Magick: Elementary Theory, Magick in Theory and Practice, and Thelema, on their own terms, as honestly as I can and with as little presumption as I am able. Again, this is meant to be a fun project for me, but if I can learn something along the way and bring a bit more subtlety to my own perspective, so much the better. Let’s see where it goes.

Puja of the Form of the Self

I am of the form
of Om Namah Shivaya!
My straight spine the haft
string and faultless
My head the spear
and the crescent Moon
Three tines, piercing Heaven,
the Lord’s divine Trident.
My legs the tri-leafed base
of perfect support.
Omkara surrounds,
vault of the night sky,
stang of the Trishul upholding.

I am of the form
of Om Namah Shivaya!
Dragon Seat and semen
the food and water offered
to the stillness of the Lord.
Heart the lamp and blood the fuel
the Lord’s Light cast back,
offering Him to Himself.
Prana itself the incense,
the only perfume fit for the Beloved,
lit at the Heart’s own flame.
My brain itself Ambrosia, Soma,
bloom-nectar arousing His smile.

I am of the form
of Om Namah Shivaya!
My soul clings to Her hem,
Shakti’s feet my refuge
Father and Mother embrace
The child held safe and vibrant
Watching as radiant cascades
of Maya and Lila gambol and dance
Flowers waving in the soft breeze
of Mother’s tinkling laughter
Her bloody tongue lolling
as Mother and Father enjoy
the child’s innocent garden play.
 

On Finding a True Teacher

I’ve recently been undergoing a significant disillusionment with the whole occult and esoteric community. I would not say that I’ve been suffering it, as all told it has lifted great weight from my shoulders and revealed a lot of what is and is not worth my time and energy. I hasten to add that it is not with esoteric spirituality—nor with magic, etc.—that I have made a break, but with the people and organizations who have decided that they speak for it. Sadhana, practice, is the thing, and all the metaphysical philosophizing, lodge ritual, seminars, guided visualizations, and shared-around ordinations and consecrations in the world cannot help you if you aren’t willing to put in the work on your own.

It may seem odd, therefore, that I’m spilling more ink here on teachers. In Western ceremonial magic, conjure, and other forms of sorcery, teachers may be helpful but are not necessary if you’ve got access to books and other materials. Mysticism, however, irreducibly requires a mentor who has gone before you. A lot of people today really hate hearing this, but it’s no less true for that. Moreover, some modalities do require an initiation of some sort, a sharing of lineage and force, to really enter into the stream. For example, you can get something out of Tantric ritual and mantra practice just by following directions from a good book, but certain depths will be out of your reach without Guru’s grace. You don’t have to like it, and you may choose to push against the point, but that’s the way things are. It’s an experience I’ve shared with many others that as soon as one realizes this fact, a sort of despair takes hold. One may then start to chase down every inviting avenue trying to find a teacher, or else one may give up entirely thinking that the chances are just too slim to find a reliable teacher or proper lineage in this age. Or, like me, you may ping-pong between these two extremes on what seems a daily basis; the once-inviting avenues of the search reveal themselves to be blind alleys, so despair descends, only to give way to a flurry of web searching, correspondence courses, and temple visits. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And, boy, are there a lot of blind alleys masquerading as yellow brick roads. Herein lies the root of my increasing lack of interest in the many teachers, organizations, discussion groups, and such: most of them are more or less harmless enthusiastic amateurs who, like amateurs in any field, desperately want to share the world which has opened up to them with others of like mind, but enough of them are some combination of tigers waiting to pounce or, maybe worse, the sincerely deluded. This latter category is the hardest to deal with because they so often look like the real deal, but an observer can watch as their peccadillos expand to engulf them and their followers as their pain-bringing obstructions grow. I have recently watched this occur with an occult writer and teacher of some note, and not without some degree of sadness on my part as I watch his following build. This, indeed, went a long way toward precipitating my present distance from the occult world; conversation about it brought a friend of mine to suggest this very blog entry.

There’s no bullet-pointed list of specific traits to look for in a real Guru, initiator, guide, or mentor because there’s no one way of “being enlightened”, no one-size-fits-all way of teaching, and no perfect human being. A good rule, however, goes back to the last paragraph. Everyone who is still embodied will carry with them some conditioning; that’s what having a brain is all about. A genuine Guru, one who has walked far along the Way, will know this and acknowledge it. They will therefore also know their own quirks well enough to mostly keep them out of the way. They will not permit mere conditioned preferences and prejudices to negatively impact the sadhana of their students. This is one of several big reasons, but among the biggest, why the majority of even the most sincere spiritual practitioners just aren’t teacher material. (This, by the way, includes me.)

It is entirely possible for a spiritual teacher to, for example, have political opinions, and it is possible for his or her students to agree or disagree with those opinions without the Guru-sishya relationship being in the slightest way disrupted. It all depends on the good faith of both sides. There is no avoiding problems, however, when said teacher tries to enforce their politics as part of their spiritual teaching or make their spiritual teaching a mere appendage of their politics—a topic about which I’ve written before, though I would have been a bit more forceful about it had I known then what I know now. This is just one example of how a teacher’s lack of self-knowledge and self-control can disqualify them. Greed, power-hungriness, egotism, and a host of other issues can arise with the unqualified. Again, it isn’t as if a true Guru will entirely lack these altogether human traits, but he or she will know about themunderstand them, and, most important of all, be able to control them through this self-knowledge and perspective. As a fellow-Nath once put it, we don’t seek perfection but excellence; perfection implies a flattening-out, while excellence enjoys the best of texture. As long as the Guru has a body and brain, just like the rest of us, the knots and pain-bringing obstructions are there; what distinguishes the Guru in this vein is that he knows them inside and out.

When one does not have this depth of self-knowledge but tries to take up the mantle of teacher and/or initiator, the pain-bearing obstructions (ignorance, egotism, attachment, repulsion, and fear of death) will tend to grow in whichever directions present the least resistance. If allowed to continue unchecked, those barriers which exist in other directions will be absorbed and used by the kleshas to continue to grow like tumors siphoning the body’s nutrients for their own use. I don’t mean to speak, here, like a Yogic physician who is expert in this process, but I have watched it happen more than once from several angles.

Be on the lookout, therefore, for hypocrisy. Even minor examples of “do as I say, not as I do” implies an underlying problem which will likely burst forth sooner or later, especially when surrounded by sycophants. Use some subtlety here. It is possible for a teacher to assign a practice to one student that he or she does not assign to all students equally, even a practice which the teacher him- or herself does not generally use. This is simply because a good teacher will dynamically respond to the different needs of people who are in different places, with different karmas and conditioning. This is fundamentally, and recognizably, different from passive-aggression and petty double standards which conflate authority with authoritativeness.

All of this certainly plays into the old standard “by their fruits you shall know them” and this is certainly a good rule. Again, some subtlety of observation is necessary, but if a person claims powers which are not supported by the reality of their life, do you really want to learn their magic? If they speak about refinement and transcendence which is nowhere evident in their behavior, what do they have to teach you of mysticism?

Ultimately, a good teacher is found by a good student, and vice versa. Tantric sources suggest a karmic necessity to the arrangement, and I think that this is true. But even if you find that hard to accept, there does seem to be a sort of magnetism which brings a ripe student and their teacher together. Much Yoga literature therefore focuses on the qualifications of the student rather than those of the teacher. Some have observed that this seems like an imbalanced arrangement, putting the vulnerable seeker at the disposal of any number of people of bad faith. In truth, it puts the seeker very much in the driver’s seat. If a teacher is actively recruiting students, that’s a strike against already. Making oneself available is very far from putting up a billboard. Some fanfares are earned, and some merely purchased. To tell the difference often takes discrimination. Let the seeker, therefore, develop a practice which builds and encourages intelligence. Concentration and meditation, the conscious direction of one’s own mind, are a good place to start, as is a devotional practice to one’s chosen deity which tends to bring to the mind and perceptions a new level of clarity.

Some books which have been helpful for me in these reflections:

  • Bhagavad Gita, because Krishna is a good model of a Guru; he does not hide or deny his quirks but uses them to bring dynamism and personality to his teaching;
  • In Days of Great Peace by Mouni Sadhu, as a sympathetic telling of the author’s journey through the “occult rat-race” to his own Guru;
  • Concentration by Mouni Sadhu, for presenting a series of exercises leading to lucidity of the mind;
  • Initiation Into Hermetics by Franz Bardon, for giving a self-paced and well-rounded practical education in both magic and mysticism which puts one in good stead to find a spiritual home;
  • Guru Gita, as devotion to the Divine Guru within and without is a proven method of ripening to meet the human Guru;
  • Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali, for lucidly expressing the aims and core methods of practice leading to an awakened intellect;
  • The Phantastikos by Shri Gurudev Mahendranath (Dadaji), a lucid and non-dogmatic account of the searches and results of a Tantric Guru’s own journey, prefaced by my own Guru Sri Gurudev Kapilnath telling of how he came to Dadaji’s tutelage (two for one special!).

I wish every reader here the absolute best, whether you are looking to enter the stream of mysticism or searching for the sorcery to enhance your life here and now. Either way, choose your associations carefully, practice with sincerity, watch for results, and keep your wits about you.

The Gods Are A Hammer

What good is it for me
to tell you of Shiva or Krishna,
Durga or Jesus or Thoth?
If their Names are not sledgehammers upon you.

Let the Names knock you about,
bruise your flesh and make bone ash
of your mind. Only then
can the pictures and words
fall off, fortresses pierced.

And the Pulse which birthed Them
Dancing and still.
Our sign of office:
Movement and rest.

Laboratories In Dust

The secret alchemy is without transformation. We search through laboratories and books and incense for the spell or machine that can at last give us peace. The potion or pill that will make us happy. The martyr or ruler who will make us free.

Alchemy adds nothing. It takes nothing away. When once we step into the forest and sink in to the dappled loam, let ourselves be covered in the breathing ferns and the hidden fire be exactly as it’s always been—then, without having done a thing we will have accomplished what there is to accomplish.

Take to the forests and graveyards, therefore, wherever you are. If there is in you any love or desire, let the soil and ash have you while you live.