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

Advertisements

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.