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.

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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.

A Bardon Community — Reflections on a Trend

Many years ago, when I was just beginning to read and practice Franz Bardon’s Initiations Into Hermetics (“IIH” for short), the Czech magician’s system of training was fairly obscure outside of some fairly serious students of occultism. Today, the situation has changed considerably, with Bardon’s writings being pretty well known to nearly every occultist, magician, or Neopagan out there. And that’s great. I’m very happy that Bardon, especially IIH, is getting more attention and is finding his way into more and more occult training routines. There’s even a growing community of Bardon practitioners out there who are doing their part to spread what, to my eyes, is the single best system of mystical and magical training native to the Western world available in any European language. This community’s growing pains, however, are all rife with their own lessons.

I’ve only recently come into contact with what I’m broadly referring to as “the Bardon community”. I’m not antisocial, but I am pretty good at keeping to myself, and I take the old injunction “To Keep Silent” pretty seriously — and apparently far more at face value than most — so I don’t tend to seek people out with whom to discuss these things. But this blog, Facebook, and other venues are obvious breaches in my fortress whereby people can find me and have conversations. So, by way of just having this blog, I found myself in discussions with a variety of people and am learning of this community that I never really knew existed as such. Much of what I’m learning is very encouraging, while some of it is quite troubling indeed. I’d like to address some of those challenges in this post, not to shame or blame anyone but to give what I think is useful food for thought that this burgeoning Bardonism might develop a healthy trunk from the strong roots Bardon himself laid down.

The first thing to strike me about the loose association of Bardon practitioners is the abundance of schools, not just in the sense of institutions intent on giving guidance to other practitioners but in the sense of competing camps of interpretation and application. In both of these senses, the various “schools of Bardonism” are prone to mislead. I do not mean that there is anything inherently wrong with a more experienced practitioner making themselves available as a resource to those coming after, and I also do not have anything necessarily against them making some money from it. After all, the time, energy, and expertise which goes into this process can be great and is deserving of tribute or acknowledgment on the part of the fortunate student. But Bardon’s works are very intentionally structured as yogic self-study. If pursued with diligence and patience, most questions will answer themselves. Any further filling-in of the outline of IIH is actually quite counterproductive, as a large portion of the educational value of IIH is exercising not only the discipline but also the creativity and even playfulness which make the exercises practical and which integrate them into our daily lives and deeper psychology.

The structure of IIH was left sparse very deliberately. Bardon did not see himself as a taskmaster nor as the dean of a school giving a precise curriculum. Though he intended that the outline be followed as written — and I strongly suggest that any students reading this take that point extremely seriously — he left all of the details out because those must be deeply personal, organically adapted to the particular needs of the individual mind and body. Just as importantly, it is the individual practitioner who must come up with this themselves! Having someone else do all of the tailoring for you is merely robbing yourself of the opportunity for self-knowledge. A Bardonic teacher, then, would ideally act like a preceptor in the Nath tradition: they are available to answer questions but mostly make it their job to turn the student back in upon themselves, saying only enough to give the student the confidence to explore more deeply and to try again with renewed vigor. To be quite terse, if you aren’t willing to fill in a lot of these apparent gaps for yourself, Bardon’s methods probably aren’t for you, at least not just yet.

This last point opens up another topic I see among some Bardonian teachers out there: the claim that Initiation Into Hermetics is somehow inaccessible to all but a minority or, put differently, that “normal people” aren’t capable of practicing it. To this I respond: No more than any other system of inner training. There is no call either to feel superior for engaging with IIH nor to put others off of it because of its difficulty. It is one thing to give someone an earnest heads-up that what they’re about to embark upon is not for the dilettante, but it is not our job to tell anyone else that they just can’t do it. As my Nath preceptor put it in regard to that tradition, if the karmas are there, you’ll find your way to it and, to large extent, that’s that. It doesn’t make anyone innately special, nor “higher” or “lower” than someone engaged in something else.

While Bardon did not consider his books to be any sort of doctrinal canon (on which more later), nevertheless it seems odd to me how many Bardonian teachers take it upon themselves to criticize the basic structure. I have heard from a few commentators, for example, that Bardon’s system is too “fiery” and not enough “watery”. I daresay such a critique actually misunderstands the Hermetic elements and how they fit together. I have yet to see from the West so balanced an approach to the elemental forces as Bardon’s; many other systems would do well to take clues from the structure of IIH (and, depending on how they do things, The Practice of Magical Evocation [PME] and Key to the True Quabbalah [KTQ] as well) to avoid the pitfalls of certain other famous modern Western occult training methods. I will leave it mostly up to the student to figure out what I mean about the nature of the elements and how they balance dynamically in IIH. It may serve for now, though, to point out that water, in the human economy, is primarily the function of the reflective mind. This includes, but is not limited to, sensation (physical and emotional), self-observation, collation of data (sensory or rational), and the capacity for devotion. The student will find all of the above quite amply represented in the work of Initiation Into Hermetics.

Finally — and I have seen others comment on this point as well — there is an abundance of, and seeming focus on, commentaries. This goes back a lot to what I said previously about the various schools and teachers in evidence in every direction within the Bardon community. Everyone also seems to have their own commentary, especially on IIH. As I observed in the last paragraph, Bardon would not have described his works as any sort of sacred canon, therefore neither should we consider anyone else’s work on the topic to be canonical. If any of these commentaries provides some helpful guidance or clarity, that’s wonderful, but we should not become obsessed by any given reading. IIH is not the Vijñāna Bhairava or the Yoga Sutras; it is not intended to be a set of mnemonic aphorisms needing to be unpacked by a Guru. For fear of repeating myself too much, yet reinforcing a very necessary point, IIH is in outline for a number of important reasons and it is up to the individual practitioner to creatively and experimentally fill in many of the gaps on their own. A commentary can, at the absolute best, only show an example of how one person filled them in. If we fall into the trap of treating someone else’s example as the sine qua non of the practice, we dead-end ourselves far more than we might believe. Worse, we may create for ourselves the illusion of progress which can be very difficult to see through as we have convinced ourselves that someone else’s experience with mastery of a given exercise is the only way to move ahead. It was precisely to avoid the pitfalls of more baroque systems common in his own day that Bardon preferred an experimental, infinitely personalized, and relatively simple approach which could be elaborated upon as much as the individual needed. In point of fact, both PME and KTQ are nonessential examples of such elaboration — which some will find to be helpful or even necessary for higher progress, and others will not need or may even experience as extravagant obstacles. This, too, parallels the way things are done in the Nath sampradāya, and this parallel is illustrative: a Guru will guide some chelas to the study of astrology, others to complex ritual magic, yet others to physical yogas, and on and on. Such guidance for one person does not mean that the same practices will be equally useful, or even useful at all, for everyone else, and the same Guru may even guide most or all students away from a practice given as necessary to another. A one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual development is as unwise as one-size-fits-all healthcare and it is for this reason that lodge, school, and church structures are incapable of granting access to the depths of esotericism.

I hope that all of the above points will be taken in the spirit in which they are intended. I really do think that Franz Bardon has left us with one of the handful of most remarkable, balanced, and flexible modes of inner training available without a qualified Guru. I think it’s a great thing that there is a growing community of practitioners who wish to share enthusiasm and encouragement in the Work, and that there are people who have been there before willing to connect with those coming up after them. But as such affiliations grow, it is important to be aware of shortcomings and stumbling blocks as they arise and before they can become deep-set diseases. Each individual must ultimately think for themselves in order to know, become independent in service to will, boldly experiment to dare, and to keep silent in order to build the inner pressure required to push ever deeper inward.

Of the Limitlessness of Magic

There is an epidemic: magicians who don’t believe in magic. This takes many forms, from Western ritualists who don’t understand even the rudiments of astrology upon which most Western ritual magic is founded to activists who think that magic is just performance art, from witches who think it’s a fashion statement to Crowley fans who think it’s all psychoanalysis with fancy costumes—it’s a plague of missing the point. For the most part, I don’t care. People will do what they want to do, and usually do what makes them feel good regardless of how much good it actually does. Those who crave something deeper, however, will often find themselves stuck in these whirlpools of occult stagnation simply because that’s how they’ve been taught and don’t know of alternatives. I’ve seen too many promising students simply retreat back to normality because nothing they’d read or been given worked.

Even worse, the occult world is filled to overflowing with well-educated, intellectual, pop culturally aware magicians with perfectly acceptable political views—in short, utterly respectable people who are more concerned with looking respectable than they are with challenging themselves or the boundaries of the structures around them. Prioritizing social acceptability and cultural relevance over looking into dark corners and knowing wonders does not an esoteric adventurer make.

I normally do not discuss my own experiences with these things in public, and very rarely even in private. I take that tired old “To Keep Silent” thing pretty seriously, besides which it generally does no good for anybody to talk details. I’m momentarily breaking that rule, however, because I want to remind you that weird things happen. This isn’t the most impressive such tale, nor is it presented as evidence or proof of anything; it is an anecdote intended to illustrate that while these practices may be primarily mental in nature, the power unleashed thereby is not therefore all in our heads.


Years ago, I purchased a sword to use in my magical practice. I was doing some work at the time as a diviner and healer, and so needed to have my magical toolkit as full as possible for any eventuality and had to replace my last sword for an assortment of reasons. I went looking with certain criteria in mind: it had to be simple in design, full tang, balanced enough not to be awkward in my hand, and hypothetically usable as an actual weapon. The one I purchased was very blunt-edged, but able to be sharpened. I was alright with that at the time because I didn’t want my cat hurting herself on it in my one-room living arrangement.

I had been working through the evocation practices of Franz Bardon’s Practice of Magical Evocation at the same time and was at the point of going through the elemental realms and making allies in each of them, evoking said allies to visible appearance one at a time to fully integrate the forces of the elements on every level. I decided then to use the opportunity of evoking a particular elemental lord with whom I had made contact for the consecration of my new sword. The ritual went particularly well, lasting no more than an hour; I carried out my evocation according to my usual rubric and, having place the sword in the area of manifestation in advance, requested that great spirit to “bless and empower the sword in the name of the Most High and Most Inward God that it may serve me in all operations of magic henceforth”, etc. So far, so good.

Having concluded the operation, I ensured that the spirit had returned from whence I had invited him, closed the temple down and took a few minutes of rest before packing everything away inside my altar cabinet. As I took up the sword to return it to its leather scabbard for storage, I noticed that something had changed. Most immediately, it felt lighter in my hand. This being a purely subjective thing, I assumed that it was just my brain responding to the preceding ritual action but then, as I looked at the blade to guide it home, I noticed something a touch more dramatic: it was no longer blunt!

As the sword had never left the corner in which I stored my altar and magical supplies in my loft room, I was left to understand that the edge of my sword had been sharpened at some time during the ritual of evocation. 

Once again, I do not offer this anecdote as proof, for no anecdote can be proof to another of anything and to the individual supplying the story only insofar as it proves that an experience was had. I supply it, however, as an example, however minor, that the forces we work with in spiritual practice of any sort (magical, theurgic, alchemical, meditative, or whatever) are not mere psychological complexes with no relation beyond symbolic with the world around us. The psychological aspects of these forces do exist, and are generally those with which we have the most direct relationships; if, however, we take seriously the fundamental esoteric doctrine that we are all integrated, even if unconsciously, with the Totality, it must be that these points of psychological connection are just our first-line interfaces with a Reality able to reveal so much more of itself to us as we make ourselves open to it and are gifted with its revelations. Just as many traditions hold that gods are showings-forth of the All-in-One through a variety of faces, the spirits with which a magician forms relationships and the individual consciousness of the magician himself are also such masks. If I and every single manifest person or thing with which I interact are all Self-revelations of the deepest living Truth, how can I doubt that wonders occur?

Bourgeois Yoga: To Become One with the Status Quo

“Goblins do less harm to us than generals;
Pixies plague us less than do the politicians;
Fairyland is much more happy than our society;
Musing can be more profitable than reading;
The oracle more truthful than the news media;
Nature has the facts, mankind the theories;
Nature keeps the world clean, and man pollutes.

~ “The Prophetikos” of Shri Gurudev Mahendranath

I have received some feedback from my article Radical Between Extremes, or Midnight Cemetery Puja which indicates that I was perhaps unclear as to my target. That is liable to happen when the twilight imagery of Yoga and Tantra become involved with a more concrete point of social concern. This miscommunication does at least give me the opportunity to make a certain criticism more barbed; though I wish it to be swallowed, I do not want it to go down so easily that we forget we had to swallow anything at all.

Since the 19th century in the West, magic and mysticism have at least popularly become the purview of what some schools of socio-politcal thought call the bourgeoisie. That is to say not only that it has become a thoroughly middle class phenomenon, but that—as with all things commodified for the entertainment of the middle class—it has become safe. In traditional cultures, the shaman and the sorcerer are not people that one approaches lightly, and even the shaman and sorcerer themselves do not approach their vocation the same way we might take a job working in Accounts Receivable. It is a true vocation, a calling, but it is just as appropriate to call it an evocation—a calling out of many social norms, of a central place within a protective community, of not just the expectations but also the protections of a regular member of society. The Yogi, the magician, the shaman, the witch, are weird and maybe a little crazy, certainly either intimidating or discomfiting. Even today, the Vodou houngan, mambo, and bokor or, in a less organized setting, the hoodoo root doctor are not people to be trifled with. A Vodoun may know a bokor pretty well, even be close friends, but when the bokor is acting in his office, he is in that way and for that time set apart somewhat so that he may do his job. And his job is a fearful one. Likewise the Yogi: though he  may not outwardly renounce society, he will at least force some space between himself and his community, making an inner renunciation which carries more weight anyway.

I hope I should not even have to make an especially direct remark about the phenomenon of the modern “yoga school” or “tantra workshop”, at this point, but if I need to be more clear: I have met precious few urban or suburban yogis, magicians, and shamans who had done more to earn the title than take a correspondence course, join an order, or engage in a class or workshop. Little to no personal sacrifice is made and, as a result, none of the feral nature of the witch or the acid of the Tantrika has awakened within them. Such a wild one is not therefore a thoroughgoing iconoclast, as if smashing imagery for its own sake were ever more than petulant, but is rather wise to the inner nature of the images.

I do not mean this as a discouragement, for as much as it may seem like an insult. It’s just that a disease cannot be treated until it has been diagnosed, and sometimes the diagnosis can feel as harsh as the symptoms themselves. It may seem unfair that many are called but few are chosen until you realize that the calling is not up to you, but being worthy of the choice is.

When I spoke in that last post about movements, parties, voting, and politics, my intended audience was—as usual, on this blog—practitioners or at least students of the esoteric. Join your movements and march, join your parties and vote, there’s no harm in it if your cause is just and your intentions compassionate. But I speak as a mystic and magician to mystics and magicians—as well as poets and artists who, God knows, do some of the same work we do in their own way—when I say that any such support must arise organically from the wilderness of your own soul and not exclusively from the runaway locomotive of cultural pressure. We cannot be socially or even psychically safe and expect to make real progress in the exploration of Pati, pasa, and pasu (the Divine, the world, and the self). The Tantrika throws in his lot with the ghouls and goblins who haunt the woods and cemeteries, the witch tosses hers in with the horned (and horny) spirits who ride the dark undercurrents of Nature, and the artist drops his in with the poor, the diseased, and the disenfranchised—in all cases with the things that go bump in the night, the bogeymen in the closets and monsters under the bed of the comfortable, the wealthy, the righteous, the secure. And this must go so far beyond voting, attending a workshop, or marching at a rally. If the artist does not continue to create, her mission is stalled for both herself and the world; if the mystic should cease to seek kaivalya and the magician halt in reflecting holy gnosis, regardless of the dangers and insecurities which this must breed, it may as well be that the Sun and Moon both fail to rise, for the sweet nectar of immortality comes only to those who will touch tongue to the bitter poison of Saturn’s kingdom.

Tantra 101 — Part 1: Embodiment

The body is the first temple of worship. Even when we carry the body to a temple, we must engage with that temple through the body. Even the sacred groves and balefires of those who worship out of doors must be seen and felt in order to have meaning for the supplicants. Practices like meditation, astral projection, and so on, may help to prepare for the process of death and the after-death state, but they are still centered in the body described by biology and are instantiated by neural correlates. There is no escaping this fact for as long as we fit the biological description of “life”.

Many spiritual seekers see the body as a flaw. It is certainly a limitation. In Tantra, however, the body is the alchemical vessel in which the materia is transmuted. (The materia is the subtle body of the soul, what occultists call the “astral body” or the “astra-mental body”, but further discussion of this topic must remain for later.) To be “limited” to acting primarily in and upon the gross material world is a limitation in the same way that plumbing limits the flow of water through capillary action in order not only to direct the water’s flow but also to increase its pressure. The cataract which must be surgically removed is only the self-identification with bodily limitation, not the body itself (which will remove itself in due time anyway). The pressure built up by this limitation, however, allows the soul to discover itself, gradually awakening to its own capacities by way of their lesser physical and mental correlates.

Perfect physical health is unattainable. Even if a supposed “perfect equilibrium” were possible, it could only last a brief moment before the very next bodily activity overbalanced one element or another. It is therefore not worth striving after physical perfection. But health, as an ongoing process, is within the reach of most of us and is one of the greatest aids to the spiritual life. Asanas (the familiar physical postures of Yoga), pranayama (restraining the breath in specific ways), the dietary insights and alchemical preparations of Ayurveda, as well as internal martial arts, are all traditionally useful modes of preparing the body to accept the biological correlates of deep magical and alchemical practices such as mantra and meditation.

It is also for the above reasons that many traditional meditation practices begin with some sort of bodily awareness. Consider Zen, whose emphasis is on breath awareness while sitting and full-body awareness during walking meditation; deeper concerns, such as watching the actions of the mind, come later or arise naturally from body awareness and, in any case, are based on the restful concentration developed through such practices. Any time I have taught others my own mode of meditation, I have started them out with bodily awareness. A practice with which anyone can engage is to simply feel the weight and warmth of your own body. Spend as long as you can doing this alone, allowing any and all sensations to simply pass through your awareness without direct concern. There is more depth to this deceptively simple exercise than at first appears, and it is just the first step toward awakening deeper faculties of concentration and perception.

References & Further Reading
Cave of the Numinous: Tantric Physics vol. 1 by Craig Williams (2014, Theion Publishing)

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (2011, Shambhala)