Category Archives: Non-fiction

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 1 – Towards the Golden Dawn

Like many people, I am using my time in social distancing to catch up on reading, particularly books that have been on my shelves for years waiting to be read. This is one of those books which I picked up at a used bookstore over 15 years ago and never bothered to read. But curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to read the first part.

For those who are unfamiliar with Aleister Crowley, he was born Edward Alexander Crowley on October 12, 1875 and died December 1, 1947. He was an “English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer. He founded the religion of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century.” He “gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, being a recreational drug experimenter, bisexual and an individualist social critic. He has been called ‘the wickedest man in the world’ and labeled as a Satanist by the popular press. Crowley has remained a highly influential figure over Western esotericism and the counterculture.” (Source: Wikipedia)

The book is comprised of six parts, so I figured that I would share my thoughts after each part, as opposed to attempting to cover the nearly 1000 pages in a single post. The first part is entitled “Towards the Golden Dawn.”

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Latin: Ordo Hermeticus Aurorae Aureae; or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn (Aurora Aurea)) was a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as a magical order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active in Great Britain and focused its practices on theurgy and spiritual development. Many present-day concepts of ritual and magic that are at the centre of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca and Thelema, were inspired by the Golden Dawn, which became one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So the first part of Crowley’s autobiographical work focuses on his life leading up to and including his initiation into the Golden Dawn, where he interacted with individuals including MacGregor Mathers, Arthur Edward Waite, and William Butler Yeats. While much of this section focuses on Crowley’s early family relations, education, and his interests in chess and mountain climbing, he eventually begins to share his experiences and thoughts regarding magick and the occult. Crowley provides the following definition of Magick.

From the nature of things, therefore, life is a sacrament; in other words, all our acts are magical acts. Our spiritual consciousness acts through the will and its instruments upon material objects, in order to produce changes which will result in the establishment of the new conditions of consciousness which we wish. That is the definition of Magick. The obvious example of such an operation in its most symbolic and ceremonial form is the Mass. The will of the priest transmutes a wafer in such wise that it becomes charged with the divine substance in so active a form that its physical injection gives spiritual nourishment to the communicant. But all our actions fit this equation. A tailor with a toothache takes a portion of the wealth derived from the business to which he has consecrated himself, a symbol of his accumulated and stored energy, in order to have the tooth removed and so to recover the consciousness of physical well-being.

(p. 125)

As a person who is very interested in the poetry of W. B. Yeats, I was curious to hear what Crowley had to say about him. I had heard that the two did not get along well, but Crowley arrogantly belittles Yeats’ work, implying that his poetry is superior to that of Yeats. I found the section to be entertaining, and chuckled inwardly to myself.

I had a set of paged proofs in my pocket one evening, when I went to call on W. B. Yeats. I had never thought much of his work; it seemed to me to lack virility. I have given an extended criticism of it in The Equinox (vol. I, no. ii, page 307). However, at the time I should have been glad to have a kindly word from an elder man. I showed him the proofs accordingly and he glanced at them. He forced himself to utter a few polite conventionalities, but I could see what the truth of the matter was.

I had by this time become fairly expert in clairvoyance, clairaudience and clairsentience. But it would have been a very dull person indeed who failed to recognize the black, bilious rage that shook him to the soul. I instance this as proof that Yeats was a genuine poet at heart, for a mere charlatan would have known that he had no cause to fear an authentic poet. What hurt him was the knowledge of his own incomparable inferiority.

(pp. 165 – 166)

Crowley makes a very interesting comment in regard to the practice and teaching of mystical arts.

I have always felt that since the occult sciences nourish so many charlatans, it should be one’s prime point of honour not to make money in any way connected with them. The amateur status above all!

(p. 181)

I also feel this way, and red flags always go up whenever I hear about rituals or speakers charging what are clearly excessive fees for services. I am happy to make donations to cover expenses and materials, or contribute in a way that is fair, but I generally choose not to pay for what seems to me a way for individuals to profit from doing “spiritual work.”

And this seems like a good segue into the last quote I wish to talk about.

Money-grubbing does its best to blaspheme and destroy nature. It is useless to oppose the baseness of humanity; if one touches pitch one runs the risk of being defiled. I am perfectly content to know that the vileness of civilization is rapidly destroying itself; that it stinks in my nostrils tells me that it is rotting and my consolation is in the words of Lord Dunsany. In the meantime, the water was to be wasted in producing wealth—the most dangerous of narcotic drugs. It creates a morbid craving—which it never satisfies after the first flush of intoxication.

(p. 188)

Crowley perfectly sums up how greed feeds upon itself, and how the insatiable lust for more wealth is fueling the environmental destruction of this planet. He was able to see this 100 years before it came to the forefront of the global consciousness. I don’t know if this supports Crowley’s that he is a prophet of this age, but clearly he was able to see inherent issues in humanity at a time when most people were oblivious to the threat that greed poses to our planet.

I’m going to take a short break from this book and read some other stuff, but I will return to it in the near future and share my thoughts on Part 2 when I finish that section. Thanks for stopping by, and keep challenging yourself.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 57” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

You govern a kingdom by normal rules;
You fight a war by exceptional moves;
But you win the world by letting alone.
How do I know that this is so?
By what is within me!

The more taboos and inhibitions there are in the world,
The poorer the people become.
The sharper the weapons the people possess,
The greater confusion reigns in the realm.
The more clever and crafty the men,
The oftener strange things happen.
The more articulate the laws and ordinances,
The more robbers and thieves arise.

Therefore, the Sage says:
I do not make any fuss, and the people transform themselves.
I love quietude, and the people settle down in their regular grooves.
I do not engage myself in anything, and the people grow rich.
I have no desires, and the people return to Simplicity.

This beautiful passage can be succinctly summed up by saying that the more we try to control things, the more things go awry. I learned a valuable lesson a long time ago, that I am powerless over people, places, and things. The only thing I have control over is how I choose to react to situations that occur in life. And it’s my experience that if I pause and reflect before I act, I usually make better choices, or I come to the realization that what seemed like an overwhelming  problem was not quite as big as my obsessive mind made it appear at first.

These days, I try not to spend too much time indulging in news or social media hysteria. But I do glance and wonder at the strangeness of these times, and I’m inclined to believe that if people would step back and stop freaking out, things would improve.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a wonderful day.

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Beltane and the Lovers

Since today is Beltane, I thought I would share my thoughts on a short essay published in Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2020.

Beltane is the celebration of union and fertility, a symbolic wedding of the God and Goddess. During this holiday, we celebrate the things that delight our hearts as well as our bodies. We do things for the joy of them and not out of obligation or any other unhealthy reasons. The Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine join to create the Great Divine. In the Lovers card, some see a man and woman’s union blessed by a higher being. Another way to see it is that their union creates the presence of the Divine. While the Lovers card does suggest passion, sex, and romance, it is, at its root, about the joy and beauty of choosing wisely. In particular, it represents the act of choosing that which most satisfies the heart. Connect with this card to remember that it isn’t that the Divine has a “plan” for you but that you, through your choices, help create how the Divine is expressed in the physical world. When we realize that, we realize that we have so much power, and consequently, so much responsibility.

(Barbara Moore)

I am a firm believer that the Divine One is a dyad consisting of masculine and feminine. I would go so far as to assert that this concept is supported by Judeo-Christian text. If you read Genesis closely, God creates man in his image, which is both male and female: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-28 King James Version)

Now, I have to stop myself before I get too deep into theological discussion, because that is not really what I wanted to focus on. I do want to call attention to what Ms. Moore asserts at the end of her essay: “… you, through your choices, help create how the Divine is expressed in the physical world.” This statement is a truth that cannot be overemphasized. Every act that we engage in—in fact, every thought we have—directly impacts our reality. Nothing that we do is trivial. Everything is of great consequence. I try my best to remain mindful of this fact at all times, understanding that each choice I make has far-reaching implications and should be treated as such. Just my decision to write this blog post instead of watching Netflix affects the world, in the same way that your decision to read this also will have an impact on our reality.

Having said that, I hope you will take some time to consider what is important and what is not. These weird times have caused many of us to reevaluate what we should focus on and what is a waste of time and energy. Our days are limited in this incarnation. Don’t waste a moment.

Many blessings.

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Thoughts on “Beauty Queens, Fundamentalists, and Lepers” by Umberto Eco

This short essay is included in Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. In the essay, Eco employs his wit to address issues of globalization, and how the media contributes to the negative aspects of globalization.

I am one of those who think that out of every ten phenomena of globalization, at least five may have a positive outcome but if globalization does have a negative aspect, it is the violent imposition of Western models on underdeveloped countries to induce consumption and raise hope that such countries cannot fulfill. If I show you beauty queens in swimsuits, it’s because I want to promote the sale of Western beach wear, maybe sewn by hungry children in Hong Kong. The clothing will be bought in Nigeria by those who aren’t dying of hunger (if these people have money to spend, they are making it at the expense of those dying of hunger) and who actively help Westerners exploit the poor and keep them in precolonial condition.

(pp. 261 – 262)

The Covid-19 pandemic has made us all painfully aware of how fragile the globalized consumerist economic model truly is. Our insatiable craving for cheap goods to fill some void within us has killed local manufacturing and the result is that when things fall apart, as they eventually will, we are left without the infrastructure and ability to provide for ourselves. This is evident in the barren shelves which are reminiscent of a dystopian sci-fi film.

I have no idea what our post-coronavirus world will look like, but I am quite certain that it will be very different from what we have become accustomed to.

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Earth Day 2020: Thoughts on Rolling Stone, Issue 1338 – April 2020

I drafted this post several days ago, but held off on posting until Earth Day. I figured that this would be the appropriate time to share my thoughts.

It had been quite a while since I read an issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Throughout a good portion of my younger years, Rolling Stone was a staple of my regular reading, allowing me to stay current on arts and music, as well as politics and social issues. But I kind of fell out of it. I would see issues at newsstands, and be intrigued, but declined picking up a copy. Recently, my wife brought home the latest issue of RS, a special issue dedicated to the current climate crisis, a subject I am passionate about. I began reading and got drawn in. The publication still has its journalistic integrity, intelligent writers, and progressive stance that inspired me in my youth.

The articles in this issue evoked a range of emotions in me from anger and frustration to hope and inspiration. As infuriating as the corruption and greed is that fuels the current crisis, there is also an amazing amount of courage and innovation out there, spearheaded by energetic groups and individuals who refuse to succumb to the forces unwilling to relinquish their grip on global power.

Not surprising, one of the articles focuses on Greta Thunberg, a young woman whose passion, courage, and dedication is a huge inspiration for me. But I confess, I was shocked and disgusted by the level of hatred directed towards her, which truly underscores how challenging this cause is.

Outside of the Parliament building, Greta tells me she doesn’t worry about her safety despite Trump and others speaking cruelly about her on social media. (According to her mother, locals have shoved excrement into the family mailbox.) Later in February, she would march in Bristol, England, and be met by social media posts suggesting she deserved to be sexually assaulted.

(p. 42)

Greta’s determination leads me to something Jeff Goodell said in his article. We cannot allow our personal despair to suck us into the quagmire of inaction. We all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to help in this crisis.

When you look at images of the bush fires in Australia or the cracking ice shelves in Antarctica, it’s easy to think that it’s too late to do anything about the climate crisis — that we are, for all intents and purposes, fucked. And it’s true, it’s too late for 182 people who died from exposure to extreme heat in Phoenix in 2018, or for 1,900 people in northern India who were swept away in extreme floods in 2019, or the 4 million people who die each year around the world from particulate air pollution caused by our dependence on fossil fuels. And the way things are going, it’s probably too late for the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, for large portions of the Great Barrier Reef, and for the city of Miami Beach as we know it.

But the lesson of this is not that we’re fucked, but that we have to fight harder for what is left. Too Late-ism only plays into the hands of Big Oil and Big Coal and all the inactivists who want to drag out the transition to clean energy as long as possible. Too Late-ism also misses the big important truth that, buried deep in the politics and emotion of the climate crisis, you can see the birth of something new emerging. “The climate crisis isn’t an ‘event’ or an ‘issue,’ ” says futurist Alex Steffen, author of Snap Forward, an upcoming book about climate strategy for the real world. “It’s an era, and it’s just beginning.”

(p. 39)

As I watch the global response to COVID-19, I can’t help but think that this is the kind of response we need to the climate crisis. And yes, there will be deniers just like there are COVID-19 deniers protesting that they have the rights to congregate in spite of the risk doing so poses to others. And yes, we cannot depend on governments to address this challenge. Just like the COVID crisis, we need businesses and individuals to come forward and lead the way, because our political structure is way too dysfunctional to foment any substantial change.

I’d like to close with one last thought. Since we all need to do our part, I’m going to assert that if you are not making personal changes and sacrifices in your lifestyle that are difficult and uncomfortable, then you are probably not doing enough. Filling out online petitions while sipping a Starbucks latte from a disposable cup, or driving your gas-powered car to a demonstration is not going to create the level of change needed. Decide what you are comfortable doing, and then do more.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on keeping on.

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The Old Master Haggadah

This Passover seems unusually symbolic, with people isolated in their homes dealing with a pandemic worthy of being considered a biblical plague. For the first night, we gathered family members together from around the country and had a virtual Seder via Zoom, which was unique and actually worked nicely. For the second night, my wife and I will just do something low key and go through the Old Master Haggadah.

I acquired this book at a silent auction as part of a fundraising event, and I have to say I love this Haggadah. It includes the Seder instructions, in both English and Hebrew, and interspersed are stunning pictures of paintings by 17th century masters, along with a few paragraphs explaining the painting and its symbolism.

I will keep this post short, and just include some images of paintings that are included in this wonderful text. May you and your family stay safe and healthy, and may this virus pass over all our homes.

Inside cover of book

Rembrandt: Abraham Entertaining the Angels

Caravaggio: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Rubens: Samson and Delilah

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 56” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Block all the passages!
Shut all the doors!
Blunt all edges!
Untie all tangles!
Harmonize all lights!
Unite the world into one whole!
This is called the Mystical Whole,
Which you cannot court after nor shun,
Benefit nor harm, honour nor humble.

Therefore, it is the Highest of the world.

In Buddhist thought, there is a concept called maya, which roughly means illusion, that basically what we perceive is a construct of our mind. If one accepts this tenet, it stands to reason that reality is something that exists beyond the limited grasp of our senses. It appears that Lao Tzu is expressing a similar idea in regard to the Tao, that it is the “Mystical Whole” that lies beyond the scope of our normal consciousness.

In the opening couplet, Lao Tzu warns against those who profess to know the Tao. To speak of the Tao is to attempt to use words to convey the ineffable. It does not work. All that one can do is provide guidance as to how one may glimpse the unseen reality of existence, and this is what Lao Tzu does in the second stanza.

By blocking passages and shutting doors, we are essentially turning off the stories that our minds tell us about what is real. Our brains are a tangled knot of information that dictates how we perceive everything. But as we begin to silence the noise of our minds, our focus shifts and we can glimpse the harmony and connection of the world around us, as well as our connections to this world.

As we all grapple with our rapidly changing world, it would serve us well to pause and reflect. By silencing our overwhelmed minds, we may be able to get a clearer perspective on what is really happening in these times of uncertainty.

Pause, and breathe.

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