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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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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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Spring Equinox: Ostara and Temperance

Today is the Spring Equinox, symbolic of balance and rebirth, themes that seem even more important as we grapple with the rapid changes that COVID-19 is bringing to our world. Anyway, after my morning meditation and journal writing, I read a short essay entitled “Ostara and Temperance” published in Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2020, and figured I would share part of it in today’s post.

At Ostara, the Goddess returns from the underworld, bringing with her a celebration of miracles, spring, new life, and balance. The Temperance tarot card beautifully represents these themes. Birth is considered a kind of miracle, a mixing of life and death (for the minute anything is born, it begins to die) that creates our experience on this planet. The angel in Temperance holds two cups, their liquid blending at a scientifically impossible angle, representing an alchemical mystery. Although equinoxes represent balance, and at this time life and light are becoming stronger than death and darkness, each equinox contains the seed of its opposite. Like an eggshell—which is strong enough to protect new life but at the right moment is weak enough to be broken through—something is destroyed and the old existence of the newly born creature dies.

(Barbara Moore)

For me, it is evident that our old way of life has cracked like a fragile eggshell, and is dying to make way for something new. It is a scary time, because all birth and all things new are scary. None of us can envision what our new world will look like. But clearly, our consumer-driven capitalist society is the thing that is actually dying right now as a result of this virus. That said, we all have a role in manifesting what will rise from these ashes. It is crucial that we nurture the new growth, and not let fear and self-centeredness dictate our actions in the coming days.

Have a blessed Equinox, and may you be a conscious participant in the change to come.

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The Last God: Book 1 of the Fellspyre Chronicles – Chapter Five

I’ve been reading this arc since its inception and have been enjoying it, even though I have not written about any of the previous issues. It is a great graphic fantasy, reminiscent of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. The artwork is intricate and stunning, and the writing is fantastic.

As with most stories in this genre, it is about a quest to defeat a dark force, but what is cool about this is that there are parallel stories/quests unfolding at the same time, one in the “present” and another mirror quest from the past. The dual storylines work well, almost like a double helix, each one twining around the other and adding depth. As each tale unfurls, it adds to the other. As such, it is a complex tale and not one that is easily tackled in a short blog post, hence if you are a fan of the genre, I would just encourage you to check it out for yourself.

I will share a short quote from this issue, though, because it struck a chord in me.

All musics are magic. Some more so than others, though.

Music for me is unique among the arts because of its ability to communicate directly to the spirit, which is why music has been incorporated into rituals as long as people have practiced them. Whether it is shamanic drumming, Gregorian chants, ecstatic dance, or any of the other myriad forms of spiritual music, tones and rhythms have aided humans in shifting their states of consciousness and thereby snatching glimpses of the Divine.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep making time to read in these strange days.

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Thoughts on “The Impact of Awakening” by Adyashanti

I have been meditating on a daily basis for about three years now, and as part of my practice, I’ve been reading more books and listening to podcasts that are supportive of my practice. I had heard the name Adyashanti mentioned in some podcasts and when I was unpacking all our books, noticed this one. I asked my wife about it, since I had not bought it, and she said that she read it and that I would enjoy reading it too.

The short book teaches some profound Zen Buddhist concepts through dialogue, where the student is asking questions of Adyashanti, and the teacher conveys his wisdom through the responses. The format works really well, and it does not seem contrived, as is often the case with this style of writing.

While there is a lot of wisdom in these pages, and I encourage you to explore on your own if you have an interest, I figured I would share a couple passages that resonated particularly deeply for me.

If you choose Freedom, life will become magical. The life you’ll step into is one in which the Self is in hidden agreement with your humanness. The Self begins to harmonize with your life, and it may proceed in a way that you could never have predicted. The magical part is that the more you let go, the better it feels. The more you step into insecurity, the more you notice how secure and safe it is. Where you stepped out of was unsafe. Everyone is so miserable because they seek security in things that are always moving and changing unpredictably.

(p. 21)

We all want to feel secure, because we are conditioned to believe that this will increase our happiness. The problem is, as Adyashanti points out, is that we seek security in things that are ever changing. Relationships, jobs, money, etc. Like everything else in the universe, these are changing all the time. If we can loosen our grip on these things, and not rely on them for our happiness, then we are sparing ourselves from a world of anxiety and stress. It is freeing to embrace the uncertainty which is life.

The other passage I want to share is somewhat long, but I feel is incredibly important for anyone practicing meditation.

True meditation has no direction, goals, or method. All methods aim at achieving a certain state of mind. All states are limited, impermanent, and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True meditation is abidance as primordial consciousness.

True meditation appears in consciousness spontaneously when awareness is not fixated on objects of perception. When you first start to meditate you notice that awareness is always focused on objects: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. This is because the mind is conditioned to focus and contract upon objects. Then the mind compulsively interprets what it is aware of (the object) in a mechanical and distorted way. It begins to draw conclusions and make assumptions according to past conditioning.

In true meditation, all objects are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to manipulate or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation, the emphasis in on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness, consciousness, is the source in which all objects arise and subside.

(p. 25)

This reminds me of the famous quote by William Blake: If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. Our minds construct our realities, based upon our trained conditioning. It is only by letting go, not allowing the endless internal dialogue to dictate how we perceive the world around us, that we begin to see the true essence of all that is.

I believe we all read what we need to read at certain stages in our lives. I opened this book at exactly the right time.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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The Symbolism of the Doors in “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

This was probably my most anticipated book of 2019. A while back, I read The Night Circus by Morgenstern, which instantly became one of my favorite books and the one I most frequently recommend to people asking me for suggestions regarding books to read. I actually preordered this book so I could get it the day it was released. Now, with books that you have high expectations for, sometimes it is hard for them to meet those expectations. But while The Starless Sea is not as good as The Night Circus (a difficult book to surpass, in my opinion), it was still excellent and well worth the read.

The book is a tale rich with symbolism that traces a young man’s discovery and journey into a subterranean realm populated with stories.

Far beneath the surface of the earth, hidden from the sun and the moon, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. Stories written in books and sealed in jars and painted on walls. Odes inscribed onto skin and pressed into rose petals. Tales laid in tiles upon the floors, bits of plot worn away by passing feet. Legends carved in crystal and hung from chandeliers. Stories catalogued and cared for and revered. Old stories preserved while new stories spring up around them.

(p. 6)

This image symbolically describes the human collective unconscious, that vast repository populated with all the stories and myths that have existed or will come into being. Every writer, poet, artist, and musician seeks to tap into this reservoir of inspiration, and some, like Morgenstern here, attempt to describe it. But it can only be described symbolically, since the wellspring of artistic creativity is something that exists beyond our comprehension. But we all sense its presence, just below the surface of our psyches.

While art can be a reflection of the mystical source of consciousness, it also has the ability to draw the audience into the realm of the mystical through the use of symbols. The door is one of those symbols, representing the transitional space between ordinary reality and the deeper realms of the subconscious.

The son of the fortune-teller knows only that the door feels important in a way he cannot quite explain, even to himself.

A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.

He traces the painted lines of the key with his fingertips, marveling at how much the key, like the sword and the bee and the doorknob, looks as though it should be three-dimensional.

The boy wonders who painted it and what it means, if it means anything. If not the door, at least the symbols. If it is a sign and not a door, or if it is both at once.

In this significant moment, if the boy turns the painted knob and opens the impossible door, everything will change.

(p. 13)

Doors to the subconscious exist not only in art, but they can manifest spontaneously anywhere in the world, instantly transporting an unsuspecting individual into the proverbial Wonderland of an altered state of consciousness.

There are numerous doors in varying locations. In bustling cities and remote forests. On islands and on mountaintops and in meadows. Some are built into buildings: libraries or museums or private residences, hidden in basements or attics or displayed like artwork in parlors. Others stand freely without the assistance of supplemental architecture. Some are used with hinge-loosening frequency and others remain undiscovered and unopened and more have simply been forgotten, but all of them lead to the same location.

(p. 61)

There is a very subtle yet extremely important warning hidden in this passage. Morgenstern writes that some doors “are used with hinge-loosening frequency.” I interpret this as a caution to those who use consciousness-expanding drugs as a portal to glimpse the hidden realms of the subconscious. Just as doors can become unhinged, the human psyche can also become unhinged when thrown open too frequently through the use of certain chemicals. While it can be difficult to seek out the undiscovered doors in remote locations, it seems a much more prudent path for those seekers of deeper knowledge.

As William Blake famously asserted in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” The Starless Sea is yet another door for us to enter into the infinite and ineffable expanse of the human creative spirit. And now the wait begins for Ms. Morgenstern’s next novel.

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“Death” by Neil Gaiman

I actually finished reading this book a few weeks ago, but I’ve been in the process of moving so the book got packed and I have also been way too busy to sit down and write up a post. But, alas, I’m settled in, so here we go.

This book is an offshoot of Gaiman’s classic Sandman saga. Death is Dream’s sister, depicted as a somewhat hipster woman with a touch of goth. I’d seen this on the shelves, but hadn’t bothered to buy it since I (wrongly) assumed it was nothing more that vignettes from Sandman that featured Death. While there were a few of those, most of what is in the compilation is stuff I had not read before. Anyway, I had donated a nice filing cabinet to the local comic store prior to my move, and as a show of gratitude, the owner offered me a book, so I chose this one.

As always, Gaiman’s writing is brilliant and evocative. And the rich storytelling is augmented by the rich artwork, which makes this book something worthy of a re-read.

One of the areas where Gaiman’s knowledge excels is in mythology, so it’s not surprising that he does a little bit of myth exploration in this book.

Mythologies take longer to die than people believe. They linger on in a kind of dream country that affects all of you.

(p. 55)

This is true. The thing about myths is that they enter into the subconscious, as well as the collective. Once embedded there, they may “die” in the sense that they fade from our ordinary state of consciousness, but it still lies hidden beneath the surface, affecting our thoughts, beliefs, and actions in ways we are not usually aware of.

Possibly my favorite passage in the book is when Death explains life to a person. I found the whole thing symbolic, that it is only through an understanding of a thing’s opposite that you can fully understand the thing itself.

Well. I think some of it is probably contrasts. Light and shadow. If you never had the bad times, how would you know you had the good times? But some of it is just: if you’re going to be human, then there are a whole load of things that come with it. Eyes, a heart, days and life. It’s the moments that illuminate it, though. The times you don’t see when you’re having them… They make the rest of it matter.

(p. 217)

While it would certainly help to have read at least some of the Sandman saga before reading this, it is by no means necessary. I think anyone can pick up this book and get something out of it. Highly recommended, as is everything Gaiman wrote, in my humble opinion.

Cheers!

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