… intellectual power at its lowest produces the extreme of wickedness, for wickedness is a miscalculating effort towards Intelligence.
Plotinus. The Six Enneads
… intellectual power at its lowest produces the extreme of wickedness, for wickedness is a miscalculating effort towards Intelligence.
Plotinus. The Six Enneads
Our task, then, is to work for our liberation from this sphere, severing ourselves from all that has gathered about us; the total man is to be something better than a body ensouled—the bodily element dominant with a trace of Soul running through it and a resultant life-course mainly of the body—for in such a combination all is, in fact, bodily. There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm, towards the good and divine, towards the Principle which no one possesses except by deliberate usage but so may appropriate, becoming, each personally, the higher, the beautiful, the Godlike, and living, remote, in and by It—
Plotinus. The Six Enneads
In this tractate, Plotinus discusses how a metaphysician should apply the philosophical practice of dialectic to assist in gaining an understanding of God, essentially raising one’s consciousness so as to become more godlike.
The Oxford Dictionary defines dialectic as the “inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.” Plotinus goes into a deeper explanation of how dialectics are applied in the search for ultimate Truth and knowledge of the Divine.
It is the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things—what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many Beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.
Dialectic treats also of the Good and the not-Good, and of the particulars that fall under each, and of what is the Eternal and what the not-Eternal—and of these, it must be understood, not by seeming-knowledge [“sense-knowledge”] but with authentic science.
This is a lot to digest, so let’s identify the key points.
First, according to the dialectic method as applied to metaphysics, the only way to come to an understanding of divine Truth is through careful analysis and comparison between two opposites. Think of the yin and yang symbol. The whole is made up of two different halves, each the opposite of the other, yet containing a seed of the other. So, when Plotinus is talking about understanding Being by comparing Real-Being with non-Being, it would seem that he is describing the comparison between the Forms as posited by Plato with the manifestations of those archetypal Forms in this reality.
But then Plotinus takes this to the next step, which is knowledge of God, or as he states, the Eternal. In order to come to a complete understanding of God, one must experience direct contact with God and compare that with that which is not God, presumably the Soul which exists within each of us, the Soul being from God, but not God.
This is probably enough for today. Meditate on this a little and I will have another installment up soon.
In this tractate, Plotinus describes how virtue enables us to become godlike.
He begins by asserting that while “virtue is one thing, the source of virtue is quite another.” The source of virtue is the Supreme God, but since the Supreme is perfection, virtue does not exist within the realm of the Divine.
So with us: it is from the Supreme that we derive order and distribution and harmony, which are virtues in this sphere: the Existences There, having no need of harmony, order or distribution, have nothing to do with virtue; and, none the less, it is by our possession of virtue that we become like to Them.
Plotinus goes on to state that “our concern is not merely to be sinless but to be God.” Since “man is the very being that came from the Supreme,” the goal of being virtuous is to purify our being and return to our divine state.
Plotinus concludes this tractate by pointing out that we should not model ourselves and our virtues on the examples of virtuous people, such as saints. Instead, we should look directly to the source of virtue in order to return to our divine nature.
For it is to the Gods, not to the Good, that our Likeness must look: to model ourselves upon good men is to produce and image of an image: we have to fix our gaze above the image and attain Likeness to the Supreme Exemplar.
This tractate explores the connection between the body and the Soul, focusing on the question of where emotions and experiences reside. Basically, determining whether emotions like fear and courage are experienced by the Soul or by the physical body.
Plotinus establishes that the Soul is immortal, and since it cannot be threatened by the physical danger, it cannot be the source of these emotional states.
Now what could bring fear to a nature thus unreceptive of all the outer? Fear demands feeling. Nor is there a place for courage: courage implies the presence of danger. And such desires as are satisfied by the filling or voiding of the body, must be proper to something very different from the Soul, to that only which admits of replenishment and voidance.
Plotinus then goes on to argue that humans possess what he terms the Animate, which is essentially a combination of a physical body with the immortal Soul.
Now this Animate might be merely the body as having life: it might be the Couplement of Soul and body: it might be a third and different entity formed from both.
Plotinus later explores the question of perception, inquiring into whether the Soul can perceive things in the physical realm. He posits that the Soul perceives sympathetically, essentially picking up reverberations from what the body experiences on the physical plane.
The faculty of perception in the Soul cannot act by the immediate grasping of sensible objects, but only by the discerning of impressions printed upon the Animate by sensation: these impressions are already Intelligibles while the outer sensation is a mere phantom of the other [of that in the Soul] which is nearer to Authentic-Existence as being an impassive reading of Ideal-Forms.
Based upon this quote, it appears that the Soul, being divine in origin and immortal, has direct knowledge of the Platonic forms. The Soul thereby is able to identify the sensations from the physical world because of their connection to the ideals existing within the realm of forms. This reminds me of how, in music, a string will vibrate when a note of the same key is played on a different string. For example, if you play a D note on the A string, the D string will also vibrate.
That’s all I have for this tractate. We will look at the next one soon.
I have been considering doing a blog series on Plotinus for a while. Now seems like a good time to do so. I had previously read some of his work, but never the complete Enneads, which was something I had endeavored to do. I was first introduced to Plotinus in college when I was fortunate enough to study W.B. Yeats under the guidance of the late Prof. Phillip Marcus, who was considered to be “one of the world’s leading Yeats scholars.” Prof. Marcus assigned passages from Plotinus to the class to help us better understand the complex occult symbolism in Yeats’ work.
Here is a little background information for those who are unfamiliar with Plotinus.
Plotinus was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term neoplatonism and applied it to Plotinus and his philosophy, which was influential during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry’s preface to his edition of Plotinus’ Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and Islamic metaphysicians and mystics, including developing precepts that influence mainstream theological concepts within religions, such as his work on duality of the One in two metaphysical states.
Prophyry was a disciple of Plotinus. Prophyry stated that Plotinus’ goal was “’…intimate union with the God who is above all things’ and testified that during the time he knew him Plotinus ‘attained this end four times.’” Union with God once in a lifetime is amazing; four times is almost unfathomable for me.
At this point, it is worth considering the structure of this work. I think this is important because I suspect there is a mystical symbolism in the structure of the text itself.
The word “enneads” comes from the Greek word “ennea,” which means nine. So essentially, an ennead is a group of nine. Each of the six enneads contains nine tractates, which, as we have seen already deal with the three metaphysical principles (the One, the Intellect, and the Soul ) that comprise Plotinus’ philosophy. This gives us a 3-6-9 structure. Now, I am not going to go into detail about the mystical significance of this number combination, but suffice to say that Nikola Tesla asserted that “If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.”
I think this is enough of an introduction for now. Going forward, I will be publishing a blog post for each of the tractates, which should be a total of 54. If you have any interest in following along, I will be using the translation by Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page. Hopefully, some of you will read along and join in a discussion.
I finished reading this book several weeks ago, but I have been busy with work and not able to take time to write about this text. Additionally, the nature of this book and the complexity of the ideas conveyed posed a problem: How could I possibly cover such a deep book in a short blog post? The short answer is, I can’t.
When I read this book, I read it virtually with a close friend who is also a fellow traveler of spiritual paths. We would read a section and have a weekly call to discuss what we had read. This led to some deep conversations which were both enlightening and thought provoking.
Anyway, this book was originally published in 1935 and goes into deep analysis of the symbolism and occult meanings associated with the Jewish Qabalah (or Kabbalah). While the text primarily focuses of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Ms. Fortune does provide correspondences to other mystical traditions. Because this text is so dense, I will only touch on a few general excerpts and leave the rest open for exploration by those who are moved to read the book themselves.
Since the Qabalah is a highly symbolic structure, Fortune offers some sound advice early in the book for how one should approach the study of Qabalah.
When in doubt as to the explanation of some abstruse point, reference would be made to the sacred glyph, and meditation would unfold what generations of meditation had ensouled therein. It is well known to mystics that if a man meditates upon a symbol around which certain ideas have been associated by past meditation, he will obtain access to those ideas, even if the glyph has never been elucidated to him by those who have received the oral tradition “by mouth to ear.”
Fortune is essentially stating that there is a kind of collective consciousness accessible through symbols, that the insights gained throughout ages by individuals meditating upon the symbol become joined to the symbol on a deeper level. These insights are then available to the seeker who meditates upon the symbol, most likely by the vibrational alignment with past meditators.
Fortune goes on to explain that, in addition to tapping into a collective knowledge, meditation upon Qabalistic symbols allows the mind to comprehend insights that are not available to those who primarily exist within our standard plane of consciousness.
The Qabalist goes to work in a different way. He does not attempt to make the mind rise up on the wings of metaphysics into the rarified air of abstract reality; he formulates a concrete symbol that the eye can see, and lets it represent the abstract reality that no untrained human mind can grasp.
The last quote I want to share concerns what Fortune asserts is the ultimate goal of the occultist and the practitioner of the mystical arts, and this is nothing less than the union with God.
The Spiritual Experience assigned to Kether is said to be Union with God. This is the end and aim of all mystical experience, and if we look for any other goal we are as those who build a house in a world of illusion. Anything that holds him back from the straight path to this goal is felt by the mystic to be a bond that binds, and as such to be broken. All that holds consciousness to form, all desires other than the one desire—these are to him evils, and from the standpoint of his philosophy he is right, and to act otherwise would invalidate his technique.
I feel that this book is a must-read for anyone who is seriously interested in learning about the Qabalah. While there are many more traditional texts by Hebrew scholars such as Gershom Scholem (a personal favorite) that explain the Qabalah from a more Jewish perspective, this book provides a wealth of insight into this rich and complex symbolic mystical tradition.
I recently acquired the Thoth Tarot deck. The Thoth Tarot was designed by Aleister Crowley and the paintings for the cards were done by Lady Frieda Harris. The creation of the deck was completed in 1943, and in 1944, Crowley published The Book of Thoth which is contains in-depth explanations of the symbolism included in each of the tarot cards, as well as the correspondences between the Thoth deck and the kabbalistic Tree of Life.
Crowley begins the book with a basic description of the tarot deck.
The tarot is a pack of seventy-eight cards. There are four suits, as in modern playing cards, which are derived from it. But the Court cards number four instead of three. In addition, there are twenty-two cards called “Trumps”, each of which is a symbolic picture with a title to itself.
At first sight one would suppose this arrangement to be arbitrary, but it is not. It is necessitated, as will appear later, by the structure of the universe, and in particular the Solar System, as symbolized by the Holy Qabalah.(p. 3)
Because of its correspondences to the Universe and the Tree of Life, Crowley stresses that the study of the tarot is invaluable in magickal studies and should be started early and practiced regularly.
This fact is to be emphasized, because one must not take the Tree of Life as a dead fixed formula. It is in a sense an eternal pattern of the Universe, just because it is infinitely elastic; and it is to be used as an instrument in one’s researches into Nature and her forces. It is not to be made an excuse for Dogmatism. The Tarot should be learnt as early in life as possible; a fulcrum for memory and a schema for mind. It should be studied constantly, a daily exercise; for it is universally elastic, and grows in proportion to the use intelligently made of it. Thus it becomes a most ingenious and excellent method of appreciating the whole of Existence.(p. 31)
Although there are many levels of correspondences and symbolism associated with the tarot, Crowley emphasizes the correspondence between the twenty-two trump cards and the twenty-two paths which are part of the Tree of Life according to the Holy Qabalah.
Twenty-two is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the number of Paths of the Sepher Yetzirah. These paths are the paths which join the ten numbers on the figure called the Tree of Life.
Why are there twenty-two of them? Because that is the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and one letter goes to each path.(p. 35)
The bulk of the book deals with the symbolism incorporated into each individual card within the Thoth Tarot deck. This information is extremely useful to anyone who wants to use this tarot deck, but is way too detailed to cover in a blog post. I will only say that if you have the Thoth Tarot or are thinking of acquiring the deck, you should also invest in this book.
A final word about this text. It demands a lot of the reader and expects that you have at least a basic understanding of kabbalah, tarot, and ancient mythology. I would not suggest this as a beginner’s guide.
Psychonaut is the second text in this book (click here to read my thoughts on Liber Null, the first text). While Liber Null primarily focuses on individual uses of Chaos Magic, Psychonaut focuses on group practices, or what Carroll calls shamanistic work.
Rather than examining the ritualistic practices described in this text, I decided to instead write about the connections and contrasts between the mystical arts and conventional science, as addressed by Carroll in his book. Carroll begins by asserting that science is returning to magic, in a sense.
After some centuries of neglect, advanced minds are turning their attention to magic once more. It used to be said that magic was what we had before science was properly organized. It now seems that magic is where science is actually heading. Enlightened anthropology has grudgingly admitted that beneath all the ritual and mumbo-jumbo of so-called primitive cultures there exists a very real and awesome power that cannot be explained away. Higher psychics now suggest that the universe runs on something more akin to sorcery than clockwork.
Carroll follows up by positing that the next leap forward in human evolution and understanding will be in the realm of the psyche, an idea that I agree with. The new frontier for humanity is that of consciousness.
Science has brought us power and ideas but not the wisdom or responsibility to handle them. The next great advance that humanity will make will be into the psychic domain. There are many encouraging signs that this is beginning to occur. In this new field of endeavor we shall rediscover much of the magical knowledge that the ancient shamans once possessed. Of course, we shall know it under different guises and will eventually expand on their knowledge immensely.
When exploring consciousness, the scientific method essentially fails, since consciousness is linked to perception and therefore cannot be observed in the traditional manner in which scientific observations are made.
Many scientific disciplines begin by not observing any sort of vital spark or consciousness in material events and proceed to deny that these things exist in living beings, including themselves. Because consciousness does not fit into their mechanistic schemes they declare it illusory. Magicians make exactly the reverse argument. Observing consciousness in themselves and animals, they are magnanimous enough to extend it to all things to some degree – trees, amulets, planetary bodies, and all. This is a far more respectful and generous attitude than that of religions, most of whom won’t even give animals a soul.
Since the time of Carroll’s writing of this book in 1987, science has made many advances in the exploration of consciousness. Researchers using MRI imaging of the brains of people who meditate shows that meditation affects brain function. There has also been discovery in quantum physics that perception and consciousness have a direct effect on subatomic particles. Where will all this lead? Not sure, but it is certainly food for thought.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings.
Many years back, I picked up a copy of Peter Carroll’s introduction to Chaos Magic which includes two texts: Liber Null and Psychonaut. Since it is my goal to start reading the books that have been accumulating on my shelves, I figured I would read the first text in this book and then the subsequent one later on.
Carroll begins by offering a definition of magic (similar to Crowley’s) and states the importance of mental focus when performing magical work.
Magic is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. The will can only be magically effective when the mind is focused and not interfering with the will. The mind must first discipline itself to focus its entire attention on some meaningless phenomenon. If an attempt is made to focus on some form of desire, the effect is short circuited by lust for result. Egotistical identification, fear of failure, and the reciprocal desire not to achieve desire, arising from our dual nature, destroy the result.
By silencing the mind, one enters into an altered state of consciousness, which is requisite to successfully performing works of magic.
Altered states of consciousness are the key to magical powers. The particular state of mind required has a name in every tradition: No-mind. Stopping the internal dialogue, passing through the eye of the needle, ain or nothing, samadhi, or one-pointedness. In this book it will be known as Gnosis. It is an extension of the magical trance by other means.
Having read James Gleick’s excellent book on the science of Chaos Theory many years ago, I found Carroll’s application of the scientific model to magical practice interesting.
Space, time, mass, and energy originate from Chaos, have their being in Chaos, and through the agency of the aether are moved by Chaos into the multiple forms of existence.
Some of the various densities of the aether have only a partial or probabilistic differentiation into existence, and are somewhat indeterminate in space and time. In the same way that mass exists as a curvature in space-time, extending with a gradually diminishing force to infinity that we recognize as gravity, so do all events, particularly events involving the human mind, send ripples through all creation.
In conclusion, this is not a book for most readers. It’s very heady, demands a lot from the reader, and also includes some darker aspects of the mystical arts. But as with most books of this nature, there are some valuable insights to be gleaned.
Thanks for stopping by.