Tag Archives: mysticism

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 3 – The Advent of the Aeon of Horus

In the timeline of Crowley’s autobiography, this section pertains to the period associated with his writing of The Book of the Law, which he claims was channeled from a preternatural intelligence called Aiwass.

It may be said that nevertheless there may have been someone somewhere in the world who possessed the necessary qualities. This again is rebutted by the fact that some of the allusions are to facts known to me alone. We are forced to conclude that the author of The Book of the Law is an intelligence both alien and superior to myself, yet acquainted with my inmost secrets; and, most important point of all, that this intelligence is discarnate.

(p. 397)

Crowley believed that the Book would usher in the next phase of human spiritual evolution, which he calls the Aeon of Horus.

Through the reception of the Book, Crowley proclaimed the arrival of a new stage in the spiritual evolution of humanity, to be known as the “Æon of Horus”. The primary precept of this new aeon is the charge to “Do what thou wilt”.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Crowley spends very little time discussing The Book of the Law in this section of his autobiography, and instead returns to telling stories of his travels. Further on in the section, Crowley lets the reader know that the stories are symbolic, representing the Mystic Path, citing as an example his other works which symbolize aspects of the mystical journey.

This conversation led to my endeavouring to put a certain vividness of phraseology into my poetry. ‘The Eyes of Pharaoh’ was my first attempt to give vivid and immediate images. I chose my similes so as to strengthen the main theme. Later in the month, at Mandalay, I wrote approximately half of ‘Sir Palamede the Saracen’. The idea of this book was to give an account of the Mystic Path in a series of episodes, and each episode was to constitute a definite arrangement of colour and form. Thus, Section I shows the blue and yellow of the sea and sand, a knight in silver armour riding along their junction to a point where an albatross circles around a mutilated corpse.

(p. 464)

He immediately follows his clue with a story that appears to symbolically represent a mystical experience.

On November 15th we started up the Irrawaddy by the steamship Java and reached Mandalay on the twenty-first. I spent my days and nights leaning over the rail, watching the wavelets of the great river and the flying-fish. I became insane. There I was, lean, stern, brown and immobile; and there was a set of disconnected phenomena, each with a sufficient reason in itself, and the whole of them uniting to produce another phenomenon; but there was no connection between one set of reasons and the other. Each wavelet was caused by certain physical conditions and the effect of the total was to slow down the revolution of the earth. But neither the so-called transitory, nor the so-called permanent, phenomenon was ultimately intelligible. Further, what I called ‘I’ was simply a machine which recorded the impact of various phenomena.

(p. 465)

In this passage, I interpret the rail as symbolizing the threshold between ordinary consciousness and heightened awareness, or an altered state of consciousness. In order to successfully engage in magick and mysticism, one must shift states of awareness and then gaze into the abyss, where thoughts and energy pulsate in waves. When one is in this state, the practitioner is “insane,” for all intents and purposes. He is no longer grounded in this plane of reality. In this altered state, Crowley realizes that his ego, or normal consciousness, is separated from the stream of divine power, and that his “normal state of consciousness” is nothing more than a machine that records the effects of stimuli, but does nothing to create conscious change through the use of the will.

I will provide one more example from this section to demonstrate Crowley’s use of allegory. In the following paragraph, Crowley is using the metaphor of exploration to represent his spiritual quest and search for occult power. He cites examples of others who have pushed the boundaries by exploring forbidden paths and going against the established paradigm, and how they are all met with resistance, hatred, and violence.

I thought this story extraordinarily typical of human thought in general. Everyone admits that we have reached the summit of wisdom, scaled the loftiest pinnacles of morality, put the crown of perfection upon the cranium of progress, and everyone knows perfectly well how this remarkable result has been achieved. But at the first hint that anyone proposes to take a step farther on this road, he is universally set down as a lunatic of the most dangerous type. However, the most savage Lolos are content with that diagnosis, whereas the most enlightened English add that the pioneer is not only a lunatic but a pervert, degenerate, anarchist and the rest of it – whatever terms of abuse chance to be in fashion. The abolition of slavery, humane treatment of the insane, the restriction of the death penalty to serious offences, and of indiscriminate flogging, the admission of Jews, Catholics, Dissenters and women as citizens, the introduction of the use of chloroform and antiseptics, the application of steam to travel, and of mechanical principles to such arts as spinning and printing, the systematic study of nature, the extension of the term poetry to metres other than the heroic, the recognition of painting other than voluptuous coloured photographs as art, and of music other than classical melody as art – these and a thousand similar innovations have all been denounced as chimerical, blasphemous, obscene, seditious, anti-social and what not.

(pp. 481 – 482)

Crowley was certainly labeled as insane, perverted, blasphemous, and so on. Whether he was just labeled this way because of his brazen break with the established mores of his time is not for me to judge. But clearly he was aware of the criticism leveled against him, but he chose to continue exploring his path regardless.

Thanks for stopping by. I will share my thoughts on Part 4 once I complete reading it.

5 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 2 – The Mystical Adventure

In this second part of Crowley’s autobiography, the focus is on a period of his life when he was traveling and exploring various spiritual paths in the process. It is almost like a travelogue from an occult perspective. Throughout the section, he unreservedly shares his opinions on the various cultures he encounters. There is one passage in particular where he compares his view of Americans with Europeans.

The psychology of these people really interested me. They had no experience of the kind of man who knows all the tricks but refuses to cheat. Their world was composed of sharps and flats. It is the typical American conception; the use of knowledge is to get ahead of the other fellow, and the question of fairness depends on the chance of detection. We see this even in amateur sport. The one idea is to win. Knowledge for its own sake, pleasure for its own sake, seems to the American mere frivolity. ‘Life is real, life is earnest.’ One of themselves told me recently that the American ideal is attainment, while that of Europe is enjoyment. There is much truth in this, and the reason is that in Europe we have already attained everything, and discovered that nothing is worth while. Unless we live in the present, we do not live at all.

(p. 209)

It seems that the assertion that the American ideal is attainment is still valid today. When I hear of the obscene amounts of personal wealth that some individuals have amassed, I cannot help but think that our system of values is flawed. At some point, the accumulation of more stuff does nothing to increase happiness, which for me is important. As I am now in the later stages of life, it is happiness and not stuff that is of value to me.

One idea that Crowley promotes which I am in complete agreement with is that an individual should explore all spiritual paths.

I sailed for Ceylon, chiefly because I had said I would go, certainly not in the hope of assistance from Allan. Perhaps because I had found my feet, he was, as will appear, allowed to guide them, in what seemed at first sight a new Path. I had got to learn that all roads lead to Rome. It is proper, more, it is prudent, more yet, it is educative, for the aspirant to pursue all possible Ways to Wisdom. Thus he broadens the base of his Pyramid, thus he diminishes the probability of missing the method which happens to suit him best, thus he insures against the obsession that the goat-track of his own success is the One Highway for all men, and thus he discounts the disappointment of discovering that he is not the Utter, the Unique, when it becomes plain that Magick, mysticism, and mathematics are triplets, and that the Himalayan Brotherhood is to be found in Brixton.

(p. 232)

This was something I learned in my youth. I read a book called The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley which taught me that various traditions essentially teach similar ideas, but are just presented differently. It was then that I realized that I need to explore all available paths, and to learn as much as possible from each one. It is an approach that has served me well over the years. I still have my old copy of Huxley’s book, and may have to reread it sometime soon. I’m sure it will be a different experience than it was 35 or 40 years ago.

The last thing I want to mention about this part of the book is Crowley’s definition of poetry.

A poem is a series of words so arranged that the combination of meaning, rhythm and rime produces the definitely magical effect of exalting the soul to divine ecstasy. Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Machen share this view.

(p. 345)

This is an excellent definition of poetry. I remember my days taking creative writing classes, and the professor would encourage us to read our poems out loud to ourselves to get a sense of how they sound, the cadence and intonation being critical in the evocation of emotion that the poet seeks to convey. For a while, I attended open mic poetry readings, and learned to appreciate how the spoken word can be vastly different than the written word. One need only attend a great performance of a Shakespeare play to validate this claim.

As I did when I finished Part 1, I will take a short break from this book and read some other stuff before moving on to Part 3. Thanks for stopping by, and always explore life’s paths with an open mind.

5 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

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.

10 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

Occult Symbolism in “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by William Butler Yeats

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

There is a lot of mystical symbolism woven into this poem, so it seems that the best way to approach it is to start by looking at the overarching symbolism, and then narrow down and focus on each of the three stanzas.

One must assume that the structure of the poem is symbolic. Three is a mystical number and correlates to the Trinity; mind-body-spirit; Triple Goddess; birth-life-death; just to point out a few. Yeats would certainly have been aware of the importance of the number three when he was composing this poem. Now, something else that we need to keep in mind is that the poem also makes references to the four magical elements: earth, air, fire, and water. So because the poem is structured in three parts and incorporates the four elements, we can assume that Yeats’ intention was that the poem work as a magical invocation of sorts.

Let us examine each stanza more closely.

At the beginning of the first stanza, the wanderer describes himself entering a hazel wood. Hazel is considered to be “the tree of wisdom and learning” for Celts and Druids, and “adds its strength to the bright fire burning.” It was considered ideal for enlisting the aid of fairies; gaining knowledge, wisdom, and poetic inspiration; and for “for making all purpose magickal wands.” (Source) So the fire in his head is either a burning for knowledge, poetic inspiration, or communication with the fairy realm (or possibly all three). He then creates a wand from a piece of hazel wood. It is important to note that Yeats chooses the word “wand” as opposed to “rod.” Based on the rhyme scheme, he could have used either word, so it is clear he wanted to emphasize the fact that a wand is a mystical tool.

The next thing to point out in the first stanza is the imagery of the moth. The moth is a symbol of transformation, and foreshadows an upcoming transformation within the poem.

At the end of the first stanza, the wanderer recounts drawing a silver trout from the stream. The stream represents the subconscious mind of the speaker, so he has used the wand, thread, and berry to draw something from the deeper recesses of the psyche.

The second stanza is one of transformation, hinted at by the moth in the previous stanza. The fish, which is associated with water (element 1) is placed onto the earth (element 2) as fire is stoked (element 3) and then transforms into a fairy who disappears into the air (element 4). There is almost a sense of alchemy here, transformative magick initiated through the use of elements. What is important to note is that the trout does not transform on its own. It is pulled from the water, into the air, placed on the earth, beside a flame. The wanderer appears to have had intent to initiate this metamorphosis.

In the final stanza, we hear from the wanderer in his present state. The first two stanzas were memories. Here he is old and seems to be nearing the end of his journey. What is key to this stanza are the last two lines. The goal of the wanderer is to reconnect with the fairy and then take of two apples: a silver apple associated with the Moon and a golden apple associated with the Sun. Yeats seems to be drawing on Judeo-Christian symbolism, of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and also from the Tree of Life, respectively. But also, there is Celtic and alchemical symbolism associated with the image of the apples.

In Celtic legends apples appear as the fruit of the Otherworld. More specifically, they are associated with the mythical Avalon, the ‘Island of Apples’. The otherworldly apple tree was also said to have been the source of the Silver Bough. In Norse tradition the tree bearing the golden apples of immortality was protected by the goddess Idun, whence they were stolen by Loki. The gods began to age, but they recovered the apples just before they were overcome by senility and death. In alchemy, when the alchemist is represented eating an apple at the end of the Great Work, he enjoys the fruit of immortality.

(Source)

So the ancient wanderer in Yeats’ poem is one who is seeking knowledge and immortality, through the aid of otherworldly entities, represented by the “glimmering girl / With apple blossom in her hair.” And he is drawing on all the occult knowledge and tools available to him in order to attain his goal.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Spiritual

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

Thoughts on “Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn” by Karen McCarthy Brown

This book has been on my shelf for a few years. I purchased it along with Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen (click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of my review of Deren’s book). I bought these books because they were recommended to me by a close friend who was initiated into the Vodou tradition in Haiti, and I was interested in learning more about the religion. I would later learn that Mama Lola was the manbo who initiated him.

The book is an excellent academic work. Ms. Brown is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology of Religion, so not only does she explore the mystical practices of the Vodou religion, but she also presents a moving look at the challenges that face Haitian immigrants in the US who struggle with poverty, racism, and discrimination. Having known many Haitians from my years living in Miami, I was able to relate to a fair amount of the personal stories presented in the book, having seen friends deal with the same types of struggles. Professor Brown does a great job explaining how popular culture, institutionalized racism, and organized religion all contribute to the negative stereotypes associated with Vodou.

American popular culture dwells on images of Vodou’s malevolence, an attitude as nonsensical as equating Catholicism to Satanism. The understanding most North Americans have of Vodou is derived mainly from its portrayal in novels, films, and television, where images of sorcerers, zonbi, snakes, blood, and violence abound. In the United States, the word voodoo is used in a casual and derogatory way to indicate anything on a spectrum from the deceptive to the downright evil. If it were not so clear that racism underlies these distortions, it would be hard to understand why this kind of stereotyping is tolerated for an African-based religion when it would not be tolerated for other religions.

The negative portrayal of Vodou in the press, in novels, and in travelers’ accounts began in earnest shortly after the Haitian slaves won their freedom, a period in which slavery was still practiced in the United States and in many European colonies. The argument was often explicitly made that the barbarism of their religion clearly demonstrated that Haitians were incapable of governing themselves—an argument used by the United States and several countries in Europe to justify their refusal to recognize the fledgling black republic. Racism is more covert and convoluted these days, but the stereotypes of Vodou still serve their purposes. One of the central ways such propaganda works is by characterizing Vodou as in every way the opposite of “true” religion, that is, of Christianity. This description is ironic, for people who serve the Vodou spirits consider themselves good Christians.

(pp. 110 – 111)

It is important to remember that Vodou is a rich spiritual tradition, and like any spiritual tradition or religion, when practiced in earnest, will instill the practitioner with spiritual values and promote individual growth. I love the way Maggie, who is Mama Lola’s daughter, explains this, emphasizing how having Vodou in her life helps her live in the world, and elevates her above mundane and meaningless human existence.

“You know, maybe if I wasn’t part of Vodou, I would not know so much about people. Maybe if I did not grow up in it, I would be just, you know, just like ordinary people . . . walking . . . like everybody else walking on the streets, up and down . . . and don’t know right from wrong.”

(pp. 298 – 299)

There is profound wisdom here, and something we can all learn from. So many of us are guilty of “walking,” and being lost in our self-importance while cut off from reality through the constant stream of digital noise. We have forgotten that we are spiritual beings having a worldly experience. I can still picture my old Haitian friends, and I remember distinctly how deeply spiritual they were, how caring and charitable. I think the world could learn from the Haitian people, about the importance of community, family, tradition, and spirituality.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this post inspired you.

7 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine & Ritual” by Eliphas Levi: Part 2 – Ritual

I finished reading this second half a while back, but have been too busy dealing with other things to write anything about it. (Click here to read the first part on Doctrine.) Anyway, I did take notes while I was reading, so I am now getting around to putting down my thoughts on this text.

The second half of this book is very dense and complicated, as it goes into examples of ritualistic magick, providing step-by-step examples along with additional theoretic explanations. As such, it is beyond the scope of this blog post to delve into the complexities of these rituals. In addition, as Levi points out, magic should never be a pastime and should be approached with the utmost care and seriousness.

… there can be nothing more dangerous than to make Magic a pastime, or, as some do, part of an evening’s entertainment. Even magnetic experiments, performed under such conditions, can only exhaust the subjects, mislead opinions and defeat science. The mysteries of life and death cannot be made sport of with impunity, and things which are to be taken seriously must be treated not only seriously but with the greatest reserve.

(p. 322)

As such, I am going to abstain from sharing the details of rituals presented here. I do not want to have any responsibility for individuals doing acting irresponsibly. But I will share some passages that I think would be enlightening. The first one deals with transmutation.

St. Augustine speculates, as we have said, whether Apuleius could have been changed into an ass and then have resumed his human shape. The same doctor might have equally concerned himself with the adventure of the comrades of Ulysses, transformed into swine by Circe. In vulgar opinion, transmutations and metamorphoses have always been the very essence of magic. Now, the crowd, being the echo of opinion, which is queen of the world, is never perfectly right nor entirely wrong. Magic really changes the nature of things, or, rather, modifies their appearances at pleasure, according to the strength of the operator’s will and the fascination of ambitious adepts. Speech creates its form, and when a person, held infallible, confers a name upon a given thing, he really transforms that thing into the substance signified by the name. The masterpiece of speech and of faith, in this order, is the real transmutation of a substance without change in its appearances.

(p. 366)

What Levi is asserting here is that individuals with enough focus of mind can use language to alter the fabric of reality. Basically, this is the creative power of God. God “speaks” all things into existence. And what are words but auditory symbols representing thought, which is our creative energy. We live in an age where people seem to have lost respect for the power of words, and as such spew forth without care anything that comes to their minds. As a result, we have collectively created an environment of chaos and fear. We have essentially transmuted our world through the careless use of our words, and the will behind those words. Is it any wonder that many of the magi of old were also poets? A poet understands the evocative power of words to foment change within an individual who hears those words, and internal changes eventually manifest in the external.

A common use of magic is for protection, but as Levi points out, the best protection against negative influence is a clear mind, a strong will, and to stay grounded.

To preserve ourselves against evil influences, the first condition is therefore to forbid excitement to the imagination. All those who are prone to excitement are more or less mad, and a maniac is ever governed by his mania. Place yourself, then, above puerile fears and vague desires; believe in supreme wisdom, and be assured that this wisdom, having given you understanding as the means of knowledge, cannot seek to lay snares for your intelligence or reason. Everywhere about you, you behold effects proportioned to their cause ; you find causes directed and modified in the domain of humanity by understanding ; in a word, you find goodness stronger and more respected than evil ; why then should you assume an immense unreason in the infinite, seeing that there is reason in the finite? Truth is hidden from no one. God is visible in His works, and He requires nothing contrary to its nature from any being, for He is himself the author of that nature. Faith is confidence; have confidence, not in men who malign reason, for they are fools or impostors, but in the eternal reason which is the Divine Word, that true light which is offered like the sun to the intuition of every human creature coming into this world. If you believe in absolute reason, and if you desire truth and justice before all things, you will have no occasion to fear anyone, and you will love those only who are deserving of love. Your natural light will repel instinctively that of the wicked, because it will be ruled by your will. Thus, even poisonous substances, which it is possible may be administered to you, will not affect your intelligence; ill, indeed, they may make you, but never criminal.

(pp. 431 – 432)

This book is definitely not for everyone. But if you are a serious student of the occult, then it is indispensible. Thanks for stopping by and reading my musings. I hope you have a blessed day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Spiritual