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Thoughts on “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” by Carlos Castaneda

I should begin this post by confessing that I think I have read this book more times than any other book. Not that it is Castaneda’s best book (that would be Journey to Ixtlan, in my humble opinion), but because I credit this book for putting me on the spiritual path. For that reason, I have gone back to it several times over the years. And now, since I have a desire to re-read all of Castaneda’s works, I figured I should start again at the beginning.

Before I share my thoughts on this book, I want to share a little personal history regarding how I was introduced to Carlos Castaneda. Back in my younger and crazier days, there was a biker bar a few blocks from where I lived called JR’s Tavern. Now this was the type of biker bar that you see depicted as a stereotype in films: small, grungy, smelly, couple pool tables, and frequent brawls. I at the time was under age, but there was a barmaid there named Troubles, and she liked me, so she would let me come in and drink, provided I sat near the back door so I could abscond quickly should there be a raid. One evening, after closing, Troubles invited me to stay and drink with her. We talked for a while, and the details are fuzzy, but at one point she started telling me about Carlos Castaneda. She said she was a “warrior” and followed the teachings of Castaneda, and based upon how well she knew me, she thought I should read his books. Wanting to impress the cool barmaid, I soon went to the bookstore and found a boxed set containing Castaneda’s first four books:

  • The Teachings of Don Juan
  • A Separate Reality
  • Journey to Ixtlan
  • Tales of Power

I started reading, and blew right through all four texts, and the impact they had on my life cannot be understated.

OK, now to discuss The Teachings.

In the early 1960’s, Carlos Castaneda was an anthropology student at the University of California. He was introduced to a native Mexican sorcerer named don Juan Matus, who was supposed to be knowledgeable in regard to psychotropic plants, particularly peyote. Castaneda wanted to do research on the use of these hallucinogenic plants in native religious practices, but ended up becoming don Juan’s apprentice. Castaneda’s books are his accounts of his apprenticeship.

Carlos Castaneda, under the tutelage of don Juan, takes us through that moment of twilight, through that crack in the universe between daylight and dark into a world not merely other than our own, but of an entirely different order of reality. To reach it he had the aid of mescalito, yerba del diablo, and humito—peyote, datura, and mushrooms. But this is no mere recounting of hallucinatory experiences, for don Juan’s subtle manipulations have guided the traveler while his interpretations give meaning to the events that we, through the sorcerer’s apprentice, have the opportunity to experience.

(p. xxi)

Early in Castaneda’s apprenticeship, don Juan tells him that to follow the path of knowledge is no trivial matter and must be approached as such.

“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it will live to regret his steps.”

(p. 35)

Throughout my life, I have explored numerous spiritual paths. Don Juan explains that there are many paths to follow on your quest, and the only correct path is the one that feels right to you. And, it is OK to change paths if one no longer serves you well.

“… Anything is one of a million paths [un camino entre cantidades de caminos]. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does the path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does the path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, and the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.”

(p. 82)

I suppose any discussion of Castaneda’s early work should include a quote where he details his experience using an hallucinogenic substance. In the following, quote, Castaneda describes his experience having smoked a mixture made with psylocibin mushrooms.

Don Juan sat next to me, to my right, and without moving held the pipe sheath against the floor as though keeping it down by force. My hands were heavy. My arms sagged, pulling my shoulders down. My nose was running. I wiped it with the back of my hand, and my upper lip was rubbed off! I wiped my face, and all the flesh was wiped off! I was melting! I felt as if my flesh was actually melting. I jumped to my feet and tried to grab hold of something—anything—with which to support myself. I was experiencing terror I had never felt before. I held onto a pole that don Juan keeps stuck on the floor in the center of his room. I stood there for a moment, then I turned to look at him. He was sitting motionless, holding his pipe, staring at me.

(p. 106 – 107)

My interpretation of this is that when an individual shifts to a non-ordinary state of awareness, reality as we have been trained to perceive it melts away, and we are confronted with a new reality that does not conform to our established mental construct. It is a frightening experience when it happens, but can have profound spiritual effects afterwards.

I will conclude this post with a few words about the second section of the book: “A Structural Analysis.” This was Castaneda’s attempt to analyze his experiences through the lens of academic logic. The result only serves to demonstrate that what he experienced cannot be classified or understood though our ordinary thought processes. I probably should have skipped it on this reading, but I did re-read it just to reinforce my thoughts on it.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I plan on re-reading all of Castaneda’s books, although I will likely intersperse other books in there. Stay tuned for my thoughts on his second book: A Separate Reality.

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Thoughts on “The Guest House” by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Translation: Coleman Barks)

I decided to offer my thoughts on this poem because for me it embodies the feeling of gratitude that we should all embrace during this time of thanksgiving.

These last couple years have been difficult. I don’t think there is a single one of us who has not faced challenges and uncertainties the likes of which we never imagined. And as I look around me, I see this collective stress and anxiety manifesting in our society and in our behaviors toward each other.

I propose that we look to Rumi’s wisdom and try to understand that everything we are going through is just part of the human experience. And if we stop and think about it, it is an amazing experience. Although I have dealt with sadness, tragedy, pain, and an array of negative emotions, I have also known incredible joy, love, wonder, and contentment, and so much more. One of the greatest skills I’ve learned is the importance of gratitude. I have so much to be grateful for, and no matter how bad things have gotten, and they have gotten pretty bad at times, there have always been aspects of my life for which I could be grateful.

I hope as you read this, you will pause and reflect. While things could be better, they could also be infinitely worse. If we keep that in mind and remain grateful for the good things in our lives, I believe we can begin to shift our cultural trajectory.

Wishing you and yours abundant joy and happiness.

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Thoughts on “Egyptian Magic” by E.A. Wallis Budge

This is another of those books that have been on my shelf for a long time. I picked it up at a used book store, mainly because I was familiar with the author. Budge was a curator of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, and he published one of the most well-known translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I figured if anyone had insight into Egyptian magical practices, it would be Budge.

Budge begins his analysis by asserting that there are basically two types of magic used by the ancient Egyptians.

The “magic” of the Egyptians was of two kinds: (1) that which was employed for legitimate purposes and with the idea of benefiting either the living or the dead, and (2) that which was made use of in the furtherance of nefarious plots and schemes and was intended to bring calamities upon those against whom it was directed.

(p. 3)

Often, specific magical practices could be used for either of the two kinds of magic. An example of this would be the use of magical names.

The Egyptians, like most Oriental nations, attached very great importance to the knowledge of names, and the knowledge of how to use and to make mention of names which possessed magical powers was a necessity both for the living and the dead. It was believed that if a man knew the name of a god or a devil, and addressed him by it, he was bound to answer him and to do whatever he wished; and the possession of the knowledge of the name of a man enabled his neighbour to do him good or evil.

(p. 157)

Most of us are familiar with ancient Egypt’s use of animals in art and hieroglyphs. Budge point out that this was an advanced use of symbolism employed by the Egyptians, which was often misinterpreted as worship of animals.

The Egyptians paid honour to certain birds, and animals, and reptiles, because they considered that they possessed certain of the characteristics of the gods to whom they made them sacred. . . The educated Egyptian never worshipped an animal as an animal, but only as an incarnation of a god, and the reverence paid to animals in Egypt was in no way different from that paid to the king who was regarded as “divine” and an incarnation of Ra the Sun-god, who was the visible symbol of the Creator. The relation of the king to Ra was identical with that of Ra to God. The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans never understood the logical conception which underlay the reverence with which the Egyptians regarded certain animals, and as a result they grossly misrepresented their religion. The ignorant people, no doubt, often mistook the symbol for what it symbolized, but it is wrong to say that the Egyptians worshipped animals in the ordinary sense of the word, and this fact cannot be too strongly insisted on.

(pp. 232 – 233)

While this book may be dated, and much of the terminology employed would not be considered politically correct in our present day, there is value in reading this from a strictly historical perspective. Budge clearly spent much time exploring ancient Egyptian texts and his knowledge is evident in this book.

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“Sonnet 42: That thou hast her, it is not all my grief” by William Shakespeare

That thou hast her, it is not all my grief,
And yet it may be said I lov’d her dearly;
That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her, because thou know’st I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her.
If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain.
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:
But here’s the joy: my friend and I are one:
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.

In this sonnet, Shakespeare is addressing a love triangle. Essentially, the fair youth, who is described as the speaker’s “friend,” has become romantically involved with the speaker’s mistress. What is most interesting is that the speaker seems less sad about losing his mistress than he is about losing the love of the fair youth. There are a couple ways to interpret this. On one hand, the argument can be made that the speaker has a romantic relationship with his friend, and that this relationship means more to him than his heterosexual relations. But another way to look at it is that Shakespeare is trying to convey the importance of friendship and camaraderie. While sexual relations may come and go, the deep bond of friendship is something rare.

In the final couplet, the speaker states “my friend and I are one.” Regardless of whether you interpret the friendship as a romantic or a platonic relationship, what is evident is the deep connection the speaker feels for his friend. Being as one, his friend’s happiness is essentially his own.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have an inspired day.

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Thoughts on “Every Eye Beholds You: A World Treasury of Prayer” – Thomas J. Craughwell (ed.)

I bought this book many years ago when I belonged to one of those book-of-the-month clubs. When I first read it, I recall being somewhat disappointed with it, but I decided to re-read it as a sort of daily meditation, reading a prayer each morning. I have to say that I was as disappointed this time as I was the first time.

So here is my problem with this book. While it purports to be a collection of prayers from diverse traditions, it is so heavily slanted towards Christian prayers that it fails to give other traditions equal treatment. For example, Catholicism is the tradition with the most prayers in the book. The second place goes to Eastern Orthodox Christian prayers. Then factor in all the Protestant prayers, and what you have is essentially a book of Christian prayers interspersed with prayers from Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking Christianity. But I am criticizing this book and the way it is presented. If you are advancing a text as a survey of world prayers, then you should provide a balance. Splitting up a collection of Christian prayers up into Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox and saying you are providing a “world treasury” of prayers is basically a bait and switch.

Anyway, I’m thinking this book will be in the next box that finds its way to Goodwill. I have way too many books to allow this one to take up precious space on my shelves.

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Occult Symbolism in “Canticle of the Sun” by Saint Francis of Assisi

Image Source: Wikipedia

I should start by posting the English translation of the text, originally composed in Italian in the year 1224. It is somewhat long, but worth reading.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those who will
find Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

While there is a lot that can be said about this beautiful text, I want to focus this post on some specific areas, which are the gender attributes. According to occult traditions, such as alchemy and Hermeticism, elements have gender aspects and are associated with directions. These are briefly outlined below.

  • Air is Masculine and associated with East
  • Water is Feminine and associated with West
  • Fire is Masculine and associated with South
  • Earth is Feminine and associated with North

Saint Francis mirrors these gendered elementals in his text:

  • Brother Wind
  • Sister Water
  • Brother Fire
  • Sister Mother Earth

It is important to note the order here. In some ceremonial rituals, the elemental forces are evoked in a specific order: East – West – South – North, which forms a cross. This is the same order in which Saint Francis offers his praises. Essentially, recitation of the Canticle surrounds an individual with the elemental forces.

It is also worth pointing out that masculine and feminine characteristics are associated with the Sun and Moon, respectively. This is fairly common among mystical traditions. But what is fascinating is that Saint Francis also refers to death as Sister Bodily Death, implying a connection between birth and death, since both are connected to the Divine Feminine. We are born of Sister Mother Earth, and we return through Sister Bodily Death, completing a cycle which will ultimately begin anew with rebirth through Sister Mother Earth.

Hopefully you found this interesting. The comments will be open for two weeks after post date, so feel free to share any thoughts during that period.

Many blessings.

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Thoughts on “The Kybalion” by Three Initiates

This is a classic work on Hermeticism that first appeared in 1908 and was published under the pseudonym Three Initiates. The notes assert that the author was most likely “William Walker Atkinson, a popular New Thought writer and publisher in the early twentieth century.” (p. 141) The book presents the seven basic principles found in the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. Those principles are:

  1. The Principle of Mentalism
  2. The Principle of Correspondence
  3. The Principle of Vibration
  4. The Principle of Polarity
  5. The Principle of Rhythm
  6. The Principle of Cause and Effect
  7. The Principle of Gender

While this is a very short book, it has a wealth of information and is very accessible to readers, regardless of your background in spiritual studies. That said, rather than hitting the key topics, I want to focus this post on a single paragraph from the section on Cause and Effect.

Stop to think a moment. If a certain man had not met a certain maid, away back in the dim period of the Stone Age—you who are reading these lines would not now be here. And if, perhaps, the same couple had failed to meet, we who now write these lines would not now be here. And the very act of writing, on our part, and the act of reading, on yours, will affect not only the respective lives of yourself and ourselves, but will also have a direct, or indirect, affect upon many other people now living and who will live in the ages to come. Every thought we think, every act we perform, has its direct and indirect results which fit into the great chain of Cause and Effect.

(p. 109)

This is a truth that I consider often. Everything I do, or abstain from doing, affects reality in ways we cannot begin to comprehend. This understanding comes with responsibility. Knowing that everything you read, everything you say, every seemingly insignificant act you engage in has a rippling effect throughout eternity, makes you realize that nothing you do is insignificant or without consequence. Hence, to paraphrase a writer who was very influential for me when I was young, we must live our lives impeccably.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my musings. You have just changed the future by doing so.

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Shudder #1: Collector’s Edition

This is a “new” graphic horror magazine. I put “new” in quotations marks because actually, it used to be The Creeps magazine, but it seems that there was some copyright infringement and they had to change the name. Anyway, this is the first issue and it adheres to the time-tested format of short, campy horror tales done in black-and-white. The writers, artists, and editors are all alumni from the early days of Warren publications, so there is definitely an authentic feel that fans of the old horror mags like Creepy and Eerie will appreciate.

The tales are curated by Old Aunt Shudder, who introduces herself on the inside of the front cover page.

Welcome! …to the first great collector’s edition of Shudder magazine! Your Old Aunt Shudder here, and I’ll be your host as you journey through these terror-filled pages! Inside, you will find all new work from the greatest horror comic artists and writers in the history of monster-dom! I’ve scoured the globe for the world’s top talent to bring you the kinds of terror tales that haven’t been seen for nearly fifty years! Presented in the classic style of the best black and white illustrated horror comic magazines of the 1960’s and 1970’s! Shudder is dedicated to preserving the style of horror comics that were being created at the height of the genre, when realism ruled and dark, moody illustrations brought the world of monsters, creatures and things that go bump in the night to “life!” Now! Enter my world… it’s guaranteed to make you… Shudder!

This is great stuff to read during the Halloween season, especially if, like me, you were raised on the classic horror magazines that Shudder emulates. I am definitely looking forward to future issues.

Happy reading!

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Thoughts on “Angels & Archangels: A Magician’s Guide” by Damien Echols

I actually finished this book a few months ago. I read it with a friend and we had weekly discussions after finishing each section where we shared our thoughts and experiences as we worked through the exercises and digested the information.

The book is a great resource for individuals who are interested in magick, especially Enochian. Echols provides a thorough list of angels and archangels, and provides the angelic correspondences to the kabbalistic tree, tarot cards, elements, and zodiac. The beauty of this text is its simplicity. While there are texts out there with more detailed tables of correspondences, this one will not make the novice feel overwhelmed. And if you are a more advanced practitioner, it is always good to refresh with the basics.

As far as the rituals go, Echols includes some of the basics, such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. He does, though, offer some suggestions on augmenting these to enhance the effect. I personally found these suggestions interesting and have incorporated some in my daily practice.

As a whole, I enjoyed the book and found it useful. That said, it kind of ended on a sour note for me. Echols concludes his study with a rather harsh attack on the traditions that have kept these practices alive over the generations.

That being said, as the current spread throughout the Middle East and Europe (by way of the Knights Templar), its outward forms became increasingly diluted, much like in the game known as Chinese whispers or telephone, in which the first person whispers something into a person’s ear, and that person whispers what they heard into another person’s ear, and so on and so on. And so it was with magick. The mangled result of centuries of dilution is the magickal system presented by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

(p. 259)

I cannot help but wonder, if the Golden Dawn had not existed, would Damien Echols ever have learned the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram? Anyway, aside from that, the book is worth reading, especially if you are interested in practicing magick.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you and yours be blessed.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #9

It has been four long years since the last issue of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina rolled off the press. So getting my hands on this new issue was a Halloween treat come early. The new issue picks up where Issue #8 left off, where Sabrina must balance the scales by sacrificing a human life to compensate for raising her boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle, from the dead (and there are other morbid twists here that I will intentionally leave out).

While there is so much for a horror fan to enjoy in this series (gore, cannibalism, demons, bestiality, just to name a few), and the artwork is eerily exquisite, for me, it is the quality of the writing that raises this comic above the realm of pulp and places it squarely into the category of artistic expression. To back up my claim, I need only quote from the opening pages of this issue.

We are entering the hours of the wolf. The hours between midnight and dawn… The hours when sleep is most profound, when nightmares are most real… The hours when the sleepless are haunted by their most profound fears… when ghosts and demons are at their most powerful… when the most unspeakable crimes are planned, when the darkest conspiracies are plotted… when the most terrible bargains are made; when witch-wishes are whispered aloud… Then comes the dawn. And with it, a clarity and sense of mission.

I must again emphasize that this is a very dark and very mature comic. If you are expecting a wholesome Archie comic like you remember from your younger days, you will be in for a real shock if you read this. But if you like reading dark, creepy, edgy stories during the Halloween season, then this is a must-read.

Thanks for stopping by.

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