Tag Archives: symbol

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 “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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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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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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“At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft: Exploring the Subconscious Mind

This novella is one of Lovecraft’s most famous works. It is the story of a group of explorers in the Antarctic who discover the existence of an alien race that forged the evolution of humanity. But the real power of this tale is in the symbolism. Lovecraft uses the story as a vehicle for probing into humanity’s collective subconscious.

The mountains themselves are symbolic of the border, or threshold, between the two states of consciousness.

Little by little, however, they rose grimly into the western sky; allowing us to distinguish various bare, bleak, blackish summits, and to catch the curious sense of phantasy which they inspired as seen in the reddish antarctic light against the provocative background of iridescent ice-dust clouds. In the whole spectacle there was a persistent, pervasive hint of stupendous secrecy and potential revelation; as if these stark, nightmare spires marked the pylons of a frightful gateway into forbidden spheres of dream, and complex gulfs of remote time, space, and ultra-dimensionality. I could not help feeling that they were evil things—mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss. That seething, half-luminous cloud-background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial; and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed austral world.

Once an individual has crossed the boundary and entered to dark caverns of primordial consciousness, that person begins to lose his or her grasp on what we deem sanity in our state of normal awareness. Our mythology is full of tales warning about this. It is the metaphor of “looking back,” of shining a light on the dark past of human consciousness which should remain buried. Lovecraft alludes to these metaphors as the protagonists desperately attempt to escape the nether-regions and return to the world of sanity and normal consciousness.

So we glanced back—simultaneously, it would appear; though no doubt the incipient motion of one prompted the imitation of the other. As we did so we flashed both torches full strength at the momentarily thinned mist; either from sheer primitive anxiety to see all we could, or in a less primitive but equally unconscious effort to dazzle the entity before we dimmed our light and dodged among the penguins of the labyrinth-centre ahead. Unhappy act! Not Orpheus himself, or Lot’s wife, paid much more dearly for a backward glance. And again came that shocking, wide-ranged piping—“Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!

Lovecraft concludes his tale with a stark warning: there are some things that should remain buried in the subconscious. That probing too far into the darkened and obscure recesses of the mind is dangerous, both for the individual and for humanity as a collective whole.

It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.

If you have not read this story, I highly recommend it. It is well-written, thrilling, and deeply thought-provoking. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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Thoughts on “Back to Frank Black”

In the late 1990s, Chris Carter (creator of “The X-Files”) produced a short-lived television series that is still one of my all-time favorites: “Millennium.” It was about a retired criminal profiler named Frank Black who becomes involved with a group that investigates cases that seem to be related to human evil and end-of-the-world prophesies. The series was dark, thoughtful, and brimming with rich symbolism. It is the only television series for which I purchased all seasons on DVD (three box sets) so I could rewatch them whenever I felt inspired. This book is a collection of essays about the series, as well as interviews with the cast and creative team.

Because the network suddenly cancelled the show (ironically, right before the millennium), there has been a strong movement among the fan base to attempt to influence the network to back a film or limited series that would bring satisfactory closure to this complex program. As one of the essays states, this was part of the impetus for compiling and publishing this book.

We felt that a book might serve as a testament to Millennium, the campaign, and the fans of the show. I won’t harp on too much about the book given I’m sure you’ll have found time to, at the very least, read this page of it, but suffice to say what we envisaged is very much what it became. In some respects, you could say it became all it could be: an intelligent compendium of responses to a mature and well-crafted television series.

(p. 440)

There is some interesting information in this book and I enjoyed reading it, but it is definitely intended for fans of the show and assumes that the reader is versed in the mythology and story arcs that are part of the series. I’ll conclude by sharing that I am currently working through the Season 3 box set of “Millennium,” and it is a little eerie to watch this 20+ years later. Almost makes me wonder if the biblical millennium did creep up on us while we were expecting Y2K computer failures and planes falling out of the sky. Maybe the end is more of a fizzle instead of a cataclysmic explosion.

Thanks for stopping by and reading.

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Symbol of the Cross

As far as symbols go, the cross also predates Christianity and is found in one form or another in cultures around the world. Magicians have used the cross for centuries to stand for complete balance of all aspects of our psyche. When we’re in perfect balance, forces outside of us—human or otherwise—will have a much more difficult time implanting suggestions into our mind stream or otherwise influencing our energy field.

Damien Echols. Angels & Archangels

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Animal Symbolism

Animals have been a vital element in the development of mythological systems throughout history, across virtually every culture imaginable. In Western societies of the Middle Ages, in particular, animals represented specific traits and could therefore be utilized as symbols to convey moral and religious lessons in works of art. Animals can represent victims of technology, industrialization, or war. Also, animals sometimes equate with the concept of “purity,” existing in a wild, natural state and therefore utterly free from man’s sins and vices. Some passion plays and other didactic forms of theater utilized animal imagery to represent specific modes of behavior, including human vices.

John Kenneth Muir. Back to Frank Black: p. 196

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All Teems with Symbol

All teems with symbol; the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another, a process familiar to all of us in not a few examples of everyday experience.

Plotinus. The Six Enneads

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