Tag Archives: aspiration

Mysticism East and West

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism by Rudolf Otto.

Rudolf Otto Mysticism

This book was developed from Otto’s lectures presented at Oberlin College in 1923-4. It principally consists of a detailed attempt to compare and contrast two prominent mystics: Śankara from the Indian East and Meister Eckhart from the European West. In so doing, Otto proposes to demonstrate that there are distinct forms of mysticism which reach across boundaries of religion, culture and geography, and also that any mysticism will be essentially inflected by its particular religious basis—the soil in which it grows, to use Otto’s recurrent metaphor.

“Part A” of the text emphasizes similarities between Śankara and Meister Eckhart, and Otto manages to detail many of these. First, he points to their shared orientation to ontological ideas, and develops the technical and theological parallel
Śankara:Brahman:Isvara:Ātman::Eckhart:Godhead:God:Soul (14, 77-78). He also compares Śankara’s “Maya” to Eckhart’s “creare” (95). Otto emphasizes the religious, salvific, and theistic qualities of both thinkers’ systems, and points out that neither prescribes a “method” of attainment (29). He proposes a couple of idealized “schemas” of mystical experience, claiming that Śankara and Eckhart each engage both schemas (52).

In the process of comparing Śankara and Eckhart to each other, he distinguishes their type of (speculative) mysticism from other usual sorts: affective mysticism (72-73) and nature mysticism (73-74). Then, in the “Transition from Part A to Part B,” he uses specific schools of Indian mysticism to demonstrate the “differentiation of mystical experience in general,” showing that the similarities between Śankara and Eckhart are not common to all mysticism. Other individual mystics who play supporting roles for contrast include Plotinus and Hallaj.

Finally, in Part B, Otto provides some contrasts between Śankara and Eckhart. In these (generally shorter) chapters, the difference is usually expressed as a valuable quality or sensibility that is present in Eckhart but absent in Śankara. According to Otto, Śankara’s mysticism lacks dynamism, vitality, religious conscience, sense of righteousness, positive regard for the world, agape-love, and pastoral sensibility. In this portion, Otto remains engaged in the sort of “comparative religion” that he produced in Das Heilige (The Idea of the Holy, 1923) : he creates a basis for comparison in order to conclude which is better, and it is no surprise that a German Christianity is better on the scale of this theologian from the University of Marburg.

Otto notes that Mysticism: East and West presupposes ideas and positions that he advanced earlier in Das Heilige (vi). That work has become especially identified with “the discourse of sui generis religion,” which has been criticized (e.g. by Russell McCutcheon) for setting arbitrary boundaries between “religious” phenomena and other spheres of personal and/or social activity and ideas, as well as a tendency to abstract religions into essences. Such problems remain evident here, e.g. in the hypothesized/ hypostasized doctrinal conflict (82), the valuation “peculiar to all religion” (94), and the elision of economics and politics from caste doctrines (120).

The “soil” metaphor persists in this book’s efforts to characterize the source of differences between instances or types of mysticism—apparently, the “seed” is mystical capacity or aspiration, and the soil is the religious and cultural context. Otto claims, “the very different ground upon which mysticism rose in Europe also colors the highest mystical experience in a way which is Christian and not Indian” (162). But he does not demonstrate a relevant, describable difference between “the soil of Palestine” and “the soil [of the entire subcontinent!] of India” (206) I don’t doubt that this trope is either a conscious or an unconscious invocation of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23. Note also: Eckhart had been a poster-child of the ‘German mystique’ since the early 19th century, and Alfred Rosenberg called him a paragon of the “new, reborn Teutonic man” in 1938.

Otto insists, “The difference between [Brahman mysticism and Atman mysticism] is not to be reproduced in intellectual conceptions and is only comprehensible in the mystical experience itself.” (146) I find myself dubious that he has experienced all of these diverse mystical attainments among which he professes to discriminate for scholars! If “intellectual conceptions” cannot effectively communicate the differences between various mysticisms, what possibility is there for scholarship to assert or explain such differences? Ultimately, I must suspect Otto of using a globe-spanning erudition to reinforce his own metaphysical prejudices. [via]


The Equinox & Solstice Ceremonies of the Golden Dawn

The Equinox & Solstice Ceremonies of the Golden Dawn by Pat Zalewski and Chris Zalewski, part of the Llewellyn Golden Dawn Series, the 1992 first edition softcover from Llewellyn Publications, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Pat Zalewski Chris Zalewski The Equinox & Solstice Ceremonies of the Golden Dawn from Llewellyn Publications

“This book contains historically important material in the form of hitherto unpublished seasonal rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and A E Waite’s ‘independent and rectified rite.’

But they are of more than historical interest. They are powerful instruments toward attaining higher consciousness if placed in the right hands.

They demonstrate the threefold nature of the tradition. That is: hermetic/intellectual, as represented in the Masonic type ritual elements; mystical/aspirational, as represented by their Rosicrucian allegiance; and elemental/geomantic, through celebration of the equinoxes and solstices.

And should we seek to re-work or re-phrase them, we need to maintain this threefold balance. For instance, to try to write out the Christian from the Mysteries of Christian Rosenkreutz would rather be like trying to make an omelette without the eggs! Or if we worked them in serious doubt about the existence of the ‘secret chiefs’ we would have no source of heat beneath our frying pan! Without these elements of faith the rituals would be worked without power. Would be no more than amateur dramatic performances of portentious sounding religiosity. A ritual only exists in its effective enactment, not on the page.

Yet if power is contacted by these means (as it sometimes can be, even inadvertently), it is hardly the type than can be ‘used’ for personal ends or convenience. One might as well seek to tap the power of a tiger by pulling its tail.

So if we seek to work seriously with this material we must look to our motives and true aspirations. These rituals have hidden power, and if we seek to find it we must be prepared for nothing less than personal transformation! These rituals place the keys in our hands. We only have to turn them.” — Gareth Knight, back cover

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Excerpt from The Argument That Took the Wrong Turning

Here’s an excerpt, pages 1–8, from The Argument That Took the Wrong Turning: A Vindication of Priest/ess and Queer Gnostic Mass in Reply to T Polyphilus by Michael Effertz, which is offered at the Reading Room courtesy of the author. While you may have had a chance to read T Polyphilus’ review previously posted and heard various other responses about Priest/ess, unless you have had access to one of the few privately printed and distributed volumes, this may be your first glimpse of Effertz’s argument, as well as the tone and tenor, as it appears in the book; and unless you have acquired one of the new editions with which it is offered this may be your first chance to read some of the substance contained within the new pamphlet.

Michael Effertz's The Argument That Took the Wrong Turning from Luxor Media Group

I thank E.G.C. Bishop T Polyphilus for his critical review1 of my book, Priest/ess: In Advocacy of Queer Gnostic Mass. Polyphilus kindly prefaces his critique with the observation that “significant expense and care” went into the production of what became an “attractive little book.” In writing and designing the private edition of Priest/ess, I resolved to evince the same commitment to quality that Crowley once stressed in a letter to Frank Bennett, writing that “it has always been a point of honor with us to make our publications physically worthy of their contents.”2 The Bishop may not share my estimation of Priest/ess’ contents, but his praise is nevertheless well received. It is for this reason that I have endeavored to ensure that the trade edition, handsomely bound in hardcover and released in both a standard and deluxe edition, will likewise please the reader in form.

With this supplementary essay, I offer a reply to Polyphilus’ review in the same spirit as the arguments given in Priest/ess. As such, I will neither speculate as to Polyphilus’ motives nor ascribe to him any ill will in criticizing my work. I cannot say with certainty, and so will not assert, whether the errors in his review indicate an accidental or a willful misunderstanding of my arguments. I will, therefore, focus on the content of the review itself, checking its claims against the facts of each case rather than dwelling on the character of the author or his possible intentions. Where a misunderstanding is evident, I lay the fault squarely on my own deficient exposition; this will require the occasional reiteration of points originally made in the Priest/ess, in which I anticipated several of the criticisms made in Polyphilus’ review.

In his brief review, Polyphilus makes a series of claims about Priest/ess, the Gnostic Mass, and related subjects, which I will address seriatim. These include the claims that:

  1. I am wrong about the purpose of E.G.C. clergy,
  2. Nobody has the generic right to ordination or to serve as an ordained member of the clergy in the performance of E.G.C. rituals,
  3. Clergy do not have the authority to impose their own interpretation on the Gnostic Mass, because it is not a vehicle for personal expression,
  4. I obscure and misrepresent E.G.C. policy concerning private and public celebrations of queer Gnostic Mass,
  5. For public Gnostic Masses, E.G.C. policy requires Priests who are socially masculine in their life outside the temple and Priestesses who are similarly feminine,
  6. Restricting queer Gnostic Mass to private celebrations enhances it, and
  7. Prohibiting public queer Gnostic Masses does not “closet” queer personal relationships.

In addition to these explicit claims, Polyphilus insinuates that there are still more issues at stake and criticisms to be made, but opts not to specify in the course of his review what those issues are beyond alluding to their magical and doctrinal nature. E.G.C. policy, he argues, is constructed with a view toward assuring the simultaneous fulfillment of three effects or purposes of the Gnostic Mass (magical, communal, and doctrinal), even when individual celebrants do not consciously comprehend all three. Polyphilus directs the reader to his essay “Discourse on the Sixth Article,” wherein he elucidates his views on these three purposes of the Mass. The essay genuinely rewards study. Contrary to settling the question of queer Gnostic Mass against its acceptance, the three purposes of the Mass proposed by Polyphilus provide us with fertile ground for defending the propriety of its public celebration. While we cannot scrutinize his reasons for dismissing queer Gnostic Mass on magical, communal, and doctrinal grounds, since those reasons are not divulged in his review, we can make our own assessment of the merits of public queer Gnostic Mass as it might pertain to these matters with reference to the wealth of published and publicly available writings by Crowley on the Mass, the Eucharist, the O.T.O. and its various degrees, magick, sex and gender, and other kindred subjects. As Polyphilus’ review is consciously informed by his concept of the three purposes of the Gnostic Mass, we turn first to an evaluation of the magical, communal, and doctrinal considerations at the heart of his critique.

The Magical Purpose of the Gnostic Mass

Polyphilus cites magical issues as under the purview of the E.G.C. in the oversight of its clergy, which issues motivate and guide the construction and enforcement of E.G.C. policy in prohibiting public celebrations of queer Gnostic Mass. In so stating, Polyphilus implies, without evidence or explanation, that public celebrations of queer Gnostic Mass could not fulfill the magical purpose of the Mass. Presumably, the problem of magical bankruptcy is evaded through private celebration.

Of the magical purpose of the Gnostic Mass, Polyphilus writes:

The Magical effect for the individual
Is the one that Crowley explains in Magick in Theory and Practice:
The communicant is gradually made divine,
Being brought swallow by swallow
Towards Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel
And to the ultimate attainment that lies beyond.
And this effect is secret in the sense that it is utterly ineffable.3

We may then reasonably infer Polyphilus to contend that communicants in a public celebration of a queer Gnostic Mass could not be “gradually made divine, being brought swallow by swallow towards the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel and to the ultimate attainment that lies beyond.” Such a suggestion is contradicted by Crowley’s teachings concerning magical ritual and the Eucharist, as documented in his diaries and other works. For example, in defining the universal object of magical ritual, Crowley instructs the magician to use ritual to confront weaknesses in his understanding and offers sexual identity as one such area for exploration:

There is a single main definition of the object of all magical ritual. It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or, in the language of Mysticism, Union with God.

All other magical rituals are particular cases of this general principle, and the only excuse for doing them is that it sometimes occurs that one particular portion of the Microcosm is so weak that its imperfection or impurity would vitiate the Macrocosm of which it is the image, eidolon, or reflection. For example, God is above sex; and therefore neither man nor woman as such can be said fully to understand, much less to represent, God. It is therefore incumbent on the male Magician to cultivate those female virtues in which he is deficient, and this task he must of course accomplish without in any way impairing his virility. It will then be lawful for a Magician to invoke Isis, and identify himself with her; if he fail to do this, his apprehension of the Universe when he attains samādhi will lack the conception of maternity. The result will be a metaphysical and—by corollary—ethical limitation in the Religion which he founds. Judaism and Islām are striking examples of this failure.4

Ritual offers the magician one avenue for symbolically uniting diverse elements within his being, though it is by no means the only method for achieving such union:

The doctrine here put forth is that the initiate cannot be polluted by any particular environment. He accepts and enjoys everything that is proper to his nature. Thus, a man’s sexual character is one form of his self-expression; he unites Hadit with Nuit sacramentally when he satisfies his instinct of physical love. Of course, this is only one partial projection; to govern, to fight, and so on, must fulfil other needs. We must not imagine that any form of activity is ipso facto incapable of supplying the elements of an Eucharist: suum cuique [Lat. “to each his own”]. Observe, however, the constant factor in this enumeration of the practices proper to “hermits:” it is ecstatic delight.5

The actual or symbolic union of the self with another, or even of different aspects of the self within oneself, is characterized by Crowley as the key to preparing the Eucharist, which process may be carried out through methods proper to the nature of each individual. This notion resonates alongside the previous passage with Liber A’ASH, which proclaims:

All holy things and all symbolic things shall be my sacraments.6

Among those Gnostic sacraments is semen, which Crowley says may possess different potencies depending upon one’s point of view:

Semen itself is mercury, the river of life flowing throughout the generations. That is fluid mercury. What is (from the point of view of life) waste, is knowledge. Hence the opposition between knowledge and life. One is homo- and the other heterosexuality. Those are reconciled in Mercury, who is wisdom.7

As with all opposing points of view, it is the work of the magician to reconcile these contradictions in a higher understanding. In this “fluid mercury” Crowley finds one resolution to the “opposition between knowledge and life” in a single Eucharist, which may elevate the communicant to divinity. Crowley provides us with an unambiguous illustration of the transformative power of this type of Eucharist in his notes to the Cephaloedium Working, which sacrament was prepared initially by two men together:

[…]
(7) Make Iacchaion God, by Ether. 

(8) Sacrifice him to the Beast, who thus becomes God. Use here the accendat & the right Mantram, the Tu qui es & the Quia Patris.8 

The “accendat,” “Tu qui es,” and “Quia Patris” all refer to the Grimorium Sanctissimum, ritual instructions for a mass along analogous lines to that of the Gnostic Mass (e.g., the consecration and dressing in ritual vestments of the “priest” by the “maiden,” speeches from “The Ship,” etc.) Another queer interpretation of the mass formula given in Grimorium Sanctissimum is provided in the Paris Working, during which Crowley assumed the role of “maiden” to Victor Neuburg’s “priest.” Throughout his diaries and instructions, Crowley evinces an understanding of the Eucharist that reconciles heterosexuality and homosexuality, life and knowledge, in one transcendent wisdom.

Polyphilus’ implicit contention that a Eucharist produced by a queer pairing cannot lead one “swallow by swallow” to Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel seems especially strange, given Crowley’s description of the relation between the Adept and his Angel:

In a secret code the Adept affirms that he is of the same sex (so to speak) as his Angel. It is not a union of opposites to produce a tertium quid [Lat. “third thing”], but a realization of identity, like the return to consciousness from delirium, whose ecstasy bears no fruit involving new responsibilities, new possibilities of sorrow, but is all-sufficient to itself, with neither past nor future.

The “peeled wand” is the creative Energy of the Angel, stripped of all veils, pointing to the Zenith, ready and eager to act. The Adept exclaims with joy that he has aspired to unite himself with this Idea, and has attained.

Thus concludes the description of the relations of the Adept and his Angel so far as the element of Earth, the concrete and manifest aspect of Nature, is concerned. The whole illusion has been destroyed; the bread has become the body of God.9

As was delineated above, the sacrament by which bread is transmuted into the “body of God” may take any of various forms. Heterosexual union, whether actual or symbolic, is a commonly cited formula for effecting this transmutation. In Liber Aleph, Crowley provides commentary on “the ultimate attainment that lies beyond” and the manner in which homosexual formulae are efficacious in achieving this attainment:

O my Son, behold now the Mystery and Virtue of the Silver Star! For of these Four Works not one leadeth to the Crown, because Tetragrammaton hath His Root only in Chokmah. So therefore the Formula of the Rosy Cross availeth no more in the Highest. Now then in the Pentagram are Two Lines that invoke Spirit, though they lead not thereunto, and they are the Works of Hé with Hé, and of Yod with Vau. Of these twain the former is a Work Magical of the Nature of Musick, and it draweth down the Fire of the HIGHER by Seduction or Bewitchment. Shall I say Enchantment? Shall I say Incantation? It is Song. But Bewitchment is a Work opposite thereunto, whose Effect formulateth itself by direct Creation in the Sphere of its Purpose and Intent. But there remain yet Two of the Eight Works, namely the straight Aspiration of the Chiah or Creator in thee to the Crown, and the Surrender of the Nephesch or Animal Soul to the Possession thereof; and these be the twin geodesic Formulæ of the Final Attainment, being Archetypes of the Paths of Magick (the one) and Mysticism (the other) unto the End.10

If we agree with Polyphilus and assert that the magical purpose of the Gnostic Mass is to lead one to the “Final” or “ultimate attainment,” then one may reasonably maintain that the formula of the Gnostic Mass must be, by that fact, robust and flexible enough to find expression in “the Works of Hé with Hé, and of Yod with Vau” as well as those of Yod with Hé and Vau with Hé.

Though it remains unclear why, from the standpoint of E.G.C. policy and its hierarchy, a private celebration of queer Gnostic Mass could adequately fulfill the magical purpose of the Mass while a public celebration could not, a thorough survey of Crowley’s writings on the subject of the magical effect of the Mass, as Polyphilus describes it, offers decisive evidence in favor of the efficacy of queer Gnostic Mass, public and private.

 

1. T Polyphilus. “Priest/ess.” The Hermetic Library Blog. The Hermetic Library. 20 Feb. 2013. <http://library.hrmtc.com/2013/02/20/priest-ess/>.

2. Crowley, Aleister. The Progradior Correspondence: Letters by Aleister Crowley, Frank Bennett, C.S. Jones, & Others. Ed. Keith Richmond. York Beach, ME: 2009. 84.

3. T Polyphilus. “Discourse on the Sixth Article.” Vigorous Food & Divine Madness. The Hermetic Library, n.d. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://hermetic.com/dionysos/art6.htm>. [Formatting and emphasis as in original].

4. Crowley, Aleister. “The Principles of Ritual.” Magick: Liber ABA, Book 4. 2nd ed. York Beach: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004. 144. [emphasis in original].

5. New Comment to AL, II:24, Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on the Book of the Law. Symonds, John and Kenneth Grant, eds. Montreal: 93 Publishing, 1974. 200.

6. Liber A’ASH Vel Capricorni Pneumatici, 20. The Holy Books of Thelema. 1st ed. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1983.

7. “The Paris Working.” The Vision & The Voice with Commentary and Other Papers. Boston: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1998. 363.

8. “The Cephaloedium Working.” The Hermetic Library, n.d. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://hermetic.com/crowley/cephaloedium.html>. [emphasis added].

9. “Commentary to Liber 65 – Chapter I.” Commentaries on the Holy Books and Other Papers. York Beach, Samuel Weiser, 1996. 98-99.

10. “On the Four Major Operations of the Microcosmic Star.” Liber Aleph. York Beach: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2003. 107.

Memoirs of a Dervish

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties by Robert Irwin:

Robert Irwin's Memoirs of a Dervish

 

“In the autumn of 1966 it seemed to me that I had no destiny, for my future was blank. Now, as I write, it seems to me that my destiny is already mostly in the past” (122).

Robert Irwin is one of my favorite novelists, the author of such wonderful works as The Arabian Nightmare (his first), The Limits of Vision, and Satan Wants Me, and that would have been enough to interest me in his memoir. And indeed, this book discloses to a reader of Irwin’s fiction many of the crypto-autobiographical vectors in his writing. But the the promise of accounts of his experiences in the emergence of English counterculture in the 1960s and of his own involvement in Algerian Sufism made the memoir irresistable.

Irwin expresses nostalgia for his experience of the hippy sixties, while powerfully deglamorizing the counterculture. He is disenchanted and strikingly contemptuous of his younger self. In addition to drugs, mysticism, music, and romantic love, he recounts his academic odyssey and encounters with intellectuals such as R.C. Zaehner, Bernard Lewis, and the Perennialist school of religious scholarship.

Irwin professes his abiding faith in the message of Islam and the value of Sufi praxis, despite the horror with which he regards conspicuous portions of the global Muslim community. His respect for the ‘Alawi tariqa in which he was initiated has not been effaced. But the book almost reads as though it might have been entitled “Memoirs of a Failed Dervish,” because he confesses his own lack of attainment and inability to derive consequence from his mystical strivings. Still, he provides details of the perplexing effects of his aspiration. “Like body odours, ecstasy is something that nice people don’t talk about, but the hell with that” (78).

There is certainly a significant dose of melancholy in Irwin’s retrospection. “I cannot think of anything useful I have learned from dreams, or any instance in which a dream has served as valuable inspiration,” he writes (215). In a highly enjoyable reflection on his youthful interest in science fiction, Irwin remarks: “I have lost the capacity to be astounded and I am sad about that” (19). For me, his memoir was like summer sunshine filtered through browning autumn leaves. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Egyptian Magic in Egyptian Magic by Florence Farr.

“Behind her is her KA or real Ego; the hands, lifted in aspiration above the head, enclose the rectangular parallelogram representing the Portal of Wisdom in which is written the HORUS or heroic Name which according to Egyptian dogma was to be won by the Theurgic rites of Initiation. On it is seated the Royal HORUS BAIE.” [via]

Egyptian Magic in Egyptian Magic by Florence Farr.

“The Cultivation of Thought and Will is again shown by the uplifted hands in the hieroglyph which represents the KA: and the attitude of aspiration enables it to formulate a resting-place for the piercing, penetrating spirit, the BAIE.” [via]

Egyptian Magic in Egyptian Magic by Florence Farr.

“The seeds placed within the heart or AB may now be considered as symbolising the powers of Thought and Will: these once set in action by Theurgic practices or self-devotion to the highest aspiration of the conscious being produce a curious result.” [via]

The Law of Righteousness. By Ananda Maitriya. (Allan Bennett)

“that which is to-day but an ideal and an aspiration, will, if the Conservation of Energy hold good in the noetic world, as we believe it does, to-morrow have blossomed in a life wherein these things are hopes and dreams no longer; but part of the very fact and nature of the Universe” [via]