Tag Archives: gender

Magic and Masculinity

Magic and Masculinity: Ritual Magic and Gender in the Early Modern Era by Frances, part of the International Library of Historical Studies series, from I B Tauris, may be of interest. Dan Harms posted a review over on his blog.

Frances Timbers Magic and Masculinity I B Tauris

“In early modern England, the practice of ritual or ceremonial magic – the attempted communication with angels and demons – both reinforced and subverted existing concepts of gender. The majority of male magicians acted from a position of control and command commensurate with their social position in a patriarchal society; other men, however, used the notion of magic to subvert gender ideals while still aiming to attain hegemony. Whilst women who claimed to perform magic were usually more submissive in their attempted dealings with the spirit world, some female practitioners employed magic to undermine the patriarchal culture and further their own agenda. Frances Timbers studies the practice of ritual magic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries focusing especially on gender and sexual perspectives. Using the examples of well-known individuals who set themselves up as magicians (including John Dee, Simon Forman and William Lilly), as well as unpublished diaries and journals, literature and legal records, this book provides a unique analysis of early modern ceremonial magic from a gender perspective.”

Enchanted Feminism

Enchanted Feminism: Ritual, Gender and Divinity Among the Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco by Jone Salomonsen, part of the Religion and Gender series, the 2002 first edition paperback from Routledge, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Jone Salomonsen Enchanted Feminism from Routledge

“Many today feel the need to restore a magical, spiritual ground to human existence. One of the most visible responses to this need has been the rise of contemporary pagan Witchcraft, and one of its most interesting voices, Reclaiming. This community was formed over twenty years ago, by feminist Witch Starhawk and friends, to teach others about goddess spirituality and reinvented pagan rituals. It has since succeeded in developing an independent spiritual tradition, fostered partly by the success of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance and other books, and now has sister communities throughout North America and Europe.

Enchanted Feminism presents the first in-depth study of this important community and spiritual tradition from a consistent gender perspective. In a unique interdisciplinary approach, Dr Salomonson adopts the perspectives of both social anthropology and theology to analyse the beliefs and practices of the Reclaiming Witches. Among many issues, she considers their spiritual search for the ‘Real’, their renunciation of patriarchal religions and attempts to build a new religious identity, their use of ritual and of feminine symbols for the divine, and their involvement with feminist-anarchist politics. The results of her research provide challenging and insightful reading.”

 

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.

Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity

You may be interested in Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity, a brand new thematic network associated with the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). This new group “aims to bring together scholars who specialize in esoteric phenomena in antiquity, regardless of discipline, in an effort to create a dialogue about shared issues and research while providing the necessary resources to facilitate further study.”

There are a number of people involved in the group, but of those whom I’ve mentioned on occasion previously elsewhere I will mention specifically April DeConick, one of the founding members, and Sarah Veale, the website coordinator. The NSEA coordinator is Dylan M Burns of University of Copenhagan and you can check out more about the founding members on their about page.

Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity

“AncientEsotericism.org is the website for the Network for the Study of Ancient Esotericism (NSEA), a thematic network associated with the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). NSEA specializes in the study of esoteric phenomena of the ancient period and provides contact for specialists of ancient esoteric thought, history, and literature.

This website is intended as a resource for scholars and students. While the ancient sources (Gnostic, theurgic, Neoplatonic, Hermetic, etc.) of Western Esotericism possess enormous importance for the development of esoteric currents from the fourteenth century onwards, there remains only a minimum of interaction between the antiquity experts and their (proto)-modern colleagues. The Network therefore is intended to 1) introduce scholarship on ancient esotericism to students of Western Esotericism, 2) serve as a forum in which to exchange ideas, notes and references, etc. outside of other professional bodies which are not concerned with esotericism per se, 3) to coordinate study and workshops with other working groups on the subject, such as the Society of Biblical Literature’s Section on Esotericism and Mysticism in Antiquity, and 4) (and most importantly) to provide a junction of the many resources online that can serve as aids in the study of this fascinating and difficult material (dictionaries, textual corpora, blogs, etc.).

Founding Members of the NSEA include:

Brian Alt (University of Indiana)
Dylan M. Burns (University of Copenhagen)
April Deconick (Rice University)
Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta (University of Groningen)
Nicholas Marshall (Aarhus University)
Joyce Pijnenburg (University of Amsterdam)
Lisa Emma Pizzighella (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)
Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen)
David Tibet (Macquarie University)” [via]

 

“The Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity (NSEA) is happy to announce our new website, AncientEsotericism.org. With continually-updated online resources news, and conference announcements, AncientEsotericism.org is intended to be a one-stop location for scholars and students of the field.

What is esotericism in antiquity? This is a broad term that governs the use of secrecy, concealment, and revelation to talk about the really important stuff—from the true identity of the creator of the cosmos (Gnosticism) to the keys to the heavenly palaces (Hekhalot literature) to how to talk about the indescribable One (Neoplatonic mysticism), etc. So if the subject involves arcana celestial and subterrestrial, it’s ancient esotericism. Scholars in various disciplines have struggled to describe a spike in “secret revelations” in Hellenistic and Late Antique religion (Hengel) or the trend towards mythology in the “Underworld of Platonism” (Dillon)—what all this diverse material has in common is an interest in secrecy and revelation for dealing with the divine, and a common reception-history in “esotericism” in the modern era, ranging from Renaissance Platonism to the New Age.

The website is intended provide a guide to the wonderful, but dizzying, online resources available for the study of this vast and difficult body of literature. My goal (in collaboration with Sarah Veale) was to create the website I would have died to see when I was an undergraduate and just starting to get excited about this material, but totally confused about how to go about studying it, what scholarship was already out there, and, most importantly, where to find the most useful primary sources and reference materials on the web. A lot of the resources gathered here will be familiar to you—but perhaps not to your students, or colleagues in an adjoining field, or a friend. So, if someone has come your way who is starting to get into Nag Hammadi, or Iamblichus, or the apocalypses, etc. and asks you for some guidance to what’s out there, please consider making this one of the links you pass on to them. We will do our best to make it worth your while.

We encourage those interested in these fields to submit calls for papers, workshop notices, conference announcements, and other pertinent news and resources for inclusion on the website. You can submit by email or through our online submissions form. Those wishing to get involved with NSEA are invited to contact us for more information.” [via email press release]