Tag Archives: shamanism

The Tao & the Tree of Life

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus review The Tao & The Tree of Life: Alchemical & Sexual Mysteries of the East & West [Amazon, Weiser Antiquarian, Local Library] by Eric Steven Yudelove, foreword by Mantak Chia.

Yudelove Chia The  Tao and the Tree of Life

Author Eric Yudelove is a practitioner of both Taoist internal alchemy and occultist Kabbalah, and this book sets forth his effort to synthesize the two sets of theory while comparing and harmonizing their techniques. It is written with accessible language and a sometimes irritatingly informal tone, occasionally coming across as rather credulous about the metaphysical bases of the two disciplines at issue. In addition, Yudelove is an “initiated shaman” (initiatory pedigree not supplied) who claims that a sort of generic shamanism forms the substratum of all historical mysticisms.

His Taoist internal alchemy credentials are impressive, as he was a senior American student and long personal associate of Mantak Chia, whose instruction and publications represent the most conspicuous and widespread sources of technical information on this school of practice in the late 20th century. At certain points in The Tao & the Tree of Life Yudelove says he is revealing internal alchemy practices about which Mantak Chia had never written in his books, and this claim is ratified in the foreword by Mantak Chia himself. Of special note are the astronomically-oriented mediations discussed towards the end of the book, which Yudelove identifies with certain passages from the Thelemic Book of the Law.

When writing about Kabbalah (his preferred spelling), Yudelove distinguishes between the Jewish Kabbalah, an esoteric religious tradition, and what he calls the “Western Kabbalah,” a syncretist mystical system. (I think “Hermetic Qabalah” is a more accurate and telling label for the latter.) He emphasizes the value of the Western Kabbalah in this book. Here he surpasses Perle Epstein, whom he cites as the only prior writer to intimate the parallel between Kabbalistic and Taoist mediation. She had merely set apart a “Christian Cabala” which she deprecated relative to its Jewish antecedents. Yudelove’s foremost cited authority on Jewish Kabbalah is Ariyeh Kaplan, and for the Western Kabbalah he is openly indebted to both Aleister Crowley and Franz Bardon. Possibly more important, although only cited for one title in the appended bibliography, is Israel Regardie, whose publication of the “middle pillar ritual” is so important to Yudelove’s understanding of Kabbalistic practice. When Yudelove writes that “the Cherubim are the Angels of Yesod in the world of Assiah” (161) he is using Aleister Crowley’s correspondences in 777, but Crowley–who followed Maimonides in this attribution–notes that authorities differ and “there are many other schemes” (note to Col. C).

An interesting feature of the book is the colloquial review of some relevant literature of sex magic and sex mysticism available in the early 1990s. Yudelove praises Ashcroft-Nowicki’s Tree of Ecstasy, and he amusingly dogs Fra. U.D.’s Secrets of the German Sex Magicians: “It just makes me wonder what the German sex magicians were doing before Chia began to publish?” (131) Still, he admits of his own book, “This is not a scholarly, exhaustive work” (159). It is a very broad, practical overview of its subject.

The exception to this wide focus is the detail afforded in the appendices, which represent language developed by Yudelove for in-person instruction in both Taoist and Kabbalist meditations. These are very good, although not flawless. In particular “Taoist Meditation 2” has a passage in which various “points” are addressed, and for each there is the symptom of the point’s “open” (good) and “closed” (bad) functioning, in that sequence. These should really be reversed, so that the sequence reflects and guides improvement rather than suggesting and possibly fostering deficiencies.

As far as I have been able to tell, this 1996 Lllewellyn book was Yudelove’s first. He went on to publish more in the same vein. In 2005, he furnished a minor headline for the New York Post when he was subjected to arrest and multiple criminal charges for altercations he seems to have initiated at the Hustler Club strip joint on 51st Street. To the extent of my knowledge, he is still alive and in good health, so perhaps his claims are sound for the ecstasy and immortality supposedly conferred by his practices. Still, his recorded behavior indicates they are no guarantee of wisdom or beneficence.

The book is useful enough on its own terms, although best read in conjunction with related literature, for which the author helpfully provides a competent biography.

Aleister Crowley is acknowledged as one of the Earth’s historic alchemists in an article about acting

Aleister Crowley is acknowledged as one of the Earth’s historic alchemists in an article about acting at “Nicolas Cage: alchemist and shaman?” by DJ Pangburn. I suppose it’s novel that Crowley is being called out as an alchemist, in a positive light. (The snide comment I want to make is, “why the prejudice against alchemists from other planets?” But, I won’t stoop … Oops.)

 

“Earth’s history is rich with alchemists—Albertus Magnus, Hermes Trismegistus, Nicolas Flamel, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Paracelsus, John Dee, Terrence McKenna and even Carl Jung. Alchemy was a proto-science that paved the way for modern science (chemistry, modern medicine, physics) but also had a spiritual, shamanistic aspect.

This is not to say that alchemists and shamans were and are officially coterminous, only that they both aspire to a better understanding of existence through various means: mysticism, magic, study, and drugs (which we know shamans have done, though whether Alchemists ever did is uncertain. In fact, McKenna attempted to synthesize alchemy with shamanism in various lectures, and described alchemists as pursuing a ‘magical theory of nature’ (like Shamans) in the film ‘The Alchemical Dream.'”

 

“Ghost Rider was an entirely new experience, and he got me thinking about something I read in a book called The Way Of Wyrd by Brian Bates, and he also wrote a book called The Way Of The Actor. He put forth the concept that all actors, whether they know it or not, stem from thousands of years ago — pre-Christian times — when they were the medicine men or shamans of the village. And these shamans, who by today’s standards would be considered psychotic, were actually going into flights of the imagination and locating answers to problems within the village. They would use masks or rocks or some sort of magical object that had power to it.

It occurred to me, because I was doing a character as far out of our reference point as the spirit of vengeance, I could use these techniques. I would paint my face with black and white make up to look like a Afro-Caribbean icon called Baron Samedi, or an Afro-New Orleans icon who is also called Baron Saturday. He is a spirit of death but he loves children; he’s very lustful, so he’s a conflict in forces. And I would put black contact lenses in my eyes so that you could see no white and no pupil, so I would look more like a skull or a white shark on attack.

On my costume, my leather jacket, I would sew in ancient, thousands-of-years-old Egyptian relics, and gather bits of tourmaline and onyx and would stuff them in my pockets to gather these energies together and shock my imagination into believing that I was augmented in some way by them, or in contact with ancient ghosts. I would walk on the set looking like this, loaded with all these magical trinkets, and I wouldn’t say a word to my co-stars or crew or directors. I saw the fear in their eyes, and it was like oxygen to a forest fire. I believed I was the Ghost Rider.”

 

I’m not convinced that “alchemical” is the way to describe the technique Cage uses, but it sure does sound like a magickal aspect of theatre, and related to aspecting and similar techniques from the more ecstatic traditions, modern and historic, but also the idea of assuming a Godform in more ceremonial rituals. Of course, that also brings me to think about one of the quotes from Florence Farr posted last week, actually Iamblichus quoted by Farr, “The Priest who invokes is a man; but when he commands powers it is because through arcane symbols, he, in a certain respect, is invested with the sacred Form of the Gods” [via]