Monday, September 21, 2015

Sex and Occultism, Part Three: Getting Closer to Reality

The two previous posts on this blog will doubtless have occasioned a certain amount of frustration on the part of some of my readers. I can hear the distant muttering from here: “Okay, you’ve talked about Hiram Burler trying to become immortal by keeping his legs tightly crossed; you’ve talked about sex clubs dressing up ordinary nookie in fancy robes and occult symbolism as a marketing gimmick; you’ve talked about adepts of the Dion Fortune tradition exchanging erotic energies through their palms at a distance of twenty feet, with their clothes securely on their bodies and an altar in the way: got it. Now what about the ultimate secret of practical occultism? What magic?"
It’s an understandable question For a very long time, a great deal of occult literature treated sex magic as the zenith of the magical path, the thing that you talk about in hints and whispers and surround with a haze of ornate symbolism when you happen to mention it in print. Exhibit A here might as well be Israel Regardie’s early opus The Tree of Life, which most operative mages read at some point in their studies. There are good reasons why it’s so widely read; despite the amazingly stilted prose—Regardie apparently thought at the time that any serious book on occult philosophy had to read like something penned by Arthur Edward Waite, and managed a terrifyingly good imitation—it’s a good solid guide to the Golden Dawn magical tradition, as well as a better introduction to Aleister Crowley’s ideas than anything Crowley himself ever wrote.

Despite the prose style, it presents the teachings of early twentieth century English magic about as clearly as anybody ever has—with one notable exception, which he’s honest enough to flag for the reader’s attention. The sixteenth chapter of the book is devoted to “one secret formula of Practical Magic of such a tremendous nature” that he can’t bring himself to speak of it openly, and resorts to a flurry of symbolic hints, nods, and winks instead. If you know your way around the standard magical symbolism of the time, it’s instantly apparent that he’s talking about a particular kind of sex magic, and once you figure that out, the rest of the chapter is a tolerably detailed account of how to use sexual intercourse in operative magic.

It’s not a particularly complicated operation, either, though it does require a few somewhat uncommon skills. For best results, both partners need the kind of magical training that enables them to concentrate fixedly on a single idea or symbol no matter what distractions pop up, but  it can be done with only one partner so trained as long as the other knows the basics of magical practice. Working together, the two participants—normally clothed in ritual robes at this stage of the process—perform whatever opening ritual their tradition uses, and invoke whatever magical influences are appropriate.

At that point the robes come off, and the two participants have sex in the magical space established by the opening ritual, while one or both keep unbroken focus on the intention of the ritual, straight through to orgasm. At the moment of orgasm, both partners pour every scrap of will and imagination they can muster into the intention, and then let go. After an appropriate interval and whatever winding-down activities seem relevant, the participants put their robes back on, release the magical influences they’ve invoked, perform the closing ritual, and then settle on the sofa, sip tea, and cuddle, or what have you.

Got that? You’ve just had communicated to you the supreme secret of the innermost sanctuary of the grand gnosis of the mystery temples of—well, you can pile on the overblown verbiage just as well as I can. That is to say, what I’ve just outlined here used to be the stock in trade of the highest level of initiation of any number of old-fashioned magical orders.

There’s rather an interesting history behind that. As far as anyone has been able to figure out, the first Western occultist to teach this particular kind of sex magic was that astonishing force of nature, Paschal Beverly Randolph. Randolph was the most influential figure in nineteenth-century American occultism; he was one of the most influential figures in nineteenth-century occultism, period—and he was, by the way, African American, born out of wedlock in 1825, and raised in a desperately poor, crime-ridden slum in New York City. Every scrap of his considerable education and his even more considerable fame was earned the hard way.

There’s plenty that could be said about this remarkable figure, but the point relevant to this month’s post is that sometime around 1850, he started teaching his best students what he called the Ansairetic Arcanum—basically a simplified form of the working described above. Where he got it, if he got it from someone or somewhere else, is an open question. He himself had at least three different stories on the subject. At times he claimed that he’d been taught it by the al-Nusairi, a heretical Muslim sect in Syria. (That’s where “Ansairetic” came from—“Ansaireh” was how al-Nusairi was mispronounced by Westerners in those days.) At times he claimed that he’d received it along with the supreme degree of Rosicrucian initiation from untraceable Rosicrucian masters in Europe. At times he insisted that he’d made the whole thing up himself.

Wherever it came from, the Ansairetic Arcanum had a long trajectory ahead of it. After Randolph’s death in 1875, some of his advanced students in England put together a magical order, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor or H.B. of L., which purveyed a mix of Randolph’s teachings and other bits of occult lore in the mail-order occultism market. When the H.B. of L. went under—it got into the equivalent of a flamewar with the Theosophical Society, and lost catastrophically—two H.B. of L. initiates in Germany named Karl Kellner and Theodor Reuss decided to launch an order of their own, the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Templars of the Orient), with the Ansairetic Arcanum as the secret revelation of its higher degrees.

Reuss then sold the English-language franchise of the O.T.O. to Aleister Crowley, a move he came to regret bitterly not that long afterward.  Crowley taught it to Regardie, whence its appearance in The Tree of Life, and also to Gerald Gardner, who studied with the Not-so-great Beast in the latter’s inglorious final years; this is why the Ansairetic Arcanum features in traditional branches of Wicca as “the Great Rite.” Meanwhile, of course, Randolph and the H.B. of L. both had plenty of other initiates, who spread the Ansairetic Arcanum through the whole gallimaufry of magical lodges and esoteric secret societies that thronged Europe and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

By 1920 or so, as a result, it was a poor excuse for a magical order that didn’t have practical teachings about sex magic to hand out to its inner initiates—unless, that is, it was one of the explicitly Christian magical orders that got as much mileage out of not teaching sex magic as the competition got out of teaching it. Of course that was the beginning of the end; a supreme secret of the innermost blah blah blah just doesn’t have the same cachet once everybody knows what it is. I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons why Dion Fortune’s Fraternity of the Inner Light got so much traction in the British occult scene of her time is that she’d figured out something to do with sexual energies other than the obvious.

There was also the ongoing intercourse, so to speak, between serious magical orders and the sex cults discussed in July’s post. The tendency, also mentioned in that post, that leads people who reject one part of the conventional wisdom to be open to a broad spectrum of alternative ideas is a potent force;  back in the day, it led a lot of people who liked extramarital sex to dabble in magic and other forms of alternative spirituality, just as it led a lot of people who were interested in magic to dabble in whatever sexual alternatives were readily available. The resulting overlap between occult orders that taught sex magic and sex cults that taught magical practices made the distinction between these two rather hard to trace; that’s how Gardnerian Wicca, which pretty much started out as a sex cult, ended up teaching the Ansairetic Arcanum and a range of other magical practices, and it’s also how a great many occultists ended up with the idea that having sex in a ritual context was the ultimate magical technique.

So that’s the history behind sex magic—or part of the history. I could go on at great length, not least because pretty much every sexual activity you care to think of, and some you very likely don’t, ended up being labeled by somebody as the really really supreme secret blah blah blah. Crowley, in one of his magical orders, made anal sex between men the blah blah blah. Several other traditions assigned the same role to oral sex of one kind or the other. Then there was Austin Osman Spare, who created a magical system called the Zos Kia Cultus. “Zos” symbolized the body, and was represented by the hand; “Kia” was the “atmospheric I,” the soul or spirit, represented by the penis; and the blah blah blah of the Zos Kia Cultus was, shall we say, the rhythmic union of the two representations just mentioned. One gathers Spare didn’t get out much.

(It’s only fair to note that Spare was by no means solitary in his enthusiasm for the occult dimension of solitary vice. One of the occult orders mentioned earlier, for example, made the magical use of masturbation the great secret passed onto initiates of its eighth degree. As a result, in some American occult circles to this day, “brother of the eighth degree” is a common if sly way of saying “wanker.”)

There’s no shortage of other sexual variations that have been put to use by one magical system or another, but we can leave those alone for the time being. Two questions, instead, are relevant here. First of all, is sex magic an effective technique—in other words, can you cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will that way? Second, is sex magic the supreme magical technique, as it was so often billed—in other words, can you cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will more effectively that way than using other methods?

To some extent, both those questions have to be answered by each individual. In magic as in so many other things, it’s meaningless to compare systems and techniques in the abstract; what works well for one person may get mediocre results for another and no results at all for a third. That said, since the technique in question has been tolerably well known and practiced among operative mages for more than a century now, it’s not unreasonable to sum up their experience in the form of general answers to those two questions. By and large, for a great many mages, the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second question is no. That is to say, for many people, sex magic works and works well, but for most of them, it isn’t sufficiently more effective than other methods to live up to its old reputation as the supreme magical technique.

I suspect that back in the day, for people in the Anglo-American cultural sphere, it was considerably more powerful than it is today.  Sex in those days was so hedged around with taboos, and so tangled in thickets of unexpressed fears and desires, that having sex in a ritual setting was guaranteed to release potent psychological forces that could readily be channeled into the intention of the ritual. Nowadays, though sex hasn’t yet become the ordinary part of life it is in many other cultures, the worst of the old Victorian hypocrisy has mostly passed off, and so the potency of the technique has accordingly waned. A gain in general sanity has been paid for in part by a loss of magical power.

Yet it’s worth noting that for many mages, sex magic still does work well, and there are many cultures around the world that never went through a Victorian period and still have traditions that use sexual intercourse in a ritual setting as a way of working magic. I want to explore that for a moment, because it leads toward a useful insight about magic—and also about the nature of reality.

Sex isn’t the only biological activity that’s been ritualized to good effect in various systems of magic and spirituality. Eating has been even more commonly put to work in the same cause, yielding magical and religious rituals in which the process of ingesting food becomes a vehicle for the transformation of consciousness. I hope I won’t offend my Christian readers too drastically by pointing to the sacrament of communion in the Christian tradition as one of the classic examples of this. In the course of the Mass, the officiating priest and the congregation alike come to experience bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. To judge from what I’ve been told by Christian friends who belong to sacramental churches, this quite reliably causes powerful changes in consciousness.

I suspect, though, that like sex magic, the sacrament of communion has lost some of its impact due to cultural changes. When Christianity first emerged, after all, it did so in a world where the practice of animal sacrifice was a normal part of religious worship; everybody knew from personal experience what was involved in killing an animal in honor of a god and feasting on its flesh. In that context, reenacting the sacrificial death of Christ and ritually eating his flesh and drinking his blood must have packed emotional force of an intensity and concreteness that can barely be imagined today. Even now, though, the Mass is edgy stuff; the symbolic cannibalism at its heart reaches straight down into primal desires and fears about eating and being eaten—and that’s an important part of what gives it its power.

May I go on to a subject that’s likely to offend even more people than the one just mentioned? You can use defecation as a framework for a certain mode of magical action. No, that’s not usually practiced in the middle of a magical temple! The irrepressible William G. Gray, in one of his books on occultism, gives a simple but effective method of using the end of the digestive process for magical purposes.

Here’s how it’s done. When you first feel the urge, settle on something you want to let go of—some attitude, some opinion, some habit or behavior, that’s served its purpose in your life and needs to be released. Using imagination and will, localize that thing in what you’re about to excrete. Think about what you’ve learned from it, what benefits you’ve gained from having it in your life, and so on, while you feel it flowing out of you and into the contents of your colon. Keep up the concentration as you settle yourself on the seat, and as you let go, let go of it. Feel it pass out of you entirely. If you’re using a composting toilet, treat the peat moss you toss into the pot afterwards as a banishing; if you use a flush toilet, treat the act of flushing in the same spirit; then walk away—and watch what happens to the attitude, opinion, habit, or behavior you’ve decided to release.

(Any of my readers who find themselves utterly squicked out by this little ritual have an advantage over the rest of us, by the way. The emotional reaction is a sign that this mode of working will be even more effective for them than it is for those who treat defecation more casually.)

Sex, eating, and defecation, in other words, all make effective frameworks for magical practice. So do certain other activities that may seem as though they have nothing in common with the things just listed. Chanting names and words in languages you don’t know, for example, is a more effective way to get magical results than using a language you do know. “Change not the barbarous names,” the Roman-era Chaldean Oracles proclaim, “for they have in the sacred rites a power ineffable.” It’s still good advice nearly two millennia after it was written: that’s why the grimoire magic of the late Middle Ages used incantations packed with long strings of incomprehensible names, why Japanese occultists for the last millennium have relied on chants in garbled Sanskrit, and why so many Golden Dawn adepts are fond of the Enochian incantations of the great Elizabethan sorcerer John Dee: “Zodacaré, eka, od zodameranu!” simply packs more punch than the English equivalent “Rise, therefore, and appear!”

What does an Enochian invocation have in common with sex magic, the sacrament of the Mass, and Gray’s “esoteric excretion”? Precisely one thing: each of these things focuses on an activity that shifts the focus of awareness away from abstract verbal thought. Lovemaking, eating, and defecating all require attention to resolutely physical realities, and generally tie into strong emotional patterns as well. Chanting incantations in a language you don’t know gets you out of the thinking mind in a different way: since your mind doesn’t instantly translate the sounds into meanings, you can experience the sounds as sounds and respond to them on that wordless level.

Everything that makes for effective magic serves to focus the mage’s awareness on the wordless. Physical actions do that, especially if they’re actions that have strong biological resonances; scents, colors, rhythms, chanted words that don’t instantly communicate meaning to the mind all do the same thing; so does the deliberate cultivation of emotional states—for example, the practice of love and devotion in religious ritual, or the generation of emotions corresponding to the seven traditional planets in planetary magic. Abstract verbal thought, by contrast, is a waste of time in operative magic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s of the highest importance when you’re outside the temple; a solid grasp of occult philosophy, which functions at a high degree of intellectual abstraction, is essential for success in ceremonial magic...but once you set foot inside the temple, raise your hands, and begin the opening ritual, how well you succeed will depend on how well you can set aside abstract thinking for the time being and participate fully, nonverbally, emotionally and sensuously in each moment of the work.

That recognition leads into deep waters, which will have to wait for some other time. For the moment, though, I’d like to point out—as I’ve pointed out here before—that abstract concepts are further from reality than the experiences they attempt to describe and explain. In moving from thinking to experience, in magical practice or out of it, we’re moving closer to what’s real, and getting closer to what’s real seems to be essential to the effective practice of operative magic. I’ll close with a question: what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?


Pantagruel7 said...

I like your closing question very much, and I hope to hear more about it.

Vicky K said...

Hmmm, the assumption is that REALITY is something more malleable when the mind is not distracted by ordinary thinking? Since the context is magical workings not ordinary life, then there has to be the foundational intent of the working. Presumably the intent is however derived from the ordinary mental self. So even when the thinking is replaced by what is called in some circles, direct perception, the original directive of the intent of the working is still functioning.

So is it true that it is REALITY that is labile, or is it the combination of intellectual intent paired with ritual that saturates the senses?

Looking at the same situation, but without the magical intent, where a person switches from mental to sensory attunement, does REALITY change more readily? Absorption in the sensual and sensory are delights in themselves. With no ulterior motive, what standard would you use to identify a change that occurred only because somehow REALITY was freed from some restraint because of the change in consciousness from mental to bodily?

On the third hand, wordlessness does seem to have qualities that imply movement or change is occurring because of the state of wordlessness. Or, in other words, intellectual habits tend to block the natural flow of life towards its inclination to homeostasis. The wordless state seems to encourage a surrender to reality as it appears. Which gets to an old argument of whether conscious intentions are as effective as letting the flow of sensual, or direct perceptual activity just do its own thing without our interference.

John Michael Greer said...

Pantagruel7, I suspect you'll get your wish. ;-)

Vicky, it's not an assumption, it's an experience -- there's a difference between those two things! That said, you're quite right that the intention formulated by thinking remains active even when the attention turns away from thinking toward less indirect modes of experience -- and how this works will be the subject of at least one future post, as it bears on some extremely important points of magical theory.

Nano said...

The post needs a cutout certificate of initiation. Revealed are the secrets of the most sacred rose, the yoni and the....

Once the proverbial gates of perception are open one can't help but stare in awe.

John N. said...

Wow, there is a lot here to meditate upon, and uh...experiment with.

On a more speculative note, death is as much a fundamental biological function as anything else. I wonder if death can be considered the ultimate blah blah blah magical working, not in accordance with our will, but a larger one. Several times I've done the exercise of purposely imagining my own death, not as an abstraction somewhere in the future, but something that is happening concretely right now. Each time, I get a strange mix of comfort and discomfort.

As to your final question, this much comes to mind: Abstractions are about the past and future, in a sense, but the only time where change happens is right now. If the focal point of your awareness is in the present, then it is among those things that can be changed. If there is a deeper implication, I can't put it into words, but there is something powerful here. I need to meditate on this.

John Michael Greer said...

Nano, I'll have to see if my limited graphics skills will allow me to come up with a pdf Official Certificate of Initiation. That could be funny...

John, by all means experiment! As for death, that can also be done as an expression of the individual will, though it's kind of a drastic approach and limits the opportunity for further activity -- at least in that body. I can imagine situations in which it would be a useful choice, though.

Kutamun said...

And lets not forget the old tantric technique of karezza , or coitus interruptus / coitus reservatus , most recently expressed by Alice Stockham , definitely not for the faint hearted . As far as ritualised hand parties go , one must be careful or one may end up like poor Borat , wandering aimlessly around 'Murrica in pursuit of Pamela Anderson , rummaging through gypsy treasures and practicing defecation magic in the mansions of southern gentiles ! . It is possible there are ancient sex magic techniques to be found in Kazakhstan ? .. Dont forget just to watch the waters for images and insights , before during and after .
Moving closer to reality enabling reality itself to be more open to change , back to quantum school , the principle of flow ?
Interesting , thanks
I have no doubt Borat is an operative mage

Mark Mikituk said...

Dear John,
I found your concluding paragraphs to this month's revelations to be very thought-provoking. They have lead me further along a path I have been exploring myself regarding my practice of the Japanese martial art of Iaido and secondarily of Kendo.

Iaido certainly involves a high level of "focusing the mage’s awareness on wordless, physical actions". My teacher is endlessly complaining about our talking too much and juxtaposing that to training in Japan where there is little to zero discussion.

More importantly, when done properly, I do enter an altered state. The original purpose of Iaido circa 16th-18thc was of course to become a better sword-fighter, but what exactly are the results and what type of magic might it be?

Iaido consists of ritualized and repetitive movements with a katana which invloves rapidly drawing the katana and then slicing an imaginary opponent. At a higher level one finally realizes that that opponent is actually you, which joins up a bit to what @John N was suggesting about imagining one's own death. In Iaido you are in fact constantly symbolically cutting yourself down.

Another aspect is that if you observe a top level Iaidoka, his sword seems to be "alive" while a beginner's sword is "dead" in their hands. I believe you are supposed to learn to be able to imbue the sword with your ego/mind and your body becomes a vessel, a thing which simply supports the sword in its actions.

These ideas of both cutting down the self/ego and displacing it into the sword seem to suggest that the ritual and the movements are a form of death-magic or death-meditation whose purpose in part is to displace/kill consciousness. Might this more generally apply to magic in the sense that somehow magic involves the displacement or transformation of the ego allowing it to "travel" elsewhere?

As an aside, I had the great honor of observing a very high level Kendoka from S.Korea in action and up close (8th Dan, winner of an all japan annual Kendo competition). To me his movements, or lack of, seemed to exist outside of the normal space-time plane as we experience it. I don't really know any other way of describing the perfection of his timing and his ability to change instantly from a resting state to one of movement. He really seemed to defy physics. He simply did not appear to move in normal space-time, and I had quite a lot of time to observe him. His movements did not appear to be at all faster then his opponent's. In fact quite the opposite, his actions actually seemed slower and certainly less rushed (We had tons of kendokas from my school of various levels rushing at the guy). He just seemed to be walking between the raindrops and not getting wet.

As to sex-magic, I heard recently from a very good source that abstinence is the way to go in order to gain truly God-like magical powers ;)

Wow! Really sorry about the length of this post! I better get back to work.

Scotlyn said...

I, too, am thrilled by your last sentence.

In relation to this post, I can't help thinking that the disordered relationship our society has with food must show some promise in providing the required "hedges of prohibition" that no longer surround sexuality (or at least not as much)...

Also, when reading lately about sacred stories related to grain, bread, beer and other consumables from the world of plants, I was struck by frequent iterations of the theme of gods gifting us with their bodies and blood in a transformed, vegetable form. And this thought leapt into my mind, unbidden... "well, of course! so Jesus is a corn God."

As to powerful uses of death-with-intention, Samson comes to mind. And another I've just finished reading about, that of Piramus Heron, in the Elizabeth Goudge novel, "The White Witch."

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for this post and the previous comment. Very interesting. I reckon the fictional character Conan might have something to say about your searching question and I'll ponder the response another day before replying. It is very cold here tonight. Brrr...



ed boyle said...

I once followed the advice of thinking a mantra during sex and wishing for a particular result. This was successful. My 2nd son is much like his mother( first was like me). Otherwise I think repressed sexuality works better in personal transformation, i.e. spiritual transformation is aided by sexual energy redirected from permanent unfulfilled intensive flirt or similar.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Great post. Gray's technique reminds me of the album Scatology by occultist musical group Coil. I wrote an essay once called "The Alchemy of Sh*t" relating excrement to the negredo stage. Poop is potent.

As for your question, I think it is in part about alignment, or resonance. A receiver has to be tuned to the same frequency as the transmitter to pick up the signal. This is why meditation, -whether discursive or otherwise- , is a step in preparation of tuning the initiate, to their inner flame.A process that makes them more aware of, and visible to, the wider reality. And therefore better able to interact with it.

Patricia Mathews said...

Two comments on your getting-rid-of-stuff ritual. First, it seems logical to me, Extremely logical. Second, I can see a variation on that theme (backing up from Ritual #2 to Ritual #1) for problems with piddling things away.

And a third you can delete as frivolous, because it is, but now I have that earworm running..."Does anal-retentive have a hyphen or not?" Courtesy of songster Joe Bethancourt.

James M. Jensen II said...

Finally! All my troubles will soon be over and I'll be rolling in wealth and power and... whoops, wrong Secret(tm).

Speaking of Communion, shortly before I left Christianity altogether, I got the chance to experience an Episcopalian Communion, and it was quite a different experience than the watered-down* Mormon version I'd been used to. If anything like traditional Christianity were still a live option for me, the Episcopalian Church would probably be the one I'd attend.

* Pun retroactively intended.

As for the question: "what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?"

Hmm. Humanistic and cognitive-behavioral psychologists realized that something like this is true of people: as Carl Rogers put it, "the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change."

The idea seems to be that by moving away from labeling ourselves with abstractions like "good", "bad", "smart", "stupid", "ugly", "beautiful", etc. we get away from a particularly pernicious hall of mirrors that stands in the way of really changing ourselves. Once we've labeled ourselves, everything that happens to us will seem to confirm that label, and things that disconfirm it often go unnoticed.

That the universe would be similar shows the old principle of "as above, so below." The macrocosm in which we participate reflects the microcosm that we are (or rather, vice versa). That in turn suggests that reality is more like a person than we're usually inclined to think.

That certainly doesn't exhaust the implications of the idea, though it suggests an angle we might take: work out the implications of the same tendency in our own being, and see if something similar is true of reality as a whole.

librarian@play said...

I'm a beginning t'ai chi ch'uan player, and this post has opened up a whole new perspective on Taoist physical practices for me. Are there any resources that frame them in these terms?

James M. Jensen II said...

One further thought: a crucial step in therapy in the humanistic tradition is that the therapist has to demonstrate the sort of acceptance of the client that he or she wants clients to learn for themselves. And in general, when dealing with other people, it's better to come from a standpoint of acceptance than the sort of attitude of superiority and judgment. We can get friends we accept to help us a lot more easily than people we constantly criticize; hence why much of professionalism and diplomacy amounts to pretending to be friendly with people you can't stand in order to accomplish more.

And with reality, we have the interesting situation that it is both something we are a part of and something distinct from us, so this point and the one I mentioned in the last comment would likely be relevant.

Still, I can feel the ghost of the late Billy Mays whispering in my ear: "But wait! There's more!" This will require more contemplation.

daelach said...


I've never encountered the idea of "toilet magic" before. It didn't scare the (you know what profanity would naturally follow here, haha!) out of me. (: But I found it so weird that I immediately liked the idea. Especially because it doesn't require a heap of magical gear. I'm much into the magic of the empty hand because no matter where I might end up, I will always have this kind of magic available.

The Spare thing with sigils and doing erotic working alone is quite a nice way to work with bind runes, as I can confirm.

As for your last question: steel is pretty solid.. unless you are a blacksmith.

Greg Belvedere said...

I have had some informal unintentional experience with digestive magic. It made me gain a new appreciation for the phrase "blow it out your----"

I also think something similar plays an important part in the purging that takes place in ayahuasca ceremonies.

neil j said...

For those interested in more about magical eating (as well as drinking, washing and breathing) Franz Bardon discusses these in step 1 of his book Initiation into Hermetics. He also comments on how reading while one eats will hinder this process, which I think ties in well with what JMG is saying here - too many people read during meals (and on the toilet) - I was one of them, once, and I think it has something to do with an aversion to the physical, and an attempt to live wholly within the abstract. Biophobia?

Patricia Mathews said...

@James M Jensen II - The old-fashioned Episcopalian services had a great deal of power, especially backed up by a prayer book written by people with an ear for language and poetry, which was cultivated during the Renaissance. When they switched over to the modern language translation in the 1970s some of that power was lost. Nor is the Roman Catholic translation into modern English much better.

Of course, I always one for the "incense and nonsense, smells and bells" of High Church practice. My friends still accuse me of being an Episcopagan. YMMV. (Your Mileage May Vary.)

Can anyone else chime in on this?

Patricia Mathews said...

@neilj -- biophobia? No, just habit and lifelong print addiction, dating back (so my mother noted)to toddlerhood. Some people just respond to the printed word the way others do to _their_ drug of choice.

MayHawk said...

"I’ll close with a question: what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?"

When I hold that question without thought an experience comes over me that I cannot describe but it is as if the most mundane items in the room take on an "Aliveness" which is a poor description. The closest I can come is the old Sanskrit phrase "Tat Tvam Asi" that is "Thou Art That". Sorry if this doesn't make much sense... but then "sense" isn't what this is about I would say.


John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, of course. There are any number of other ways to work with sexual energies in magic -- I've simply summarized a few of the better known variations.

Mark, I've been convinced for a very long time that the intersection of ceremonial magic and the martial arts may be the seed from which the next great wave of magical thought and practice come from -- but it's also something that has only just begun to be explored, and generations of hard work will be needed to figure out exactly how to manage it. For what it's worth, the sort of detachment from ordinary space and time you've witnessed in iaido and kendo practitioners is something I've also seen in some of the taijiquan and qigong practitioners I studied with! I'm currently developing a neigung practice that connects to the Celtic Golden Dawn system, and is convertible to the Hermetic GD as well, but it's going to take a lot of further developmental work to get it right.

Scotlyn, Jesus is indeed a corn god. Did you know that Bethlehem in Hebrew literally means "house of bread"?

Cherokee, the great adept Conan of Cimmeria would indeed have valuable mystical teachings to hand down along those lines! It's not accidental that the setting of the Conan stories was lifted nearly intact from late 19th century occultism...

Ed, I'd like to encourage you to put "for me" after any statement about what works better or worse in magic, because it really does depend on individual factors.

Justin, that's one possibility, certainly.

Patricia, nah, the last thing you want in that kind of ritual is to get backed up! (Apologies, but I couldn't resist...)

James, good. I want to explore, as we proceed, the way that the thinking mind tends to fossilize experience into rigid figurations, and how those figurations can be made a little less stiff and unbending.

Librarian, I wish. As I noted to Mark Mikituk above, explorations of the common ground between ceremonial magic and the martial arts are just beginning. For the time being, your best resource is simply to pay attention to how taiji practice affects your awareness, and go from there.

Daelach, steel is solid -- but how often are you seeing cheap tinfoil and thinking that it's steel?

Greg, I've been trying to come up with some response to your comment that doesn't amount to toilet humor, and failing abjectly.

Neil, true enough. I could do an entire post on different modes of food magic, and yes, Bardon would appear at length in that.

MayHawk, good. That "sense of aliveness" is one of the classic magical states of consciousness, and leads to fascinating places.

Kutamun said...

One of the most graphic depictions of the power tied up in the great victorian repression was in the recent movie " a dangerous method ", which traces the genesis of the work of Carl Jung . In one scene he is spanking Sabina Spielrein to orgasm in order to cure her of her nervous and anxious terrors , which seemed to work very effectively and a good idea at the time . Of course today CJ would have been struck off his own register and it was rumoured they later become lovers , and she became a jungian analyst . All very naughty but hey they were at the cutting edge of this stuff so we can cut them some slack !

Toro Loki said...

Interesting post. I think a lot of my co-workers are brothers and sisters of the eighth degree, lol...
I only got this job about three months ago, but I went in there and started doing magic.
Lots of wankers at this motel and some of them have been working there for years.
But I started telling them what to do and they obey me.
Now this is magic... :)
Plus I work hard myself, so both my supervisor s like me and management likes me too.
Behaviour modification plus the will to power works wonders.
Sorry, not much to do with sex, but enjoy anyway.

Mark Mikituk said...

Hello John,
Very interesting, the idea of fusing oriental martial arts with occidental occult practices! It almost seems like one of those "why didn't anyone else think of that before?" kinda things.

Before reading your response, I was already thinking of how one could convert/transform the energy/state in Iaido into a more "magical" practice outside of purposes related to pure defense and physical prowess. I was thinking that it might have something to do with intention and one's focus being channeled elsewhere then, in the example of iaido, into the sword. A decent Iaido practitioner can certainly practice without his sword with the same effect (the hands become the sword if you will), which is already a slight change in focus/intention. The sword is both an aid and an impediment: It serves to focus and inspire, but if you put a sword into the hands of any neophyte the effect is often (well actually always, from my experience) an uncontrolled or poorly controlled dispersal of their energy any which way and it takes many years to actually begin overcoming this.

...Do you mean Nei Gong? I have never heard of it before, but that is the spelling I found on the net. In France there are Qi Gong artists, is that the same? Iaido, by the way, is considered an internal art, kendo is its external "opposite".

Cherokee Organics said...


Interesting indeed - I hadn't known that. I'm about halfway through the book and it is the most enjoyable fantasy read that I have read for many a year.

I haven't read any further comments after yesterday’s so apologies if I repeat others work.

Your question was: what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?

Hmmm, I'll tell you a little story and carry you along through a journey into the forests here.

There is a great shrub (or small tree depending on your fancy) which grows here. The common name is: Blanket leaf (or Bedfordia arborescens for those in the know). The shrub produces broad leafed green leaves which are a little bit fuzzy on one side. I can't say for sure that I'd like to use those leaves as a blanket, but perhaps that is how it got its name.

The shrub grows where there is underground water - and most water is wisely held underground here with our harsh summers. You can see the tree happily enjoying its wet feet in moist gullies and shady defiles about the mountain range. The shrub has many friends too with the ferns and the ancient and very tall daisy shrubs. Where that plant grows, you know that the environment is going to be cool and moist. It is a dark and cool place, the sounds are muted and it is pleasant on the eye. Small birds flit around through the greenery hunting for insects and grubs and there is constant and ever moving life in there.

But nearby on an exposed north west facing fold in the mountain range, you'll never see a blanket leaf shrub - nor its friends. In such a location, you may see medium sized eucalyptus trees and maybe even the occasionally scrubby wattle, but there is no shade and relief from the heat of the unrelenting summer sun there. It is struggle town. On a hot summers day, you can feel the heat of the sun on your head and neck and you’d wish that you were elsewhere. Movement is rarely seen during the day as most animals are too clever to be caught out in that heat. But the noise is something else altogether as the cicada's scratch their wings - sometimes it is almost deafening.

But as you climb higher into the mountain range on that same slope the trees grow taller and straighter, until eventually you reach a point where there are thick stands of mountain ash trees (which are incidentally the tallest flowering trees in the world). Those trees are competing with their mates for the sunlight and so they fight it out by seeing who can grow the fastest and tallest – it is a bit teenage, really. They look like rows upon rows of soldiers all the same in their army fatigues. That is because they adore fire, encourage it and they even possibly all germinated on exactly the same day. The sun is still hot there, but the shade is now dappled and the constant breeze at the top of the mountain range makes the tall straight tree trunks clack and groan. There is much less activity up here as the winters can be brutal and exposed, but the trees don't mind as they sing their own songs to themselves.


Cherokee Organics said...

I could go on but I think you may get the picture: Abstractions are a distraction.

Some people can look at the forest here and see the abstraction: "forest" or even "trees" or even "mountain". Whereas I see the forest as countless stories and at each fold or turn in the mountain range there is a different story to tell. Nature is very loud and often it is hard to ignore those stories, but most people seem to be able to do so quite easily.

Which, gets me to thinking that people wrap themselves up in distractions. That is probably one of the reasons I'm enjoying the Conan book so much as the main character is fully immersed in nature and doesn't dilly dally around with abstractions.

The problem with abstractions is that people use them to dumb down their world views and in doing so, they allow all sorts of natural beauty to be destroyed thoughtlessly amongst other even greater evils.

You've always written that magic is the change in consciousness in accordance with will and that seems to be an appropriate explanation to me. The great secret about it all is that it is easiest to change your own consciousness than that of others or the material world around you. Just sayin...

I suspect that a persons consciousness is actually reality, because otherwise what is reality? It is something of a circular problem. Of course it is malleable to change too and when you get closer to it...



Scotlyn said...

Since you mention effects of Taiji practice on states of awareness, I have a little question no one I've asked can throw light on. I call it the bluewash... Occasionally after a practice, particularly if it is a standing posture practice, everything I see looks as if it has been washed with a shade of blue. I can still see and distinguish all the colours, but as if overlaid with blue. It wears off after awhile. I find this curious, because in reference to types of magical synaesthesia referred to in the last thread, I find it difficult to visualise colours at will. Any experiences I've had of the "other" have been mainly aural or sensual.

Yucca Glauca said...


Is the neigung system something that might intersect with The Spirit and the Sword, something more related to Do-In, or something totally different?

Also, any chance that The Druid Magic Handbook might get some additional material, or would you say your focus has mostly shifted to The Celtic Golden Dawn system for the foreseeable future?

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, Jung was an occultist who successfully masqueraded as a psychiatrist all through a long and successful career. I hadn't heard of the spanking story, but it doesn't surprise me a bit -- reminiscent of Charles Williams (another occultist who was good at disguise), who used to spank an assortment of young women with the flat of his ritual sword.

Toro, given the number of people these days who have essentially no inner life and no self-knowledge, and so can be led around by the nose by anyone with a strong will and the capacity for reflecting thought, it really is a mage's paradise out there!

Mark, I have no idea why the idea of fusing martial and magical perspectives isn't all over the place. Quite a few Asian martial arts have significant bodies of magical lore connected with them in the first place! Still, there are people working on it quietly in various parts of the occult scene. As for neigung, yes, that's also spelled "nei gong" and "nei kung" depending on the system of transliterating Chinese characters you care to use.

Cherokee, "abstractions are distractions" is a very neat summary of one of my core points -- thank you! As for changing yourself vs. changing the universe, why, yes -- and since, as you suggested, the universe as we know it consists entirely of its manifestations on consciousness...

Scotlyn, hmm! I haven't had that experience -- it may be your own synesthesia cutting in, or possibly what occultists call astral vision. Does the blue color tend to be more intense in some places than in others, or is it evenly spread?

Yucca, it's something entirely different. I studied a traditional school of taijiquan and qigong for ten years, got certified to teach, and since then have been adapting practices and teachings for Western occult uses. As for your second question, I work almost entirely with the Celtic Golden Dawn system these days -- The Druid Magic Handbook will get additional material when somebody else completes the training process in it, goes on to do original work, and gets something ready to publish. (When that happens, I'd be delighted to contribute a foreword!)

daelach said...

@ JMG: No idea how often I'm doing that.. unless I try to rely on the tinfoil and it fails, of course. Then again, the emperor is naked, but I'm giving a frack for him anyway. Just being enough in tune with what "world" currently is to cope with it, but I'm not at home here. Which is what I share with the neter I'm with - who happens to be, amongst other aspects, the stranger and roaming one.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. I've suspected for quite a while now that the fixation on abstractions means that I see the world very differently from other people. It is a rich and complex world that we live in. I may not have as much material wealth as my peers and am constantly performing hard manual work - but from my perspective most other people’s worldview is very poor indeed.

And incidentally, I've also been wondering for a long time if it is the general fixation on abstractions that allows people much higher up in the food chain (the alpha's for want of a better term) to manipulate the conscious desires of those below them in the hierarchy?

The social games are amazing to watch - but oh yeah, they are going on for sure. I may have mentioned to you a few years ago that a very long time ago, I read a fascinating book on the pick-up artist community by the author Neil Strauss - entitled The Game. I highly recommend the book because like John Kenneth Galbraith, he dissects the processes involved in the actions of that group of people. But basically, it all boiled down to manipulating a person’s abstract notion of themselves and then the pickup artist inserting the meme that they'll be able to restore that which they just stole by getting into bed with them. Unfortunately, I read that book after a very serious book exploring the processes of the advertising industry and how it related to our culture. They were both heavy going books - because they changed my perspectives on the world.

We live in a magician state - pure and simple. Unfortunately, those practitioners would do very well to understand that whilst it is not impossible, but it is very hard, to use those dark magical techniques to affect the material world. You would think that they would have learned that by now, but no...

Oh incidentally, have you ever noticed that since global oil production peaked in 2005, US interest rates have only ever trended downwards? It amazes me that no one talks about that correlation. There has been much criticism in the media - and the official circles of power down here too - about the maintenance of that particular policy. And in another fascinating point, our new and more genial Prime Minister seems to think that it is a good idea to reduce the tax rate for the highest income earners - something about stimulating the - housing bubble - err, sorry I meant the economy.



Peter Wilson said...

Wow. This is one of those posts where the last line put shivers up my spine, and it didn't need another language to have that effect (like the Celtic GD rituals do).

"I’ll close with a question: what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?"

onething said...

Ah, what an interesting question. It is such an interesting question that I will refrain from reading other commentary for now. I would say it implies that beings effect change through a merging, a becoming at one with reality. It would be a kind of expansion of self, really, since we are easily able to affect the movements of our own body because of the fact that we are its inhabitant. It may very well follow, then, that if we can merge out a bit further than our own skin, we can effect change much like we can do within ourselves. This also implies love, for we all love our selves. Perhaps love is in fact the mode of expansion, the fuel, the vehicle.

I am not sure why the mental is an impediment, but maybe it has something to do with the way mentations focus on particulars. But it seems there is something like a natural see-saw, so if you think about a thing you are not experiencing the thing.

It implies that the universe is participatory, intermingling, interdependent.

Now, in the Orthodox Church there is a prayer to the Holy Spirit as being "everywhere present and filling all things." As above, so below. If we can effect change best by directly experiencing ourselves and the objects we are desiring to change, then so also does the divine primordial energy create and move this universe from within. And that is love.

It implies that the universe is a unity.

onething said...

"Abstractions are about the past and future, in a sense, but the only time where change happens is right now. If the focal point of your awareness is in the present, then it is among those things that can be changed."

Very good! This is a key.

I am reminded of how, playing tennis, I can switch hands smoothly if I don't think about it, but if I think, "Oh, perhaps I ought to switch hands" then I flub it. There are two things here -- one is that my thoughts and intent remain in force but in the background, as it were, and the other is to ask, who is it that is playing flawlessly if not the ego-mind-thinker?

onething said...

Reading now through the commentary, I see that many of us were strongly affected by that question. For some reason, it hit me forcefully, and I understood certain things which I have heard for years, but now make visceral sense, like saying that the mind is the barrier that keeps us from realization.

"Can anyone else chime in on this?"

Oh, yeah, I'm high church all the way. In an Orthodox service, there are no spoken words but the sermon. They fill it with as much visual, auditory and olfactory beauty as they can stuff into it. And it all leads up to the holy communion, which is its grand finale. ("with one mind and one heart let us pray..") It is NOT an intellectual experience! It is a drama, a reenactment.

I have a strange and wistful relationship to it. It isn't what I once thought it was, I no longer accept its belief system, yet I would probably still die for it. It gave me everything, the pearl of great price, and then withdrew...

onething said...


"The closest I can come is the old Sanskrit phrase "Tat Tvam Asi" that is "Thou Art That". Sorry if this doesn't make much sense."

Oh, yes, it makes perfect sense. Just a lot shorter way of saying it.

Karim said...

JMG wrote:

"what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?"

It implies that the universe is NOT a dead thing, that it is alive, intelligent and watching and listening and ready to respond on its own terms to your approach.

In Islamic theology it is said that if you make one step towards the Divine, it shall make 50 steps towards you (if I remember well). It sounds fairly similar to what you said.

A bit scary no!

Mr O. said...

Hi tried posting this yesterday but for what ever reason it go rerouted to the May blog. anyway here's trying again...

Having woken up this morning with a streaming cold the idea that I might use my nose blowing to magical effect is an exciting one and definitely a silver lining to my condition. Galenic medicine saw phlegm in the head to be exudates of an over/under heated brain so using the technique to banish unwanted thoughts would seem especially appropriate...

This series just gets better and better, I'm a firm believer in that you can't properly understand a subject without understanding it's history and this ticks all the boxes.

Have you noticed that those authors who do write about the 'Grand rite of the Hand Shandy' almost alway do it from a male perspective? I've no doubt the technique is just as effective for women but it seems to have a particular allure for men. Maybe they needed an excuse so as not to worry about losing their eyesight or growing hair on their palms...

Your question at the end of the essay to me seems to be suggesting that our experience of reality as concrete is mediated by our left hemisphere (language, structure etc) and by bypassing this for a more right hemisphere experience we get nearer to the 'true' nature of reality as something infinitely more fluid.

Toro Loki said...

What is "nei gung"? Is that related to tai chi or chi kung?
Or to wing chunk?
Wing chun is my other martial art. Besides Tai Chi Quaun

Toro Loki said...

What style of Tai Chi do you practice? I mostly do Yang myself .
Would love to learn Chen, but you have to go with what is available.o

Kutamun said...

Yep , turns out Ms Spielreins dad had strapped her as a kid and she had secretly enjoyed it , but of course this is deposited firmly into the unconscious , so she goes through life very sexually unfulfilled until CJ works out that spanking her makes her really , really happy . Such is the occult nature of sexuality . I suppose in a similar vein this is why most cities have dungeons so the captains of industry and judiciary can get punished by someone else and so feel whole , " the peculiar stresses of power " as John Constantne puts it ...

Scotlyn said...

JMG, the bluewash seems to affect everything I see quite evenly. I'm aware it is somehow as if I'm seeing everything through a blue filter somehow acquired by my perceiving apparatus, but I experience it as a change in everything "out there".

I have been following a thread lately interest that is tangentially related to your martial/magical arts fusion. I'm trained in the use of acupuncture in the context of the Traditional Chinese Medicine understanding of physiology, including energetic physiology. I recently happened on a reference to a Celtic physician's description of the body as containing 3 cauldrons. This description was both like and unlike the TCM triple-warmer, in that the Celtic description, of course, locates one of the three cauldrons in the head - the cauldron of knowing. The other two are the cauldron of motion in the chest and the cauldron of warming in the abdomen. I've been meditating upon this imagery with a view to informing my practice with more local European traditions and understandings, like this.

Importantly, a cauldron is an instrument that facilitates transformation, partly by placing a barrier between the fire below and the water above, such that each can offer its power to the process without being consumed or extinguished by the other before the work of transformation (to a nourishing food, or wholesome medicine, for example) is complete.

Steve Thomas said...


I think I'm going to be thinking about the conclusion to this post for a long time.

"I'm currently developing a neigung practice that connects to the Celtic Golden Dawn system, and is convertible to the Hermetic GD as well, but it's going to take a lot of further developmental work to get it right."

That's exciting news!I'd like to volunteer my services if you need a guinea pig or "playtester" for any of this. I'm currently working through the Celtic Golden Dawn and a fairly intensive qigong program, which you probably already know since I periodically whine about how difficult it is on the DOGD list.

Hi Librarian,

I've been practicing qigong and tai chi for 2 years, so I'm nothing like an expert. But occurred to me on reading your comment and thinking about this month's post, one thing you could do would be to follow the traditional Taoist clock. Begin your practice during lung time (3-5 AM), focusing on the breath in meditation then moving into the taiji form. After lung time comes large intestine time (5-7). This is considered the best time to have one's morning bowel movement, and would be a great time to practice the defecation magic JMG talked about in this month's post.

Do you ever find that memories or traumas come up during meditation and taichi? I often do when I access a part of my body that had been blocked. You could take advantage of large intestine time to fully purge yourself of the associated emotions. Stomach time comes after Large Intestine time-- here you can apply the same process in reverse. Franz Bardon talks about impregnating food with a wish, which you then absorb into yourself. I don't remember the details but you can probably wing it-- Bless the food and ask the divine that it be consecrated with whatever your hope for the day might be.

Hmm. Actually I'm going to try this after class tomorrow morning.

Glenn McCumber said...

I think the mystery in your question at the end has a link to one in a parable in the gospels:

"I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow.'"

(Luke 19:21,22)

That is the tradition in which I grew up and often the terms my mind suggests for understanding a thing still.

But the more interesting connection, to me, is my increasing realization of the similarity between the 'art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will', so far as I understand it, and the art and science of pretending to be a different person living a life other than yours; commonly called 'acting'.

In acting, much of the work is the same. When done well the power of a performance is palpable (as with the example of the lodge working, raising power for an operation), and the end to which it is directed, in theatre, is called the Statement of Dramatic Action, the point of the story and reason for telling it. As the performer, the better you understand the work from an abstract sense, especially work that is rich and complex (eg Shakespeare), the more you can bring to the performance. But you cannot *perform* that abstract work, or if you do, the performance lacks power. And that is what struck me about the essay this week. The description of direct experience is the same most essential and elusive aspect of performance. A great deal of work has to have been done beforehand so that it can sink down and work on you, with out you looking at it. Because as soon as you think about what you're doing, you're no longer doing it.

That these two things wind together is so appealing and hopeful to me.

MCB said...

Mayhawk, the phrase you mentioned "Tat Tvam Asi"is something I've explored too, and one in which I too have found the most profound depth. I recently came upon a translation of Shankara's commentaries on that statement (just recently transalted from the original Sanskrit into English). Interestingly the translation of the title Tattvopadesha is 'The Teaching of Reality' and very germaine to hour hosts provocative question.

One of the phrases that resonated with me in that commentary was the statement that trying to understand the nature of reality with the mind is like trying to "burn the fire with fuel" which I through was a fabulous analogy for the limits of the discursive mind to approach the essence of this question.

The book is a wonderfully clear translation of the text, by someone who clearly practices the philosophy and has grappled with the question.


Unknown said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

My answer to JMG's question is:

If less verbal thought moves one closer to reality, then conversely one's opinion of reality is the furthest thing from it.

Kind Regards, Jeff

Paw Paw said...

There have been a lot of thoughtful answers to the question, and many of them are more or less in line with what I thought of, so I decided to approach it from a different angle to see what I could come up with. I asked myself "if moving closer an abstraction makes it more concrete, what does that say about abstractions?"

This is the best I could come up with for "the opposite" of the question JMG posed. It seems to me that an abstraction is concrete because it tends to be shared, whereas reality is mutable because it is experienced in a very different way by every single person, and cannot be shared. I recall an article I read in which a psychologist explained that it is very difficult to distinguish between hallucinations and reality, because the only tool in the shed is for multiple people to agree on a shared reality, which means it was not a hallucination. The example of an apple on a table was given. If five people see the apple, no doubt they might see different colors that we have agreed are red, and they will all have a different angle of vantage, but they agree that it is what we as a culture have decided is an apple, and so it is not a hallucination.

But what they actually experienced was not exactly the same for each person. It was the Platonic form of an apple. We can agree on forms of cultures, religions, corporate personhood, fashion, or the word we use to describe something, because we share the basic form of the abstraction with others. That means it's pretty concrete. If it weren't, we would not be able to agree that we saw an apple, or that there are gods on Olympus. The more defined the abstraction, the easier it is to share, and sharing abstractions is how cultures are able to exist. I suppose it can be a very helpful thing, but it can also be to our collective detriment at times.

Whereas the experience of reality is unique to the experiencer. Even in the same circumstance, we see, hear, feel, touch, taste things along a spectrum of variation. Maybe getting closer to reality allows reality to change because you no longer have to ignore the parts that can't be shared as a cultural abstraction and hone in on the narrow range of experiences that can. You don't have to experience it as red, sweet, delicious. Maybe new avenues of experience are suddenly opened, and you can experience it as a different kind of abstraction, or none at all?

John Michael Greer said...

Daelach, I more or less guessed that that would be your patron deity! The thing is, steel in the abstract may be pretty solid, but any particular appearance that seems to be steel may or may not be. Thus my point -- as you move from abstractions to concrete experience, things stop being quite so cut and dried.

Cherokee, interesting you should mention the pickup artist scene; I've had someone come onto the other blog from the political offshoot of that scene, Neoreaction aka Alt-Right. For some reason I have a lot of readers there, even though they make a lot of noise about how wrong I am. As for the descent of interest rates, why, yes, I have -- and since interest is a surrogate for real economic growth, I think I can read the writing on the wall. ;-)

Peter, good. The chill up the spine is actually more important than any particular interpretation of the words!

Onething, yes, those would indeed follow...

Karim, I don't find it scary at all. It seems perfectly reasonable -- after all, to put things in my own polytheist terms, it's not the gods who have turned away from us, we're facing away from them, and so it follows quite straightforwardly that if we turn around, away from the blank wall of matter and toward everyone else in the cosmos, that yes, we'd pretty promptly encounter them.

Mr. O, I'm not sure why that happens, but comments end up in weird places sometimes. Yes, most of the sex magic literature is by, about, and for men -- I suspect much of it serves as fodder for somewhat less magical versions of the rite you've discussed!

Toro, neigung is a subset of qigong aka qi gung aka ch'i kung; if you've learned breathing and meditative exercises as part of your taiji training, you know some neigung. My taiji training had a lot of that. I learned the symmetrical Old Yang style of Tchoung Ta-tchen -- that lineage went from Yang Shou-hou to Hsiung Yang-ho to Tchoung Ta-tchen, thence to Andrew Dale and his student Gene Burnett (both of whom I trained under). If you're used to the standard Yang family style, the old Yang styles are pretty eccentric -- in some ways closer to Chen, in others off on a distinct path of their own.

Kutamun, it's just one of those things, I suppose.

Scotlyn, curiously enough, if you ever happen to open my book The Druid Magic Handbook, you'll find the same three cauldrons under different names as the basic internal centers of that system of magic. Funny how that works! ;-)

Steve, it's Druid Grade work; when you've made a good start in the work of that grade, we'll definitely want to talk.

Glenn, interesting. I know very little about acting, but if you find that it and magic make sense of one another, I'm delighted to hear it.

Unknown Jeff, good. Now go further with that.

Paw Paw, and likewise!

Jeff Gill said...

I read your blog as a very interested observer who comes from the charismatic Christian tradition. I don't really consider myself a charismatic any more but one thing from that tradition that I still do on a daily basis is speak/pray in tongues. It works very well to restore my calmness and balance. And usually a solution or the beginnings of a solution to the problem I am facing follows not far behind a focussed period of prayer in this 'language' I don't understand. My practice seems virtually identical in function and result to the use of unknown language that you describe in your essay.

Nano said...

A relevant quote by John C. Lilly:

In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended.

Scotlyn said...

*goes to shop for recommended book*

Thank you.

daelach said...

@ JMG: Well yes, the menu isn't the dish, and what's tasty on the menu still can be awful on the plate. Radical constructivism meets Maya, in a way. The other thing, I've already got it that you always have a surprise in store, but just how did you guess that one, given that this neter is from a completely different pantheon than the one the runes usually are close to?

onething said...

JMG, Did you bewitch us this week? Did you cast a spell of intention on that last paragraph? It has caused a subtle but real shift in my understanding of things, so that I feel I am one little baby step close to Reality.

JMG and Scotlyn,

Well, it is funny how we carry certain things within our minds and never speak of it. I had a similar experience to your bluewash. About 30 years ago, when I went to church every Sunday, I found an essay that made quite a splash in the Orthodox world written by a Greek lay theologian, called River of Fire. Although in retrospect it is unsatisfactory to my much better understanding, at the time it gave me a real inspirational boost. The gist of it was that the teaching of hell as somewhere God would send you in anger is a western one that separates the heart from God (you can't really love someone like that). He states that the real teaching is that God never changes, that love is all he pours out like a river of fire, that all are loved and always will be, and that there is a hell only because some souls turn from God. Those souls experience God's love (which fills all reality and is inescapable) as something unpleasant, a burning. It is actually much like the ending of the Narnia books by CS Lewis, in which there is a disgruntled group that just can't stop being suspicious and resentful, and consequently cannot see the beauty and freedom around them, but hallucinate a kind of dungeon.

I remember being at home with my toddlers after reading it, and seeing a kind of red haze around everything. It stayed for at least a day, maybe more.

latheChuck said...

Scotlyn- I notice a blue tint after I've been in strong daylight with eyes closed. The flood of red light fatigues the red receptor cells in the retina, so when full-spectrum light comes in, the blue receptors dominate. I'm not sure that's what's happening to you, but if your environment has a lot of red surfaces or illumination, the same could happen with eyes open. I also notice color distortion after I've been wearing my green-tinted gas-welding goggles for a long time.

latheChuck said...

When I practiced Kendo (many years ago), we strove to reach the point where our swords would react to the opponent long before we had a conscious intent. The advantage of training with a sword is that you can disarm yourself, so as not to react inappropriately in a non-competitive situation. If the sword strikes before you command it, it also strikes before you can call it back. (There's a military legend that the Air Force insisted that napalm bombs have fuses, even though a simple aluminum tank of napalm will always ignite on impact. But such a bomb, with no fuse, could not be defused, so it was always dangerous. So adding a fuse to the design allows it to be made "safer" by removing the fuse!) We could train to spar with our hands, but then we would have to find some other way to prevent inadvertent sparring. It's easy to put the sword away.

I've used the same principal to remove unwanted flying insects. Instead of saying "I'm going to take that mosquito now", I say "When the time is right, my hand will take the mosquito." A minute or so later, the mosquito has been taken, much to my surprise. (This has also been useful with cabbage-worm butterflies.)

Paw Paw said...

As I try to go further, I think I begin to run up into the wall of my very limited experience, so I don't think this it, and I will likely have to hold on to the question for some time before I get there. But here is my attempt.

If moving away from abstraction towards reality makes reality more mutable, that says to me that the universe is not a singular, solid thing, but perhaps a spectrum of possibilities waiting for a sufficient force to act upon it and influence it in one direction or another. So until you open the box and make an observation, the cat is both alive and dead. Or the hydrogen atom is both a wave and a particle until influenced by observation (in the classic experiment).

Of course, I think there are limits to the possibilities. But probably not as many as we tend to think. The abstraction might seem singular and solid, because it has already been acted upon (usually by someone/thing else, or the self unconsciously), and has taken the form it was influenced to take. So if it started as a point with several divergent paths, an abstraction has been pushed down one of those paths and so the alternatives are no longer apparent. But moving closer to reality would mean to see the universe not as a solid thing, but the spectrum of possibilities I mentioned. And magic would be the practice of exerting influence on something at the point where it branches, in order to affect reality in a particular way. I would think of it in terms of looking at the options and casting a vote, and if you don't, one will eventually be cast by something else (any influencing force). I'll be subject to the resulting abstraction if it's cast by culture, another individual, or myself unconsciously, so why not sharpen my ability to get back to bare reality and influence my own conscious?

Quick and dirty: the universe is not a singular thing, but a range of potential things, that takes a particular (abstract?) form in the human conscious based on how it is influenced by a force at the level of fundamental reality.

I still feel like I'm missing a good bit, but I'll continue to meditate on it.

Alexandra said...


Your closing question immediately made me think of two things: First, the oft-repeated assertion from physics experiments that the behavior of subatomic particles is affected by the presence and expectations of any observers; and second, that touch is unique among the physical senses in its mutuality--you can't touch without being touched.

What that would imply about the universe might be that it does not exist a priori as an objective ontological reality or phenomenon, but that it is always being created through relationships among conscious entities. And/or that the universe itself is consciousness and/or a conscious entity. Because just as you can't touch something physically without being touched, you can't touch something *psychically* without being touched in return. If relationship has a purpose, that might be it.

Also, if we accept the anecdotal and subjective evidence of positive and concrete results from magical action (as Fortune would say, changes in consciousness in accordance with will), then that has two further implications: (1) If magic gets you past the abstraction distraction and effects reality-rapprochement, thereby causing changes in reality, perhaps that tells us that magic's philosophical descriptions of the universe are better approximations of its real nature than scientific ones are. I mean, scientist-materialist conceptions are, as far as I can see, pure abstraction (ironically!) and therefore likely very far from reality. Whereas practices like magic, meditation, and mystical contemplation would get one closer to reality, and thus presumably their ontologies would be objectively, or at least functionally, more accurate. Not *completely* accurate, because of ineffability, but way, way better. There are epistemological ramifications of this but I haven't had time to think about them yet.

And (2) I have new respect for Dion Fortune's definition of magic. I used to think the "in consciousness" part was a bit of a cop out, reducing magic to merely psychological effects. After all, that's a pretty popular idea among many magic practitioners--that magic is all the result of "intention," and that it probably doesn't work on *real* reality but changes your mindset in positive ways blah blah blah. Basically LARPing-with-intent. Of course, I suppose if pooping can be made magical, so could LARPing...but I digress. I now see that, if you accept the possibility that the universe is conscious/consciousness, then the suggestion that magic changes consciousness is a truly radical ontological proposition.

There is much food for thought in this post and I'll probably be pondering its implications for years. What joy! Thank you.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

My goodness! Is this where all the philosophers went?

Second question: Some of you have heard the joke about how can Hawaii have Interstate Highways. I'm wondering how it is that you can get a Doctor of Philosophy from any American university without ever having taken a course in philosophy.

Third question: is there a reliable divination technique for determining whether a comment (on the other blog) was eaten by Blogger or rejected by JMG? I hate to ask directly; it sounds like whining.

I seem to be in a strange mood tonight. I blame it on being funneled into a nighttime DUI checkpoint on 19th Avenue in San Francisco about an hour ago, a new experience for me and quite a surreal one.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the heads up, I'll check it out over the next day or so.

They do practice a form of magic, but it is dark, put towards highly dubious ends, feeds into their souls like a feedback drug (I hear you about hexes – it clearly reflects back on the practitioner) and has few lasting results on the people they practice it on. In some respects it is fair to say that they fail to connect in a meaningful way with other people on a lasting basis.

Exactly, after the spring equinox rites I was left with the distinct impression via Coel that a storm is brewing... And just to ram the point home a very strong gust blew through here at the conclusion on an otherwise still day.

Still, it was a truly glorious spring day here today and I'm preparing a monster berry bed which I'm very excited about and I also made an effort to spend some time on an old mate who went a bit loopy after having their first and possibly only child, but seems to be a bit more grounded now.



Caryn said...

Many thanks JGM and fellow commenters. This is without doubt, one of the best essay and discussion I had read on the internet to date. So much to grapple with. I think it's wonderful that so many commenters have answered your last question in such widely disparate ways, and yet with each one, I find myself nodding in agreement, 'Nailed it!', 'exactly right!'. The nature of the universe, alive, consciousness, dynamic, etc., has so many shape-shifting facets, it takes quite a few descriptors to get a decent idea of it.

I personally find living in the tangible world of abstractions/distractions harder and something I've always tried my best to do, with varying success. I don't know why, (well, I can guess, but I'm loathe to turn this comment into a self-analysis, therapy session); I have always felt the immense power and pull of that more real world, extending well into outer-space and the universe/multiverse and deep inside every molecule of my/our being. IMHO, It's actually terrifying. Like it or not we're all a part of it and of each other. While I find analyses and discussions of it, like this one endlessly fascinating; I know I am personally purposefully running away from it. I've definitely got my back turned away from "God", but I know "he's" still there. He ain't never gonna NOT be there!

I think of it like this: Our brains have mercifully developed a mechanism, a muscle if you will, of filtering out some of this immensity through what we're calling here abstractions/distractions, the boring details of the tangible plane. As an analogy: As a teacher, sometimes a younger child will be unable to function or do the project at hand because they cannot filter out the ambient classroom noise and visual stimulation in our art room. I can see right away when the are experiencing sensory overload and are paralyzed by it. They stare into space, they become distressed and unable to even speak. They only 'come to' when I gently take them out of the room into a quieter space to have a bit of a break. As they grow and mature, they develop this focus/filter-muscle and can stay on task longer and longer periods, more intently and strongly and accomplish what they want to accomplish. We all have this filter and a similar filter to the conscious real universe and honestly, I think it's necessary to get through day to day life. I do still struggle with mine.

Thanks again. :)

John Michael Greer said...

Jeff, fascinating. I have next to no knowledge of that end of the Christian tradition, but it does sound very similar to what I was discussing. It intrigues me that practices can be so similar even when theologies are so different!

Nano, I'd agree with the first half of Lilly's quote but not the second. Not all limits can be transcended -- quite the contrary, many need to be accepted, embraced, and used as firm foundations on which things can be built.

Scotlyn, you're welcome and thank you!

Daelach, well, I'd already figured you're either a chaos magician or have been strongly influenced by that tradition, so combining runes with neteru comes as no surprise. Beyond that, it was a guess, but a guess guided by a curious phenomenon I've noticed very routinely: the deity one worships shows in personality traits. In your case, you've got the classic antinomian streak, thus would likely worship one of the oppositional deities -- but not Loki; every Loki's man I've ever met had a sneering, petty, adolescent quality to their personality and posts you don't seem to have. In the same way, worshippers of Satan always have a pompous streak, worshippers of Coyote are playful and annoying, and so on. I only know of one oppositional deity whose followers have a certain earnest seriousness about them, as you do, and that's Set -- so that was my guess.

The same thing applies to other deities, by the way. If the followers of love goddesses were alcoholic beverages, Aphrodite's would be champagne, Freya's would be mead, Erzulie's would be 152-proof dark rum, and so on. For that matter, I've long felt that different Christian denominations worship different Jesuses (Jesii?). You get worshippers of a pale, wrathful Lord of the Dead at war with biological existence -- rather like Odin, but without the earthy qualities and the quirky sense of humor that make the Allfather endearing -- but then you also get people whose Jesus overflows with compassion and life. As a polytheist, I have no problem making sense of this, but I suspect it gives hiccups to others.

Onething, no, the only magic in this week's post is the common or garden variety practiced by writers every day.

Paw Paw, good. The practice of meditating on such things will benefit you more than will any particular conclusion you reach.

Alexandra, excellent! Fortune had a sly streak, and that definition shows it; at first glance it seems to reduce magic to psychology, until you really stop and try to figure out what exists apart from conciousness...

Unknown Deborah, hey, there's a reason it used to be called "occult philosophy"! As for your third question, well, did it contain profanity, violate rules posted above the comment screen, or harp on a subject on which I've shown evident signs of irritability? If so, I probably deleted it; if not, and it didn't appear, Blogger probably ate it and you might want to try resubmitting.

Cherokee, I'd definitely take Coel's advice on that. There's a great-grandmother of a storm brewing, on more than one plane.

Seb Ze Frog said...

On the Lilly's quote, just a little vocabulary question.

Couldn't "many need to be accepted, embraced, and used as firm foundations on which things can be built." be considered as a good practical definition of "transcend" ?

Regardless of what Lilly might or might not have wanted to say back then.
And now that I think about it, the little I know of the guy, if we are speaking of the same Lilly, wouldn't make me keen in trying to guess what it is that he *really* had in his mind. The place seemed to have been quite crowded, and full of strange funny noises...


daelach said...

@ JMG: Thank you for the elaborated answer. It makes sense what you're saying, I just wouldn't have guessed that the small amount of data available is already sufficient to come to your conclusion.

Since I think it is a relevant point: the mixture of runes and Set has a background story. After some years, he suggested that I should seek out another religion, i.e. letting him drop for a while. He argued I'd understand him better then. I wasn't exactly delighted about that idea, but he explained that since the only religion I otherwise knew well enough was Christianity, I tended to confuse specific Christian traits with religion in general without even noticing it. But he did.

So I took a kind of leave and was into Asatru for some years - where I started to grasp Set's point. When I "came back", I kept the runes.

SLClaire said...

Your discussion of bodily function magic struck a chord with me, because I use it in a metaphorical sense in my S of P work. It wasn't until you mentioned the physical practice of elimination magic that I realized that the imagery I use to banish harmful influences of the various elements looks a lot like urination, defecation, or gaseous emissions, depending on which element's harmful influences are being banished. And it was exactly when I started using that imagery that the banishment aspect of the Calling of the Elements started to work magic for me.

John Michael Greer said...

Seb, I suppose so -- but most people these days use the phrase "transcend the limits" to mean that it ought to be possible to ignore any limitation and just keep on going. As for what was going on in Lilly's mind, I'm not even going to speculate -- the man used some pretty hefty hallucinogens, after all.

Daelach, that certainly makes sense. I probably have an unfair advantage in this sort of thing: a couple of decades of hanging out with occultists and neopagans of all kinds will sharpen your ears to the most remarkable nuances. ;-)

SLClaire, hmm! Well, if it works for you, far be it from me to object!

Sven Eriksen said...

John, would it surprise you to learn that the eastern parts of Europe have retained and developed their martial arts to a level by far equal to anything that would be able to find in Asia? And I think it’s hardly an accident that the most effective and dangerous among them are rooted in the kind of Christian mystical thought and practice that would come off as very familiar to any practitioner of western magic. I’m very fond of them myself, and they go very well along with my CGD practice, which brings me to something I’ve been meaning to ask you: This book of yours, “The Spirit and The Sword”, do the practices in it require some specific type of blade to be used? Or more precisely, would they be appropriate for a student of the saber? Been wondering if I should ask my local occult book store to track down a copy...

Myriam said...

Your closing question has me thinking that although both abstract thought and the experience of reality occur in the mind, we cannot visualize the one, but the other we can. Abstract thought is a stepping away from our reality, and we are no longer touching it, so to speak.

I understand visualization is necessary for magic to work, and the more vivid the visualization, with all our senses, the better we can change reality.

Maybe our reality is already nothing more than a visualization, a very vivid one that we create constantly without realizing it, given the sensory input we get from our physical body? In other words, we are already in the process of creating a visualization, so why not visualize something else? And in order to change the visualization we must be immersed in it. Abstraction makes it impossible to change our reality because as we step away from it, we "freeze" it so we can examine it. Does that make any sense? I need to think some more about this.

John Michael Greer said...

Sven, no, it wouldn't surprise me at all, as western Europe still has a few, and had many more not all that long ago, all things considered. With regard to The Spirit and the Sword, that was based on standard 19th century Anglo-American sword methods, which can use either a straight sword (think Scottish basket-hilted broadsword or Civil War-era NCO's sword) or a mildly curved one (think Civil War-era cavalry saber or naval cutlass of the same date). If I ever get around to revising that book, I'll be very substantially expanding it -- it's by way of a first sketch, and could use much more development.

Myriam, think away! As I think I've mentioned, the experience of grappling with the question is worth far more than any answer you might happen to come up with...

Maria said...


I've been pondering your final question and I've also been reviewing old journals in preparation for applying for the OBOD Ovate grade. I've noticed that the message I have been jotting down for a year or so is along the lines of "We're here; it's you that loses focus."

Having been raised in the Christian tradition, I think I still view the Gods and other meatless beings as "out there" someplace and myself as needing a method of reaching that place. As I've been getting this message over and over, I've been viewing my life as a sort of Venn diagram with me at the center trying to increase the overlap between my day-to-day life and my spiritual life, and struggling with that.

Then, while pondering your question, it occurred to me to wonder if my whole concept is wrong. What if it's all the same thing -- the spiritual is right here alongside and interpenetrating the material? So drawing a circle in ritual or drawing Tarot cards in a reading focuses me on the energy that's always present and tells the meatless that I'm paying attention. What if the closer I get to reality, the closer I get to spiritual energy at the same time because they're all the same thing? Or parts of the same thing?

It sounds so obvious now that I'm writing it down. I've been making things harder than they had to be.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, you would think that a little more detail wouldn't have hurt in the warning (although I'm sounding a bit ungrateful, but don't mean it that way, I'm more curious if anything)? I've been left wondering those details are not as crucial as I imagine and also what is time or place to them anyway? Dunno.

That one completely floored me. Of course you are totally correct and it should have been obvious, but it is as much on the material plane as it is on the emotional plane and perhaps others as well. How could I have been so dense to have missed that completely, thanks for the heads-up.

I checked out that comment and whilst I've been contemplating a reply, I'm not sure what good it will achieve as he is looking for someone to blame and at the same time thinking that he is somehow special. In my mind he looks like a guy trying to change a light bulb whilst standing on a ladder and at the same time asking someone else to kick the ladder out from under him. Why would he not see that the same system that he is railing against is also supporting him? It is an equal opportunity problem after all.



Greg Belvedere said...

I don't think I could have come up with a tasteful reply either. In any case, I have come up with an answer to the question you posed at the end of this month's post...

It implies that you can't expect reality to conform to your own will unless it happens to jives with reality. The universe rewards those who understand and apply this understanding, while guarding against those who don't fall in line with reality from messing things up...or from messing things up too much.

The phrases "thy will be done" and "make me an instrument of your peace" seem like the most relevant expressions from the tradition I have the most familiarity with.

Some people feel very let down by this kind of realization. I find it very liberating to put my own will in line with the will of something that seems a lot wiser.

Sven Eriksen said...

Somehow I figured that the basket-hilted broadsword would be your weapon of choice ;-) Myself, I happen to favour the Russian cavalry saber (the Scottish Sgian Dubh makes for a good choice of athame, but that's another matter). I'll see if I can get a hold of a copy of the book. I'm sure it will prove quite instructive.

nwlorax said...

Scotlyn, I would like to see the materials from a Celtic physician on the Cauldrons. So far as I understand it, from doing a translation of the poem, it was a text on how one attained or could not attain imbas, or a firing of all three cauldrons that results in the liquid gooey goodness of ectoplasm flowing out through the top of the head and exploding in a fire that results in spontaneous trance poetry. (I addressed some of this in my own blog some years ago.)

The truly funny thing some times in looking at basic articles on Oriental energy systems (written by Westerners) in martial arts is that the authors generally do not know that there are extant Western traditions of magic that use elements, or similar concepts. From my perspective it is an accident of preservation that granted us 5 animal frolics in China as viewed thru Taoist medicine, and not Delsartian Savate and Cane martial arts in France with hundreds of extant salons.

The sword and the not-sword in the end are identical. Or so I am told they can become...

Moving from words into disciplined sensory experiences (ritual, etc.) is truly an undiscovered country for many Westerners. (And Easterners I suspect.) That's a topic for another day, hopefully in this fine watering hole that John Michael has created.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Maria--I believe that the interpenetration you describe is what Jesus was talking about when he said, "The Kingdom of God is within you."

IMO and as a generalization, Judaism and Christianity are reluctant to make their mystical traditions accessible to ordinary people. The information is there if you know where to look and how to listen, something Jesus said repeatedly.

Mainstream Islam is wary of the Sufis, too.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Cherokee Organics--On September 23, you posted a poetically exact description of the growing habits of blanket bush and other shrubs and trees growing in your mountains, the sound of cicadas and the feeling of the sun on different faces of those ridges. Reading your description brought back to me similar sense memories of hikes as a girl in the foothills and higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada. Those were some of the happiest times of my life and the smell of sun-warmed dust and pine needles will always bring me back to them.

I agree entirely with the point you were making in that essay (though it's a point I often lose track of), but even if you had written that passage purely for its own sake, I appreciate it.

PhysicsDoc said...

I have noticed that even though this Blog post was about sex magic, almost all the comments were about other topics or only tangentially about sex magic. Just an observation. Also I was reading a description about sex magic rituals in "Modern Magick", by Donald Michael Kraig which are much more elaborate than what is described in this post. I just don't understand how people can spend so much time and effort on this kind of stuff (and I do like sex). It is interesting that one aspect of magic seems to be to harness the energy of heightened natural activities (like sex) to affect some form of change in reality. One of the most profound and intense natural activities namely death must also release energies that can be harnessed. I would think that this is the source of many rituals involving the sacrifice of animals or humans in cultures throughout history. I think this is a very dark and unpleasant aspect of magic but one that exists.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@PhysicsDoc--I think you are overgeneralizing about the intent of blood sacrifices.

The dominant narrative in the West about them originates (I believe) in Protestant apologetics. It goes like this: 1) All blood sacrifices are propitiatory. 2) Jesus Christ died for our sins. His supreme sacrifice obviates the need for any further material offerings. 3) All other gods to whom sacrifices are made are false gods. Therefore, 4) Priests who make blood sacrifices are either unenlightened prisoners of superstition engaged in useless shedding of blood, or they are performing black magic.

When you drag this syllogism into the light, it contains some dubious assumptions.

In many cultures, for example Israel and Judah when the Jerusalem Temple stood, material offerings to the deity, whether animal or vegetable, were rarely propitiatory. For the most part they were given in recognition that all this food came from the deity in the first place and returning a token amount of it is an appropriate expression of gratitude. Not incidentally, the Kohanim and Levites were full time religious functionaries and a portion of the offerings constituted part of their pay.

I don't have a deep knowledge of classical Greek or Roman religion, but my impression is that the life force in the form of the blood was generally offered to the presiding deity, after which the meat was cooked and distributed to everyone present. For the urban poor, sacrificial meat was the only meat they ever got.

There are several Afro-Diasporic religions in which many of the entities claim offerings of animals as their due. I've heard a story that a new American convert to one of these religions balked at sacrificing the prescribed animal to the being to whom he was devoted. The being told him (through an oracle), "You don't want to give me animals? From now on, you are a vegetarian for life."

Maria said...

@Deborah, I walked away from Christianity 20 years ago at least, but I'm noticing over time how much of my religious upbringing (for good or for bad) is the default setting of my thoughts. Also, Christianity permeates our society, so the NewAge stuff I first got interested in seems to be in a lot of ways Christianity Lite, and that encouraged the same sort of mindset. I guess I'm still shaking myself loose from a lot more of it than I thought.

I'm in no way implying that everyone should walk away from Christianity; only that it was the right thing for me.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Deborah,

Thank you - I always enjoy our chats. I've given up on trying to write fiction and instead am concentrating on writing about what I know and experience here.

That is so true about the smells too as they trigger such deep memories. Pine needles in the warm sun with a touch of dust exude such a wonderful scent down here too - thanks for sharing that memory.

The Sierra Nevada range is a truly impressive collection of mountains and you are very lucky indeed to have walked in amongst them.

Not to stress, as I lose track of that from time to time too, even when I'm surrounded by sheer wildness of nature here. Trust me on this, we all have bad days! ;-)! Mind you, over the past few mornings there has a been a big fat happy wombat in the orchard munching away on the fresh spring grass and such events are a true delight and they can banish away all manner of abstractions.



Jeff Gill said...

JMG wrote: 'Jeff, fascinating. I have next to no knowledge of that end of the Christian tradition, but it does sound very similar to what I was discussing. It intrigues me that practices can be so similar even when theologies are so different!'

It intrigues me too! I'm regularly surprised – though I probably shouldn't be – by the light your writing shines on the the Christian tradition. I've learned a lot from you about my religion, both indirectly on this blog and directly in some of the Archdruid Report posts and your essay in Jesus Through Pagan Eyes.

Thank you.

Stuart said...

One kind of answer to the closing question, keeping in mind that JMG has now spent three whole posts on sex magic, would be: if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change, then reality is like a lover. (Or like any person in relationship, really, but let's stick with the theme.) So... the practice of magic is courtship activity, a sustained romancing of the universe? And sometimes the universe romances you back? (And sometimes you should carry prophylactics and a rape whistle?)

Certainly the early modern Neoplatonists had a high view of Love as a reality principle, for better and worse purposes (see Couliano, e.g.). It would reframe questions of magical ethics if magical operations are constrained by what you would and wouldn't do with/to a lover-- this becomes a sort of blended question of personal ethics and prudence.

I'm reading a snappy and fascinating book by Heather Webb (of Cambridge), called The Medieval Heart. It describes a late-medieval view of human life as chiefly cardiac rather than mental, exploring the full implications of lodging one's identity in a heart that is porous to the world and constantly interpenetrated by the spirits of other-- not merely human-- beings. It's a view that would be essentially harmonious with magical models of nwyfre, the enchanted body, a world full of spirits, etc; and the *practice* of magic, of energy work, would be a means of shifting not only from a mental to a cardiac *model* (the brain's first impulse!) but from sterile abstraction towards actual romance with the world.

Steve Thomas said...

@ JMG-- Well, that will be something to look forward to, then! Though not for a while-- the Bardic grade is hard work, and yesterday I realized that the pathworking schedule that I thought would allow me to complete the work by Spring of next year was hopelessly optimistic and Autumn of 2016 is more likely.

I'm excited by the idea though. I'm involved in Chinese martial and healing arts partly for their own sake-- I love the practices and the Taoist tradition. But ultimately, I'm a Westerner, and I also love the culture that I was raised in, for all its flaws, and I have an idea that the magical and "energetic" practices which I think we had at one time can be rediscovered or reconstructed. I had a feeling, confirmed by you and by Sven and other commenters here, that that process is already underway.

PhysicsDoc said...

@Deborah, Thank you for the response to my comment. I particularly like the idea of returning some of the food as a token gesture of thanks to the deity that produced the food in the first place. My thinking was more along the lines of if something is possible then it is likely done or has been done. The syllogism in this case is maybe more like:
(i) ritual magic uses events like sex that releases or builds up energy (in the etheric sense)
(ii) death is an event that releases energy
(iii) therefore ritual magic uses death in some of its practices.
Note that this is not deity worship in the sense you describe.
In any case, I have probably over generalized, am in over my head, and have watched too many B movies with Svengoolie.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Does the ability to work with reality also have non-occult applications? I mean, it seems like the people least able to react to the crisis of our time are also the people farthest away from acknowledging the crisis.

In other news I started divination practice last week in accordance with your book on druid magic. I must say I am utterly confused. How to I interpret the cards? Actually, how do I construct a question?



daelach said...

@ PhysicsDoc: It has already been noted that our modern, relaxed way of dealing with sex has removed some of its potency for magical purposes. Simply because the tension isn't as strong as it once was.

As for blood sacrifices, I include them in nearly every serious ritual, but I use my own blood. The pain makes it more intense than using something else's blood.

Btw., I sometimes wonder why sacrificing an animal for magical purposes is regarded as black magic, or at least as something evil - all while sacrificing whole ecosystems to the God of Profit is labelled "economy".

daelach said...

@ Varun: While I cannot say anything about druidry magic, I can say something on divination. I worked with the Tarot, and I am working with runes.

I'm curious how the Archdruid's take on it will compare.

For the detailed meaning of individual cards, there will be books, at least that is the case for the Tarot. Depending on what layout system you are using (e.g. Celtic Cross), the meaning of a card will both depend on what the card is and on its position within your chosen layout.

For the question, my take on it is that it must not be too complicated, as in "shall I do A in case that B and C, but not D?". That's a common magic principle, i.e. if you want to work with the non-rational world, then the question (or will sentences) must make sense to spheres other than the rational one. But neither too closed a question as in "shall I do A?". In my experience, it works best if you give some room for your divination means to yield surprising answers. So, a question like "show me something about affair X that has been intruiging me" would be a good one.

Cards tend to yield precise and detailed answers; that is because there are so many of them (78 in Tarot), and the layout system provides additional structure. Runes, on the other extreme, tend to be enigmatic, especially if they are just cast without any defined layout system, in which case their relative position to each other defines a relationship network within that single cast.

Then again, what I expect of a divination isn't necessarily answers; I am already content with new questions to think about.

Callum said...

JMG / All those who have posted,

I have not had an opportunity to make my way through the comments thus far for this post, but I will be working my way through.

In reading through some of the initial posts on this blog, I have really zeroed in on the importance of symbols and symbology in magical work. I have always been an extremely nostalgic person, and in viewing my history in this light, can see how much energy I have placed in to so many objects around me. I suspect (and hope) they represent the principles, ideals, and memories I intended for them. I will be thinking on this thread and processing for a while yet...

In regards to the somewhat manic energy I described in my initial post, and your kind response. I have flirted with what I have re-connotated as the vast reserve of energy trapped inside me.

A few nights ago while laying in bed with my wife, clothed for the record, I was able to condense a wave of sexual energy into a sphere in my chest, then attempted to pass it to her via our legs (where we were touching). I felt the energy distinctly** condense, and after encouraging it to travel down to my right leg, it did so with quite the clarity of sensation (trying not to wig out with excitement at this point). I was unable to transfer it, which I was not surprised about as she was unaware of what I was doing. Then something very interesting happened. When it became obvious that trying to transfer it to my wife was not happening, my entire leg *slowly* started to flex. I tripled checked that I was not telling it to do so, I was not. The intensity of the muscle contraction peaked and then faded away and I was left feeling balanced. A rare sensation.

Then, yesterday, I found myself in an irrational rage and wasn't to keen on remaining in that state. After a little convincing, I tried to condense the sensations I was feeling globally into my chest again, as with the sexual energy. Having thought about this occasion previously, I had decided to try to visualize the anger as a swirling ball of fire, or a star.

My initial attempt yielded positive results, it started to condense into the ball of fire, then resembled more of a sun, mimicking my train of thought. As I felt the condensation was coming to a close, the ball of fire rapidly transformed into a rather fine visualization of a black hole, complete with corona. This was not willed, only observed. The transformation seemed appropriate, as that is the sensation the underlying depression causes. I interpreted it as being literal negative-energy, a sink for positive energy.

(Have y'all heard of similar experiences in regards to 'negative energy'?)

...continued below...

Callum said...

...continued from above...

A few moments later, the black hole disappeared. I knew I had not lost concentration and searched for it, finding it a few moments later in my skull, no surprise there, hate and anger hiding in my head... I was at a loss about what to do with it at this point, but within a minute decided to try to move it around, and at least get it to the periphery of my body. I extended my left hand, and willed the ball / black hole into my palm. As with the sexual energy, I felt its path through my body being sucked from brain to palm.

Most interesting was that I could see it, like, physically! I did not look directly at my palm, but, in my peripheral vision the energy looked like what I had been visualizing in my chest and head except it was literally sitting in my hand. Very curious, to severely understate it.

This is where I was really at a loss. What to do with it? How do I disconnect it from my body? I don't want it! The best I could come up with was simply dropping it, which I did, and I think it worked alright... I was up and being productive within a minute or two, from being in semi-paralyzed dissociative state. Usually the emotions take hours to run their cycle and usually involves falling asleep at some point.

In relating the story to my wife, who is far more open to these experiences and is very encouraging (and loves hearing about what I read here!), she suggested trying to place the literal negative-energy into something else, such as the ground. Do you have any suggestions in regards to that? Or, should I be trying to get a firmer grip on what I am actually doing before I manipulate it to that extent?

In regards to not practicing ritual magic unless your head is loc-tited on; most of the catalysts for my emotions comes from the supposed sane world, just being as it is. There is freedom in what you do not understand (which I suspect is because we really don't understand what we think we do (unknown knowns?)). I suspect most experiences in the magical realm, if you are open to them, are nothing to the anxiety and distress caused by trying to get Affordable Healthcare(TM). Now *there* is something you might not come all the way back from...

Thank you for reading about my experiences, and a heartfelt thank you for encouraging us all to seek them!

My best to all,

PS: If it is a faux pas to write such a lengthy comment, please let me know. I don't get out much. :)

Bruce The Druid said...

In regards to your closing question, I would say it is because the nature of the Universe is change. I noticed when I was hanging out with Christian fundamentalists, was how much emphasis they placed on an unchanging god/creator. It was extremely important that this was so, and it provided a clue as to why they opposed Evolution so drastically and emotionally. But after leaving their fold, it has been increasingly clear that the Universe is keen on change, in fact, its really the only thing you can count on.

Callum said...

To attempt the question:

"I’ll close with a question: what does it imply about the universe if getting closer to reality makes reality more open to change?"

If 'reality' is that we are vibrating masses of potent energy compacted to the point of appearing solid, it is something we cannot know. If we become closer to something we cannot know we are opening ourselves to it, accepting what is [ideally] without precondition. Thus reality becomes far more subjective or, open to change.

...which is about where I am at right now. :)

dadaharm said...


Your question about change also has a reverse.

If you come closer to reality, then reality comes closer to you. If you can change reality more easily, then reality can change you too more easily.

So abstractions also seem to provide a form of stability and control. They are a form of power that prevent uncontrollable change from happening. They make our experience of reality more stable and as a consequence of that we ourselves become more stable.

So creating an abstraction can be seen as another form of magic. In some sense an abstraction changes both one's own consciousness and reality as it is experienced. Abstractions often also make new ways to interact with reality possible. The negative side is that an abstraction imprisons both your consciousness and reality itself.

This also fits nicely into the idea of comparing reality and abstractions with touch and vision mentioned by commenter Myriam. Maybe vision was first developed by an animal with an extreme fear or phobia of being touched. Probably because it feared that it might touch something that would eat it. Maybe evolution is driven by a desire to avoid contact with reality.

Berserker said...

I'm far from an expert on these things, but many experiences strikingly similar to yours are explored in The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness by Stanton Marlon. The book follows a Jungian approach that looks across many cultures. The artwork alone is awesome, although the text itself sometimes wades deep into postmodernism, IMHO.

John Michael Greer said...

Maria, everyone makes things harder than they have to be. Most of magical training consists of learning how to stop doing do, and let things happen the easy way. It's just that getting to the easy way is far from easy!

Cherokee, one of the awkward things about premonitions and messages from the inner side of things is that beings there don't experience time and place the same way we do, and so time and place are almost always the things that get scrambled!

Greg, that's one of the classic responses, and it's certainly a viable one.

Sven, actually, most of my training has been with swords somewhat lighter than a Scottish basket-hilted broadsword; most of the old fraternal lodges, some of which had sword combat traditions well into the 20th century, used a lighter sword with less hand protection, rather like mid-19th century infantry officers' and NCO's swords. You can find ample material on 19th century military sword technique on Google books or, free for the downloading, and iirc there's a fair amount of saber lore in there.

PhysicsDoc, yes, and that's also something you see used extensively in some traditions. I have no personal experience with it, and no interest in having any -- well, I'd attend the sacrifice of a bullock in ancient Greek mode gladly, but that's as much for the community barbecue that follows!

Jeff, good heavens. You're the first person ever to mention having read that essay of mine. I'd figured it and the book it's in had dropped off the press into complete obscurity!

Stuart, excellent! One of the curious things most people tend to forget about the universe is that it does tend to respond to what you give it. If you approach it with love, it can become a lover -- which in no way excludes the possibility of lover's quarrels; if you approach it as a teacher, it will teach you; if you approach it as a vending machine that's supposed to cough up goodies on command, it'll treat you the same way a human being approached that way will generally treat you, with a good hard slap across the face, repeated as necessary until you get a clue. I'll have to check out the book by Webb; that sounds very interesting indeed.

Steve, understood. I'd make it available earlier in the training process if I thought that it would work there, but -- as you've noted! -- there's already quite a bit to absorb. I'm currently working out (via meditation and ritual) the symbolism, teachings, and practices for a major expansion of the Cabalistic side of the DOGD work, with a book to follow; after that and probably a spellbook with rituals and herbal concoctions, a book of practices for the Druid Grade will follow, and then a manual of temple rituals for group working. By the time the whole thing is in print, the Celtic Golden Dawn system will be as elaborate as the Hermetic GD, if not more so.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, good. Yes, it does -- the ability to work with reality begins with the ability to tell the difference between reality and the abstractions that get built up around reality, and that's pretty generally lacking. As for divination, you need to start by getting a very good sense of what each of the divinatory symbols means -- as in, what kind of life experience does this symbol represent! -- and then, when looking over each day's divinations, try to figure out which specific event or quality of the day is represented by that symbol. Again, it's a matter of getting out of the realm of abstractions and into that of concrete experience.

As for constructing a question, depends on the oracle. In most cases, either something that can be expressed as a yes/no or something on the order of "what can I expect to happen to me this day?" works best. Keep it simple.

Callum, the next time you have negative energy to dispose of, start by realizing that it's energy, and the negative quality is merely a signal that the energy is carrying. Then let it descend into the ground, and consciously will that the energy will go to the healing of the earth and be used in a beneficial and appropriate way. Watch what happens.

Bruce, and the fundamentalists are also profoundly fixated on abstractions, which is another expression of the same thing.

Callum, good. Now notice that the concept "vibrating masses of energy" is still a concept, that is to say, an abstraction. Let the abstraction fade into the direct experience, and see where it takes you.

Dadaharm, excellent! Exactly; the point of abstraction is that it fosters the paired illusions of stability and control. Mind you, sometimes those illusions are useful, but only as tools for temporary use.

Scotlyn said...

@nwlorax your question made me realise I'm having difficulty retracing my steps, and must keep better notes. What perhaps I should not be so bold as to imagine or hope, is that the Celtic Traditional (reconstructed) Medicine physician might, one day, be me. At least, at this moment there are no instructional textbooks in such a medicine, unlike the situation with TCM. The thread I initially felt moved to follow was the lost pattern of Airmid's cloak (interesting treatment here, but I am not a herbalist, more a body/energy worker (acupuncture). For such work one needs a detailed picture of a physiology, a sense of the kinds of pathology people experience (as departures from normal physiology) and code for mapping outward signs and symptoms onto patterns of physiology/pathology and tools for helping patient to rectify these. When I first encountered the cauldron of poesy material, it was therefore,to me, a description of physiology. I have since realised that it is also what you and the archdruid and many others have encountered, as a description of the process for achieving imbas. Still, the cauldrons are said to have been born in ALL people... So I am working with these images now in that way... As clues to a Celtic medicine physiology. I have started to learn Irish,as I also realise I won't get much further without it.

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG on how you treat the universe and how it treats you in return - don't I know! Once when my Siamese Prince was whining at me repeatedly and incessantly, I realized "This is how the gods must feel when we 'pray incessantly.'"

Anyone who has ever had a cat tell you "Yow!" in the imperative mode and has restrained the impulse to send the cat halfway across the room can relate to that. As my "other self in fur" can tell you.

onething said...


"Btw, I sometimes wonder why sacrificing an animal for magical purposes is regarded as black magic, or at least as something evil..."

Well, two wrongs don't make a right. In the case of the economy, it is of course wicked, but it is not personal. The sacrifice itself is not the point, and so far as I know, there isn't a deity enjoying it.

I would have a problem with a deity that required a blood sacrifice, though. I believe that what we are attracted to is a reflection of who we are as beings. Why would a deity want blood, pain, fear and death, and especially if they are not embodied?

However, I do not really understand sacrifice, never have. It leaves me cold and that includes the Christian child blood sacrifice. It makes no sense to me and never has. Well, you've got the Native Americans throwing some tobacco on the fire as a thanks to the Great Spirit, a thing of value, a token of appreciation and that does make sense to me.

In the Russian Orthodox Sunday liturgy, they offer "a sacrifice of praise." I find that beautiful.
I remember when I was five I told my mother I did not believe that the communion wine was the blood of Christ.

Callum said...


I will investigate that title, thank you!


*I* am as close to reality as I can get. And I am always changing. Reality, like change, is fluid and personal. ...I must willfully let myself change if reality is to change. :/

I get that there is stability in change, a car rocks the least when rounding a turn. But I have trouble with the letting myself change as I will stability as hard as I can. (What am I willing here?). Change has very rarely treated me well. (Actually quite relative). The micro-events of my life vary so much that my effort goes into maintaining the macro-events. This probably needs to change... pondering ahead. (Perhaps willing micro stability instead of the macro... your other blog often questions the wisdom of being too invested in the status quo. ::sigh::). Sorry for my second-thinking, well... Thank you for my second thinking! :P

I will work to keep your advice present next time I am present enough to reign myself in. Thank you!

Best to all.

Jeff Gill said...

JMG, there'a a copy of Jesus Through Pagan Eyes in the Llandudno public library's religion section. That's slightly better than complete obscurity.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Daelach and Archdruid,

So follow the KIS principal for the divination. Okay, that should be pretty easy.

Sample questions:
Will I learn the meaning of these rune today?
Should I focus on x concept for my next study session?



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Varun, I might be sticking my opinion in where it's not wanted, but if I understand your two questions, it seems to me that you could answer both of them without resorting to divination.

If you are doing divination for yourself, IMHO it is best to ask a question that 1) you want the answer to, 2) you need more information or a different viewpoint to answer and 3) the matter isn't totally under your conscious control.

Sima said...

@JMG Thank you again, and to all the commenters, who add so much. I’m a little late to the party.

@onething Your 23 Sept, 9.06 comment really chimes with my experience as a sportsman.

@Glenn McCumber I think there are very striking parallels with theatre, sport, ritual and, perhaps, numerous other aspects of culture, perhaps on many levels. The following was written before I’d scrolled down to your comment, but I wonder whether some of it may sound familiar to you. ‘All the world’s a stage’ is an expression I long thought I’d understood but now realise I’m still very far from comprehending.

In recent years I’ve begun to question why I play sport, and what I get from it, and it seems clear to me that much of what JMG talks about in terms of ritual and magic is there in sporting competition. There is obviously a lot of ritual involved in sport - the way the playing area is defined and prepared, the formalities before the game, and the game is usually punctuated by ritual; it’s often preceded by a piece of ritual divination - the coin toss. But particularly in the moving ball games, the ball takes us immediately away form past regrets and future worries and toward the present; the moving ball compels a participation in the moment - I have to hit, stop or catch it at exactly the right moment, and it’s movement toward me is something beyond my control.

Most people are *not* actually able to control their bodies at will. It can be very difficult to let go of the other thoughts and actually make your body do what it’s supposed to do, when you want it to do it. Usually it takes a great deal of practice, again, often, ritualised practice.

But most committed sportsmen and women, recognise a mental state deeper than merely the state of involvement we usually experience when engaged in a game. This state has various names; the zone, flow, in the moment, in your bubble. The terms vary, but it’s a state of immense control and clarity. When you’re in this state you’re able to take knocks without being seriously diverted form your task, your touch and control are superior, you’re utterly free from distraction. You simply see what is to be done, and do it. You still ‘plan’ in a sense, but it’s more a kind of anticipatory awareness; you see what you have to do next, and probably retain a clear sense of possibilities, options, and moves well ahead of your current position, but there’s not much need for ‘decision-making’. You just know what to do.

This state is quite hard to achieve. Maybe some people never find it. Most will only experience it occasionally. Sometimes an external stimulus can knock you into the state, sometimes a conscious choice is made to commit (perhaps at some peril).

onething mentions ‘love’ in their comment, and I think this state is quite close to a state of love, as I understand it. It’s not, I think, entirely free of time - as I mentioned, anticipation is not only possible but greatly enhanced - but it is both free of regret (the ball you just missed is utterly insignificant) and free of worry (you’re not intimidated, frightened or nervous).

When you are in this state you are in complete and natural control of your movements, without ever being aware of how you do stuff, so you do have a full control of your body that is usually absent, but you also begin to have a strong influence of those around you - in a team game your teammates are all lifted by your performance and, I suspect, by your assurance and commitment to the cause. Your opponents begin to take special measures to deal with you, or simply begin to back off and lose heart.

This seems to me very close to the kind of mental (or ‘non-verbal’) state JMG is referring to..

One way to avoid achieving this state is to talk to oneself, try to calm oneself verbally or, worst of all, just act ‘cool’.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Any advice that helps make me less ignorant is always welcome. Thank you for the pointers. :)



Sven Eriksen said...

It is my belief that the urge to fly off into the abstract is ultimately the inevitable result of identifying exclusively with parts of the self beneath The Veil, and the subsequent need to figure out a way to amass the fleeting perceptions there into a workable (i.e. solid) “me”. As you correctly noted, John, the payoff from abstraction is the creation of the paired illusions of solidity and control. I would actually say that the latter is derived from the former. The mind spins its narratives that enables the world that comes in through the senses to be thought of as solid, because then that world can (at least potentially) be controlled by the mind. Have you ever noticed that the less awareness there appears to be in a person, the more intensely their internal dialogue seems to be screaming about the solid world “out there”, and how it “works”, very often with anger in one of its more or less acute forms as the ever present companion. It is probably not an accident that such people are often intuitively referred to as “dense”. I suppose the reason why the masses of cluelessly normal people in our society can't communicate (nor disengage from incessantly screaming at each other, for that matter) is that each and everyone of them is jealously and angrily guarding his or her quagmire of abstractions against any intrusion from reality (and yes, I am aware that anyone matching this description are in the habit of ostensibly referring to their own quagmire as “reality”, but we'll have to let that pass for now). If you have ever had to try, for whatever reason, to jerk someone out of their realm of abstractions to focus them on something that is actually going on, you know perfectly well what will happen. If you push them a little, people will generally implode into a downward spiraling frenzy of anger and mental automatisms, because the little “me” I initially referred to is being annihilated by it. I will readily admit that I find the resulting spectacle to be the most frightening entity that can be encountered this side of Niflheim...

Val said...

I've heard of another variety of sex magic which I don't recall your mentioning. In it the magician invokes or otherwise conjures a spirit with whom to have sex. Donald Tyson spells out his version of this process in his book "Sexual Alchemy." I believe Israel Regardie also mentions it, in his brief book on making and using talismans. And I've also read - I forget where - that Siberian shamans have a tradition of marrying their spirit guides.

I'm curious about this process, and might even consider trying it. But my understanding is that the spirit in question must be invited to come within the circle, obtaining direct access to the magician; that would seem to be a sine qua non, considering the purpose. Couldn't this be risky? How can one be sure that a spirit so invited won't prove hostile or otherwise dangerous?

I've listened to some of Poke Runyon's podcasts (which are a lot of fun, and often quite informative), and he too brings up this operation. He states very strongly that whoever or whatever the spirit might be, it had *better* not be your HGA. He didn't explain why not. Which is kind of confusing, because I've actually heard Lon Milo Duquette say that "..your Holy Guardian Angel is so *horny* for you..!" - or words to that effect (he was talking of his practice of the Abramelin operation). What's a libidinous magician to think?

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, funny! Having grown up with a pair of Siamese, I can concur.

Callum, actually, trying to keep yourself from changing will also guarantee that reality will change, so either way, it changes! The crucial question, from the point of view of the operative mage, is whether the changes are in accordance with will, in opposition to will, or indifferent to will; there are certain very real advantages to moving as many things as possible into the third category. More on this as we proceed.

Jeff, fascinating. If I ever get to Llandudno I'll have to check out the public library, then; if it has a copy of that book, it must have a remarkably odd collection.

Varun, actually, I don't recommend asking questions when you can decide what the answer will be ("will I learn X today?" or the like). Try, instead, questions such as these:

"Will this course of action bring me the results I desire?"
"Do I have a correct understanding of this issue?"

When you get more facility with the oracle, you can get more complex:

"What course of action will yield the best results for me in this situation?"
"What are this person's real intentions?"

It's best to use divination for things you don't know and can't determine yourself, because that way you can go back over your past readings and say, "Okay, I see what that was trying to tell me"!

Sima, you're welcome and thank you.

Sven, I also find it useful to think of this process in psychological terms, as a matter of projection run riot. So many people project the contents of their psyche onto the inkblot patterns of the world around them, and instead of having a conscious and reflective inner life, act out their inner life unconsciously using other people and things as stand-ins for psychic contents. The quest for solidity can be seen in this way as a demand that the stand-ins continue to act their part no matter what. Of course the irony is that in reality, it's by letting the world not be solid and fixed and rigid that real power becomes possible!

Val, why, yes, it's very risky. I wouldn't encourage anyone to do it in evocatory work, precisely because of the risks -- but then I'm not much in favor of current fashions in evocation, which have gotten fixated on goetic demons and the like. Other forms of evocation, directed at other classes of spiritual beings, seem much more useful to me. As for the Genius -- that's the older, Neoplatonist term for the Holy Guardian Angel -- well, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Lon's Genius is a complete horndog lusting after him night and day, but that statement may not be universally applicable. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Daelach (offlist), I tried to drop you an email and got it bounced back with a timed-out message this afternoon. Do you have another email address where you can be reached?

Sven Eriksen said...

"Projection run riot" is indeed a keeper. Power is a peculiar thing, is it not, John ;-)

Scotlyn said...

@JMG, PhysicsDoc, Unknown Deborah and others commenting on death, blood & sacrifice. I had reason to revisit your comments from a different angle, as we have come to the part of the year in which we select an older member of our flock (a ewe) to be killed butchered and frozen for our personal winter/spring food supply. We will not be doing the killing or butchering ourselves, as the local craft butcher does this much better than we would, but it strikes me that the sense of uneasiness that hangs over us, even in the act of picking this sheep, marking her out to meet her end in this world, needs addressing. I fully understand the rituals and charms that may have been made and used by people everywhere to restore peace with the world when engaged in the necessary act of killing some part of it to eat, as we all must. For my part, I have decided to address this need to restore balance, to acknowledge the debt life pays to death, by fasting tomorrow and filling my thoughts with gratitude for her life.

Val said...

I just had an interesting experience. Many crows have been hanging around here lately, attracted by the food that is regularly left out for a neighbor's outdoor cats. They (the crows) can be quite raucous. A few minutes ago, one in particular was cawing to an annoying extent. I stepped onto my front porch and saw it in a tree a few yards away. I clapped my hands once, loudly. It stopped for a moment, but then resumed. Then I spoke to it, quietly but with focused intent: "You're starting to annoy me. I want you to go away. You're making too much noise." Before I'd completed the last sentence, the crow and its companion flew away.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Okay, I'll try that out. I guess it's just a matter of practice, practice, practice.

I was wondering last night whether "polarity" is a stackable function. If a person were to be conducting sex magic (back when it was producing it's peak power due to social taboos), and mixing it with other taboos such as blood magic (ew, I realize), and using some foreign incantations would this combination generate a stronger force to work with?

Also, another of your readers suggested that the internet was stimulating people and creating access energies that weren't directed anywhere. Does this also work for the imagination and fantasizing in general? If I was fantasizing about starting a business venture and constantly dreaming of the success, does that draw energy away from actually allowing the venture to be successful?



Callum said...


Thank you for your words. I have read the past entries on this blog now, so lots to ponder... Also some literature you *might be familiar with is one the way. ;) Greatly looking forward to it!

Nancy Sutton said...

I'll get back to reading the comments, but this so confirms the ubiquitous examples of the benefits of separating thinking and put it crudely. One that you've resurfaced is EMDR "Eye Movement Densitization and Reprocessing".

Also just a program Al Jazeera's TechKnow program about how using MDMA therapeutically created a situation where the PTSD sufferer 'saw' her tormenting thoughts floating before her, and, when the stab of fear came, she instead followed a gentle, novel impulse to 'just watch them, turn them over, etc.'. Cured her, and the effect was equivalent to the results lots of therapy, per the doctor. In her 'seeing' the emotion without the 'thinker's* dictation... she is healed (returned to 'wholeness'.. 'reality' ?). This, of course, is facilitated by the drug (psylocybin is also being studied, etc. (BTW a materialist atheist neurologist's tentative explanation is the recently 'discovered' Default Mode System in the brain...see the NYorker article by Michael Pollan ;)

*many names: monkey mind, constant critique, chatterbox (now the DMS)... must be a better one! Again, thanks, John.

nwlorax said...

Dear Val et al:

Korean mudong may marry their spirit spouses. Neither the Ulchi nor the Nanai (nor from surviving records did the Jurchen) marry their familiar spirits. At least when I interviewed Victor Bondarenko some years ago and asked him this question he answered in the negative.

A bit closer to home, John Chapman ("Johnny Appleseed") had multiple spirit wives and children. Spirit children were not uncommon in 19th century Spiritualist thought. Though corporeally-challenged relatives are a topic for another forum.

daelach said...

@ JMG: I know this would be even more difficult than what the general topic of this blog is, but I'd love to also read an article on mysticism. I got the feeling that there's a level behind what magic is; not in some spatial way, but in terms of meaning.

The problem surely is to give words to this aspect because usually, it's just Wittgenstein - whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent. But your words tend to reach out like higher-than-average waves breaching on the shore, washing sand awater that had been lying athirst..

Scotlyn said...

This seemed apt:
(from Jagdish Chandra Bose, early 20th century researcher in plant signalling, who also was ingenious in designing mechanisms for detecting same)

“In the pursuit of my investigations I was unconsciously led into the border region of physics and physiology and was amazed to find boundary lines vanishing and points of contact emerge between the realms of the living and the Non – living. Inorganic matter was found anything but inert; it was also athrill under the action of multitudinous forces that played on it. A universal reaction seemed to bring together metal, plant and animal under a common law. They all exhibited essentially the same phenomenon of fatigue and depression, together with possibilities of recovery and exaltation, yet also that of permanent irresponsiveness which is associated with death. I was filled with awe at this stupendous generalization; and it was with great hope that I announced my results before the Royal Society, - results demonstrated by experiments. But the physiologists present advised me, after my address, to confine myself to physical investigations in which my success had been assured , rather than encroach on their preserve. I had thus unwittingly strayed into the domain of a new and unfamiliar caste system and so offended its etiquette. An unconscious theological bias was also present which confounds ignorance with faith. It is forgotten that He, who surrounds us with this ever – evolving mystery of creation, the ineffable wonder that lies hidden in the microcosm of the dust particle, enclosing within the intricacies of its atomic form all the mystery of the cosmos, has also implanted in us the desire to question and understand.
To the theological bias was added the misgivings about the inherent bent of the Indian mind towards mysticism and unchecked imagination. But in India this burning imagination which can extract new order out of a mass of apparently contradictory facts, is also held in check by the habit of meditation. It is this restraint which confers the power to hold the mind in pursuit of truth, in infinite patience, to wait, and reconsider, to experimentally test and repeatedly verify.”
[The voice of life, Bose, J. C. From : Acharya J. C. Bose – A scientist and a dreamer Vol. 4 (1996) Ed. P. Bhattacharyya, Bose Institute , Calcutta, pp. 60 – 62, (1996)]

John Michael Greer said...

Sven, it is indeed.

Scotlyn, that unease probably has a lot to do with the way that killing animals for food has, in many human societies, been given a religious context. Every animal that was killed and butchered in ancient Greece, for example, was offered to the gods -- even if it wasn't done in a big public ceremony, the words were said and the gods invoked. Religion is the realm of the uncanny, and anything that feels uncanny to people tends to gravitate there.

Val, crows are very, very smart. Your account doesn't surprise me at all.

Varun, good! The answers are yes and yes.

Callum, glad to hear it.

Nancy, down the road a bit we'll be discussing the difference between thinking and experience in more detail, using some traditional magical jargon. It's really a crucial issue.

Daelach, I'll certainly consider it. While there may be some things involved in mysticism that can't be spoken of, have you ever noticed that mystics themselves tend to talk about them by the hour and write about them by the ream?

Scotlyn, that's utterly fascinating -- I'll have to chase down some of Bose's writings as time permits. He seems to have been approaching the same goal Goethe's research into plants sought, but from a different and very interesting angle.

Brother Guthlac said...

"While there may be some things involved in mysticism that can't be spoken of, have you ever noticed that mystics themselves tend to talk about them by the hour and write about them by the ream? "

At least the ones we hear about talk and the ones we read write.

AdekAyres said...

Hey there, have to apologize for asking here, but I've totally failed to find a method of contacting you directly, whether through email or private message. I just have a couple questions about a couple of your books, and wasn't quite sure where to ask; or if it's something you'd even have time for. Definitely seems like you keep busy. I'm sure I'm missing something completely obvious, but I'd appreciate it either way.