Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Scope of Occultism, Part Two: Modern Operative Methods

Last month we surveyed the practical dimensions of occultism of the Western world as it existed up to the end of the Renaissance: basically, ritual magic, astrology, and alchemy, in their various forms and permutations. Those three occult sciences are still very much in evidence nowadays, but between the versions practiced today and those practiced in the Renaissance and before lies a massive discontinuity.

A thought experiment may help make sense of what happened. Imagine for a moment that in the not too distant future, in the wake of an avalanche of cascading crises for which technology offers no solutions, science ends up being condemned as useless and evil by the vast majority of people. As that shift in attitudes spreads, governments cut off the flow of grant money, universities shutter science departments and turn their facilities over to other programs, public schools eliminate science classes from the curriculum. Worse, as attitudes against science harden, those people who try to keep the scientific tradition alive find themselves ostracized by their neighbors, fired from their jobs, and now and again chased down by mobs and beaten or worse.

In such a setting, those who wanted to preserve anything at all of the legacy of science would face an uphill struggle against formidable odds. They would have to work out ways of meeting with like-minded people in secret, identifying potential recruits, and teaching them the details of scientific theory and practice outside the familiar framework of university programs and graduate assistantships. Entire disciplines would have to be jettisoned in order to direct the few available resources to the handful of fields that could be taught and practiced effectively with a maximum of secrecy and a minimum of expense. As a result, by the time attitudes shifted again and it became possible for scientists to become public again, science itself would have undergone drastic changes. 

Swap out science for occultism, and that’s what happened over the quarter millennium between 1600 and 1850. During those years, massive shifts in the intellectual culture of Europe drove the wholesale rejection of occultism by the vast majority of Europeans, abolished the framework that once provided economic support for occultists, and forced those few people who were still interested in preserving and practicing occult traditions into secret orders, on the one hand, and the ranks of the rural poor on the other. As a result, most of Renaissance occultism was lost; some parts of it have been laboriously reconstructed since the 1850s, while others remain completely obscure even to today’s occultists.

As a result, the revival of occultism that got kicked into gear by the publication of Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic in 1855 wasn’t a straightforward return to the traditions that existed in the Renaissance and earlier. It was in large part a reinvention, in which the intellectual culture of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe had at least as much to say to the result as the older traditions on which the revival drew. Levi himself was in the forefront of that process, and that probably accounts for the immense success of Levi’s work. Such earlier authors as Thomas Taylor and Francis Barrett presented occultism in its classical and Renaissance forms respectively, and their attempts to revive the tradition failed; Levi reworked occultism from top to bottom in the light of the philosophy and physics of his own era, and triumphed.

Behind Levi, in turn, hovers the spectral presence of one of the most influential and least discussed philosophers of the modern era. Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in what is now the Polish city of Gdansk, got his doctorate from the University of Jena in 1813, published his most important book in 1819, settled in Frankfurt thereafter, and was ignored by almost everyone until the revolutions of 1848 and 1849 made his uncompromising analysis of the limitations of human thought and the power of the irrational will impossible to dismiss. From then until the Second World War, Schopenhauer’s ideas ran wild all through European and American thought and culture; if you know your way around his major book The World as Will and Representation, you’ll find the footprints of the old grouch of Frankfurt all over a territory that extends from Richard Wagner’s operas, through H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacled horrors from three weeks before the dawn of time, to Eliphas Levi.

Central to Schopenhauer’s philosophy is the recognition that the universe is not rational in any sense that matters to human beings—or, to make the same point from the other direction, that the human mind is not capable of knowing objective truths about the universe through the exercise of reason. All those philosophers from Plato on down who insisted that the universe has to make sense in terms of human reason, in Schopenhauer’s view, were barking up the wrong stump, stuck in a misleading metaphor that confused the universe with the mental models with which we attempt to make sense of it. The universe, to Schopenhauer, is not an idea but a will—that is to say, it resembles nothing else quite so much as the irrational but potent will to live that surges through every cell of our bodies in serene detachment from all the assembled notions of our chattering and self-important minds.

Grasp what Schopenhauer is saying—that human reason doesn’t reveal truths about the cosmos, and that reason is nothing more exalted than the habitual way our nervous systems, under the pressure of past experience and unprovable cultural presuppositions, happen to process the narrow range of stimuli that evolution has adapted us to notice—and you’ve got, by and large, three choices. You can deny it, in which case you end up chasing your tail in the manner typical of modern science, mistaking artifacts produced by your nervous system, your cultural background, and your experimental manipulations for cosmic truths. Alternatively, you can sidestep it by claiming that absolute truth about the cosmos can be obtained from some nonrational source such as religious revelation, in which case you end up with a dogmatism that demands acceptance on the basis of blind faith. Those are popular options, to be sure, and very comforting to those who can embrace them, but they’re not the only games in town.

The alternative is that you can accept what Schopenhauer has to say and then respond, “Given that the universe cannot be understood by the human mind, given that the best we can do when we try to make sense of things is to work out a tentative, fallible, and historically contingent consensus about how the parts of the universe we happen to notice seem to behave when we’re looking at them, how should we then live?” That’s the question that Schopenhauer tried to ask and answer; after him, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Carl Jung, among others, offered their own answers—and so, in his own way, did Eliphas Levi.

The connection between Schopenhauer and Levi is more than a matter of basic theme, though; it goes straight to the core details of Levi’s theory of magic. The book of Schopenhauer’s that matters here is one of his minor works, On the Will in Nature, published in 1825, which he wrote to back up his thesis by drawing up-to-date information from what was then modern science. In the course of the discussion, he included a chapter on magic. You’re not allowed to discuss magic in any kind of academic writing these days, outside a few corners of the history of ideas, but that prohibition hadn’t yet been handed down in 1825; philosophers—since philosophy had not yet settled into the swamp of self-referential obscurantism that’s swallowed it in our time—were expected to account for all of human experience, not just those that late twentieth century materialist ideologies find convenient to discuss.

Schopenhauer’s examination of magic in On the Will in Nature, typically, broke new ground, and the theory of magic he proposed there was the same one that, thirty years later, Levi put into the pages of Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic: the idea that the force behind magic was the individual human will. I’m pretty sure that Levi got the idea either directly or indirectly from Schopenhauer, for the arguments the older man deployed in On the Will in Nature frame Levi’s entire approach, and it’s an easy step from Schopenhauer’s concept of the world as will and representation—“representation” here meaning mental image—to Levi’s vision of magic as will and imagination.

It’s important to grasp just how massive a redefinition of magic Levi’s refocusing brought about. From ancient times to the end of the Renaissance, occultism in general and magic in particular were both understood as dealing with the forces of the macrocosm—that is, the universe as a whole, in which the individual human being was an all but infinitesimal part. The four types of magic discussed in last month’s post—astrological magic, natural magic, evocatory magic, and invocatory magic—all drew on sources of power outside the self. Astrology as understood from Sumerian times to the end of the Renaissance, and alchemy from Hellenistic Egypt to the same point, likewise focused on forces and phenomena external to the self.

From Levi on, that changed, because mages in the wake of the Schopenhauerian revolution—whether or not they understood his thesis, or had heard of him at all—recognized that much of what they thought was out there in the universe was actually part of themselves, and reworked their magic accordingly. A case could be made that in at least some cases they took that further than it had to go, but that’s the way such changes generally happen. Modern occultism thus focused its operative methods and its philosophy on the microcosm rather than the macrocosm, resulting in significant changes and additions to the toolkit of the operative mage.

As we did last month, we’ll examine the operative methods of magic by way of a rough outline of basic approaches, and once again we’ll begin with magic. There are two distinctive post-Renaissance magical methods; a quick taxonomy might run as follows:

Intentive magic. I’ve coined this phrase to refer to the kind of magic that works by formulating a picture in the imagination and directing the will toward it in one way or another. There are many different varieties of intentive magic, ranging from the “creative visualization” practiced by many New Agers, through the sigil workings made popular by the recent chaos magic movement, to the hour-long dramatic incantations popularized by Israel Regardie in his books on the Golden Dawn. If it works by focusing the will through the imagination to create change in accordance with will, it’s intentive magic.

Etheric magic. One of Eliphas Levi’s core contributions to magical philosophy was the concept of the astral light, the subtle field of energy that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. (Ahem.) Drawing on Asian concepts such as prana and ch’i, and also on the specific practices evolved in Asian spiritual traditions to make practical use of these concepts, various forms of etheric magic tap into the ether, od, astral light, vital life force, or whatever you choose to call it in a dizzying assortment of ways. Deliberate combinations of intentive and etheric magic are extremely common—the Golden Dawn, to cite only one example, routinely fuses the two—and both of these methods are also routinely combined with the four modes of magical practice discussed in last month’s post, yielding quite an assortment of options. Each of them, though, also appears independently in some systems.

From this latter derives another set of practices which have become very important in operative magic in modern times, though you won’t find very little trace of them in Western occultism before Levi:

Etheric development. From Asian sources, again, came the idea that the astral light concentrates in specific centers in the body. Since this material found its way into Western languages, a great many practices designed to energize, purify, and strengthen these centers have entered into common practice in the occult community. In many schools—the Golden Dawn, with its Middle Pillar exercise, is a well known example—some such etheric development practice is the foundation of magical training. What differentiates this from etheric magic is that it’s not aimed at specific goals; rather, it’s intended to build a foundation for goal-oriented magical workings later on.

More generally, the daily practice of magical disciplines for the purpose of developing powers and perceptions the uninitiated don’t have has become far more central in modern magic than it was in the Renaissance and before. Aside from etheric development and the regular performance of simple magical rituals, these disciplines fall into two broad categories:

Meditation. There are a great variety of different meditative exercises in the modern occult traditions these days, some closely resembling Asian ways of meditation—often by way of direct borrowing—while others go their own ways. The mainstay of occult practice until 1980, it has been neglected by many of the recent crop of occult schools, with unhelpful results; fortunately it is coming back into general practice as its advantages as a tool of magical training become more generally recognized.

Seership. There’s quite a diversity of ways by which people can learn to see things that aren’t physically present, interact with them, and accomplish things by this means. Nearly all modern occult schools include some form of seership practice as a basic means of development, whether this involves the training and cultivation of the imagination or the use of some tool such as a crystal ball or a scrying mirror. Some schools have made this the entire focus of occult training, with dubious results; more often, and more usefully, it becomes one aspect in a well-rounded occult curriculum.

While alchemy was revived in the late 19th century and remains a living current today, all the occult traditions I know of that use it have focused on recovering the classic tradition in its various forms. Astrology is another matter, and especially in the last half dozen decades, the vast majority of astrological work has focused on a branch of the art that received very little attention before then.

Psychological astrology. The astrologers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, not to mention their clients, turned to the stars because they wanted to know what was going to happen to them and how they could manage their activities successfully in harmony with the tides of planetary force. These days, many astrologers and most clients turn to the stars because they want to know who they are. A great deal of very subtle and insightful work has gone into this sort of astrological analysis; though it’s not the be-all and end-all of astrology, as some of its more enthusiastic modern practitioners sometimes seem to think, in another few centuries, it will no doubt be a recognized branch of the art.

Then there’s another field that has undergone even more revolutionary changes:

Divination. Back in the Renaissance, if you were an occultist and wanted to practice divination, you either erected a horoscope or cast a geomantic chart. Tarot was a card game, and most of the plethora of oracles that currently elbow each other at the feeding trough of the New Age market hadn’t been thought of yet. The reinvention of Tarot cards as divination tools was the decisive shift, because card divination is faster and more flexible than geomancy, and vastly easier than erecting a horoscope was in the days before personal computers. The last century will probably be remembered for millennia to come as the golden age of divination, in which almost every imaginable set of symbols and images was printed on a card deck or the like and used to catch glimpses of the unseen.

Then there are two distinctive physical applications of occult thought that were minor at best in the older tradition, but became massive presences in the 19th and early 20th century. One of them retains that status today, while the other has lost ground in recent decades but looks like it may be staging a comeback:

Alternative medicine. Mages have generally been healers in every culture, but in most societies outside the modern industrial West, they either concentrated on magical healing or made use of the same healing modalities as the mainstream healers—when, that is, they weren’t the mainstream healers. The first stirrings of the modern medical industry in the 19th century changed that, as physicians and pharmaceutical companies started denouncing any healing modality from which they didn’t profit, and eventually managed to get legal codes in most countries to view things the way they did. That forced a range of effective healing modalities underground, where the social dynamics of rejected knowledge encouraged participants in every other underground subculture to take an interest in these healing arts. To this day, if you meet an occultist of any kind, the odds are rather better than 1 in 2 that he or she uses herbs, homeopathy, accupressure, or the like for home health care instead of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and mainstream medical interventions.

Physical culture. That’s the old term for what we’d now call exercise, and for something like a century it was an important part of modern occultism. You can still find old books on occultism that teach an assortment of stretches, breathing exercises, and calisthenics as part of occult training, and some of the old material has made its way into very recent books—for example, the Five Rites, a pleasant set of stretching and toning exercises that were popular in occult circles in the early 20th century, have been introduced to several generations of ceremonial magicians by the late Don Kraig’s book Modern Magic. In some occult schools, hatha yoga has taken over from physical culture; many others have simply allowed the whole subject to drop, and a few have retained or regained an interest in this end of the tradition, if only because light physical exercise as part of a daily regimen of magical training pays off handsomely in terms of improved health and vitality.

Finally, another borrowing from nonmagical sources has had a huge impact on modern occultism, though it’s poorly understood by many of today’s occultists:

Lodge ritual. Even before Levi’s time, people who were interested in occultism tended to get into one or another of the burgeoning world of voluntary social organizations that sprang up in western Europe in the 18th century. Freemasonry, which had the most elaborate rituals of any of these organizations, was a logical target but far from the only one. The formal ceremonies that were used to open and close meetings, initiate new members, welcome new officers to their annual terms, and the like soon were adopted by an assortment of occult groups and became pervasive in the occult scene. A great many of these things are still to be found in occult organizations, though the decline of the fraternal lodges has left a great many occultists without the training previous generations of mages had, and resulted in a general decline in the effectiveness of lodge ritual work, but lodge ritual retains a massive presence, especially in older occult schools.

So that’s a summary of the main additions to occultism in the post-Levi era—that is, from 1855 to last Thursday or thereabouts. Next month we’ll plunge into the murky waters of occult philosophy and try to work out a similar taxonomy.
In other news, I’m delighted to announce that the first volume of my Lovecraftian magical fantasy The Weird of Hali is now available for preorder. The publisher, Miskatonic Books, is sensibly enough releasing the high-end hardback editions first. Those of my readers who are interested in a signed limited edition hardback of The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth can preorder it here; those who want to go way over the top and order one of 26 copies of the fine edition, handsewn, traycased, and bound in the skins of beasts better left unnamed, can order it here. Like H.P. Lovecraft, I know my way around occult tradition and use it in my fiction; unlike him, I’m for occultism, not agin’ it—and it’s not the tentacled nature-gods of Lovecraft’s nightmares who are the villains of my tale.


Bill Pulliam said...

Interesting that this trajectory seems to reflect the bigger picture of what was going on with western civilization during that time - increasing cultural exchange with Asia, increasing focus on the individual, shifts in technique towards more direct and rapid methods, and the gradual evolution away from absolute truth to "individual truth." Suppose that should hardly be surprising!

Bruce The Druid said...

"Physical Culture" This is rather interesting. I can vouch with my experience with Tai Chi and massage therapy, how much certain physical exercises can help. It was my experience with the local Spiritualists I learned that the American aversion to exercise pervaded even to the Spiritualists. Massage was a hard sell to these people, and as time went on, it was explained to me that many mediums felt the best body in which to generate ectoplasm was that large apple shaped body untouched by exercise. My friend, himself a member of this community, didn't believe in that, but said this belief was deeply entrenched. I later ran across accounts of Australian Aborigines who could produce something they called a "spirit rope", but they rather fit and lean.

Now I begin to wonder if much of the malaise I sense in the occult scene is due to this aversion to exercise. I always thought Tai Chi would be a natural exercise for occultists, but it seems that memorizing the forms is too hard, or something along those lines. Or perhaps its the American compartmentalization of putting spiritual things in one box, and exercise in another box, and the twain never meet.

Steve Thomas said...

I noticed that your opening metaphor is basically the same as Alasdair McIntyre's in After Virtue. For much of my life I've had the impression that there is something that has been lost in our society, something vital that we once had. It's only in the last few years that I've begun to realize just what was lost, and when that happened.

It's interesting for me to note that tai chi/qigong seems to be competing with hatha yoga as a major source of physical culture. I know there are at least 2 committed practitioners of both in the DOGD, myself and Andrew. These practices, of course, also work as etheric cultivation, and as alternative medicine.

Martial arts generally also seem to be very common among occultists, and it's usually some sort of Chinese internal martial art or kung fu or aikido or ninjitsu.

Druid and Taoist practices go well together philosophically, but the symbol sets do clash in certain ways. I continue to long for a day in which we'll have a self-contained Western symbolic system for ritual magic, etheric cultivation for both internal and practical ends, and physical cultivation, including mystically-tinged martial arts. I have a feeling that just such a structure-- which would have included its other components, from sacred geometry to music symbolism and astrology-- is what was shattered at the end of the Renaissance, and here we are, putting the pieces back together.

This may be straying to far from the topic at hand, but it's also interesting to note the forces opposed to this reassembly. It's not just the materialist academics and their mouthpieces in the media. The churches are also very much opposed to the recovery of the older traditions. The Catholic Church has eliminated or downplayed most of its magical traditions, when it hasn't forbidden them outright. It's now sinful to pray to the archangel Uriel, or to attempt to learn the name of any angel other than Mikey Gabe and Raph. Practices like reiki or dao yin are also sinful. I listened to a talk once by a Catholic exorcist in which he took a moment to denounce reiki, which apparently makes use of some sort of devil juice-- I wonder if it ever occurred to him that Saint Hildegard of Bingen's medical knowledge was channeled from the divine in the same way as Mikao Usui's? But doubtless using Saint Hildegard's Physica is sinful now too.

Goodness, if I let myself go on in this vein I'll descend into ranting, if I haven't already. Anyway, I don't know if I'm altogether correct about this. Thanks again for this month's installment!

Revere T said...

I've just started re-reading this blog from the beginning. I didn't really understand what I was looking at a year ago, but all of my recent readings and thinkings have suddenly aligned, and I think I'm starting to get a sense of the real scope of what you're presenting here. The Archdruid Report has gained deserved popularity in these chaotic times, but something tells me that the magical side of your work will be your true legacy. Our descendants may look back at our age and wonder in hushed and horrified tones how we lost the knowledge of how to work with the subtle energies of the universe, and how we could have been convinced that magic doesn't exist at all. They may wonder how we forgot the life that flows through all things, but they will surely speak well of those who helped us remember.

A toast to The Well,


TashaTeaLeaf said...

I think a lot of oculist can get into this strict dualistic thinking. They think their spiritual structures and their material structures are completely separate, rather than being tied together in the same form. So the idea of physical exercise affecting your spiritual practice never even crosses their mind.

Ironically, I think the physical culture of occultism is most popular in people who would never call themselves occultist.

You have people choosing yoga classes over similar calisthenics class because yoga is grounding. You have things like crossfit that push people to the limits to force them to use their will to keep going.

Would diets also fit into physical culture? said...

I think that we're making good progress toward integrating physical culture / tai chi with druidry. John Michael, you've said elsewhere that you have found energetic clashes between tai chi and qi gong practice, and the druidic arch healing work you're doing. I've not noticed problems, but I'm not doing the druidic arch work these days, only the DOGD practices and my own tai chi practice.

I've told you, in other channels, that your book INSIDE A MAGICAL LODGE fell on my head near the beginning of my formal magical career. It led me to found a few lodge-style groups of my own, with a mixed record of success; to join two lodge groups (I'm serving as an officer for the third time in my Toastmasters club at the moment, presided over my first Roberts Rules of Order motion on Tuesday!), and in general I feel as though I've gotten a lot more of this magic under my belt than I used to have. It's valuable stuff, and you're right — largely misunderstood or ignored in today's magical scene, but far more useful than most people believe.

There's also this stretch of historical reconstructionism in magic right now: work through a grimoire exactly as it should be done, make all the tools and sigils and such to the precise specifications, and then learn to recite the various prayers and psalms with exactitude.

It's ironic to me that this trend is so popular in America, when Jonathan Trumbull, the Connecticut governor of the late 1600s, was perhaps the first (and maybe last?) alchemist to begin the experimental process of studying New World plants with an eye to slotting them into the extant astrological and elemental theories of medicine. I mean, there's literally a triple-continent's worth of alchemical experiment to be done according to the principles of Renaissance alchemy... and yet it seems to be so much Melissa officinalis and lavender all over again. But maybe I'm wrong. I'm pretty far down the list of apprentice alchemists... I doubt they'll send me any of their secret-peer-reviewed journals any time soon. :-)

Kutamun said...

Gday JMG , i've often wondered what you think of the gaggle of postmodernist french philosophers , Derrida, Lacan , Baudrillard , Deleuze and Qattari , Lyotard etc . Sometimes i feel that they were people who stumbled onto part of much older magical traditions in the face of the saturnine juggernaut just then developing . Where do you feel they fit in ? Self referential to be sure

James M. Jensen II said...

"Intentive magic"—I like it.

I'm sure a psychiatrist of the more proper sort would diagnose me with schizotypy for saying this, but most of my life I've had the sense that we can affect the world around us through intention and will. We control our bodies that way, after all, and once I'd gotten past the "ghost billiard player" model of the soul interacting with body by knocking about individual atoms and learned about that most disreputable notion of formal causation, that intuition has only seemed more plausible.

That said, I'm well aware of what happens when this intuition ruins away with itself. Are you familiar with the work of Neville Goddard? I caught a fascination with him a couple of years ago for the, let us say, "schizophrenic consistency" of his logic: it's as beautifully self-enclosed system as one could ask for. The basic idea—the only idea, really—is that each of us is an incarnation of God Himself and as such we have the power to recreate reality in basically any way we desire by willing it to be so.

What's so fascinating is that he pushes this idea much further than anyone else I've ever seen: even the late Wayne W. Dyer, who spent practically his whole career insisting that limits don't really exist and became a disciple of Neville in the last few years of his life, always ended up putting so many provisos on that that his books on "manifesting" were about almost nothing else. Not so with Neville; Neville claimed his method could be used to cure serious illnesses, make you money without working, for bilocation, and even change the past!

(Speaking of Dyer, I find it instructive that he wasn't transfigured nor did he die of the leukemia he treated with spiritual methods, as his critics immediately suspected. He died of a heart attack, which for a man in his seventies is an absolutely mundane way to go. I mean no disrespect at all when I say that may be the most important message he ever shared with the world.)

Ynnothir Coll said...

I'd like to comment on the observation that the pursuit of suppressed knowledge, such as occultism, leads to the discovery of other suppressed knowledge, such as alternative medicine.

This is so in keeping with the principle of cause and effect that my own experience mirrors the example given. It was my desire to become a better herbalist that led me to investigate, um, unconventional methods of understanding. Much like a motor can easily be rewired to serve as a generator, the cause and effect of these examples are reversed while the underlying principle remains the same.

I'll second Revere T's sentiments. A toast to The Well of Gables! Your knowledge, generosity, and insight, along with that of Dana Driscoll (at druidgarden.wordpress) and Jim McDonald (at has provided me with a very solid basis for my own personal evolution. (There are others, of course, but you're my Big Three)

You have my thanks.

Nano said...

@JMG - curios, have you thought or are you planning on writing a reset to the magikal arts like Levi did?

Nano said...

@Steve Thomas
You wrote:
Druid and Taoist practices go well together philosophically, but the symbol sets do clash in certain ways. I continue to long for a day in which we'll have a self-contained Western symbolic system for ritual magic....

Instead of longing why don't you start working on it? after all the symbols in both systems were "doodles" created by people and powered by their beliefs in them, among other influences of course. Worth a shot and it should be a super fun project.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, no, it's not a bit surprising, is it? The magic of any culture is a very good reflection of that culture, warts and all.

Bruce, I've come to think that a large part of it comes from the fact that so many people who get into occultism grew up as the kind of geeky kids for whom gym class was unmitigated misery, and they've fled from everything resembling it ever since.

Steve, good gods. It's considered sinful to pray to the Archangel Uriel? The rot has gone very, very deep, then. As for your broader point, though, one of the major reasons I spent ten years earning an instructor's certificate in one of the old temple styles of t'ai chi ch'uan was to have the background to fill out some basic intuitions I had about the way the Golden Dawn system could give rise to a qigong or neigong system. That's well under way at this point -- as in, I'm practicing the core exercises each morning with good results, and developing the next stages -- and draws substantially from yiquan, Tianshan qigong, Emei Mountain qigong, and Yang style taijiquan, to fill in the blanks the Western world didn't have the chance to get to before the Renaissance ended and the wisdom of the ages got hauled out with the trash.

Revere, thank you! I certainly hope so -- the Archdruid Report is entertaining, and far more popular than this blog, but occult philosophy and practice is the heart of my work.

Tasha, true enough -- I'm not at all sure what crossfit is, but if it's an exercise system and people are doing it to develop strength of will, I'm delighted to hear it. As for diets, that's complex; some diets relate to alternative healing, some relate to physical culture, some relate to etheric development. I should probably do a post on that one of these days.

Andrew, American intellectuals have a long tradition of aping European models and trying to distance themselves as far as possible from currents of thought and practice rooted in the soil of this continent, so I haven't been at all surprised to see that spring up in some corners of the occult scene. I'm not at all familiar with Trumbull -- can you point me to a source or two?

Kutamun, I had to deal with fashionable academic Derridadaisme in my second stint at college, and it left such a bad taste in my mouth that I've never gone back for another look. (As an author, I take exception to being erased -- and so, amusingly enough, did Derrida, whenever anyone tried to treat his writings the same way he treated those of so many other people.) Thus I have no clear idea where they'd fit in, if at all.

John Michael Greer said...

James, I'm not familiar with Goddard, though I've encountered the same idea often enough in other contexts. The difficulty, as we both know, is that it simply doesn't work in practice. You can convince yourself of your own omnipotence until the cows come home, but -- to cite an example I watched with mordant amusement during the five years I spent in a southern Oregon yuppie ghetto -- that won't enable you to make real estate investments keep on rising in price indefinitely: something that should certainly be within the capacities of God Himself!

The logical conclusion, of course, is that we aren't God Himself. We aren't even gods and goddesses. We occupy our own place in the Great Chain of Being (about halfway between top and bottom, according to the traditional assessment), and the gods are to us roughly what we are to single-celled pond scum. That doesn't mean that we're powerless to shape our surroundings by will and imagination; it means that our capacities to do so operate within fairly definite limits, and that there are patterns in the cosmos that are beyond our capacity to mess with -- which, all things considered, is probably just as well.

Dyer's death is a good measure of that, as you've suggested. He didn't live forever, he didn't even ascend into heaven to sit on the right hand of Manly P. Hall, but he also didn't die of the disease he set out to cure using spiritual methods. He succeeded well enough to give himself a relatively quick and clean death, rather than the drawn-out misery that cancer so often causes, and that's no small achievement under the circumstances.

Ynnothir, thank you! As for the points of contact between occultism and alternative healing, I'd like to propose what I'll modestly call Greer's Law of Rejected Knowledge: any system of thought or practice that's forced underground by social pressures will tend to link up with other such systems, and people who develop an interest in one such system routinely get interested in others. That's why people who got involved in old-fashioned sex cults so often got interested in alternative religions, why gay men and lesbians were much more likely than average to practice magic and pursue nontraditional religions in the pre-Stonewall era, why lost continents of the Atlantis type ended up all through occult literature, and why so many occultists in the pre-Neopagan era subscribed to Weird Tales and other pulp magazines -- those were also a mostly underground subculture, back in the day!

Nano, I have no idea whether it'll cause any kind of a reset, but eventually I'll be writing a Big Book on what magic is, how it works, etc., etc. The posts on this blog are first-draft raw material for that project.

ed boyle said...

Religion and science as search techniques for the extrnal truth were to me unsatisfatory whereas subjective internal identity search, navel gazing, has through occult, yogic practice, proven successful in self transformation, rejuvenation, preservation of soul, mind, body and enabler of my ego in terms of growing outwardly in my social environment. Ideolgy is suposedly head based, red state, blue state, islamists, otherhistorical creeds show opposite. People get invested emotionally in abstractions likeclass or race distinction or angels on the head of a pin. Sellf identity can be deeper than mass identity like income, religious tradition or genetics or sex.The astral body awakening gets us in touch with our individuality and canconnect us deeper with others. I find personal horoscope corresponds fairly reliably to this opened up energy body, i.e. one connects quicker to people with planets on same ares. Of course this isnormal anyway. Synastry horoscope for friends, family,colleagues shows what you already knew about compatibility but with awakened energy one can feel this ina very immediate even painful way in your chakra centers. This is my current practice and I watch my dreams, read spiritual literature, hatha yoga, tai chi. I keep wondering where it will go to. Butterfly like I transform from my cocoon but how and where does it lead me?

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for providing the background to modern occultism, I appreciate that. Unfortunately, I am one doomed to take the hard road in life, whilst recognising that it is actually the easy road in the long run. Your background to the modern operative methods helps me put things into context.

Incidentally your suggestion regarding Nikolai Tolstoy's excellent book: The Quest for Merlin has proven to be far more thought provoking than even my initial expectations.

As to a very silly observation I had a thought the other day that may be worth sharing: The story of Yoda in the Star Wars story was actually that of Merlin himself. I realise that sounds a bit silly, but the parallels are striking.

The not so silly part of that observation regarding Yoda and Merlin was that it speaks highly that a character from the 6th (or 7th) century can cast such a long shadow even today without pursuing an overtly aggressive missionary policy. I'm a little bit in awe, really.

Just out of personal interest, did you get a chance to travel to Hart's Fell or any of the other places that Merlin existed in the northern UK when you were there? It must have been tempting and it also must have been very deeply spiritual.

I mentioned the hard road because it is true and I was wondering whether you could recommend an equally thought provoking book on the Arthurian tale? I have only ever read The Mists of Avalon.

Tolstoy's book has put some of the rituals into a better context. Also the interactions between the powers and players of the time are also in a still clouded but somewhat clearer context.

In some of the writings you can almost hear in some of the translated accounts - particularly from Church sources - that Merlin was held in a sort of grudging respect or reverence, but there is an underlying mockery too.

I suspect the Merlin will have the last laugh though as my gut feeling is that his story talks to peoples lived experience, he is fallible, and he is more importantly accessible? Dunno though.



peak.singularity said...

Ooh, so the introduction of The Force by George Lucas in Star Wars (Episode 4 : 1977) was him embracing (predicting?) the rise of Neopaganism;
and the "midichlorian debacle", when he tried to "explain" The Force by microorganisms in the prequel (Episode 1 : 1999) was similarly him seeing Neopaganism as losing popularity?

Bill Pulliam said...

Andrew -- I have ALWAYS been annoyed at the focus of herbalists on Eurasian plants and the ignorance of the huge American flora.There is a lot of folklore they could begin with; the hillbillies and pioneers did a lot of experimenting and probably learned things from native people. But I also see American druids (not JMG) calling the names of european trees while standing in a Ponderosa pine / Quaking Aspen / Douglas Fir forest in the Colorado mountains...

Sven Eriksen said...

It seems appropriate to point out that to grasp the universe as will and representation you need to come to terms with there not actually being a solid object called “your nervous system” to account for the experience, nor an objectively known/knowable process called “evolution” to account for the object that is supposed to account for the experience. Having read so many of your books, I know you actually have a good handle on that, and that it is probably more of a matter of constructing a narrative that can effectively illustrate the point you are trying to make in a vernacular that is congenial to most of your readers, but I thought to bring it up anyway as it makes for a really good entry point from which to grapple with the habits of thought that inevitably leads to the sort of tail chasing you mentioned. Whenever you set out to convey that the world we perceive is largely created by our own perception of it, and that it does not have an objective existence “out there” that is independent of us, you routinely make use of narratives that presuppose that the bodies that are the locus of said perception are somehow exempt from this, and can be known objectively, and that the process by which these bodies come into being is also exempt, and can be known objectively. As I said, when it comes from your pen I know it is mostly a construct of literary necessity (sentences need subjects, objects and verbs, after all), but it really does a good job of illustrating the kind of double think which ensures that the mind keeps chasing its own tail indefinitely, which not incidentally is what I actually think the rational mind is deliberately trying to do.

The rational mind, annoying little bugger that it is, simply does not want the universe to be will and representation. It wants the lived experience of consciousness to arise out of some interaction between objects that it can “know”, and it wants the objects themselves to arise out of some exterior process that it can also objectively “know”. Now that's certainly an arrangement without a future if there ever was one, and it certainly goes a long way to explain why the collective consciousness is burdened with so much dysfunctional ideology. Funny thing is, if you talk to people who have gone for the deny-chase-tail option and explain the futility of that strategy, they reliably cop out to the sidestep-accept-dogma option and insists that it TOO makes sense because it has been revealed to the relevant intellectual authorities through the workings of their own geniuses, and mere humans have no business questioning it. Progress is, after all, a revealed religion.

I noticed that earlier you compared the chattering and self-important mind to an obnoxious backseat driver. I think it is actually more correct to say that it is a kind of kidnap victim that's lying hogtied in the trunk and has managed to spit out its gag, and is now screaming at the driver, chewing up the car's electric cables and otherwise doing everything in its power to upset the ride...

Great post, as always. You are really dishing up one treat after another this week ;-)

Steve Thomas said...


Yeah, Uriel's been deleted. Anglicans and Orthodox still get to talk to him, but Catholics, no. I don't know how widespread that is among the laity though-- I remember my grandfather teaching me about "the four archangels" when I was a child. I wonder where they imagine he went when the pope declared him un-real?

On the qigong topic, you've mentioned that before and I'm very excited by the prospect. I work with yiquan and (of course) yang style taijiquan regularly, but I'm not familiar with the other two styles you mentioned. But I'm very glad to hear that project is coming along so well! While in meditation the other night I shared some of my frustration about the clashing symbolic systems that I mentioned with the powers, and the response I got was to continue to do the qigong work, be patient and try to master it, so that I can participate in incorporating those sorts of practices into the Western/Druid tradition.

@ Nano--

I wrote the previous paragraph before reading your comment, but I think that it basically answers it... The rest of the answer is that I knew that JMG was working on his Druidical qigong system, which is a project I hope to participate in in the fullness of time. For now, though, I'm still working through the second degree of our order (the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn), and I have enough formal qigong training to qualify as a Level 1 instructor, with a medical qigong certification on the near horizon. I have a reasonable degree of competence with both systems given my experience, but not enough to start mixing them.

I have ideas about what is possible of course. For example, my teacher once taught me a qigong system in which the five elements are gathered from the 8 directions using postures derived from the I Ching hexagrams. Of course my mind went to cultivating the Western four (or five?) elements with postures based on the geomantic figures. But that's very much for the future, and probably the far future. I always try to keep in mind what Dion Fortune said about "he who tries to become a dilettante without first becoming an expert will never be more than a dabbler."

Phil Harris said...

Alasdair MacIntyre (imagine the loss of science) is concerned to get us to think about the consequences brought about by an actual historical period of comparable loss of comprehension, that is the loss of most of the thought of Antiquity and the language of morality. His contention is that we have, now, “… very largely, if not entirely – lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.”

Last month’s commentary touched on the way Christian religion bridged the centuries. Augustine was the major re-entry of Classical thinking (Neo-Platonism) into Western thought well before the later medieval major re-entry of Aristotle. If MacIntyre is right though, neither religion nor subsequent ‘scientific’ thought comprehended properly the previous contribution.

I am thinking about perception. My beloved pond scum when I first used a lens demonstrated principles of perception organised along lines of intention and implication, utilising every bit the same complex mystery of biochemistry as my own which to this day is still unknowable.

Science has followed the telescope and the lens and such into both the absurdly large and small where the reality we actually bump around in seems irrelevant. Where is the Creator? Well, that seems beside the point. This disappearance is a prolonged cultural event. Who do we ask?

Rowan Williams keeps bobbing up for me in a second hand kind of way. He writes book reviews. After one such review (see also last month’s brief discussion thread) a couple of years back I bought Vermes useful text book summarising the Christian road to Nicaea. Somebody – sorry I lost the thread – raised just last week Williams’ review of The Book of Magic: from Antiquity to the Enlightenment by Brian Copenhaver. (Williams seems to have found the book pretty indigestible but interesting.)

Without disappearing into large nothingness or shrinking small beyond any identity or simply getting lost in time, what might be the implications? According to Williams I think, a lot of what we – both us and our fore-fathers – thought and think of as weird or suspect is often not what it seems. Williams complains of the book: “And we miss out on some of the recurrent fables of the Middle Ages about great “magicians” – Gerbert of Aurillac (historically a brilliant mathematician who, surprisingly, became pope in 999), the 13th-century Michael Scot (another mathematician) and, of course, Roger Bacon – the Franciscan friar renowned for supposedly creating a speaking oracle in the form of a “brazen head”.”

Williams raises what he discerns as a medieval development in thinking; that is “making this distinction between the manipulating of spiritual agencies and the manipulating of invisible forces; prohibiting the one made more space for the other.” By ‘other’, I understand he means emerging Science.

Now, if we leave aside the concept as well as the creator(s) and perforce ignore the larger concerns and unconcern of the Universe, sentient or not, which seems pretty reasonable, an interest in manipulating invisible forces is not too unfair a description perhaps, of the re-entry point for 19thC neo-occult popularised via sex-clubs or whatever? I have lost ‘religion’ along the way, somehow. And, err, where have I put my morality?

But Williams is right also for me – personally I can’t go back to this guff.
He says: “There is still an assumption in popular writing about religion and science that this is our best way of understanding intellectual history: as a journey from ignorant and inept ways of comprehending how the world works, and how best we manipulate it, towards the objective explanatory scheme of modern scientific analysis.”
Roll on intellectual history!

Revere T said...

I imagine this blog will steadily grow in popularity, just as TAR did. Well-written essays on fringe subjects can be hard to find on the internet, and those who hunger for well-reasoned new perspectives will continue to be drawn to your work. They'll be entertained at first, but they won't realize what's really happening... until it's too late to stop their harrowing transformation into deviant magical freaks! Not that I'd know anything about that, of course.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland: "'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat."

Cherokee, unfortunately not -- the furthest north I've been in Britain is Caernarfon, which Sara and I visited back in 2003. (That's where her mother's family is from.) I'd like to spend a month or more in Scotland one of these days -- not least because that's where my father's family is from -- but we'll see. As for the Arthurian legends, that's an immensely more complex matter! I grew up on Malory and other original texts, plus Rosemary Sutcliff's brilliant retellings of Dark Age British history, and other than the fact that The Mists of Avalon is far and away my least favorite retelling of the tale, I'm not at all sure what to say.

Peak Singularity, nah, Lucas is a follower of trends, not an inventor of them. The Force found its way into the original Star Wars movie in the wake of the soaring popularity of internal martial arts such as aikido and taijiquan, which really burst into the US consciousness in the 70s, and which rely on ki or qi, the same stuff mages call etheric energy. "Midichlorians" are mitochondria -- there was a theory doing the rounds in the 1990s that ki works through the mitochondria. I was a fan of the franchise in my teen years, but that was before I figured out how much of it was pop-culture rehash -- and Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress is a much better film anyway.

Sven, excellent! Of course; for "nervous system" read "a persistent set of representations that show up reliably whenever we explore the representations we call 'human body' to figure out how it relates to the other representations we call 'sensation,' 'voluntary action,' and 'thought,'" and for "evolution" read "a set of representations of the kind we term 'mental models' that has proven very useful in understanding how other representations of the sort we call 'living things' change across the a priori dimension of consciousness we call 'time.'" The labels are a good deal more convenient for conversation, and as long as we all remember that we're talking about representations rather than dingen an sich, they shouldn't cause any particular confusion.

Steve, I wonder if it's ever occurred to the guys in Rome that you can't delete an eternal being -- or that it's not precisely the job of human beings to tell angels and archangels whether or not they're allowed to exist! Sheesh.

Phil, yes, I read the review, and found it highly interesting. I share his very mixed reaction to Copenhaver's book.

Revere, well, we'll see. I've long suspected that one of the reasons the other blog did so well is that it frames itself in terms of deviant magical freakhood -- an archdruid, for Crom's sake! -- and then proceeds to surprise everyone by offering tolerably down-to-earth arguments rooted in things like supply and demand. This one starts from the same frame and then gets into the deviant magical freakhood, and does it in ways that even a lot of deviant magical freaks find too deviant and freaky for their tastes -- and possibly too magical as well! Still, I'm prepared to be surprised.

Patricia Mathews said...

@ Bill Pulliam - and not Gwydion, whose 2-CD songbook has a song dedicated to the names of the California trees around him, and another, very funny one, about the trials of a city guy who just moved to the mountains and is finding it hard going. Gwydion was out of the first wave of modern neopaganism, and a lot less flippant about it than Isaac Bonewitz. I'm fairly sure he identified as a Druid, but my mind keeps trying to connect him with the Church of All Worlds for some reason.

Patricia Mathews said...

@ JMG - when your book based on this column comes out, I will want to buy it.

Tidlösa said...

Some Uriel-related material I´ve found on the web (I haven´t double-checked it, though).

"At the Council of Rome of 745, Pope St. Zachary, intending to clarify the Church's teaching on the subject of angels and curb a tendency toward angel worship, condemned obsession with angelic intervention and angelolatry, but reaffirmed the approval of the practice of the reverence of angels. This synod struck many angels' names from the list of those eligible for veneration in the Church of Rome, including Uriel. Only the reverence of the archangels mentioned in the recognized Catholic canon of scriptures, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, remained licit."

Source for the above:

"According to legend, Uriel was one of the seven archangels. Unlike the best known (Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael), however, his existence is not supported in any way by Scripture. He is thus attested to only in apocryphal writings such as the ones you mention in your question. Nevertheless, he was very popular throughout Jewish and Christian history, at least until 745 and a council in Rome that removed several angels from all recognized lists. Despite the official action of the Church, there persisted a fondness for Uriel, and his name appeared as St. Uriel in some areas, although he does not appear on the Calendar. In answer to your question, there is no official Church recognition of Uriel, either as an archangel or as a saint. One suspects that the sale of statues of Uriel is the result of the popularity of angel statues of all description"

Source for the above:

"Yes, Uriel is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. But only by the Eastern Lung or 'eastern portion' of the Catholic Church. (...) One must also realize that the "Catholic Church" has 21 or 22 different Rites, or different traditions. All are Catholic in the truest sense of the word and all are under the authority of the Pope of Rome. But the Roman Rite, the most popular and dominant Rite does not venerate Uriel because it is simply not in the Roman tradition. But the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church does because it is within the Eastern Catholic tradition. (Eastern Orthodox as well) So, to put it simply, Western Catholics do not venerate Uriel. Eastern Catholics do, specifically on Nov. 8 during the feast or "Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the other Bodiless Powers."

Source for the above:;_ylt=A9mSs3eCuKJWNH0A3WETOAx.;_ylu=X3oDMTByMWk2OWNtBGNvbG8DaXIyBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--?qid=20080909183242AAihZmD&p=uriel%20catholic%20church

If correct, the demotion of Uriel happened already during the 8th century, didn´t affect folk spirituality, and the demotion "only" covers the Latin Catholics, not the Eastern groups which were recruited later...

Scared me there for a while! ;-)

Steve Thomas said...

JMG-- Not to harp on this topic, but it made me think of something... The justification for deleting Uriel is apparently that he's not in the official Bible. Of course, to remove him from the record completely denies the lived experience of centuries of Christians of praying to Uriel and having the angel respond. So a speciic and very narrow model of reality is privileged over experience, and, equally important, the pronouncements of a bureaucracy about the nature of the spirit world takes precedence over the actual behavior of the actual inhabitants of the spirit world.

Isn't this an exact reflection other processes that go on in the culture? There's the scientific priesthood, of course. But isn't this also the exact behavior of the "militant reconstructionist" sects of modern neopaganism-- Insisting that Gods only do whatever their group says that Gods can do, and whenever Gods go ahead and do other stuff, ignore it or shout it down?

And somehow this seems to tie back into some of the themes of this post. Obviously there's the quintessential modern mistake of insisting that reality has to correspond to some model of reality. But-- maybe I'm reaching here, but I think there's more to it, too. I can't picture classical Platonists (pagan or later Christian), who also had a model of reality, behaving this stupidly, and I wonder if it has to do with-- can we call it the Big Shattering?-- that occurred at the end of the Renaissance.

Also (to keep harping on another topic) I know that you'll be rolling out the Druidical qigong work in due time, and you've said before that it's Druid grade work... But I wonder if we might get a sneak preview of what's involved?

Kfish said...

Here's a data point: the reason I'm reading this blog and considering magic as a serious field of study at all is because of the ADR. It was a shock to find someone who simultaneously believed in the occult and wrote about the world in a clear, analytical, evidence-based way. Unfortunately, my prior encounters with occult believers were mostly 'The Secret' and emotionally unstable people who believed they could wish away the world's problems with enough positive thoughts.

The fact that you talked about the reality of limits instead of pretending it was all in the mind was probably the clincher.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, many thanks!

Tidlösa, fascinating. So they've been trying to chase off the Light of God (the literal meaning of Uriel's name) for thirteen centuries now. Hmm...

Steve, text-centered dogmatism goes back a long way, but until the end of the Renaissance it was held in check by other currents in Western culture; it was the dismantling of those other currents that landed us with the current obsession with formulations. As for what I'm jokingly calling "Golden Dawn Fist" -- I'll need to talk with one of my friends fluent in Chinese to get that translated sometime! -- the two core practices are a form of standing meditation that uses the four elemental grade signs, along with certain other postures, and a form of walking meditation derived partly from the yiquan "friction step" and partly from the Signs of Entering and Silence. From those two, a series of solo and partner practices unfold; there are combat applications, but that's of much less interest to me than the health and etheric-cultivation aspects. (Though I'm pretty sure there will eventually be a quarterstaff form.)

Kfish, so noted! I'm glad to hear it.

Kutamun said...

Been up researching Derrida vs Schopenhauer half the night on a hunch and it turns out Derrida was a Sephardic Jew , so yeah , his "grammatology" and concept of "differance " posits that there are no divine ideas or archetypes that we express through language . Rather , we create experience and the world through our contextual use of language and symbols themselves . This tallies with the Jewish concept of " the word " as opposed to the other wriggling serpent on the pole , the christian idea of a god who is transcendent and a jesus who is immanent . I guess in many ways the deconstructionist view is quite nihilistic and materialistic , and serves the present neo liberal morally relative system of viewing the world quite well . Seems like mistaking the map for the territory to me , and has given us the joy of the semantic curse of political correctness .
The Druids with their Gods and Schopenhauer would be the other wriggling snake . Transcendent fods / archetypes " the world as will and representation " . All very Platonic and neo platonic thus snake . Hitler and the Nazis ran with a lot of Schopenhauer , twisting and corrupting it through their lust for power and lack of wisdom , their opposition to the Weimar republic which in many ways resembled the neo liberal system of today . I can see how through this imbalance " the other snake " is bound to make a comeback and that the Druids might be gently nudging things this way , but arent Magicians meant to grasp the prong between the two snakes and try to balance them ? Being a novice i may just be on the wrong tram altogether . Is human history , literature , politics and philiosophy largely the story of the alternating current between these warring snakes ??

Karim said...

Greetings all!

Do divination and seership overlap to some extent or are they much different from each other?

nwlorax said...

Thought I'd mention that a starting text on Western (though it no doubt has cryptic influences via Annamese (Viet Nam) Cong Fou c. 1790, as related by Jesuits is the jewel that is "Power Through Repose". This text interprets Delsarte via New Thought. Or vice versa. With a dash of hermetic ideals.

Annamese Cong Fou became the foundation for Swedish Massage, and military callisthenics. Harvey Kellogg, inventor of breakfast cereal (designed to suppress the libido) had his patients doing Cong Fou c. 1900 at his institute. The radio commercials of the 1930's re-framed cereals as an energy food, full of vigor, vim and pep.

There is indeed a severe allergy to matter in most post-19th century spirituality. Anything physical was regarded as lower, with any manifestations of energy (aside from the action "down there" which lacked official terminology) were of a "higher plane". It helps to remember that Spiritualists were accused of practicing "free love".

No one outside of the movement was quite sure what this meant, but it was probably evil. Inside spiritualism, they frequently talked of "regeneration" in connection to experiences. Sometimes, in connection to experiences married couples had.

I much prefer the clunky but superior translation of the Russian term for the whole body/spirit/soul complex, which is "organism". The old Soviet writings, for all their faults, did recognize the importance of flow and cyclic nature of energy as it manifested in living things or living systems.

I've taken a shot at Delsarte expressions of energy workings once or twice, and I intend to expand the set in the near future, hopefully with some helpers. These aren't old exercises-they are based on Magnetic Healing, 19th century Solar Plexus workings and Delsarte methods. In short, more or less kin to the HOGD assumption of spirit exercise, which is chock full of Delsarte terminology.

faoladh said...

On the subject of Physical Culture, there's an odd little book by "Bombardier" Billy Wells, a boxer, titled Physical Energy. Wells makes the common mistake of attributing all illness to a singular source (in this case, lack of "nervous energy") and providing a singular remedy (learning to box). The book, sadly, also lacks a specific program of exercise, but it remains an interesting document in any case.

I prefer the 1914 correspondence course of exercise and wrestling laid forth by Martin "Farmer" Burns, Lessons in Wrestling & Physical Culture, which can be found in several places on the internet and in print.

faoladh said...

JMG: Looking around, I see that the Chinese news calls the Greek Golden Dawn party Jīnsè límíng (金色黎明), so I'd imagine that Jīnsè límíng quán (金色黎明拳) would be the term - unless you want quánshù (拳术) for "boxing", which would obviously give Jīnsè límíng quánshù (金色黎明拳术). That lines up pretty well with the Japanese (which I know better, if still not very well), which reads "金色黎明" as Kin'iro reimei "golden dawn". "Reimei" seems archaic from what I have available to me, but it does seem to mean "dawn, daybreak" (yoake - 夜明け - would be more likely today from what little I understand).

However, again, I want to emphasize that my fluency in Japanese is poor at best, and very, very poor in Chinese. said...

My apologies, John Michael. I said Jonathan Trumbull, and I meant John Winthrop, Jr. He was the son of the founding governor of Massachusetts, and a leader in New England politics from about 1630 until his death in 1676. He was apparently a practicing alchemist, one of New England's leading physicians, the pardoner of most of the people accused of witchcraft in Connecticut, and a founding member of the Royal Society. I learned about him from a book by Walter Woodward, "PROSPERO'S AMERICA: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture 1606-1676." A pretty dry academic read in places, but rather interesting in others.

I don't know if this will be helpful to any of you who are interested in qigong and tai chi, but a few years back I wrote a fairly elaborate poetic exercise designed to tie together some of my tai chi practice with my poetic practice. The illustrations were intended to connect DOGD color theory and directionality with the tai chi movements. IT wasn't entirely successful, but the link to that poem is here: Maybe someone will find it useful.

I think I have enough of a sense of "Golden Dawn Fist" to try practicing those postures as tai chi postures! My guess is the Chinese is going to be something like 金色黎明拳. This is just me looking up stuff in an English-to-Chinese dictionary that I bought for a project a few years ago; and then using a roman-to-pinyin converter, so I don't know that it's going to actually be right. You should check with an actual Chinese speaker. But the pronunciation sounds a bit like "Ginseng Lemon Chuan." :-)

Catriona McDonald said...

I’m greatly enjoying this historical comparison of operative methods, then and now. I had the good fortune to attend a college where the study of Greco-Roman magic was an actual course, and these last two posts have rekindled my interest in the history of Western esotericism (as distinct from an interest in operative magic).

Re intentive magic, I’m now thinking back over the various bits I’ve run across on the web about people who have used spells from the PGM or other early grimoires. I can’t think of a one who carried out the operations without that overlay of intentive magic—I wonder if that’s something a modern mage could even do and be taken seriously, i.e., trust in the spirits and materia to carry out the work without the force of their will behind it? Most interesting.

Re the golden age of divination, a slight quibble: it would seem “golden age of cartomancy” would be a more accurate moniker. The Renaissance had quite a number of other methods of divination in addition to geomancy and astrology, including chiromancy, necromancy/nigromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, scapulimancy (to invoke those artes prohibitae enumerated by Hartlieb), and bibliomancy--just to name a few. Cartomancy, specifically, is what really took off in the modern era, in part due to a vastly more literate population which allows for the deck-and-book form of dissemination, and the ability to easily print massive quantities of these decks for consumption.

Already looking forward to next month, may the comments keep me satisfied until then!

Varun Bhaskar said...


I have to say your posts are a wonderful introduction to the world of occult practices. I'm going to have to start taking notes from this point forward because your writing is starting to feel like the beginnings of a full course of study.

It looks like the comments section also answered another question for me about how to combine the etheric, meditative, and physical aspects of occult practice...or at least pointed me in the right direction. I would like to combine meditative, physical, and etheric practices into a more martial form. Would it be a good idea for me to compartmentalize each first, then gradually combine them?



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Patricia Mathews--I'll tell you what I know about Gwydion's connections with Druidry and the Church of All Worlds. My information is not complete or up to date.

Gwydion Penderwen (birth name Tom Delong) got involved with neopaganism in the late 1960s and was particularly interested in Welsh culture. At that time, he and the late Alison Harlow and a woman whose first name was Cynthia lived in a house in Oakland, California. In the early 1970s, a consortium of hippie and countercultural types purchased a property called Greenfield Ranch which is located behind a vineyard near the town of Ukiah, and organized it as a rural condominium. Gwydion and Alison purchased adjoining parcels. Gwydion quit his day job, moved there and built a cottage. Alison allowed two leaders of the Church of All Worlds, Tim and Morning Glory Zell, to live in a trailer on her parcel.

Alison and Gwydion and friends formed a panpagan organization called Nemeton which published three issues of a magazine, hosted several small invitational pagan gatherings on their lands, and distributed Gwydion's music, among other activities. Some time after Gwydion's death, Nemeton began distributing the Zell's artwork and it may be (I don't know) that Nemeton is now owned by the Church of All Worlds.

CAW started holding festivals on Gwydion's land. I don't remember whether this began while he was still alive. These gatherings and festivals carried on as long as CAW was an active organization and may still be happening. Gwydion's will left the property in the hands of a council of five women.

In the late Sixties/early Seventies, there were a few hundred people in the entire neopagan community in Northern California and people tended to have ties with more than one group.

Gwydion spearheaded the planting of hundreds of seedling native trees on his parcel and maybe other parts of Greenfield Ranch through an organization created for the purpose called Forever Forests. AFAIK FF ceased operation after he died. He had an interest in Druidry as part of his Celtic Pagan interests. As far as I know (I knew him but we weren't close friends), he did not join any Druid organizations. I do not remember whether he called himself a Druid.

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you, Deborah! That fits the little I did remember. BTW, I have Zell's Millennial Gaia - a lovely bit of work, though some might find it rather busy in design.

Dylan said...

I'm really appreciating the 'back to basics' direction you're taking with this series of posts. It's almost all new to me, so a straightforward taxonomy/chronology is a big help in getting a grasp of it all.

I've gotten partway into Gareth Knight's Experience of the Inner Worlds at your recommendation, and it seems to me that the particular occult philosophy one constructs around occult practice makes a good deal of difference in what one is able to perceive and perform. Like you said a while back, there's no archimedean point from which to jump into all this.

As a Christian, Knight is pretty clear about his axioms, and his system unfolds from them. I notice you try to present or hint at a variety of explanations about what could be happening when occultists do their thing, and I'm finding that to be more helpful and stimulating than studying a single system rooted in the tradition I was raised in but no longer identify with. Is this partly what you mean when you say that occult philosophy trains the student to think like a mage?

faoladh said...

Since came to a similar conclusion about 金色黎明拳 "Golden Dawn fist", I'll add this link, which will give an audio pronunciation of the phrase. Just press the play icon! You can also get the pronunciation audio from the Google Translate site, which has the added advantage that, if you press to play the audio again shortly after pressing it once, it will replay it slightly slower. The link to that would be here, though you may have to switch some settings around to get the audio link (I don't know - I have mine permanently set to give me the romanization of non-latin writing and the audio link where available).

Robert Mathiesen said...

The cited encyclopedia entries on the place of Uriel within Catholic practice seriously oversimplify a fairly complex history, which is intimately bound up with the disputed question of the Canon of Scripture, i.e., the question, "Which writings are Scripture?" or, less formally, what is the true table of contents of the Bible.

Michael and Gabriel are named in the Greek New Testament, Raphael in the Book of Tobit, and Uriel in the book usually called IV Esdras. Tobit and IV Esdras are bones of contention; Protestants reject both, since they are not now part of the Hebrew Tanakh. The Catholic Church now rejects IV Esdras, on the authority of the Council of Trent (in the 1500s); but before Trent it did not usually do so in practice. Early printed editions of the Vulgate Bible are not all consistent with one another as to the Canon of Scripture, and the situation was even more chaotic before the invention of printing, when each copy had to be slowly written out by hand from whatever original the scribes happened to have in their workshop. Before Trent, most (not all) Vulgate Bibles, whether handwritten or printed, included IV Esdras (as well as two other books that Trent rejected). So the recent banishment of Uriel from Catholic prayers looks (to this outsider) like a very late working out of further implications of the Tridentine Canon of Scripture.

If we get into the doctrines and practices of the ancient Eastern Churches, things become vastly more complex. But we don't need to go there now, except to remark that within the Orthodox Communion, Slavonic printed Bibles include IV Esdras, while Greek printed Bibles do not.

PS to Brother Guthlac and others:
Writing deadlines were the reason I didn't comment further on last month's blog post, and they may also keep me from commenting much on this month's post. Apologies! There are further comments I would have written if I had been able to find the time. I greatly enjoyed our discussions.

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, nah, Schopenhauer is balancing the two snakes against each other -- that's what makes his philosophy so interesting. You've got reality, the world as will, and you've got our mental models of it, the world as representation. Reality exists but cannot be known by the rational mind; our mental models can be known right down to the fine details, but they're not the realities they very roughly represent. In the same way, if I may lapse into theological language, we have no direct knowledge of the gods -- all we have to go on are two classes of representations of them: the first is traditional accounts of who they are and what they do, which we can call "myth," and the second is personal experience of those moments of hierophany when they manifest to us, which we can call "gnosis." Neither myth nor gnosis is "true" -- but somewhere in the point of balance between them is the closest approach to truth we're capable of making.

Karim, there's a modest amount of overlap, but most forms of divination use symbolic systems to represent the future -- think of the signs and planets of astrology, say, or the sixteen figures of geomancy -- while seership concentrates on evoking visionary experience of the unseen.

Nwlorax, good. You probably won't be surprised to know that I plan on talking about Delsarte here sooner or later.

Faoladh, I've seem 'em both -- along with a great many other physical culture texts; I've ordered my share of books from William Hinbern, for example. Many thanks for the help with Chinese! I wonder if there's a shorter, more classical way to say Golden Dawn quan; Jinse Liming quan seems a bit long-winded.

Andrew, thanks for the reference -- I'll scare it up as time permits. I'm quite convinced I bought a bottle of Ginseng Lemon Chuan the last time I made it down to the Asian grocery in Frederick MD... ;-) As for the elemental signs, though, by all means, but I've modified them to fit the requirements of qigong; imagine the closest you'd get to them as taijiquan movements and you'll have the right idea.

Catriona, a useful correction! Still, it hasn't just been cartomancy that's taken off in the last half century. The resurrection of the runes as a divinatory alphabet, the rediscovery of geomancy, and the huge expansion in astrological studies are all non-cartographic; for that matter, palmistry is as popular now as it's ever been -- the local psychic reader here in Cumberland advertises that as well as Tarot readings. (I've been tempted more than once to go in for a consultation and see how good her cold reading skills are.)

Varun, depends on whether or not you can find a form that already combines them -- those exist, especially in Asian traditions. if you want to master occultism you need to start out by learning at least one existing system all the way through, top to bottom, and then doing at least some study of other systems -- without that background you're simply going to recycle the notions of occultism you received from your cultural background.

Dylan, what I'm doing here is rather unusual by occult standards. The normal way of doing things is to present one specific set of teachings as the Occult Wisdom of the Ages, have students learn that thoroughly, and let the conflict between that version of reality and the one presented by the mainstream culture open the crack between the worlds, if I may borrow a don Juan-ism. I'm trying to fit the habitual ideas of mainstream culture and the alternative visions of occultism into a common philosophical framework that doesn't privilege either one. More on this as we proceed.

James M. Jensen II said...

I'll have to set aside some time soon to read some Schopenhauer; the descriptions I've read of his philosophy are intriguing. One question I'd like to see answered is what, in his scheme, representations are "re-presenting?"

My own philosophical inclinations are a combination of neo-Aristotelianism and neo-pragmatism of the Rortian antirepresentationalist variety. Despite the names, antirepresentationalism seems largely compatible with Schopenhauer's views on representations; both seem to reject the notion that there are things "out there" to compare our beliefs with, and thus to make those beliefs true or false.

Schopenhauer's notion of the Will seems much harder to integrate into my own philosophy, but I'll wait until I understand it better before I write if off.

By the way, I've gotten my copy of the 7th Edition of The Golden Dawn in. I've had a copy of the 6th edition for a while—a friend converted to Judaism from Thelema several years ago and sold me most of his occult books and paraphernalia—but it was in such bad shape I was too afraid to read it (e.g. the cover is currently superglued on). I'm finally getting a chance to see what all the fuss is about. Also, thanks for increasing the size of the tome; the larger type and better layout is much appreciated, and the book can finally stand up to the sheer girth of Crowley's Book 4 on a shelf!

Varun Bhaskar said...


Do you have a suggestion as to where I should start? I'm a little overwhelmed by diversity of styles and practices. I've been slowly working my way through your Druidry Handbook, and the Druid Magic Handbook, should I just stick with these until I'm versed in them before finding an Asian tradition?



Sven Eriksen said...

Ah yes, very good. We are definitely on the same page here, then. By the way, since you have brought up both Kurosawa and Star Wars (and I do confess a strong fondness for both), did you know that the role of Obi-Wan was deliberately written for Toshiro Mifune?

. said...

Representations are like paradigms, worldviews, myths, stories right? And they're created by the imagination as it interacts with experience.

The world as will then - is the astral light actually will?

This would sound ridiculous anywhere else but I have weird dreams where I get taught things sometimes (by whom I have no idea but they're there in the background!) especially after I drink one herbal tea I have. In one recently I was like 'in' the astral body and I was surprised to realize that there were anxious emotions in it that I didn't know I had. I learned how to sort of turn them down. Well it worked the first time but then the second time I tried too hard or something and it wasn't working so well. But if the astral body is like our emotional body, are emotions the will? They're a motivating force but I get the feeling that will is something a bit different. And does my dream make sense?

Is will like the force side of the Tree of Life and representation is the Form side?

And speaking of archangels, in Islam Mohammed claimed to have experienced Gabriel. Most nonreligious people dismiss those experiences as some kind of madness or deliberate deception. But if real gods and other beings like angels exist, how can we tell whether someone's crazy, lying or encountering a good or bad power? Or some combination?!

So many questions sorry!


Steve Thomas said...

JMG-- Thanks for the preview! I'm very much looking forward to seeing how this project develops.

Does the Spirit element play a role in, um, GoldenDawnChuan? I ask because I've been noticing the way that having a fifth physical element lends a certain added versatility to certain qigong practices. In some Taoist internal alchemy practices, the elements are arranged in a manner similar to the Western system, with Earth occupying the "Center" in the same way that Spirit does, and the other 4 placed at the cardinal directions. But Earth, being a physical thing, can also play a simpler and more physical role in elemental arrangements in a way that Spirit possibly can't-- governing harvest season and transitional times (equinoxes and solstices.) (On the other hand, I've sometimes thought that it would be interesting to see Spirit as governing those times that Earth governs in the Chinese system-- What would it mean to say that Spirit governs moments of transition from one form to another in the same way that Air governs generation, Fire governs increase, etc? This is maybe getting further afield than Golden Dawn neigong.)

@ Bruce the Druid-- I meant to mention that I agree with your point about physical culture, but with a caveat... You weren't saying this, but I think it's important to reiterate that good physical cultivation isn't the same as cultivating a fashionable body image. I was thinking about this with reference to your "apple shaped" spiritualists. The other day on an internal martial arts list that I participate in, someone mentioned that an "avocado shaped" body is often best for internal martial arts, to the the weight structure involved-- and anyway, it often results by itself from regularly packing energy into the lower dantien. In the same way, it may be that a round body with excessive, um, material, actually is more conducive to the generation of ectoplasm than a leaner body type.

onething said...

"Yes, Uriel is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. But only by the Eastern Lung or 'eastern portion' of the Catholic Church. (...) One must also realize that the "Catholic Church" has 21 or 22 different Rites, or different traditions. All are Catholic in the truest sense of the word and all are under the authority of the Pope of Rome. But the Roman Rite, the most popular and dominant Rite does not venerate Uriel because it is simply not in the Roman tradition. But the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church does because it is within the Eastern Catholic tradition. (Eastern Orthodox as well) So, to put it simply, Western Catholics do not venerate Uriel. Eastern Catholics do, specifically on Nov. 8 during the feast or "Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the other Bodiless Powers."

Wow!! I'm not even going to pretend not to be mad! How dare this person insinuate that the churches which separated themselves from Rome because they did not recognize the pretensions of its bishop to be the ruler of the church, (and who protested against the diminishment of the Holy Spirit) and who were excommunicated by Rome, are in fact "under the authority of the Pope of Rome." Such pretensions to power is the stuff of inquisitions!

Dylan said...

@JMG: Aha. That comment was HUGE for me. Because when you open the crack between the worlds, things crawl out of it. And then you have to start all over again. Am I following you thus far?

@Cherokee Organics: If you're looking for other tellings of the King Arthur story, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (15th cent.) is definitely the boss text. He was the first to compile a birth-to-death Arthur narrative in English (most of it was in French, Welsh, or Latin before that). There are fun editions that retain the original Middle English spellings if you're into that. MZB like most modern authors draws a lot of her basic plot points from this text.

Then there's T. H. White's The Once And Future King (1930's and 40's) which follows Malory closely but in a light-hearted modern voice and with loving attention to the protagonists' foibles and passions. The political realities of White's time cast long shadows into his explorations of what it means for a king to rule well.

A. A. Attanasio has a good series beginning with The Dragon and the Unicorn (1990's), if you like sprawling epic fantasy dripping with overwrought imagery (I do). Incidentally, his depiction of the gods warring in the ethersphere for the fate of post-Roman Britain laid the conceptual framework for me to be able to read The Well of Galabes at all.

And one would be amiss to overlook J. R. R. Tolkien, whose death did little to slow down his literary career, and whose long poem The Fall of Arthur (2013) draws on the Old English accounts. He writes in a modern English verse but in the alliterative style of Beowulf.

I've got more but I'll stop. Happy to contribute something to a discussion that is otherwise mostly beyond my ken ;)

Robert Mathiesen said...

It's far more complex than that, onething. There are independent Eastern Orthodox Churches, of ocurse, and then there were also groups of Eastern Orthodox who broke with the Orthodox communion and entered the Catholic communion, but were allowed by Rome to keep their original liturgies and rituals. These are one example of what the other commentator referred to as the various "Rites" allowed within the Catholic Church (alongside of the Roman Rite). Thus, for example, Ukrainians were at one time all Eastern Othodox, but in consequence of Eastern European politics many were compelled, or found it expedient, to break communion with the Oecumenical Patriarch and "unite" with the Catholic Church, while being permitted to retain their familiar liturgies and rituals in Church Slavonic and their married parish priests. Later political events further complicated the picture in Ukraine, where many former "Uniates" rejoined the Orthodox communion under the Patriarch of Moscow. And several other things happened as well in Ukraine and in the Ukrainian diaspora, so the current state of affairs is frightfully complicated. (As an outsider, I probably do not understand the full complexity of the current state of ecclesiastical affairs among Ukrainians.)

Anthony Romano said...

The mention of Physical Culture sparked some thought. My main mode of physical exercise is rock climbing. I've heard many climbers speak about the sport with reverential, quasi-spiritual tones. This includes pro-climbers like the recently deceased Dean Potter as well as average joe's. I even went through a phase where I used phrases like Moving Meditation. I grew out of that phase, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was just a case of soul-sick westerners trying to affix meaning to what is ostensibly a fringe sport/hobby.

That is not to say I haven't experienced beautiful feelings and emotions while climbing. To climb a cliff face, and to climb it well and with grace, takes a lot of will and focus. Your mind has to be present. When things click, you can flow up a route like its a joyful dance rather than a physical struggle. It really is remarkable when it all comes together.

All that said I think there are real, tangible, benefits to this and many other sports which include physical and emotional benefits, and that makes it worth while even if magic isn't involved.


The lack of knowledge about north american plant lore really bothered me when I made a first foray into occult knowledge. I was interested in druidry, and even bought a druid themed tarot deck to try and learn about what was and still is a baffling tradition to me.

I remember feeling really uncomfortable during the first reading I tried to do. It felt wrong to be drawing out cards of plants/animals that aren't native to the continent I grew up on (I'm sure some of my discomfort was caused by my self-consciousness too, I'm something of a reluctant non-believer. I'm the X-files tagline, I want to believe!).

I feel that Americans (or westerners more generally) are at something of a spiritual disadvantage compared to many other cultures that have varied, diverse, and robust heritages to draw on. I suspect that most Americans find that they are either onboard with one of the judeo-christian faiths or they have to retreat to the cold confines of atheism/agnosticism (myself), and only a much smaller contingent of people are willing to wade into the murky waters to cobble together a workable faith from the scraps.

Alexander Marcus said...

JMG and all,

JMG's above response to Catriona regarding his local psychic reader's cold reading skills resonates with a quandary I've been having of late. I'd like to get some good "psychic" adivising (in quotes because I'm including in the label divination of all sorts as well as seership, "intuition," etc.), and want to know how to vet my potential service provider. I had an astrology reading once and definitely got the feeling that I was being cold read. This then put me on the defensive, which I think hurt the process as a whole. I live in a fairly "new age" and "spiritual" city (Santa Fe, NM), which both helps and hinders my ability to find reputable sources. Plenty of people are obviously honest and sincere, but just as obviously incompetent and/or misled. So, in short, what suggestions do you have for finding a competent and reputable provider of "psychic" services? I'm open to general suggestions as well as suggestions for specific modalities.



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

., I think some of us would like to have the formula for the herbal tea you are drinking.

John Michael Greer said...

Faoladh, many thanks.

Robert, many thanks also for the details! All these are points well outside my fields of study, so it's good to get data.

James, in Schopenhauer's view, the world as representation is the reflection, in our minds, of the world as will. Raise one of your hands, clench it into a fist, and then release it, while paying close attention to the action. The movement as you perceive it, through your eyes and proprioceptive nerves, is representation; the act itself -- which you cause -- is will. To Schopenhauer, our own experience as willing beings is our one narrow window into reality; everything we perceive through the senses or the mind is representation. Thus, to him, there are no "things" "out there" -- "things" are a creation of the representing mind, which brings them into being out of the flux of sensation according to the a priori categories of time, space, and causality, which are part of the furniture of consciousness rather than characteristics of a supposedly objective world. What is "out there" (or more precisely, "in here") is that constant outpouring of drive-to-manifest that he calls will, some of whose grades of manifestation provide the raw material out of which consciousness produces representations.

As for The Golden Dawn, glad you like the new edition! I admit I'm still trying to get my head around someone converting from Thelema to Judaism...

Varun, one traces a circle beginning anywhere. Choose a tradition, any tradition, that appeals to you, and learn it from top to bottom, then go on.

Sven, I didn't. I'm glad he didn't do the role; the original movie ("Episode IV") wouldn't have been too bad, but I'd hate to have seen him condemned to slog through the kiddie-slop of Rehash of the Jedi. It was sad enough to see poor Alec Guinness stuck with that.

Dot/Mallow, by "representation" Schopenhauer means everything you experience. Raise your hand so you can look at it. Your perception of your hand is a representation in your mind, which is pieced together out of bits of visual and tactile sensation -- you don't actually see the hand "out there," you construct a mental representation of it. Lower your hand and imagine yourself raising it again; that's another kind of representation, pieced together out of bits of memory rather than sensation. Imagine Merlin's hand grasping a carved wooden staff; that's yet another kind of representation, pieced together out of bits of memory assembled around a framework of imagination. All these and every other experience you can have with one exception, is a representation.

The one exception? Raise your hand again, and instead of paying attention to the sensations, try to pay attention to the act of will that caused it to rise. That's a very subtle thing, since it has no sensory qualities at all! That's will -- and to Schopenhauer, that's reality. That's also your inmost self -- you are a portion of the universal will that has developed a fairly complex ability to sense resistances and create representations of them. (All our sensations are grades of resistance to will. What resists will? Other manifestations of will, of course.)

Your dream makes perfect sense, but no, your emotions aren't will, and neither is the astral light. They're different kinds of representation. When you turn down the volume of old emotions, the act of turning them down -- that's will. I know, this can be confusing -- I'm hoping to work out ways to explain it clearly, because it seems to me that a Schopenhauerian analysis of magic has enormous potential.

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, it does indeed -- the standing meditation works with the four elements, and the walking practice brings in spirit, symbolically by way of the signs of entering and silence, and practically by integrating motion and flow.

Onething, er, I think you've flown off the handle a bit here. Tidlösa wasn't referring to the Eastern Orthodox churches or the other independent Patriarchates, such as the Nestorian or Coptic churches; he was referring to those Eastern churches (and there are quite a few of them) that have accepted the authority of the Bishop of Rome but maintain their own non-Latin liturgies and rites.

Dylan, or you step into it, and then everything starts all over again...

Anthony, in my experience you can get contemplative states out of most physical exercises, since those demand prolonged concentration on nonverbal phenomena -- one of the classic ways of entering a contemplative state! You're right, though, in that it's quite possible to go beyond this, and design exercises specifically for contemplative, magical, and mystical purposes. Rock climbing as a meditation is a beginning, and a valid beginning, but it's possible to go much further.

Alexander, the only way I know of is to know your way around the divinatory modality your prospective diviner will use, let the diviner know that, and mention that you're tired of just getting a cold reading and want something more serious. Then see if you can make sense of the reading you're getting -- do the cards mean what the diviner says they mean, and so on? A good many diviners I've known are delighted to have clients that know the cards, or what have you -- it makes for good conversations, and avoids some of the common stupidities with which diviners so often have to deal.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.

Two things that caught my eye for which I thought I might throw in a little word:

- Our place in the world. Amusingly enough I have been thinking a lot lately about infinities. The beauty of this representation, here applied to our place in the Ladder of Evolution, is that if we consider it infinite (which I think is more or less the consensus in many texts I have read) there is but one mathematical conclusion. We are exactly at the midpoint of it. And this is true of absolutely every single manifestation along the ladder. I know I am probably partial, but the ironic beauty of mathematics seems to never loose its shine to me.

- Divination using symbol systems to describe the future. Since I read in Yates excellent (in my opinion of course) book on the Art of Memory that Leibnitz actual plan was to build a symbol system in which the World was written (yes, mathematics again...), I have never stopped thinking about what we physicist do as divination. After all, we describe the world and the future with symbols. Following rules AND with much training, we end up able to predict some part of the future. In the current post taxonomy,I would say that it is a clean match.

(regarding the importance of training, there is lying in every physics department, filled under "any-physics-topic 101" enough material to prove that, in untrained hands, physics is hardly more predictive than say a tarot deck in the hands of the average solitare card game player)

There is of course much more in the excellent discussions here that caught my interest, but (with a special thoughts to Nwlorax and Delsarte/martial arts posts) there is only so much that fits in one day. Which doesn't mean that things are not quietly simmering... ;-)


. said...

Aha I get it a bit more now thank you. It's easier to understand with a physical exercise like that. Otherwise I end up trying to understanding things using analogies which I suppose is a different kind of intellectual understanding. Funny enough, in the dream when I did it right I was learning by experience whereas the second time I think I was overthinking it which was why it didn't work so well. Maybe it's my higher self showing me what the astral body is like so that I'm less freaked out about it in future. That'd be nice.

Deborah, haha no problem!

It’s ‘Holy basil’ tea. The one I have is called ‘Three Tulsi’ and it’s made by Pukka. You might not have the same brands in other countries but the ingredients are:

Green rama tulsi leaf (45%)
Purple Krishna tulsi leaf (45%)
Lemon Vana tulsi leaf (10%)

It’s supposed to be good for mental clarity which is why I got it but it seems to have a different effect on me anyway! Or maybe the dreams are a form of mental clarity?

I’ve had odd dreams before so I don’t know if it’s the tea or not. I drink a few different herbal teas on and off so maybe experimenting with them is a good way to find out which ones have which effects. Vervain had a similar effect on me but it wasn’t as tasty. I don’t think you can get into too much trouble with tea.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, I've known a woman who practiced a variety of Wicca for awhile and later converted to Orthodox Christianity, and a man who converted from the same variety of Wicca to Buddhism. Without knowing any of the details of their stories, I've constructed a narrative which might also fit the person who converted from Thelema to Judaism. It's basically a case of kissing a few frogs before you transform the prince.

The fact that Judaism is full of divine commandments and Thelema elevates the individual will doesn't matter much. If you are a fundamentalist Thelemite, becoming an Orthodox or Conservative Jew might be a matter of switching pantheons, and if you are a non-fundamentalist Thelemite, there are readings of the Book of the Law that could employ the laws of the Torah as chosen practices to strengthen the will. If you are just sore at Christianity, Judaism is as good a way to express that as Crowleyanity.

onething said...

Ah, well, I apologize then, and anyway was never mad with Tidlosa! I was mad at the author of that quote, which did say: (Eastern Orthodox as well.) So I am not sure.

Steve Thomas said...

@ Anthony Romano-- I hope you don't mind my saying so, and I don't intend this to be rude, but-- You seem to be holding yourself back in a number of ways.

You write:

"I even went through a phase where I used phrases like Moving Meditation. I grew out of that phase, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was just a case of soul-sick westerners..."


"I feel that Americans (or westerners more generally) are at something of a spiritual disadvantage compared to many other cultures that have varied, diverse, and robust heritages to draw on..."

There really is a phenomenon of soul-starved Americans pillaging every other culture that they can find for spiritual goods. But there are a number of reactions to that problem which are equally unhelpful-- and one of these is what I think you're doing when you dismiss your own experience as just another example of the above, which you then reject. It does nothing to address the actual phenomenon of cultural appropriation which seems to concern you, but it does limit yourself and your own spiritual development.

Does this make sense?

What I'm saying is that it is perfectly acceptable to view your rock climbing as moving meditation. There are many moving meditation practices out there. What they feel like is what you describe as "a graceful dance," "flowing rather than struggling." I'd add to this that my own experience of mountains is that they contain immense spiritual power-- and this is confirmed by a thousand global traditions, from Fuji to Olympos, and by the experience of countless mountaineers. I've personally had some of the most profound and transformative experiences of my life at the top of mountains.

So view your climbing as a meditation, and as a practice. There is no reason not to-- You're not pillaging anyone else's culture by approaching your own life reverently.

Two more things I think worth mentioning--

The reality of "cultural appropriation" is significantly more complex than some of the simpler (and louder) takes on it would suggest. A great many Asian practices, from martial arts to various forms of meditation, have been exported here deliberately by teachers and missionaries from China, Japan, India and elsewhere. That's not at all like the phenomenon you sometimes see, where a (sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes not) Westerner "learns the secrets" of some foreign culture for fun and profit-- er, enlightenment.

The second thing-- You write "I feel that Americans (or westerners more generally) are at something of a spiritual disadvantage compared to many other cultures that have varied, diverse, and robust heritages to draw on." I don't think this is as true as you think it is. I think that this is how we view ourselves, but my suspicion is that it's mostly a product of the universal suburbinization, televisionization, and blandification of the last 6 decades. America is a product of countless world cultures mingling and blending, and our spiritual reservoir is deeper than a quick visit to a suburban strip mall church would suggest. To pick only one of many examples, JMG has written in one of the Druidry handbooks how one of the first Druid revival groups received a charter from none other than George Washington. In other words, Druidry has at least as much a claim to being traditionally American as the US constitution does.

Again, I'm saying this to you in the hopes that it will be helpful, and in part because you describe yourself as a "reluctant nonbeliever." If I can give you one final piece of advice, it would be-- Don't worry about "belief." That's the great obsession of Christians and Atheists. Start with action, and let belief follow from there.

James M. Jensen II said...

JMG and Unknown Deborah,

What lead my friend to Judaism was the Cabala. He saw a conversion to Judaism as going back further into the roots of his longstanding magical practice (he had earlier in life converted from Wicca to Thelema for more-or-less the same reason). He converted to Reform Judaism as they encourage individuals to interpret the Torah's commandments for themselves and apply them as they think most appropriate, and he found that very congenial to his temperament.

At the time, he said he still basically believed in the philosophy of Thelema, it was just the religion and rituals he had turned away from. Even there, he'd been drifting from that for a while; he actually had considered himself more a Gnostic than a Thelemite and had had a falling-out with the OTO a couple years prior and had joined Allen Greenfield's Congregational Illuminism movement.

He's actually met several other ex-Thelemite Jews. I remember a conversation I was involved in online where my friend was comparing Thelema and Judaism and another ex-Thelemite Jews said something to the effect of, "Yeah, I've caught myself many times saying, 'As the Torah says...' and then stopped because I realized, that's not the Torah, that's Uncle Al."

Alexandra said...

Re: the general lack of integration of North American plants among herbalists, druids, etc., living here, after reading Robin Wall-Kimmerer's _Braiding Sweetgrass_--which I highly recommend to those interested in North American plant ways--I have some ideas on why this is. For Americans of non-Native descent (I am writing from that perspective because it's my own but also because I'm assuming--and I could be wrong--that people practicing druidism and European-based herbal medicine are probably mostly not Native), there are three interrelated obstacles to a spiritual or magical engagement with native flora (and/or fauna):

(1) Few people have the will or energy to be pioneers. I suspect many are unwilling or even afraid to do the hard work of learning the nature of these "new" plants via gnosis and trial and error; whereas with the Eurasian plants one can always reach for one of the many tomes going all the way back to Dioscorides and the Bible, that give you not only the plant's current uses but the historical trajectory of its use as well. That said, there are modern herbalists who use/d North American plants extensively, e.g. Tommie Bass, Phyllis Light, Matthew Wood, and the Eclectics just to name some off the top of my head.

(2) Modern Western people are very accustomed to looking to texts for instructions, rationale, justification, and legitimization, and those don't exist here. With North American species we don't get the luxury of relying on millennia of tradition to tell us what is sacred, powerful, or medicinal. We can't point to a myth or a text to back up our claims, we can't say "X was sacred to the ancient druids". Well, in some cases, we *could* do that, referring to what little Native lore has filtered through to non-Native cultures, but it cuts awfully close to cultural appropriation--i.e., just because it was sacred to them, does that mean we get to refer to their tradition to legitimize taking it out of context and making it "our own"?

And (3) we bring Eurasian forms of spirituality and herbalism to a continent where the flora and fauna were already formative to fully-developed, complex traditions from which we are largely excluded. Many (most) of these indigenous traditions were lost through genocide and forced assimilation, and Native keepers of the traditions sometimes don’t want to teach non-Natives (our sense of exclusion is, historically, richly deserved. As I understand it, Cherokee knowledge was formative in the herbal traditions of southern Appalachia, but sadly, these forms of herbal medicine are as "alternative", underground, and subject to attrition as all herbalism is in these days of Big Pharma.

My main (tl;dr) point, is that in order for diasporic Americans to become firmly rooted (pun not intended but I stand by it) in the North American biome, it will require a willingness to start from scratch without the comfort of ancient traditions, myths, and texts to support claims to holiness, power, or medicine, without pre-established correspondences to Eurasian gods, goddesses, or spirits. This will be unpalatable for some because it's a lot of work, and for others because there are no claims to our usual sources of legitimacy. I don't mean that one can't have a North American druidism, far from it--but one can't simply force Tab Sage-Tobacco-and-Sweetgrass into Slot Oak-Ash-and-Thorn. I know from my own experience that there are spiritual powers here that are different from those of Europe, just as there are different biological species. In my region, there's no one who can tell me the names of these beings or teach me how to relate to them, so I'm fumbling and bumbling along figuring it out as I go. For some of us, this is fun, and there is the exciting potential of a deep personal engagement with the biome which may in some ways be a lonely path, but with luck will lead others by example.

Myriam said...


I am delighted, and relieved, to hear that someone else is having the same kind of teaching dreams. I am told at the beginning of a dream: "Pay attention! This is a teaching dream." and I am aware during the dream that I am being shown something. Then in the space between asleep and awake, I am asked: "What did you learn?"

I can usually figure out the lesson, but not always. And like you, I am not aware of who or what it is that is teaching me, only that I am being taught, and pushed hard (if I may be allowed to complain a bit.) Without the benefit of tea, too.

I have come to internalize the teacher, so that it no longer asks me directly, but I ask it of myself anyway. And I am now being pushed day and night, so that the lessons continue with events, books I am sent by the universe, tarot and I Ching readings, random things that catch my eye, etc., creating a running lesson. As answers come, I have more questions and more answers come.

JMG, I am finding this blog incredibly helpful! I wish your book was already written so that I could devour and digest it.

Thank you!

Varun Bhaskar said...


I've been giggling about your response since I read it, very druidic. Okay, will do. I have to say you are a darn good teacher even over the internet. Everytime my practice starts to wane one of your sayings jumps into my head and pushes me forward.



Urban Harvester said...


I for one will eagerly look forward to your post on Delsarte. To your point of the Physical Culture category, you might consider expanding your definition to include dance along with "stretches, breathing exercises, and calisthenics". It has been intriguing to discover that one could argue that modern dance was very influenced by Delsarte (if not birthed by his influence) through the likes of Isadora Duncan. It's interesting also that physical culture was included more as dance by some occult schools. Some examples are eurythmy in Anthroposophy, the Denishawn school (which may have been more a dance school with an occult framework), and Gurdjieff's (who called himself a temple dance instructor) fourth way movements. This also for me brings up the occult school - expression connection (Druidry and bardistry, Theosophy and modern art/Bauhaus experiments, the diagrammatical drawings of rennaissance alchemy, HOGD and self drawn Tarot, etc). Was a connection to art and expression not a broad part, or not a specific focus of occult schools, or does it perhaps reside in seership, divination or meditation? It seems that Genevieve Stebbins' Delsartean movements were deliberately not about expression (rather the potentials of repose) so attitudes towards expression seem to be diverse.

@ nwlorax
Would Ling/Swedish Massage have been influenced by Cong fou via the text 'Notice du Cong-fou des Bonzes Tao-see'? Where might one learn about 'HOGD assumption of spirit exercise'? And for that matter what is a good primer on magnetic healing?

@ Anthony Romero
I also mainly practice rock climbing, have been intrigued by its potential as a 'magical' practice, and have been experimenting with that as a practice. I would point you to the work of gymnastic bouldering pioneer John Gill if you aren't familiar with it, whose history of bouldering documents its links with Victorian physical culture and gymnastics. Ironically enough he cites Alestair Crowley's (who was a mountaineer and boulderer) biography to prove some of his points. As a druid it was interesting for me to discover that some of the earliest documented instances of bouldering as a gymnastic sport were in the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales in the 1890's. As it is essentially a gymnastic practice, I've been exploring climbing along a Delsartean/'harmonial gymnastics' thread to add a fourth, spiritual, factor to the traditional rock climbing triad of strength, technique, and mental focus (along with a greater emphasis on breath similar to hatha yoga). I think there is an argument for seeing boulderings relation to gymnastics as sparring is to a given martial art; having the energetic, repetetive gymnastic and breathing exercises gives you a foundation from which you must improvise as nature gives you her organic and unexpected challenges.

faoladh said...

There's been some discussion of martial arts systems here. I've been putting off discussing the one I practice, waiting for this blog to make a more direct discussion of the topic. While it tends toward the physical, there is also an esoteric side to it that may be of interest. For those who might be interested, it draws on Gaelic traditions of martial culture and, especially, swordplay. I look forward to talking a bit about it in the future.

. said...


Hi classmate! Maybe we'll bump into each out there hehe. I must be in the hippy dippy class though because yours sounds way more hardcore. Plus I've been mostly skipping any attempts at awake teaching these days because it was just exhausting and a bit too freaky. Maybe that's why I'm enrolled at nighttime since sleep is the one thing I definitely manage to squeeze in to my life;-)

I'd love to know who the teacher/s are. It usually feels to me like there's more than one for some reason. There's some stuff online about it if you google astral lessons or something. But I have no idea who to trust for information out there in the crazy internet world. Maybe if you figure out anything else about it you could post here and I'll do likewise?


Cherokee Organics said...


Ah, that's a shame, but at least you touched Stonehenge and performed a rite there!

Thanks for your thoughts on the Arthurian tales and I am really enjoying Tolstoy's book - it is hard to put down, but work calls too and the seasons turn and things need to be done. I hope you enjoyed a huge dump of snow from the monster storm - it must have been big if even we heard about it down here?

Yes, the Mists of Avalon. I never quite understood why the characters in the story gained so much and then threw it all away on a gamble - which always failed. I found it to be enjoyable, but frustrating to read. The other thing I couldn't understand was why would war leaders in the Dark Ages would be so hamstrung by opinions and everything seemed a bit too clean.

The Tolstoy book about Merlin doesn't leave me with that feeling about the events. I've been left with an overriding sense of loss of culture and a rear guard action to save what was possible in the face of overwhelming odds. But then it speaks well to today too, does it not?

Hi Dylan,

Many thanks for your excellent advice. I will track a few of those books down. Thanks again. Not to stress, the Merlin tale tells me that other than a few we're all out of our depth and I'm with you, but am slowly learning! :-)!

PS: I love sprawling fantasy. And Tolstoy indicated that Tolkien ripped the character of Gandalf from that of the Merlin.



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@James M. Jensen II-- The Reform Judaism of my youth barely acknowledged the existence of the Cabala. It was engaged in completing the project of Americanization and trying to come to terms with the Shoah and the Jewish State, and did not give much attention to spirituality in any form. Contemporary Reform Judaism has changed, and what you write makes sense. Your friend might also find the viewpoint of Reconstructionist Judaism congenial.

Sven Eriksen said...

Oh, I don't know about the sequels, John. I've always had the feeling that the intergalactic war would have come to an abrupt end if the dark lord had suddenly found himself having to duke it out with the baddest man in the history of cinema... ;-)

Dylan said...

So traditional occult teaching is designed to set up extreme cognitive dissonance in the student? And that opens up an entry for those we don't speak of to start speaking? Depending, as the Cat said, on where you want to get to.

I feel sort of like I'm reading the answers at the back of the textbook, which in high school math class always unnerved me. But I'm not claiming to be able to do the math, just trying to figure out if something like math happened to me while I thought I was doing something else.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Cherokee Organics - Morgaine in MISTS OF AVALON never took the initiative and apparently couldn't think her way out of a paper bag. She just went off like a badly-made firecracker from one incident to the next.

But "opinions" did matter in the Dark Ages - people went to war over whether they were Arian or Catholic, for example, and Scandinavian kings trying to be "civilized" and Christian at the end of the Dark Ages, imposed conversion at the point of a sword.

In England, the missionaries were under orders, from Pope Gregory the Great, to salvage and baptize the customs of the people as much as possible. "Let them have their barbecue, but to celebrate the saints and not the heathen gods."

But MZB did her share of Christian-bashing at times.

Urban Harvester said...


I'm intrigued by your Gaelic esoteric martial art. I've been looking for just such a thing for a while now. Do tell.

faoladh said...

Urban Harvester: The system is that of the Cateran Society, which maintains a web presence here:

Pseudorandom said...

I have what could be termed a very likely unhealthy obsession with getting the "right" edition for a book. With old books, differences between editions are perhaps really significant. Some times, there is useful material in more than one edition. An example here will be useful: Ghosts of the Old West by Earl Murray. Older editions had a not small section with photos of places and persons mentioned on the book. This section was removed in newer editions, which instead feature three new chapters. But I'm digressing. Now, with this disclaimer out of the way, let's go to Le Morte d'Arthur.

Because my English-as-second-language is barely acceptable to read more complex, ancient English texts, I'm going to get an edition "translated into modern English".

From what I read, I think getting an edition based on the Winchester manuscript would be better, for being closer to the original text, but then Caxton's changes may be useful. I don't know enough about the book to decide which one, Winchester or Caxton, I should get.

Being from Brazil, I never had any more deeper contact with Arthuriana than pop culture, which doesn't help my case.

The edition that looks better to me, from what's listed on Wikipedia, is this:

Brewer, D.S. Malory: The Morte Darthur. York Medieval Texts, Elizabeth Salter and Derek Pearsall, Gen. Eds. (1968) London: Edward Arnold. Reissued 1993. ISBN 0713153261. (Modernized spelling version of Books 7 and 8 as a complete story in its own right. Based on Winchester MS, but with changes taken from Caxton, and some emendations by Brewer.)

Do you see any problems with that particular edition? Should I get a Caxton-based one instead?

Myriam said...


What you said about will and representation has me wondering if the awareness of consciousness that I experience when I meditate is also a representation? I can separate my sense of self from my mind, emotions, and body, and observe them them as they do their thing, and I thought this consciousness I experienced was my spirit. I was reading The Untethered Soul by Micheal Singer, who writes that one can detach completely from our self in the world and live our life as this enlightened being, free from all desires.

When I do this, as Singer writes, I physically feel my heart expanding, like it will burst, and a rush of joy and peace comes flowing through, like a flow of energy. According to him, we should want to be in that space more and more, but strangely, I have the feeling that it's not where I want to go. I can't help but wonder if that experience is also a representation. If will is the only window to the unknowable reality beyond, is someone like Michael Singer trading one set of illusions for another?

And I was wondering what use magic would be if one tried to live without any desires, just accepting the experience of life as it comes at us each moment.

So I'm wondering how will and consciousness are related.

Mallow, about who the teacher is, I was wondering if the teacher was some unconscious part of me which I recognized when I internalized her.


Anthony Romano said...

@ Steve Thomas

Thank you for your well thought out post, no offense taken. I think you are quite right in many ways. I have a skeptical disposition, and I am also keenly aware of my desires and influences.

I first heard the word druid in the context of an RPG videogame, and it was the class I always chose. The idea of a nature loving magic user really appealed my sensibilities. So when I learned a bit about the real druid organizations in the world I got very interested, but it also gave me pause. I was concerned that I would be involved in some sort of LARP (on a personal level, I'm not implying that others involved are simply LARPing).

I fear deluding myself with wish fulfillment. I'm not sure how I separate what I want to believe from what I actually have experienced.

Camping in a canyon in Utah I once had a dream where a bluebird looked me dead in the eye and spoke my name. It startled me awake. I have no idea what to make of that. It obviously stuck with me (this was 2009), but was it a nature spirit reaching out? Or was it my subconscious grabbing images from earlier that week? I would be pleased as punch to think the former, but how can I know?

So in regards to rock climbing and other times spent in the mountains, I asked myself, do I need to cloak this all in mysticism? Or can I still be filled with calm, peace, wonder, love, etc. without explicitly spiritual trappings? I've tried to trade Muir's church of nature for Abby's surfaces with mixed results.

“I am pleased enough with the surfaces - in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child's hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl's thigh, the sunlight on the rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind - what else is there? What else do we need?” - Ed Abby

The mountains and canyons are powerful places either way, they have had a magnetic pull on me since the first time I slept in their shadowss.

Also, I do fear cultural appropriation, so while I may enjoy reading native american stories, I would never feel comfortable practicing their faith in anyway. Much the same way that the Celtic focus of Druidry felt off to me (despite having a fair bit of Irish heritage). That George Washington signed a druid revival charter is fascinating! And you are right that it is often more complicated, Yoga being a great example of an Indian tradition that was very deliberately spread to the west.

Thanks again for your thoughts, much to chew on.

@Urban Harvester

I've had the distinct pleasure of climbing a few Gill problems in Illinois and Wisconsin. He really was a pioneer in the modern forms of climbing. I have not read any of his writing though, it sounds pretty interesting. The Crowley connection is unexpected.

You put it well when you say it is adapting too rather than overcoming natures intricacy. The climber conforms to the mountain, never the other way around.

I am curious what you, Steve, and JMG think about a druid who travels (drives or flies even) regularly to wild places to take in their spiritual tonic. Is such a thing compatible?

Denver is the closest I can be right now to the mountains. If nature spirits could indeed talk to me, I can guess they would not be happy about all that gas I use on the weekends to get to their forests. I had a similar discussion with a few folks on TAR several weeks back.

Much thanks.

Dylan said...

@Cherokee, Patricia: I loved what MZB did with the genealogical hints and omissions in Malory, tying the royal blood together through her female characters. But I was also frustrated with the way those characters couldn't seem to have conversations with each other that would get past their individual obsessions and, well, save Britain or something like that. I didn't actually finish the book.

Once England was converted to Christianity they sent their own missionaries over to Germania, which had never fallen to Roman control. St. Boniface, an 8th-century bishop who helped to lead this effort, is famous for cutting down a sacred oak and rather than burning it, building a church out of it.

I'll have to check out this Tolstoy book on Merlin. Thanks for that in return. Gandalf to me is just about the hero of heroes- working tirelessly behind the scenes, finally taking centre stage when everyone else is too scared to move. I don't think we're at the Camlann/Pelennor Fields stage of the action yet, but I think JMG's doing a canny thing encouraging a new generation of wizards in preparation.

Urban Harvester said...

Anthony said "I am curious what you, Steve, and JMG think about a druid who travels (drives or flies even) regularly to wild places to take in their spiritual tonic. Is such a thing compatible?"

One advantage of living where I do in Utah is that my little urban cottage is just a level mile from the foot of a mountain which, if you climb it for another mile on you can climb 2,000ft or more. I can also ride my bike with my rope and climbing gear to Rock Canyon in 45 minutes, where there are over 500 protected climbing routes. That said we do sometimes, with our climbing friends, pile into a wagon and drive to magnificent locations, sometimes taking the opportunity to harvest dye-bath woad or stinging nettle from the side of the road. My family also has some land by Capitol Reef which is a few hours drive and that red-rock desert place plays a decided role in my spirituality as a counterpoint to the less arid temperate montane region I mostly inhabit (though I only get down there once or twice a year).

Part of the challenge as I see it is to get creative about how to reduce the impact. For me and my family, we plan car free climbing expeditions. We cycle to a canyon, camp, climb, and cycle home. We've done 40 mile round trips with a 5 and 13 year old, but again our locale is amenable to this kind of trip. It is fun, though it isn't easy, it is less convenient, and it is more modest than an expedition to Tierra del Fuego (which we'd love to do on a bike but the job and homestead are at odds with that dream at the moment). We also pack people into the station wagon - the per-person miles travelled are fewer and you have the shared experience and comraderie, and an overall lower impact. The other part is to be honestly present with the damage, even the damage imposed by riding a bicycle.

Compatibility? Last month in the comments here JMG suggested the Royal Road of Equilibrium as a tool to solve a similar question, and I think it can apply here too. I remember your post on ADR, and I can relate to the frustration of rail transit being as or more expensive than flying (especially considering the time that can make it incompatible with a full time wage class job). That said, it is a balancing act between the prophetic (this is a privileged and unsustainable activity) and the priestly (this is an activity that is an antidote to the sickness of my soul). Both can simultaneously be true. How do you bring them into a dynamic balance? Turning it around, can you find balm for modern soul-sickness by carrying your experience of the wilderness with you by the power of the imaginal? If you do that, how does it change your need for travel, your life choices, and the way you experience your urbane life or the wild places you visit when you are there? Cherokee just commented about JMG's fortune to have been at Stonehenge, I'll wager that that was a powerful experience that our host keeps close in his day to day.

I personally feel conflicted enough about flying that I have a hard time thinking about crossing an ocean on anything other than a freight ship, even though its more expensive and would practically require a complete life change. That might just be the spirit of adventure calling though, and there are dreams for which I would fly... but I am just one druid.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, since you are taking a historical comparative approach in these essays, I would like to hear your observations on how beings who have less power and understanding than a demigod or archangel are thought of and dealt with in modern systems of magic. For example, healing masters, power animals, guardians of the quarters and land wights. These beings have some importance in the methods of the Berkeley Psychic Institute, New Age pop spirituality, Wicca and Heathenry respectively.

I would say that old school magicians interacted with such entities by commanding or entreating them. The twentieth century approach was more egalitarian and cooperative. Beyond that, all is confusion, at least for me. Perhaps you can clear it up.

I too am looking forward to the book.

John Michael Greer said...

Seb, with any luck, five or ten thousand years from now modern experimental science will be classed as one of the standard methods of divination, and will be practiced by diviners in exotic costumes -- white lab coats and horn-rimmed glasses, no doubt. The reason I hope for that is that divination thrives even in the worst of times, and if science can get itself accepted as a means of fortunetelling, it'll be around as long as our species.

.Mallow, overthinking is a common problem in occultism. Very often, when fielding questions from novices, a lot of what I end up saying amounts to "Don't worry about that, just do the practice and see what happens."

Unknown Deborah, oh, I know. I expect to see a lot of that sort of thing happening at this point, as the neopagan era ends and a lot of people who were into various alternative spiritualities head back to something more stable and traditional.

James, well, that certainly makes sense. It's always seemed rather odd to me that the Thelemites didn't come up with their own version of the Cabala that lacks the explicitly Jewish symbolism -- since the Cabala itself pretty clearly comes out of Greek Neopythagoreanism via the Gnostic movement (a point I plan on discussing in more detail in an upcoming post), and a recognizable version of the Tree of Life is documented in Chinese sources a century before the oldest known Jewish version, it's not as though this would be difficult, or for that matter inappropriate.

Alexandra, I suspect that in the long run, the thing that's going to make Americans of European ancestry turn to the native resources of this continent is when they have no other choice -- when that's the only source of medicine and magic they've got. Certainly African-American conjure magic embraced quite a bit of North American herbal lore through exactly that process -- and I've long suspected that the white population of this continent will only become, in a deep sense, native here, once they have gone through experiences of the kind they inflicted on the First Nations and the enslaved nations of Africa.

Varun, you're welcome and thank you!

Harvester, that's a good point. The inclusion of dance in western occultism has been very sparse to date, but there's been some of it here and there, and there could be a good deal more.

Cherokee, we got about two feet, which is pretty normal by local standards -- the streets were open and business as usual resumed promptly enough the day after the snow stopped falling. It'll be good for the local water supply, though.

Sven, well, that would have required quite a rewrite of the story arc -- but if it got rid of the Ewoks, that would have been a very good thing. Perhaps they could have been roasted and served at the victory banquet.

Dylan, no, extreme cognitive dissonance causes people to freak out and slam the door shut as fast as possible. No, what a good course of occult training does is establish a fairly subtle state of cognitive dissonance, and then gradually deepen and broaden it, so that the student learns how to switch back and forth effortlessly between two incompatible but equally true realities, using the capacities and advantages of each one where that's useful -- and then, bit by bit, takes up residence in the space between, at which point something that isn't just a culturally constructed representation starts to become apparent. (This latter stage is what Asian traditions call "enlightenment.")

Faoladh, somehow I managed to miss the Cateran society -- good to see that somebody's taken on the task of getting Scots broadsword fencing back in practice. It's a good practical art that also works very well with an ordinary walking stick, so has much to offer.

Pseudorandom, that one looks just fine.

John Michael Greer said...

Myriam, that's a matter of subtle distinctions. When you experience your mind, emotions, body, etc. doing their thing as something apart from yourself, do you -- I know of no less complicated way to say this -- experience yourself experiencing this? If, let's say, you hold up a hand in front of you and look at it, do you observe yourself observing the hand, or do you just observe the hand? If you just observe the hand, that's a representation. If you manage the trick of watching yourself watch yourself, turning consciousness back on itself, you've achieved one of the very few actions that slip past the merely representational and come into contact with what Schopenhauer called the Will, in one of its grades -- in this case the will-to-experience that we generally call consciousness. It's not accidental that many modes of meditation focus on accomplishing exactly this.

Unknown Deborah, it's a common misconception -- and unfortunately one that was much circulated by people in the Neopagan scene, with the aid of enthusiastic cherrypicking of selected texts -- that traditional Western magic was limited either to commanding or entreating spirits. (That label is pretty much standard in trad jargon for being below the level of gods and angels, btw.) You do find both those approaches, but you find a lot of other options as well. I'll consider a post on that down the road a bit, because you're right -- it's a subject about which there's a vast amount of confusion, consternation, and moral warptitude these days.

faoladh said...

JMG: Indeed so, and the Society has also taken the principles that underlie the attested broadsword methods and applied them to other weapons and even unarmed methods of defense (drawing as well on bareknuckle boxing and various forms of wrestling). Further, there is an esoteric level of training involved, drawing on what we know about the cleasa "feats, tricks" and sgoil dubh "black schooling, black magic" that are discussed in relation to Scottish and Irish sword masters, as well as other known elements of Gaelic martial culture.

Alexandra said...

@Myriam and .Mallow, I have lessons in my dreams too. I call it going to night school. Funnily enough (given some of the earlier comments), one of the recent lessons was a lecture about the Angel Uriel. After I wake up I don't consciously remember most of the details, sometimes just the topic. But later on I just seem to know things somehow, so I know it's getting stored subconsciously. I must say it's a very convenient way to learn!

Scotlyn said...

I am still working my way through Maturana and Varela's difficult, but exhilarating work, "Autopoeisis and Cognition"

but find it highly pertinent to much of the discussion here.
1) Autopoeisis - their coinage for life's peculiar propensity to "self-assemble" - could easily be described as "Will".
2) Cognition - which in their understanding necessarily arises from the biological organisation of every living system - certainly refers, in their rendering, to "representation"...

Introduction to "The biology of Cognition" (contained within link above) begins:
"Man knows and his capacity to know depends on his biological integrity; furthermore, he knows that he knows. As a basic psychological and, hence, biological function cognition guides his handling of the universe and knowledge gives certainty to his acts; objective knowledge seems possible and through objective knowledge the universe appears systematic and predictable. Yet knowledge as an experience is something personal and private that cannot be transferred, and that which one believes to be transferable, objective knowledge, must always be created by the listener: the listener understands, and objective knowledge appears transferred, only if he is prepared to understand. Thus cognition as a biological function is such that the answer to the question, 'What is cognition?' must arise from understanding knowledge and the knower through the latter's capacity to know."

Elsewhere, they describe their reflections as a dance between the two tempting entrapments of representationalism and solipsism... without ever *quite* falling into either. And I have to say I have been seduced into this dance... though I may not yet be familiar with all the steps.

I now intend to find Schopenhauer's work Will and Representation to place in the context of Autopoeisis and Cognition. And see how the dance goes then...

loufuzai said...

As for the Chinese version of "golden dawn", 金黎明 (jin liming) is probably a better translation. The character 色 (se) means colour, so jin (gold) conveys the meaning with fewer characters. No one would mistake it for a morning full of bullion. The 3 characters are 1 syllable each, so it matches the number of syllables in English.

Brother Guthlac said...

Where does Cabala actually fit in the taxonomy of these two posts regarding operative methods?

James M. Jensen II said...


What I personally found even more confusing was an image I ran across of Alexandrian Wiccans performing a ritual using a magic circle with TETRAGRAMMATON and ADONAI on it. Thelemites at least change the names to NUIT, HADIT, etc. At least most Thelemites I've known take an agnostic or even atheistic approach to the gods: if they're all just in our heads, what's the difference between one name and another, if both work?

Though I suppose the fact that straight-up traditional Cabala works not just for followers of Abrahamic religions, but for people who despise those religions and everybody else, too, says something significant about the relationship between us and the gods, and what the latter really think of our presumptions of having the "one true way" to relate to them.

Also, where can I learn more about the Chinese version of the Tree of Life?

Steve Thomas said...


The thing about Druidry is that it's not big on commandments.

You're going to end up spending time in wilderness areas regardless of whether or not you start a Druid practice. Practicing Druidry or a similar path, though, might lead you to think about how you can mitigate the impact that you have, and may eventually lead you to a place where you don't have to depend on automobiles as much.

My own experience of nature spirits is that they are what they are-- the minds or spirits of the places you find them. They're not old testament gods, full of Thou Shalt Nots-- They're as different from each other as the ecosystems they ensoul.

Regarding the Abby quote--

If "surfaces" are enough for you, that's totally fine. The fact of the matter is that spending time in nature, in a state of simple, reverent awareness already puts you well ahead of where most people in this culture are.

It seems to me, though, that you're looking for something more than the surfaces-- and there's a sign in that direction in that quote from Abby. He writes "the grasp of a child's hand in your own... the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl's thigh..."

Presumably, the child, the girl, the friend and the lover all have their own consciousness, their own perspective on things. Don't you prefer to try to understand those perspectives, and to enter into relationship with those people? Isn't that better than simply treating them as "surfaces"? In fact, don't people actually respond much better to you (and to me and, presumably, to old Ed Abby) when you treat them as real people with their own concerns, rather than mere surfaces-- however beautiful?

Well, the apple tree, the sunlight on rocks and leaves, the pool of water-- all these can be treated as beings with their own concerns and their own perspective as well.

"But what if I'm wrong, and it's all just a delusion of my subconscious?"

Yes, what if? According to materialism, there are no conscious beings. You, your mother, your lover, your child, are just complicated lumps of matter ricocheting through a meaningless universe. That doesn't change the way you treat yourself, your mother, or your girlfriend-- it probably doesn't even change the way you treat your cat. It doesn't need to change the way that you treat an old growth tree or a mountain lake, either.

I understand the fear of being wrong. It's very deep, and nearly universal in our culture. But it's just fear, and it can be overcome. And the way to do that is what I said earlier-- Just don't worry about "belief." So the blue bird in your dream was a product of your own subconscious. So what? There are entire schools of magic that assume spirits are only fragments of our own mind-- but that doesn't stop us from working with them. If you want to begin a magical practice, just do the practice. Yes, you'll encounter spirits, but you don't have to worry about "what" they "really are." Just do the work, and see what results you get-- Leave ontology to the professors.

Dylan said...

JMG, sounds like what my parents told me getting a university degree was supposed to involve. Subtle, gradually deepened and broadened cognitive dissonance, leading to the ability to think in muliple modalities and eventually come up with new thoughts of one's own.

But I take it you're not referring to the holy grail of 'critical thinking', about which there was some talk during my time at university but which seemed to me to have gotten lost somewhere in the mess. I don't think I ever stumbled on it myself. No, it sounds like what you're talking about is a dawning awareness of a thing or things between and apart from the paradigms? I wonder, does it talk?

I skipped my own university graduation, almost at the last minute, partly as a statement but mostly because I had a bad feeling about the people in robes and hats, with their scrolls and tassels and formal recitations. So I have the bit of paper that says I passed, but I was never actually initiated.

Dylan said...

@Pseudorandom, none of us has access to the 'right' edition, which is the manuscript Sir Thomas Malory wrote himself in Newgate Prison. And he was actually translating and paraphrasing and embellishing some French sources he doesn't name, making all the spelling and continuity errors it pleased him to make in his less-than-ideal conditions.

I'm familiar with the Vinaver edition (from the Winchester manuscript, 1954 with original spellings) but even that has been modernized by the addition of paragraph breaks and recognizable punctuation. A Caxton edition is probably just as good, the chief difference being that C. divided the "hoole booke of kyng Arthur & of his noble knyghtes of the rounde table" into 21 books where Malory seems to have intended 8 self-contained tales that make up a greater narrative arc.

The Brewer edition you named could be a good place to start. However, it only contains Books 7 & 8 of Malory's 8. Probably the most intrigue- and action-packed fifth of the story arc because it's when all the crows come home to roost that have been flocking throughout 700 pages of splintered spears and hewn hauberks.

As I flip through it I notice that for this edition "translated into modern English" should be understood to mean "you'll still need the glossary for the occasional word, and the syntax will probably puzzle you fairly often." Such is part of the charm and can't be avoided. Hope this helps.

Pseudorandom said...

Yes, it helps, thank you very much.

Looking for 金黎明 on Google made me hit, in the images section, photos of these two persons. I have no idea who they are. Before going on more adventures in conjuring names in languages we don't speak (I don't speak Chinese) it's better to ask for the help of a native speaker, to avoid a possibly catastrophic gaffe (I've been there once--please don't ask).

James M. Jensen II said...

@Steve Thomas and Anthony Romano:

I understand the fear of being wrong. It's very deep, and nearly universal in our culture. But it's just fear, and it can be overcome.

Ain't that the truth. We're heirs to a culture where Error was cast as a demon in the popular imagination (ex: The Faerie Queene). The result is a generation of agnostics and atheists who worry about how they'll do on a test they don't believe anyone is giving. The fact is that the need to be right and to be rational are about identity, not reason. They're part of our sense of who we are rather than the result of a calm assessment of the world.

That's why I never managed to talk myself out of being a rationalist. I have loads of arguments for how irrational it was to worry about whether I was right or rational. None of them were convincing. What finally changed is that I changed my sense of who I am. As JMG has said, you don't reason yourself into a religion or spiritual path. You fall in love with it, and you make that love more important to you than who you were. That was and is my motivation for calming those nagging doubts, not a thousand argument for why those doubts didn't matter or were unreasonable.

John Michael Greer said...

Faoladh, yes, I gathered that from the website -- and it's very good to see. The evolution of Western martial arts toward comprehensive multiweapon-and-emnpty hand systems with an esoteric component was one of the many casualties of the Age of Reason, and it's very welcome to watch the baton being picked up where it was dropped two and three centuries ago.

Scotlyn, fascinating. I'll have to add that to the get-to list.

Loufuzai, many thanks!

Brother G., it doesnt -- it's a philosophy and a symbolic system that informs operative methods, not an operative method in its own right. We'll be discussing that when we get to occult philosophy next month.

James, granted! As for the Chinese version of the Tree of Life, it's called either the Wujitu or the Taijitu depending on your source; I've never seen a really detailed English account of it, just a few pages here and there in books on Taoism.

Dylan, the drawback to critical thinking, as usually taught, is that it doesn't take place until after the mind has already done most of its work. What I'm discussing might be called "critical figuration" -- the recognition that the world of our experience is assembled by the mind from raw sensation using mental frameworks, that the frameworks are "in here" rather than "out there," and that different frameworks are more or less useful for different purposes. More on this as we proceed.

Alexander Marcus said...

I just had an insight that I felt I should share here. Regular readers of this blog (or of occult philosophy in general) are likely familiar with the notion(s) that "the map is not the territory" and that the world any of us experiences is a co-construct of our beings and the objective, ultimately unkowable "reality" (the latter of which necessarily includes the former). Now I'm aware that this notion is itself a kind of "meta-map," but it is one that I find both very useful and very meaningful, and one that I hold consciously and deliberately. And anyway it isn't even the point I'm trying to make, only context for it.

Some more context: I am currently re-reading a book on the history of the number zero (and incidently a bit of general mathematical history and philosophical history). The book consistently treats maps as territories, and assumes that there is a universally "right" map. The first time I read the book I had not yet encountered the notion of the "meta-map," and so did not notice the author's unthinking habits. Reading it now, and seeing the author's assumptions the way I am, is a mixed experience. On the one hand I'm able to gain more/different insights (and with much more awareness) from my reading, but on the other hand it's a bit like reading novel or watching a movie and being constantly aware that that's what I'm doing. Like having no immersion, which kind of cheapens the experience. It makes me think of Plato's allegory of the cave.

I'm pretty sure that all in all the awareness is an improvement, and keep thinking back to JMG's response to Dylan above regarding cognitive dissonance, "the space between" worldviews, and enlightenment.

Anyway, I'm glad to be on the journey.

Sven Eriksen said...

As we are delving into occult philosophy over the coming months, is there any chance you could elaborate a little more on "enlightenment". You do make mention of it from time to time, but I have noticed that you do so rather sparingly. I somehow suspect that this is perhaps the one concept that have suffered the most from the modern western habit of approaching mystical concepts with the attitude of "This means whatever I think I want it to mean"...

(I can only assume that the Hutts consider spitroasted Ewok to be a delicacy. You should definitely have a word with J.J. Abrams about that.)

Myriam said...

JMG, Thank you! That answers a few questions. Yes, an awareness of being aware is what I meant, and a few times I have sensed something beyond that which seemed to be like an awareness that I am aware of being aware, if that doesn't sound too weird. It was very fleeting.

Your description of consciousness as will-to-experience clarifies things tremendously. This might change but at the moment I see the consciousness we experience as the visible spectrum of light is for humans, like a knowable spectrum of consciousness / will-to-experience that we can slide along, like playing a trombone. At one end of the knowable spectrum is the experience of awareness of awareness, sliding to being immersed in this world, to being immersed in a good book or movie or lost in a project, and at the other end of the spectrum, experiencing astral projection and other interesting things. At both ends of the visible spectrum there is a beyond that we cannot see.

Your definition of consciousness as will-to-experience explains my reluctance to park my consciousness in the bliss of enlightenment. There are simply too many wonderful things to experience on all the other levels, which as Alexander points out, cheapens the experience if you do it from a detached viewpoint. For example, I can get completely possessed by the colour of a certain red tulip. It's much better to learn to slide my consciousness along the spectrum to whatever the situation calls for and immerse myself into it.

If magic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness understood as will-to-experience, in accordance with will, magic is just a tool used by will to experience more.

This is all very, very interesting.

Sven Eriksen said...

@Steve Thomas

With regards to your comment to Anthony,

My experience with nature spirits is that they are what they are too. That goes equally for gods/desses, astral spirits, animals, plants, ghosts and other human beings, as well as any other being or phenomena that could come to mind.

Does it occur to you, as it does to me, that the "But what if I'm wrong..." fear dynamic you've kindly taken your time to address is really the good old "What if it's all just a trick of the devil?!" routine, carefully redressed in appropriate industrial vernacular? There seem to be this deep seated fear down in the bowels of the human soul somewhere that there might be nothing but the self, and that the universe the self is experiencing, with all its wonders, phenomena and beings (especially its beings...), is somehow just an illusion deliberatly created by a "someone" or a "something" - "the devil", "my subconscious", "my brain", "the atoms" or what have you.

The thing with this here belief is, that in addition to being frankly quite absurd, it is also as terrifying as anything you could possibly imagine. Of course if one can stand the terror of looking straight at it and hold everything it implies firmly in awareness, it quickly disolves as its innate absurdity becomes apparent. If one can't, well... Fears and desires that one refuses to recognize, tend to find a way to act themselves out as all manner of dubious strategies. In this case the strategies consist of all the ideological mainstream belief systems that are currently driving us collectively insane. What do they all have in common? They are all essentially battle tactics that the "me" employs to outsmart the nefarious "it", that it is convinced is trying to trick it into believing that there is a lived experience of consciousness going on here...

Of course, after the moments of excruciating tension leading up to realization, comes the joy of the roaring fat-bellied laughter. It's worth it.

My two cents on a Saturday afternoon.

Alexander Marcus said...


Regarding your above response to Steve Thomas on the "But what if I'm wrong . . ." fear:

Lately in my study and practice of magic I've been contemplating the idea that "I" am not my body, mind, feelings, perceptions nor any of the other things that might be "mine," but that instead "I" am the individual behind/above these things (I've also been toying with the idea of modelling thoughts not as actions I'm performing but instead as perceptions I'm having, but that's a bit of a tangent).

This exploration has been fruitful, and promises to get much more so. That is, as long as I focus on myself. As soon as I use someone else's self as the object of consideration, I find myself on the verge of solipsism, fully embracing the belief that it is "all in my head." In high school I had a period of time when I was at my least healthy and stable, mentally speaking. I was stuck in a purely solipsistic worldview (the solipsism was water-tight, which is a very bad trait in a worldview). The whole arrangement seemed like a terribly perverse version of the idea that the individual is really one with "the source."

I'm curious about your suggestion of "looking straight at [the belief] and [holding] everything it implies firmly in awareness" until the belief dissolves in its own absurdity. Can you explain that a bit more? It reminds me of a maxim from a memoir I recently read: "the best way out is through."


Dylan said...

JMG, let me try this: if critical thinking is getting under the skin of cognition, then critical figuration is digging closer to the source of experience, getting under the skin of perception. And this leads to a faculty of perception which you have called, curiously, enlightenment.

I'm having enough fun participating in this forum now that I think I get what's happening. All our chatter here is not getting us any closer to understanding what we're talking about, it's just getting us more comfortable with what we're talking about. You, JMG, the eminent rationalist, are using this blog to talk us habitual rationalists down from the high-strung hostage situation we're holding ourselves in.

My reasons for reading this blog mirror those of Kfish almost exactly. You're just too darn logical not to take seriously, and you're seriously convincing me that logic is not always the best way to go.

@James M. Jensen II- " don't reason yourself into a religion or spiritual path. You fall in love with it, and you make that love more important to you than who you were." Ah. Thank you. That explains (or at least loosens up) a lot for me. I missed JMG's original statement of that, so thanks for reiterating it here. This month's discussion is really striking home for me.

John Michael Greer said...

Alexander, exactly! A map is a very good thing to have, so long as you don't confuse it with the territory, and the recognition that map and territory are two different things can be seen either as a meta-map or, perhaps more simply, as something implicit in the existence of a map as such. I've seen a lot of writing about math that equates map and territory, which frankly baffles me; at least to me, mathematics is the most perfect example we've got of a self-referential mental construct created by human beings, which relates to the rest of experience only because the brains that invented it drew all their metaphors and images from their experience of the world.

Sven, good. Yes, I use that term *very* sparingly, precisely because it's been so often and so wildly abused. I wonder if a passing reference to R.M. Bucke would bring a bit of additional clarity into the conversation...

Myriam, you've just done a very good job of sketching out the difference between mysticism and magic -- as good, frankly, as some of Dion Fortune's comments on the subject. The difference is precisely in attitudes toward the will-to-experience, which is (again) one of several grades of the will as such. The mystic has finished with experience and is ready to return to the source of consciousness; the mage is not finished with experience and is ready to relate to it in a more complete and conscious way. Neither option is better than the other; both, at least according to occult philosophy, are valid and necessary, and any given person will be drawn to one or the other (or to some other option -- there are others) at the appropriate point in his or her trajectory through being. More on this in a future post!

Dylan, excellent! It probably won't surprise you to learn that back in the days when this sort of thing was being taught in academies in Athens and the like, the aspiring student was expected to get a first-rate grasp of logic and the mathematics of the time, especially Euclid's geometry, before beginning to grapple with the transrational. Logic is among the great creations of our species; so is the scientific method; the mere fact that both of them are abstract mental constructs that only apply to a certain, somewhat narrow part of the universe of our experience doesn't take anything away from their greatness. It's just that so many people have grown up confusing them with the realities that they so very partially describe -- thinking, for example, that the universe is rational, or that it obeys scientific laws -- and so it's necessary to strike that difficult point of balance between an unhealthy obsession with rationality and a pointless rejection of it. (And of course too many partisans of either extreme insist that it has to be either one or the other, as though the only alternative to drowning is dying of thirst...)

Alexander Marcus said...


Re: mathematics as a construct

I have from a very young age found mathematics fascinating. Both the activity of it - which I find quite enjoyable - and the philosophy of it. One of the broadest and most common ways to split the philosophy of mathematics is into the two categories of mathematical realism (mathemetics are discovered), and mathematical anti-realism (mathematics are invented). I've always leaned heavily oe the side of realism, but it's interesting how my explorations of occult philosophy have informed this view. I understand numbers (and other mathematical entities) to be "out there" just as much as the tree I'm looking at. The tree is physical and the number is mental, but both are objects of perception and subject to all the vagaries of the process of perception, along with all the caveats of the map-territory distinction. I understand mathematics a map used to approach and organize the perception of certain mental objects, namely numbers.

What you or I know as Mathematics rests on about nine axioms (assumptions) about numbers. From this modest set of rules the sprawling tower that is mathematics - from arithmetic to multi-variant calculus to abstract algebra - grows. This process is identical to the one by which different logics are built. What's interesting to me is that while people have built all sorts of different logics by starting with different axioms, by and large there's only "the one" mathematics. This is even more perplexing because mathematicians have recognized that there are multiple different geometries for some time now.

The example (from the book about zero) that started this whole train of thought for me was the division by zero. The author of the book derides the fear of zero that was traditional in the West for so long and then claims that modern mathematicians have surpassed the fear. He claims also that division by zero is impossible. However, assuming the axioms of modern mathematics, division by zero is as possible as division by any other number. The difference is that division by zero leads to trivialism, where every number is equal to every other and every mathematical statement without exception is true. Thus division by zero is not impossible, but impermissible. The author has not only mistaken his map for the territory, but there's a corner of his map he utterly refuses to look at, because if he did his map would disintegrate. Here we find the fear of zero the author claims to have overcome.

As a bit of an aside, there is some very little work being done developing what's called Paraconsistent Mathematics, which starts from different axioms and tolerates division by zero (Paraconsistent Mathematics is related to the paraconsistent logics, which each tolerate paradox in different ways and to different degrees).

James M. Jensen II said...

Having thought about Schopenhauer as you've presented him here and as I've seen him described in other summaries, I have to say I'm having some misgivings. My neopragmatist side is largely OK with it but my Neo-Aristotelian side thinks there's something excessively reductionistic, even nihilistic, about it all.

The Neo-Aristotelian side will go along with the neopragmatist side in saying things are not simply "out there" because the "cash value" of that idea is simply that we can't put up an ontological wall between our beliefs and the things those beliefs are about and then peek around it to see if the two sides match up. So arguments about whether our beliefs reflect how things "really are" are pointless. I can accept that, as Hilary Putnam puts it, "the mind and the world jointly make up the mind and the world."

But Schopenhauer seems to be saying "at root there is nothing but the will, everything else is an illusion." That's kind of a depressing thought, for some reason.

Cherokee Organics said...


Glad to read that your town coped well with a normal snow storm. It says much about the place that you chose that the people quickly recover and get on with the day to day necessity of living.

I finally scored a bit of rain both yesterday and today and am now breathing a sigh of relief - for the moment anyway. Tonight was so cold - and please don't laugh as I'm summer adapted at the moment :-)! – that, the 10'C (50'F) air temperature whilst I was in the orchard supervising the chickens this evening had me scurrying for my woollen hat and jumper. Brrr!

Ah, I'm assuming that you are fully aware how difficult it is for an interested party to get proper instruction. Anyway, we have an Omphalos here and I've even visited it, and walked its circumference. Who would have thought that was even possible? Uluru. Of course, how could I have been so dense as to not see that for what it is? It certainly stands out from a huge distance away and is near to the centre of the continent. It's big. So obvious and natural and also there for all the world to see.

I don't travel much myself nowadays and my gut feeling is that events are slowly escalating towards another financial crisis. The funny thing about that is that there is the knowing and then there is the waiting.

Yes, of all things, I worry about water the most. Seriously. That is where Liebig’s law will bite hardest I believe. Glad to hear that your aquifers are getting a good top up from the snow melt. That is how snow works in your part of the world, I reckon.

Forgot to mention too. The battle of Arderydd (A.D. 573), Tolstoy didn't explicitly mention this but I had a dark insight that somehow a long standing ritual rule of engagement was broken and I reckon violated may be the correct word to use. Dunno, he hedged around that issue.

PS: I reckon the environment performs subtle changes to your personality and yes I agree that each corner and nook and cranny of this planet will eventually revert back to a spirituality that speaks from the lived experience in that place. It sounds weird, but I've found myself explaining to some people - that I ain't no townie, despite the fact that I grew up in a very suburban environment. Sometimes I find myself poking holes in people incongruous perceptions of the world with a sort of slow straight talking ease. I reckon employment works strange tricks on people’s world views too.



Hi Patricia,

Oh, you are bad! Hehe! That was very amusing and insightful.

Fair enough, orders are orders, I guess. I personally find that sort of missionary zeal to be a bit disturbing just from the point of view that if it was a self-evident truth, then it would be self-evident by default and all that messy business with the sword would be a bit superfluous. Mind you I once set the dogs on some Jehovi's missionaries that turned up in two very large and expensive looking four wheel drives talking about some rubbish I didn't particularly care much to hear - and neither did the dogs for that matter. I put on my best outback drawl and said: You better get back in the car he's not much good with kids. In such circumstances I trust the dogs judgement of character. ;-)!

Hi Dylan,

Thanks also for the MZB Malory reference. I wasn't aware of that. I do hope you enjoy the Nikolai Tolstoy as it is very good and he has such an enthusiasm and descriptive style that I feel that I'm visualising the various components of his investigations as he tells the story.

Sven Eriksen said...

@Alexander Marcus

Yes it is of course quite true that you are not these things, though that doesn’t in any way imply that they are not of you or in any way separate from you, but rather it affirms that self is more than the sum of its immediately perceived parts, that is, the innermost intangible core as well as that which engulfs the totality. I’m prone to see the self as something through which the forces of the macrocosm continually surge (which relieves you of the burden of the self-defeating strategy of needing to classify phenomena as “inner” or “outer”), and I equate the seeming solidity of the experience thereof to the way that the surge of running water from a faucet creates a what looks like a fixed beam when viewed from a little distance. With regards to your remodeling efforts, I would perhaps suggest dropping the somewhat unhelpful notion that anything that goes on in concrete consciousness must necessarily be a “thought”, and embracing that this level of the self, just like all the others, can function as an instrument of both action and perception on its own level.

“[…] a terribly perverse version of [unity with source]” is definitely a keeper. This extreme propensity for solipsism seems to be at the heart of what JMG refers to as the current religious sensibility. I was hardly done sighing with post-orgasmic bliss after having the universe explained in schopenhauerian terms before it occurred to me that it’ll probably take someone about five minutes to figure out a way to make “The universe is will and representation” to mean “I am the only will in the universe, and these representations are all mine!” The whole devil-dynamic I sketched out above emerges out of this. If only “I” is, then the living world and everything in it that I experience every moment shouldn’t be there, and something must be “causing” the illusion of the experience to appear. Out of that arises the perceived need to figure out how, and out of that again arises the whole history of thought and belief in western civilization. Rinse and repeat over the centuries and you more or less end up with a subspecies of humanity that is wholly unable to relate to the universe in any way other than “What causes the illusion of the experience I’m having now?”, and as a result is unable to exercise any will at all without reaffirming to itself the core belief that the “I” is a bubble of abstract intellect, having appeared at random in a universe that is nefariously trying to trick it into believing that it is experiencing something, and against whom it thus must contend with all its intellectual might.

Sven Eriksen said...

@Alexander Marcus (Part II)

Now this is cemented further into place by the way our society uses what I like to call arbitrary solipsism to enforce its dogmas. The parts of the universe we experience that are acceptable to industrial civilization’s official worldview is assigned an independent existence “out there”, while the rest of reality is awkwardly coped with by insisting that it is “in your head” or whatever. Shoddy arrangement? You betcha… If you’ve wondered why you were unhealthy and unstable during that period of your life (hey, in High School, who wasn’t?), that might help making a little more sense of it.

(@JMG: If I know my Cabala correctly, isn’t solipsism one of the three manifestations of the negative powers that correspond to the supernals, and is subsequently reflected on the Daath sphere?)

And yes, “the way out is through” is precisely what I was referring to. I’ll try to explain a little bit more: In my own final analysis, dysfunctional belief systems and dogmatic ideology is always some form of fear attempting to refute Will, and they are always induced by other people or society or what not, through some use of force. As such grappling with them will inevitably bring quite some strain on you, a sense of fear coming up from within or a sense of force pushing back at you, or both. Now, rather than going about it through trying to process all the various narratives through ordinary form based sequential thought, try to see what the actual core beliefs that underlie the narratives are, seek to grasp them without turning them into even more narrative, and see if you can hold that in awareness more as a kind of knowing than a thinking. It admittedly involves quite a lot of effort and tension, but if you for example apply this to the prescribed world view of industrial society the whole thing reliably comes unglued in a hurry. Such a grab bag of incoherent narratives, unconscious beliefs, hidden/denied agendas and conditioned presuppositions (and more importantly the unspoken ideas out of which they emerge) simply cannot withstand that form of scrutiny. The power of silence, as Don Juan would put it (Yes, I know he’s a work of fiction. Doesn’t stop the old rascal from being absolutely right…).

Thanks for asking. I hope I managed to make at least a little sense of the whole mess ;-)

Brother Guthlac said...

So Cabala does not involve psychospiritual alchemy nor meditation as such? Cabala fits in a different range/system of taxonomy/analysis? It will be interesting to see as well the other options that adorn that plane.

John Roth said...

@Alexander Marcus et al on Mathematics:

Is mathematics something that’s “out there?” As far as I can see, the integers are based on the perception of objects. If you can’t have discrete objects, you can’t have two of them. Or three, or four, or a half of one. Now, if you look at the notion of a discrete object, it begins to get rather fuzzy. Where does this table end and not-table begin, for example? It looks obvious, but is it? I think a Buddhist would say it isn’t.

There is a tribe in the Amazon that does not count: the Piraha. Their language quite literally has no concept of numbers. (It also doesn’t seem to have a past tense, but that’s another issue.) The Natural Semantic Metalanguage, an attempt to find the semantic primes in all human languages, only lists one, two, some, many and all as quantifiers: the rest is built on that foundation - or not. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve finished Liebniz’s proposal to find the basis of all human languages.

As far as division by zero is concerned, it depends on the question you’re asking. If you restrict yourself to integers, then for any x * y = z there is a corresponding z / x = y and z / y = x. This result isn’t what Mrs. Snavely beat into your head during third grade arithmetic class, but it does work this way, even if formula such as 16 / 0 = 0 and 0 / 0 = 0 aren’t exactly what you’d expect. The difficulty is that there are a lot of pairs of integers that you can’t divide this way, because the remainder isn’t zero. The definition works, but it’s not a practical definition of division, so it’s not what you want to teach a third-grader.

So why do the Mrs. Snaveley’s of the world teach it this way? Because, when you get to algebra, you find that the simple answer usually isn’t the right answer when the curve you’re trying to plot crosses the x or y axis and a zero appears in the denominator. To get the answer you need to make the curve come out right, you need the limit theorem from calculus, and limits aren’t usually taught in freshman algebra.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & all
I found the discussion over at ADR's Retrotopia of ‘religion without a god’ interesting, (‘Christianity without Christ’) but thought any comment of mine should be here.

Historically ‘Christ’ emerged after the time of Jesus (Vermes, 2012). Vermes places Jesus in a long line of ‘wonder-workers’ in Judaism (‘charismatic’ as defined by Max Weber). “Charisma … the display of divinely granted power … there was throughout the ages a popular religion, cut off from public centres and priestly officialdom but equally marked by charismatic manifestations of ecstasy and wonder.”

I contemplate without knowledge Jesus own experience of the numinous. (Thanks JMG for mysterium tremendum et fascinans which led me to Rudolph Otto.) Which brings me to Jesus own constant drawing attention to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

Forgive the personal note, but as a non-Church-going child I did some thinking on this one. (I did not come across the Nicaean Creed until I was 17, despite the mandatory prayer & hymn and Religious Instruction in public school – no separation of State & Religion here in ‘Old Britland’, though you could claim freedom to be excused under our 1944 Education Act, which in part – i.e. attending any real Church service – I did by complaining to my dad when I was about nine or ten).

The way I saw it back in the day was that the ‘Kingdom of heaven / God’ was always there and had been always there, and although you could not see it, you could sometimes sense it. Real enough, eh? I guess I saw it as a kind of human birthright. Vermes writes that although the Kingdom of God figures about 100 times in the Synoptic Gospels (not in John), Jesus did not obsess about the conceptual identity and “… needless to say it was not invented by John the Baptist or by Jesus”. Vermes stresses that Kingdom of God of the parables is never compared with anything to do with politics or warfare.

Jesus understanding of the Father (of the Kingdom) was according to Vermes a commonplace of Judaic religion. The nuances of the term when used at the time are discussed at length by Vermes but I am not equipped to comment on that discussion. I think he sums up Jesus view as ‘optimistic’, and not only about humans. Later it seems, it took 3rd Century Origen to get into ‘suffering of the innocents’ and all that.

So, I guess personally I am left with a ‘sense of the unseen’ – still somewhat optimistic –and a conceptually undefined nature of creation – the creatures and our lives – and a place to go to find what wisdom we can. I once as a middle-aged man while trying to get to sleep in a tent saw and was spoken to by two small angels dressed in the then fashionable outdoor garb for small children of white plastic mackintosh. My painful ankle wrenched heavily on the mountain did get better as these small figures told me it could, and next day I managed the cycle ride of my life!

Alexander Marcus said...


Thanks for your response. I like your idea of the self "as something through which the forces of the macrocosm continually surge." This idea helps me get a more worthwhile perspective on "self," both my own and others'. And of course you're right about every level of the self being capable of both action and perception. Interestingly though, your passing reference to Daath and the negative powers of the Supernals was what helped the most. It has led me (back) to a very promising exploration. I'll no doubt be pondering all of this for some time. Again, thanks.

Urban Harvester said...

JMG, you've written about modern magic as a response to the "disenchantment of the world" - a phenomenon which from your writing appears to be a fairly common historical 'evolutionary bug' of abstract thinking. Do you see the "critical figuration" that Levi's magic kicked off as a means being developed by western culture to utilize the "raw figurative narratives" of religiosity to "patch" the evolutionary bugs that are nihilism, and the barbarism of reflection?

I can't think of a better way to refer to Derrida than "self-referential obscurantism" - he was very popular amongst my architectural school professors... go figure. Your comment last month about the Royal Road of equilibrium had me reread 'After Progress'. Ironically it was right after I'd read 'That Hideous Strength'. I'd forgotten that your treatment of it was what made me resolve to finally read the trilogy. Reading Lewis' and your book in succession really challenged me to think deep and hard!

faoladh said...

John Roth: The Pirahã are a fascinating linguistic case all around. There's an interesting discussion of their extremely limited number system here, which notes that it seems to be rooted in a condition that affects many parts of their language - specifically, it is rooted in "concrete, immedate experience" rather than abstractions.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Phil Harris--Thank you for your discussion of the Kingdom of Heaven and the angel story. Angels in white plastic mackintoshes is a delightful image and your experience is perfectly (Old Testament) Biblical. I suppose an angel might also turn up in bike messenger garb.

John Michael Greer said...

Alexander, I also tend to fall into a certain kind of realism when it comes to mathematics, but it's a kind that tends to annoy most mathematical realists. I see mathematics as something we discover, not because it's "out there" in the universe, but because mathematics reflects the deep structure of the nervous systems we inherit from our primate ancestors. We experience discrete objects -- the basis of the concept of number -- because there was an evolutionary advantage to be had by our ancestors by sorting out the confusion of sensory input into the subjective experience of discrete objects. The same applies to the other basic concepts of mathematics: they reflect those habits of thinking that kept australopithecines a little better fed and a little less likely to be fed on than others.

James, I'd argue that the mind doesn't simply have beliefs about external objects. It creates the experiences we call "external objects" out of the raw material of sensation. "The world" is thus not something given to us, it's something we make, using templates that are partly genetic, partly cultural, and partly a function of personal idiosyncrasies. As for "will" being nihilistic, there I'd disagree -- what Schopenhauer is saying is that the ultimate reality is not passive. It's constantly pressing forward into manifestation in its different grades -- will-to-exist, will-to-live, will-to-experience -- and that pressure, rather than the forms temporarily taken by it, is the reality.

Cherokee, I've heard about Uluru, and seen pictures. If I ever have the chance to visit Australia I want to go there! As for water, no argument there -- on the one hand, you're on the world's most arid continent; on the other, that's one of those things that'll be in very short supply in a lot of places as we proceed.

Brother G., meditation and psychospiritual alchemy are techniques. Cabala is a philosophy and a symbolic system that makes use of those and other techniques. It really isn't as difficult as you're making it!

Phil, angels in mackintoshes don't surprise me at all. The angels who visited the Biblical patriarchs looked like ordinary people, and if I recall correctly, they even had dinner with Abraham.

Harvester, I don't see it as anything so minor as a patch for a bug. The rise of systematic occultism is a normal and healthy response to the inevitable failures of an age of reason; Levi is the first voice in a chorus that will still be singing long after Richard Dawkins and his ilk are utterly forgotten, just as Plotinus is still read most of two millennia after Diagoras the Godless became a footnote. Delighted to hear that I helped inspire some serious thinking!

Peter Wilson said...

Alexander/JMG - I'm very interested in how people perceive mathematics for instance. I've long had issues with it, because I struggle, unless I force myself, to see numbers a discrete thing. I see them on a continuum, with little difference between the objects. It's only at the outer extent of the range that I see differences. Causes me all sorts of problems with the more exact sciences. I wonder how normal that is. Anyway, I find it interesting in the context of this discussion

John Roth said...

The Iowa results are in, and the "official" divination came up for Clinton. Divination, you ask? They decided six of the precinct results with a coin toss, and all six came up for Clinton. No information about whether anyone prayed beforehand, or to whom.

Go figure.

Steve Thomas said...

@Sven-- It often strikes me, the way that most of contemporary "rationalist" thought is just a recapitulation of Christianity minus all of the interesting parts. That particular parallel had not occurred to me, though-- thank you!

I don't often think about "believing in" whether or not this or that is "real" or not, and I often forget that other people think that way. When I encounter it it's somewhat jarring, and I don't always know how to respond when I don't 2 days to think about it and write something up.

@ James Jensen-- I don't have much to add to your comment, but this-- "The result is a generation of agnostics and atheists who worry about how they'll do on a test they don't believe anyone is giving" is, as our host would say, a keeper.

@ Everyone-- An intellectual history or genealogy of the idea of "Belief" in Western culture would be very interesting. Does it come into existence with Christianity, or did it have antecedents? Or is belief as we know it actually a product of the Enlightenment, since earlier Christians were pretty clear that other gods were either demons or good angels? Are there parallels in other cultures, or is the obsession with "belief," meaning something like "understanding the following events to have happened" unique to Western or Abrahamic or Eurasian civilizations?

The Piraha are an interesting example of a culture in which our notions of "belief" simply don't make sense, which is why they've been very resistant to Christian conversion.

dadaharm said...


I have read some funny (and pessimistic) essays by Schopenhauer, but not his big book about the will. He and some other philosophers inspired by him do seem to have a contempt for the idea of progress. At best they think it irrelevant for the human condition, while the more pessimistic philosophers even consider consciousness an evolutionary mistake.

So it is somewhat funny that his philosophical ideas have influenced modern magic. If there is one thing progress claims to have liberated humans from, it is the idea of magic. Of course, the magical and occult beliefs as progress describes them are distortions of what actual magical ideas are. But this makes the claims the followers of progress make about delivering us from the occult even more impressive. It is a nice example of the slogan: ignorance is strength.

Both magic and philosophical pessimism are ways to annoy the worshippers of progress. I guess that reading Schopenhauer somehow is bad for one's belief in progress.

SLClaire said...

Pretty much every comment this month is way above me at this very early point in my magical studies. But I did have an experience recently of having to construct meaning out of a sensory perception. In this case it was a map of the greater Fort Myers, Florida area. My husband Mike and I were visiting my mom who lives less than an hour's drive from there. We wanted to tour a distillery that makes rum from sugar grown in Florida. Not being familiar with the area and being much more comfortable traveling with a paper map than GPS, we had it with us along with directions from the internet. Mike was driving, I was navigating, and a blocked road ahead due to an accident forced us off the internet route onto side streets. I looked at the map for the first time to guide us, and at first I couldn't make sense of it. I couldn't make it fall into my idea of how the map should look and how it could relate to the road we were driving on. Then, all of a sudden, something shifted. I saw the lines that divide Fort Myers into quadrants, and then I could read the streets on the map and figure out where we were and where we wanted to go. I've sometimes had a similar experience like the one you mentioned in an earlier blog post here, of being in an unfamiliar place and, upon waking, not being able to make sense at first out of the perceptions, till the same shift occurs and everything organizes itself into recognizable objects in relation to other objects.

Alexander Marcus said...

RE: The ontology of mathematics

First, perception: As I understand perception, It is a process whereby an object is experienced by a subject. This nature of this experience is determined as much by the nature of the subject as it is determined by the nature of the object. The subject cannot know the object "directly," but can only know the experience which results from perception.

A good example is color. It seems reasonable to assume that the objects that I perceive as "red" all have some inherent property in common that, through the process of my perceiving them, I experience as "red." That is, there is some objective quality that correlates to my experience of "red." Whatever that objective quality is, I could never know it directly. I could only know it through the process of perception, the result of which - "red" - is as much a product of my consciousness as it is a product of the objective quality. The color-as-such seems to exist only in my mind, but there does seem to be some objective quality "out there."

I understand number the same way. It seems reasonable to me that an octopus, a stop sign, and a spider (not to mention arbitrary collections of objects), all have in common a certain objective quality that, through the process of (mental) perception, I experience as "eight." Here, like in the color example, the "eight-ness" is in my mind, but there seems to be something "out there" to which the "eight-ness" refers.

Also note that I can perceive "eight-ness" spatially (eight apples on a table), temporally (hearing someone clap eight times in a row), and with the assistance of any of my physical senses (sight, hearing, and touch might be the most obvious but smell and taste also work). Thus the perception of "red" and the perception of "eight" are fundamentally different. This difference is part of what I mean by "mental perception."

Mathematics (as distinct from number) is like Color Theory. They are both abstract systems created to organize and productively manipulate a certain class of experience resulting from perception.

Having written this, I am realizing that I seem to be at least as much an anti-realist as I am a realist. This suits me just fine.

Myriam said...

JMG, thank you, you answered a question before I had a chance to ask it regarding grades of will, in your answer to James.

I have more questions if you don't mind. Living, existing and experiencing seem like passive states. Would you also include wills to act in your list? For example, would you include things like will-to-create, will-to-grow or nurture, will-to-destroy, will-to-harm?

Maybe some of what drives humans are these pressures from reality? Like Alexander, I really like Sven's idea of the self "as something through which the forces of the macrocosm continually surge." It would explain some of the destructive behaviour of humans, and maybe creative expression, altruistic behaviour, and nurturing.

Which makes me wonder whether there is no evil or good beyond what we perceive as such, only will or pressures to action, some of which affirm, create and nurture, others which negate, destroy, and harm, but are constantly balancing back and forth, a dance between two wills to act, played out in form. I can see these forces in nature. They are neither good nor evil. They are just forces.

Do I have this right?

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, if ever you are down this way, you certainly won't want for a guide... I might end up talking your arm off though! ;-)! I'm trying to imagine you saying: "Look I just need a couple of minutes of silence!" Only joking. What would Carl Jung possibly say?

It is an awe inspiring monument to nature. It is very hard for people to grasp the sheer size of Uluru, but if I recall correctly the walk around the circumference was about 9km (about 5.6 miles). It is a bit of shame really, but I'd probably feel differently about Uluru if I visited there now. Humans as a rule tend to want to take, but some places give and Uluru is one such. Dunno.

Out of curiosity, do you have a fully formed view on the concept of the place impacting the local spirituality? Certainly my take is that the lived experience impacts a persons or cultures spirituality but when conditions changes, I am unsure those spiritualties bogged down in dogma can adapt readily enough. Again, dunno, but I reckon you are onto something very interesting.

PS: It looks as though the season has turned here to a different and cooler season. I may have mentioned to you before that there are more or less six seasons here in any one year. Have you had any more snow recently?



Alexander Marcus said...


And yes, I can definitely see how your version of mathematical realism would annoy - even aggravate - other, more conventional realists. I'm eager to have the chance to suggest your view to a conventional realist.

@Peter Wilson:

There's an idea in mathematics of the "continuum," which is the entire number line taken as one continuous whole. Is this something like what you mean? I love hearing about how others perceive number (for instance, not everyone who visualizes the number line visualizes it as a straight line). So much of what is taken for granted in math is really just culturally assumed.

I'm intrigued by the idea of taking your experience of the continuity of number as a starting point for a mathematics. The two ways I see it working (I'm sure there are many others) are a) discretion is arbitrarily imposed on the contuum, bringing us back to modern conventional mathematics, and b) a whole new mathematics is built up, taking continuity as an inescapable property of number. I find this latter option much more interesting. I wonder if this other mathematics would look much like calculus, which deals heavily with flows and continuity.


I assume you're familiar with the metaphor of "the map is not the territory." If not, it's used to explain that one's worldviews, theories, and models are not actually the phenomena that these "maps" attempt to represent. Anyway, I got a good chuckle out of your experience of fitting a literal map to a literal territory.


I really enjoy your thoughts on forces, wills, and good and evil. Between your comment, Sven's comment on the macrocosm surging (flowing) through the self, and Peter Wilson's experience of number being continuous (when number's discretion is generally assumed), I think I see a very worthwhile worldview forming. It's very flow-y and contious. Very oceanic. Reminds me of an Alan Watts quote: "You are something that the whole universe is doing, in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing."

James M. Jensen II said...


"Which makes me wonder whether there is no evil or good beyond what we perceive as such"

I've often wondered about this myself. On the one hand, pure subjectivism about morality seems quite wrong somehow; on the other, the notion that morality is objective seems to suggest the cosmos is somehow divided against itself. And not just incidentally, as a clash of competing interests (like how some creatures are predators and other prey), but fundamentally: there is a Way Things Are Supposed to Be and yet, somehow, the universe isn't that way.

I tend to think it's the clash-of-competing-interests model that best suits the notion of morality. That's not totally subjective, since our interests are not just arbitrary (e.g. we all want food, shelter, safety, etc.), yet it doesn't try to write those conflicts onto the fabric of reality itself. Where such a clash becomes genuine morality rather than politics is that the clash is occuring inside each of us. Some actions serve some interests and some serve other interests. Right actions are the ones that serve our interests as a person—a conscious, thinking, feeling, social being—wrong ones serve "lesser" interests, such as instant gratification.

I realize that needs a lot more work to flesh out, but that's the basic gist of virtue ethics a la Aristotle.

James M. Jensen II said...


Thanks for your response. You've given me a good bit to think about. Your comparing the will to pressure reminds me more than a little of Dion Fortune's comment about being told "God is pressure," as I'm sure you probably intended.

In the meantime, let me sharpen up one of my points earlier: when I say that there aren't objects "out there," what I mean is that "'out there'" doesn't actually make sense. This post by Roderick T. Long is what I was thinking of:

I'll summarize: talking about what is "out there" apart from us (whether that's objects or manifestations of will or...) is presupposing a view of reality we can't actually take, trying to stand beside ourselves to imagine what reality would look like if we weren't observing it and contributing our concepts to the observation. But we can only ever take the view from our own perspective: and from that view, there is no "'out there' apart from us" in an epistemological/ontological sense.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is an anthropocentric point of view. The problem is that when we try to get beyond it, well, we can't. In order to imagine the sort of point of view Schopenhauer seems to be trying to take, we have to use some of the very concepts (ex: "will", "representation", etc.) from the point of view we're trying to get beyond.

Like I said, I'll have to think some more on all this.

John Roth said...


About the Pyraha not having a sense of past or present in their language: I just looked at the NSM chart of semantic primes, and the ones relating to time are: when (time, at some time), now, moment, for some time, a long time, a short time, before and after. It seems like our notion of time as a sequence is built on top of those root concepts, and isn't actually necessary in a language.

@Steve Thomas

Exactly. If something isn't something they've seen or been told by someone who's seen it, they simply don't give it any credibility. Reminds me a bit of Heinlein's "Fair Witnesses."

Peter Wilson said...


Yes, basically, I see things as a continuum. Probably explains why I work in environmental sciences, where there's a phenomenal range, rather than in the more abstract human world.

Calculus does touch on it, but it's still a way to fit continuous data into our discrete number system. There may very well be a myriad of other ways to do it.

BoysMom said...

I see some of you writing somewhat approvingly of MZBs writings, and I wonder if you have seen the statements from her children of what sort of monster she was? This is her daughter's first public statement: You can follow the chain from there.

I would never recommend any of MZBs writings to anyone based on what's been revealed about her, unless it was someone studying that particular sort of criminal mindset. I think it only prudent to be careful what influences one allows in their mind.

If you are not active in the sci-fi-fantasy reading/writing community, I will warn you that these reports came out in the middle of a political sort of blow-up surrounding the Hugo awards (which are a fan-vote award), still on-going, and you will likely find references to said blow-up if you follow the comment trails. I myself am solidly in the Sad Puppy camp of said blow-up.

faoladh said...

John Roth: I'm a little sad to see that fiction about the Iowa caucuses repeated here. The myth of the six coin tosses has been thoroughly debunked. Snopes goes into even more detail. (And not just at NPR and Snopes; a simple Google search for "iowa caucus coin toss" will return any number of articles on the subject.) Also, on a simple logical and statistical level, the odds of something occurring 1 time in 64 (2 to the power of 6) are not actually that improbable, so even if there were only six coin tosses, it is not really that unlikely for them all to go to one result. The whole thing is manufactured outrage based largely on the inability of most people to understand probability.

As to the Pirahã and what is or is not necessary in a language, the matter of time sequencing in language is a fascinating one, indeed. What is necessary or not in a language is an especially fascinating question, with no clear answers. I know that there have been experiments with constructed languages that try to test the limits of necessity.

Patricia Mathews said...

Re: MZB - I started reading her stuff back around 1980, before any of this was revealed. I wrote fanfic in her universe, which started me writing, though it's been years. Many of the later books were actually written by her minions, which started the same way and went on to become successful writers themselves. I guess we're in the same position as the people who loved Fat Albert and later, Cliff Huxtable, until the revelations about Bill Cosby came out decades later.

Though it did occur to me much later than Camilla n'ha Kyria was MZB's Mary Sue character, which I found pathetic.

So, the thing is --- we simply did not know. And formed out opinions in ignorance.

Pat, left at a loss when they came out, and dead shocked by them.

John Michael Greer said...

Peter, you'd fit right in with the aliens from Tau Ceti II in my novel Star's Reach -- they think in flows rather than discrete quantities, and numbers as we know them are extremely complex mathematical constructs for them!

Steve, I don't happen to know where the concept of belief came in, but it certainly wasn't a major issue for classical Paganism -- acts of impiety were a serious issue, for example, in ancient Rome, but varying opinions about the gods? Much less so. That would indeed be worth looking into.

Dadaharm, Schopenhauer didn't explicitly tackle the myth of progress, that I recall, but his vision of the nature of existence doesn't leave room for it -- the world as he sees it has no goal, no purpose, just an endless outpouring of coming-into-being, and human attempts to impose meaning, purpose, or direction on the world are at best artistic creations, and at worst stark staring nuts.

SLClaire, that's a great example.

Alexander, our takes on the subject are fairly close, then. I'd call "red" or "eightness" abstract categories of the mind that applyto various congeries of sensory experiences; there's certainly something in the experiences to which the category applies, since basic numerical categories like "eightness" have evolved in human cultures through exposure to experiences that have that abstract quality in common. I think that's pretty close to what you're saying.

Myriam, I don't see being, living, or experiencing as passive at all, and I think Schopenhauer would agree -- to exist is to act, to live is to engage in a whole concatenation of actions, and to experience is to assemble a world out of the resistances we encounter (Schopenhauer argues that all sensation is a reaction to resistance: we feel what resists our outreached hand, we see what we can't see through, and so on). (Pro)creating, nurturing, destroying, harming, are all basic expressions of the will-to-live, which is also the will-to-reproduce, the will-to-eat, the will-to-not-be-eaten, etc. Creativity in the artistic sense, to Schopenhauer, is an expression of the will-to-experience; we want to have an experience the universe doesn't provide all by itself, such as a piano sonata or a novel full of tentacled horrors, and so we act to create that experience. So yes, all these things unfold from the will; the individual is just one form temporarily taken by the will, like a ripple in a stream made of the flowing water.

Cherokee, thank you -- if I ever get out your way, I'll take you up on that! I don't have a fully formed theory of the spirituality of place, just an assortment of intuitions badly needing serious reflection; on the off chance you can get a copy of the Vine Deloria Jr. book I mentioned earlier, that might be worth a look. As for snow, nope -- we got the one decent snowfall, and the weather priests say (after close consultation over a sheep's liver) that we might get another inch next week, but so far it's just gray skies and cool weather.

Alexander, I'll look forward to hearing how that goes!

James, thanks for the clarification. Of course it's an anthropocentric view; as anthropoids, we quite literally can't have any other kind, and if we think we do, we're fooling ourselves, simple as that.

John Michael Greer said...

BoysMom, you certainly have the right to choose what you do and don't want to read, but I'm startled to hear a Sad Puppies fan engaging in what sounds like the same rhetoric that's been used so often and so overbearingly on the Puppies themselves: "This person did or said or believes something reprehensible, and therefore people should be discouraged from reading their works." Writers are human beings; a fair number of them -- more, probably, than a comparable sample of the general public -- are troubled, dysfunctional, problematic human beings; but writers are not their work. Theodore Seuss Geisel -- yes, that would be the Dr. Seuss of children's book fame -- was an adulterer whose infidelities drove his first wife to suicide, and wrote some very bigoted propaganda aimed at the Japanese during ths Second World War...and yet every person of my generation or the next two following it with whom I've ever discussed the matter can name at least one Dr. Seuss book that had an important role in inspiring him or her to make the world a better place.

The same thing applies to plenty of other examples: you can turn to the debates between the Sad Puppies and their adversaries to find plenty of examples. I certainly don't condone Bradley's behavior, and as it happens, I'm not at all a fan of her writing, but I know a lot of people for whom it was a source of immense inspiration, and who did not go on to become child molesters; in the same way, Robert Heinlein had his own problems (though apparently nothing on MZB's scale), but I know plenty of people who were inspired by him, and didn't grow up to become fascists. Again, if you don't want to read Bradley, by all means don't read her books, but for the love of Gernsback, please don't feed the habit of thought that treats the personal failings of an author as reason to blacklist his or her books.

John Roth said...


You might want to go back and read what I actually wrote; there’s nothing in there about whether the coin tosses affected the outcome, which is what your first link (to NPR, hardly the most authoritative source) is talking about. I thought it was kind of amusing, but saying it was “thoroughly debunked” is a bit strong. Snopes (thanks for the link) says there were six or seven coin tosses, but that they can’t confirm who they were for. As far as the (im)probability goes, my statistics is too far behind me to know off the top what the proper procedure for calculating the probability is. It’s certainly over 1%. The 1 in 64 (that is, 2 ** 6) isn’t the correct answer as far as I can tell.


I’ve heard of other cases where everything seemed to be fine on the outside, but a person’s home life was horrific. At least one of them involved the kids being kept in cages, and another involved housekeeping so bad that a pig would be embarrassed. Literally. I outgrew reading all SF & F long before MZB wrote Mists of Avalon, and I’ve never read it. I agree with JMG - a person’s personal life shouldn’t have all that much bearing on whether their literary output is worth reading.

What people remember from a parent-child relationship can be pretty strange. There was a six-year period in my childhood which I’ve recently downgraded (or maybe upgraded) from Hell to Purgatory; it’s taken me close to 50 years to detox it, but my sister doesn’t remember it the same way.

As far as the Sad Puppies go: Eric Flint’s comments on the situation are worth reading, although the earlier ones he wrote seem to be off of his site (or at least the front page). This is the last one: He names names and gives examples.

Steve Thomas said...

JMG's point is well taken, but the MZB thing is still very disturbing. I tried to read The Mists of Avalon this year, after reading Malory and TH White. Did not like it at all, and her portrayal of Christians (her own cultural enemies) was a major reason. I would love to read a similar take on Arthurian legend that played fair with both sides. Such a book would have to bring out the beauty and enchantment, and the ugliness, of both classical paganism and Dark Age Christianity, basically making the case for both and leaving it to the reader to decide between them. I won't hold my breath.

It does raise an unpleasant question, though-- Why is it that "revelation of child sexual abuse by a respected public figure" has become such a staple of modern life? Was it ever thus, or does it say something particular about contemporary culture? I don't know.

On an unrelated note, harking back to the earlier discussion:

For those who have expressed interest in ceremonial magic and in mystical-tinged martial arts, a cautionary tale. Last week I bumped up my qigong training (with a teacher) to 3 hours a day. We've done this before, though not to this level-- I was practicing 1 hour of difficult standing qigong, 1 hour of tai chi, and 1 hour for weapons and applications. And, in truth, I was probably doing an additional 30-60 minutes of training every day, doing forms on my breaks at work and lying-down qigong in bed. This while also doing about an hour of ceremonial magic every day. And, of course, a regular 9 hour office job workday in between.

Over the weekend (Saturday, Sunday, continuing into Monday) I had a a bad emotional reaction that a Chinese medical practitioner would call "liver fire invading basically everything," and that my teacher described also as a qi deviation, which is a sort of major issue. The result is that this week I have not done much of anything. I wasn't able, physically or mentally, to return to my usual magic practice until last night. Martial training is basically out for the next couple of weeks. The whole thing is sort of a setback, except it's really a lesson for me, if I can learn it.

So... Be careful when mixing systems. Be careful to maintain balance in your life if you're going to practice this stuff. And when you do get into this, don't arbitrarily add anything to a practice you haven't mastered. Part of what got me into trouble was adding what I thought of as "fun" visualizations to the yiquan postures, all of which were liver-stimulating.

When I complete the second degree of the DOGD I am going to pause and do some reflecting, and probably take a break either from Western ceremonial magic or from qigong training, and only return to the it once I have the proper space in my life.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Mists of Avalon is the only book by Marion Zimmer Bradley that reached a general audience. As I may have said before, I didn't care for it because it failed to imagine the inner lives of women who wield power in a society that supports them in their roles. I think MZB's Darkover novels, written earlier than Mists, are more successful as feminist fantasy/science fiction. (Although an even more radical feminist sf author thought the first one in the series was so misconceived that she wrote a novel of her own to rebut it.)

I remember these novels as being fairly entertaining and consistent in their world creation, and the novel-of-ideas aspect is that they contain feminist analysis delivered without much polemic through the life stories of female characters. Since this is all OT, I'll just summarize by saying that planet Darkover contains cultures at different stages of technological development; all the cultures are patriarchal but in degrees varying from moderate to extreme. Women choose strategies to cope with the limitations on them; most of the choices are of the lesser-of-two-evils variety although the characters don't always see it that way. So you get to see very vividly some of the ways patriarchy manifests and how it affects people's thinking as well as their life chances.

faoladh said...

John Roth: It is definitely 1 in 64 exactly. Compare the possible results to the number of possible hexagrams (64) in the I Ching, each of which are composed of six lines that can be in one of two states (the same as a coin which can be heads or tails). For the present discussion, we have no need to worry about moving lines. The first line can be in one of two states, and so either result has a 1 in 2 chance. The second line can also be in one of two states, giving 2^2 = 4 possible results, one of which will be with both lines in the closed ("heads" for our purposes) state, making the odds 1 in 4. The third line is similar, giving 2^3 = 8, making the odds of all being in the closed state 1 in 8. And so on to the sixth line, which gives 64 possible hexagrams (= 2^6), one of which is the one in which all lines are in the closed (again, "heads") state. That makes the odds 1 in 64 for six tosses all coming up heads.

Again, this manufactured outrage nonsense is due to the failure of people to understand even basic statistics and probability, along with an unfamiliarity with the procedures of the caucus system used in the particular instance. Furthermore, each coin toss does not represent one full delegate to the national convention.

On the perceived reliability or lack thereof regarding any particular news source, please refer to my original admonition to Google it yourself, and to not limit yourself to the examples I posted. You'll quickly find that the majority of sites which accept uncritically the narrative that HRC's campaign benefitted strongly from random chance are ones that have a clear right-wing bias, with most of the remainder being shadowy new blogs that seem to have sprung up with a "Bernie or split the party" message (though I'm sure that if you look you can find an exception or two). While that message does have an endearing similarity to the PUMAs of 2008, they are (just like the PUMAs) rightly derided by the overwhelming majority of Democrats, with some going so far to suspect them of being Republican agents provocateurs.

With that, I'm tired of this subject. Go ahead and get the last word in. I prefer to comment on this blog rather than ADR where temporal politics is more the rule than here. That's not to say that I avoid the topic, in fact I find it beautiful, only that it annoys me that such a delicate, impermanent, transitory thing can elicit such long-winded, irresolvable discussions that frequently continue long after they are no longer directly relevant.

James M. Jensen II said...


I haven't read any of her work, but I could probably do so without too much apprehension since she's dead. I do admit to finding it harder to bring myself to enjoy a living horrible person's work, even when, as with Bill Cosby, I have extremely fond memories of it. I had a similar issue with Michael Jackson when he was alive, but now that he's passed, I could probably go back and listen comfortably, though I haven't simply because my tastes in music have changed since then.

Plus, the Yuko Watanabi cover of "Smooth Criminal" on traditional Japanese instruments is now officially my favorite version, anyway:

Now, someone like Ayn Rand presents a different issue: I find her ideas repugnant, and her fiction is nothing but a vehicle for those ideas. Same to a lesser extent with Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. Such blatant author tracts tend to be bad fiction, anyway.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & Deborah
Thank you for your replies to my tale of angels in mackintoshes. Though I had been commenting on biblical precursors to Jesus I had forgotten Abraham! The tent should have reminded me. ;-) Quite a story: and Sarah laughed within herself at the impossibility of what she overheard, and then denied she had done so.

The small figures - or one of them - said to me, "We're very good at ankles" before a quick dibble.

As you might have guessed there was quite a considerable context of metaphor - connecting to known people and trains of actual events - both before and after the helpful action and the subsequent night's sleep. And that was just in my very modest case.


Eric S. said...

"I would love to read a similar take on Arthurian legend that played fair with both sides. Such a book would have to bring out the beauty and enchantment, and the ugliness, of both classical paganism and Dark Age Christianity, basically making the case for both and leaving it to the reader to decide between them."

Steve: have you read the Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead? It's a treatment of the Arthurian legends that does very much what you're referring to. It does things like have Taliesin (who is presented as Merlin's father) encounter a figure while journeying in Annwfn who directs him to a pair of monks who baptize him... And presents Merlin as a synthesis of the old and new religions. It's slanted slightly towards the Christian end, because the author is a Christian author, but it celebrates, rather than condemns the pagan religions that Christianity supplanted. I ran accross it when I was around ten years old and the first book left me wanting to read everything I could about Taliesin, and Annwn, and Awen and the various gods and myths it hinted at and wound up being my intro to Welsh mythology.

Phil Harris said...

JMG et al
Confusing the author with the work or book? … hmm. I suppose an idea is an idea with its own merits if cleaned up a bit from its antecedents and its handling by protagonists. (And ideas are not always trivial authorial by-products – they tend to have provenance - I am only just beginning to handle Plotinus … thanks JMG for the ref.)

FWIW, however, here is something from my own trajectory. Having been a story buff in childhood – including SF and Tolkien and historical re-creation - and simultaneously from my teens a literature buff including both classic and ‘avant garde’, I gradually lost touch with literature in my 30s. It seems now like a loss of faith as well as an increasing dislike for or rejection of what I read. (More poetry and a few stories for children, however, remained readable. In some of these latter cases the emotional impact was not only retained but even for a first time reading could be overwhelming.) But – and here I come to the authors of novels rather than their works – I increasingly felt that inevitably I was reading the mind of the author rather than his/her work, and this was increasingly a very uncomfortable experience. It became a terminating experience. I had just about got through British novelist DH Lawrence ‘The Fox’, just about appreciatively enough if I remember, but I had to chuck a Thomas Hardy novel, because I could no longer take reading the Hardy mind that way – too much! Clearly my personal circumstances account for some of this, but I still cannot easily escape alarmed distaste for both author and the work when along with the work I enter the mind. Hmm … even Tolkien (though much is forgiven) and even more so CS Lewis anybody?

In extenuation of my chucking Hardy, the author himself chucked writing his novels possibly for the same reasons that I stopped reading them, and stuck to writing poetry!


James M. Jensen II said...

Quick sort-of-on-topic question to JMG or other geomancers here: is there any special significance in geomancy to a reading where the Mothers and Daughters are the same figures in the same order? Obviously the Witnesses will be the same and so the Judge is going to be Populus, suggesting an overall passive tone to the reading, but is there anything else interesting/significant about this particular situation?

The math as I've worked it out says there are 1024 combinations like this, which is 1/64 of the total number of combinations (hey, there are those odds again!).

Myriam said...

JMG, thank you for your reply regarding the various ways that will is expressed. That does make sense to me.

If you don't mind, I'd like to take that a little further. If "the individual is just one form temporarily taken by the will, like a ripple in a stream made of the flowing water" this implies that the will that is experiencing in us is greater than the self we identify with, and I wondered if there is a line that could be drawn between the desires of the deeper will-to-experience and the everyday desires our small human minds seem to go for.

Suppose the things I desire to experience violate the laws of the universe (balance, wholeness, flow, etc.), destroys the environment, enslaves others, and so on, but I do not encounter resistance from reality as I set out to experience them (imagine I am filthy rich and favoured). I die happy to have experienced them while I leave the mess behind for others. Can we separate the will to act like idiots that humans seem to have a knack for, from the will-to-experience, to live, to exist that is the deeper will? The thought of putting those two on par is really depressing. Is everything humans do simply another expression of will, and therefore beyond morality?

faoladh said...

Because it seems of interest to the readers of this blog, and if I may be allowed a minor digression, I want to point out that there are significant differences between the easy, and usual, method of tossing three coins to find a hexagram for I Ching and the traditional method of using yarrow stalks.

If you work out the odds, there is still a 50/50 chance of any line being either yin (open or broken) or yang (full or closed). However, using coins, each line has a 1 in 4 chance of being moving or changing regardless of the type of line. Using yarrow stalks, on the other hand, means that yin lines have a 1 in 8 chance of being moving or changing, while yang lines have a 3 in 8 chance of being that type. This means that when using the yarrow stalks, out of 16 casts for each line of the hexagram, on the average 1 will be moving yin, 3 will be moving yang, 5 will be fixed yang, and 7 will be fixed yin. Coins would give average results of 2, 2, 6, and 6 respectively.

Pseudorandom said...

So, I decided to practice Ars Memorativa (link from the Caduceus Archives) before taking one of those two, Learning Ritual Magic or The Celtic Golden Dawn.

I think this would be a really big help to memorize those experiences that are difficult to describe with words, for meditation, and who knows what other magical practices.

Is this compatible with TCGD? If not, is there some part in the book where an adapted procedure with the proper symbols is available?

That's my main problem with TCGD. I really like it, but I feel I would miss so much Hermetic practices that are widely available.

Urban Harvester said...

faoladh & all, My wife have used the 16 token method linked to in that same page for about 4 years now and it seems to work very well for us.

onething said...

Peter Wilson said,

"Alexander/JMG - I'm very interested in how people perceive mathematics for instance. I've long had issues with it, because I struggle, unless I force myself, to see numbers a discrete thing. I see them on a continuum, with little difference between the objects. It's only at the outer extent of the range that I see differences."

Could you explain what you mean by this? I can't figure out what you're saying!


"I may have mentioned to you before that there are more or less six seasons here in any one year."

Interesting. What are your six seasons? Here, we have three. Hot, cold, and mild. Hot is 4 months, cold is 4 months, and mild is 2 months but comes twice, one being called Fall and the other Spring.

Myriam and James Jensen, (Cherokee, don't even read this)

"Which makes me wonder whether there is no evil or good beyond what we perceive as such, only will or pressures to action, some of which affirm, create and nurture, others which negate, destroy, and harm, but are constantly balancing back and forth, a dance between two wills to act, played out in form. I can see these forces in nature. They are neither good nor evil. They are just forces."

Forces of nature, so far as we can see (but who knows) are impersonal and one cannot even discuss them in term of good and evil, in the moral and ethical sense. On the other hand, what a human being does with these internal urgings, that is another matter entirely.

"On the one hand, pure subjectivism about morality seems quite wrong somehow;"

Somehow? A purely subjective morality is pure psychopathy, so no wonder it seems "wrong somehow"!

"Right actions are the ones that serve our interests as a person—a conscious, thinking, feeling, social being—wrong ones serve "lesser" interests, such as instant gratification."

Well, it is probably so that to love others one must love oneself, but generally the problem with right and wrong actions is what one does vis a vis OTHERS.

I believe there are many important reasons for our existence, and many important lessons for us to master, but in the end I suspect that the one we need to graduate to a better level is exactly this - what decisions will we make about morality? Will we be good or will we be selfish? The great majority of people are floundering and confused on this topic; the obfuscations go on and on. Which is fine if you like to walk in circles. But if one wants to choose, and get somewhere, it takes clarity.

onething said...

Phil Harris,

But contrariwise, what about when the author's mind is a pleasant place indeed? I guess I didn't care for being inside Tolkien's mind much. CS Lewis was comfortable, and what about Lewis Carroll? An entertaining place to hang out. And as for Melville's, why hardly a better is to be found.

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, I certainly found the revelations of Bradley's behavior disturbing -- "sickening" is probably the better word -- but that's not why I don't read her fiction. I don't read her fiction because I find it flat, derivative, and uninteresting. As for mixing systems, etc. -- a very good point, which I'll be discussing in detail down the road a bit.

James, and of course that's your call! I certainly don't mean to imply that anybody should have to read something they don't want to -- and I find Rand's fiction and her ideas equally repellent.

Phil, that's a marvelous story. From a magical perspective, I wonder if they were in any way related to the astrological sign Aquarius, which rules the ankles. As for your experience with literature, here again, do what keepeth thou from wilting shall be the loophole in the law; I have no problem with people deciding not to read any book -- yes, even including mine! -- for any reason at all. I just don't want them trying to discourage other people from reading somebody they don't like.

With regard to the personalities of authors, understood; there are some authors who I want to slap every time I read their works -- Arthur Machen is an example -- and others who feel like personal friends with whom I'd happily share an evening and some liquid refreshment -- Hermann Hesse is an example here.

James, nope, none that I've ever encountered; nor does it mean anything special when all the Mothers are the same figure, or what have you. It's just one of those things.

Myriam, well, a lot depends on what you mean by morality. Schopenhauer argues, and here I tend to agree with him, that the world is not a moral phenomenon; human beings create moral codes and ethical philosophies to govern their own behavior, and there are good evolutionary reasons for that; but of course it's a matter of common experience that yes, some people do get away with murder (literally).

In the Druid traditions I follow, it's a basic teaching that each of us, while in material embodiment (the Circle of Abred), must be all things, know all things, and suffer all things, before proceeding out of material embodiment into another mode of existence (the Circle of Gwynfydd). The old writings take "all things" quite literally. All of us have been at every level of biological complexity from pond scum on up; we have all been the rabbit in the weasel's jaws, and the weasel who survives by killing the rabbit; we have all given birth and taken life, and done every wise and stupid thing that hominids can get up to, from torture and rape to self-sacrifice and self-knowledge. The awakening of compassion and of ethical consciousness is a product of those experiences, a wisdom born of pain suffered and pain inflicted; it's a grade of will, but one that takes a lot of complexity and experience to reach; when the will to experience becomes a will to knowledge, and then a will to self-knowledge, that we become capable of passing out of Abred to Gwynfydd, or to put things another way, out of unthinking participation in the will and into conscious participation.

But all this will be covered later on.

Faoladh, my favorite old astrology textbook has a little manual of statistics at the end, which covers some of the details of probability theory. I've come to think that anybody who practices divination should know at least a little about that latter!

Pseudorandom, I know of no reason why you couldn't practice the Ars Memorativa with the lore from The Celtic Golden Dawn. That said, the CGD system is very much its own thing, and yes, it's not one-for-one compatible with other Golden Dawn practices or some other aspects of Hermeticism, thus not for everyone.

Cherokee Organics said...


You always have a welcome here. Thanks for the book suggestion too. I'll keep an eye out for it in my travels (I love second hand book shops and try to support them where ever possible). The Merlin book came to hand very easily. You know I've never come across Clark Ashton Smith's, Zothique Tales at all, anywhere and may have to resort to online sources. A bit of a shame really.

Oh, the sheep liver would have gone down a treat here - although I would have had to fight off the dogs prior to the reading... They brought back the horns from the neighbours long dead goats recently as chew toys. My wife and I were making jokes that the dogs were venturing into the world of biodynamic gardening techniques! Hehe! A whole lot of rich looking gunk came out of the horn too which was deposited all over the veranda. Who can account for the tastes of our canine friends?

I do hope that you get some more snow. It has cooled here a bit which is nice, but this month is the sort of weather I'd expect in March in that it is dry... I've read accounts that the grain growers are now planting one full month early down here.

Hi onething,

I'm unsure what they are called, but each season generally runs for two months each (more or less) and they have a distinct flavour and vary with the year. The weather is very variable down here, but I can almost smell, feel and sense the change in the seasons on the day that it happens as the change is rather abrupt. I suspect the strong UV has something to do with it, as I've just dropped from "Extreme UV" (an unpleasant experience) to merely "Very High UV". Plant growth shuts down during the two months of extreme UV. It is interesting. I'll bet your two mild seasons differ in quality and the trick would be to watch for the changes in the plant growth. Autumn can very much be like a Spring.

Thanks for the warning too!



Daniel Cowan said...

@Pseudorandom and @JMG

I definitely agree that esoteric lore provides great practice material for the art of memory, and that comes in handy: I've found for myself that an early question for someone taking up mnemonics is the question of what to memorize.

A lot of memory championship-style practitioners seem to focus on random data (numbers, words, faces), which seems like kind of a waste, why not focus on information you'd like to keep in your awareness for the long term?

Esoteric lore often (like elements, astrological symbols, ancient alphabets, etc.) seems to come collected-up from earlier times into discrete groupings, often with connected symbolism & imagery that lends itself to memorization - though often it can seem daunting if you don't have a method like the Ars Memorativa to break it down and assimilate it.

For instance, I was having trouble with the figures and associations of the figures of geomancy. Having made a bunch of notes and drawings in a notebook, it seemed like nothing was sticking in my memory. However, I brought JMG's book along on a approx. 1 hour bus ride to work one day, and visualizing the figures along the grounds of the apartment complex that I lived in, by the end of the hour it was easy to remember the figures, their names, associated colours and images, without any errors, I was definitely impressed by the ease & rapidity of using associations and memory journeys.

The new version of Regardie's The Golden Dawn recently arrived, the knowledge lectures seem to be well arranged for memory work!

Kevin said...

I appreciate the clarity and relative simplicity with which magical disciplines are set forth here. I've been working on etheric magic for several years, mainly in the form of regular practice of Golden Dawn-based rituals. From the above enumeration, it seems to me I might do well to combine that with some form(s) of intentive magic, whether working with sigils or something else - chants or images, perhaps. I'd really like to improve my material situation, as I mentioned a while back, and this is what I have in mind to support my activities on the material plane. If anyone has any constructive suggestions, such as things that have served them well, I'd be happy to hear them.

Incidentally, to follow up on what I said about flamenco under a prior post, further reading shows that not all practitioners of the art agree with the ideas of Garcia Lorca, whom I cited; some feel he abused the term "duende." In the meantime, I've found a couple of interesting sites on gypsy magic; they're in Spanish, which language I'm currently studying, and can be located by doing a search for "magia Gitana," in case anyone is interested.

Phil Harris said...

Thanks for comment. Can't spot any aquarian associations though.

Thanks for 'contrariwise'. Of course.

I have been wondering what it might have been I was trying to defend when I turned away from the novel. There were bits from novels - particularly the Russians - that I went back to. And I occasionally could appreciate the genuine, I think, 'wounded author' - I remember some Graham Greene, popular at least in the ex-British Empire, and his having some literary acclaim at the time, and I appreciated, even if I could share neither of them, both his road to salvation and his brief autobiographical retrospective in 'Lawless Roads'.

I got introduced to Melville when too young and MD was compulsory at school. I will go back.


. said...


I have a question that’s possibly off topic but it’s about habits of thought and binaries so maybe it’s ok. One of the barriers I’m hitting with opposition to open borders and criticism of a certain religion is that anything other than viewing people as atomized individuals is categorized as prejudiced generalization. It happens no matter how many qualifiers I include or how many times I repeat them.

It seems to make most of my fellow lefties unable to talk about culture or address human social existence on any scale above the individual or very small group. Some people are very quietly listening and acknowledging there are issues they’ve been ignoring but others are just being triggered by mention of certain subjects and terms and calling me names. There’s a paralysis going on.

They won’t read anything that looks too long or complicated or would require them to think too hard, to be blunt, and I’m not the best at doing short and snappy so I’m not sure what to do with them. There’s a genuine, well intended opposition to stereotyping there, but it seems to me to have become pathological when any attempt to ascribe characteristics to groups, and suggest that such analysis should be taken into account at a macro policy level, is viewed as inherently a step towards the Holocaust, Mark 2. Regardless of anything I’ve actually said.

Also, any suggestions for how to push ideas such as incitement to crime without a defence of freedom of religion without attracting the attentions of an element within a certain religious group which tends to violently oppose freedom of conscience and freedom of belief. I have no desire to be a martyr for anything!

. said...

Freedom of belief and freedom of speech that should have said!

Also should have signed off Mallow (also known as Dot thanks to computer confusion)

onething said...


Moby Dick is a very philosophical, mystical, poetically musing book that is probably not suitable for a high schooler. I am even surprised that the author managed to come up with it at the young age of 32.

Patricia Mathews said...

Re: Fluffy Bunnies. From Judith Tarr's guest posting n Charlie Stross' blog last week.

"In the Eighties, something happened to the perception of fantasy as a genre. Very Serious People decided that fantasy was easy, fluffy, comfy, and you just made it up as you went along. It therefore followed, by the logic of such things, that it was full of girl cooties. Real writers wrote science fiction, which was brawny, male, and preferably hard.

Of course there were guy fantasy writers, and some of them were monster bestsellers, but for the most part, fantasy was the province of the Female Fantasy Writer. I still have my pink FFW button from that era, and the pink fluffy bunny it's pinned to."

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, Smith is hard to come by -- I recently scored a collection of his Atlantis stories and was delighted to do so. You can read all his stories and poetry, though, online at The Eldritch Dark website. As for snow, we've gotten another inch or so, that's all; it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Daniel, you'll get no argument from me; the art of memory, to my mind, is too useful to waste on random number sequences or what have you. As for Regardie's knowledge lectures, well, keep in mind that in his time schoolchildren were still expected to learn their lessons by memory, and textbooks of all kinds still reflected that habit; the Golden Dawn material is designed for memorization -- something I tried to copy in my book The Celtic Golden Dawn.

Kevin, if by "improving your material situation" you mean that you want to make more money and have a lifestyle more comfortable and/or lavish than the one you have now, you can do that via magic -- but in order to do it, you're going to have to do two things that most people who think they want to do money magic are not willing to do. The first is to figure out what habits of yours are keeping you from having the wealth you want; the second is to change those habits. Trying to become wealthy while maintaining the habits that are keeping you poor is a classic example of willing two contradictory things at once, and will prevent any money magic you do from having more than the most momentary success.

Earning a million dollars is actually fairly easy: all you have to do is want that more than anything else in the world, and act accordingly. From that perspective, every dollar that comes into your hands is first and foremost a tool for making more money, and any dollar you spend for any other purpose is wasted -- the waste may be necessary, but it's still wasted. The difficulty most people have is that they don't want to have a million dollars, they want to spend a million dollars, and you can't have your million and spend it too! More on this in an upcoming post.

Phil, well, it was just a guess.

John Michael Greer said...

.Mallow, okay, there are certain basic rules that will help make sense of the problem you're having. The first is that you can't make people think. Human beings don't like to think; we're not actually very good at it; and trying to make people think when they don't want to do so is not going to do any good. That's simply the way our species is. What people do most of the time, when they claim they're thinking, is repeating a verbal formula that's connected to some emotional state they value; if you challenge the verbal formula, they treat it as a challenge to their emotional state and push back hard.

You can't change people's thinking by approaching them on a rational level, as though they're rational beings, because human beings aren't. You've got to approach them using the language of dream, symbol, and narrative. You also have to approach yourself that way, paying attention to the nonrational dimension of your own inner life, and if you do that, you'll likely be able to figure out how to shape the nonrational discourse around you so it supports what you're trying to do.

Patricia, I certainly didn't invent the phrase "fluffy bunnies" -- that was used as a label for the cute and ineffectual long before I applied it to Neopaganism. (I may well have gotten the phrase from fantasy-fiction circles, as I still read a lot of newly published fantasy in the 1980s.) It's simply that a doctoral candidate I know who set out to find the origin of certain common phrases in the Neopagan community a decade or so ago found that the first known use of the phrase "fluffy bunny Pagans" was in a Usenet post of mine from 1992. I dimly remember the discussion; at that time I knew a high priestess who used to speak disparagingly of the "Pagan Church of Our Lady of Puppies and Kittens and Other Cute Things," and I came up with "fluffy bunny Pagans" as a shorter way of talking about the same thing.

Cherokee Organics said...


Oh you are good! So now you have me wondering whether the tale of Gilgamesh is worth reading, and what a rabbit hole you've led me down. It is truly fascinating and I had no idea at all. Don't you find it fascinating how readily so much of our culture is built upon the past? It awesome to behold. The understanding lays not in the future, but in the past, but how much hubris we display to ignore that learning and then pretend that it doesn't exist at all? Aren't we naughty.

And so I discover today that Conan is Enkidu with a modicum or sheen of civility. Pah! I challenge you to drop an Enkidu somewhere into your Retrotopia story! Hehe! ;-)! Wouldn't that be fun?

Incidentally, I'm totally taken with the concept of the Trickster and somehow it seems so wrong, and yet at the same time, so very right! :-)!

Your path has left me with a monster huge smile on my face tonight... Very amusing.



. said...

Thank you. That’s so difficult to put into practice though! Especially beyond a one on one conversation. I default to lawyerness. I do get where they’re all coming from because I’ve been the same at different times. Maybe I need to find an alternative narrative frame that allows people to explain why they’ve changed their minds without losing face and all that. And that meets the same emotional needs and ‘fits’ other narratives they already have.

I have that now but mine depends on years of grappling with this being the decline of an empire, voelkerwanderungen, the religion of progress failing, the barbarism of reflection and all that. And I don’t quite know how that happened! I can’t touch those ideas with most people or it’d go horribly wrong. They’d say I was calling migrants barbarians and that’d be the end of that.

Maybe it’s a waste of time to focus on people who’ve publicly supported one policy for years and are surrounded by others socially who also support it. In some cases their jobs rely on taking that position. I thought that changing the extreme margins that I’m familiar with would be a good place to start but maybe not. Maybe it’s the people in the middle who aren’t represented by any mainstream politics on this, and are under a net of taboos about it, that are the ones most in need of a new narrative.

Using dreams, symbols and narrative feels a bit like political thaumaturgy to me. But it’s the difference between Gandhi rising above reason and Hitler aiming below it isn’t it? That’s the goal. I’ll go back and read the posts about those things. I just don’t know if I’m up to that kind of rising above reason but I suppose I have to try.

Speaking of dreams, I had another lucid lesson kind of one even though I cut out my funny tea. I’ll sound crazy if I describe it properly but – is will something that you can turn up and down like an emotion in the astral body? But it’s internal. And is it the thing that lets you control how your astral body moves on its plane? And when you meet someone there, can you sort of decide to feel an emotion and send it towards them to get their attention?

I hope some day I’ll have more answers than questions and can contribute something here instead!!

Alexandra, sorry just saw your comment now hi! That sounds like a cool lesson. Yes sometimes I remember bits from dreams during the day when something happens that they're relevant to. Are you sort of conscious in them? Can you decide to ask a question or things like that?


Kevin said...

Thanks for your response JMG. It seems to me the hardest part is this:

.... figure out what habits of yours are keeping you from having the wealth you want... [and] ... change those habits.

Is there a methodology or bag of tricks for doing this? Seeing ourselves as we really are, or as others may see us, I suspect to be far from easy. Once this is done, maybe changing those habits might become feasible. But how? I can't even stand catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror - it just reminds me of my mortality, and that I'm not as young & cute as I used to be.

It isn't so much that I desire money as a primary goal. My true desire is to create a certain body of art, or of art possessing a certain characteristics - and to do so in freedom from want. I'm not asking for mansions. A nice little tiny house or a comfy boat to live aboard, located in a place where I'm happy, would be just fine. But maybe these desires are mutually incompatible in some way which I've blinkered myself against seeing, or maybe I'm unconsciously blocking myself in some other way. Also, it is the case that global neoliberal capitalist materialist industrial society doesn't exactly go out of its way to make life easy for people like me. According to that ideology, magic and spirit aren't even supposed to exist.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Kevin: The AD the expert here, not me. But in what magical training I've had, it was pounded into our heads that if you asked for A as a road to B, you'd get sidetracked. Or worse. Ask directly for what you want the money FOR - the *ultimate* goal - and let the gods or spirits or your subconscious - specify the means. I believe the source of that to be Dion Fortune. For what it's worth.

BTW - asking for the means to your goal also can lead to the "make me a milkshake" problem. OK - Zap! You're a milkshake! (Or today, a latte.)

Sven Eriksen said...

Quote JMG: "If you challenge the verbal formula, they treat it as a challenge to their emotional state, and push back hard."

Er, is that why the more sense you make, the more hysterical they go in response?


Myself, I think that a very good rule of thumb to keep in mind when doing any kind of intentive magic is that means aren't ends. Being clear about exactly what is desired and why, and then aiming straight for that, rather than going in a roundabout way trying to magic forth things that one believes will help lead one to ones actual goal, is a much better to go about it.

. said...

I think I have it now and have thrown a little campaign together which is looking good all of a few hours in;-) It's only aiming at a small step but the middle ground type people are liking it. It's about limits at the heart of it I realized and making a way for people to reconcile their compassion with limitations. I don't suppose I could be very cheeky and just leave this link here?!

Hope all's well.


Kevin said...

Hi Sven. I appreciate your observations. That's why I didn't say, in response to JMG, "Yes, more money is what I really want." Of course that's an indispensable part of obtaining the changes in my life that I desire; but the real goal is something else, to which money is a requisite means - and not necessarily the only one. I fancy I'll probably need to do some serious sussing out of my own psychology and unconscious operating procedures to get where I want to go, as he suggests. I'll also bear your comments in mind.

Anthony Romano said...

Thank you Steve Thomas, Urban Harvester, and the others who shared their thoughts. I've read over the posts many times, and probably will do again. There is much to think in all that you have written.

Steve, your reading of that Abbey quote was remarkable, it opened a whole new depth to it and gave me a new perspective. You are right that I've been looking for something more, and I think your advice to not worry about belief and to act and be open is a worth taking seriously.

Harvester, I've had the pleasure of spending an afternoon cragging in Rock Canyon. It was the Year of the Blue Bird Dream (that is a much better name than the Year of unpaid internships, no job prospects, and furiously graduate school applications, AKA 2009). Utah is beautiful country, I spent most of that summer living in Escalante interning for the BLM, and would head up to the different mountain ranges when time allowed. It left quite an impression on me.

Thanks again everyone for taking the time to share your insights.

Scotlyn said...

@JMG - lurking and reading, I have found much in this post and comment thread to reflect upon, and indeed, to practice upon. Perhaps not coincidentally, my standing meditation practice (which is mainly informed by the Chen Tai Chi traditional teaching) has led to one or two moments of what you might call "gnosis" lately. A sense of wonder is hard to put to words, so....

@ James Jensen:

"But Schopenhauer seems to be saying 'at root there is nothing but the will, everything else is an illusion.' That's kind of a depressing thought, for some reason."

Why would you not take something along these lines, instead? 'there is...the Will, everything... is its manifestation, which we cannot completely know, but can deeply experience'

Neither end of the conceptual axis "real/illusion" seem helpful to me.
Also "at root [there is] nothing but" seem like words that foreshadow a sense of letdown, that doesn't seem to me to be inevitable.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.

Since the Ars Memoria is being discussed here, I was wondering if anyone had ever experimented using it as described in "Little Big" ?

I am using it a little bit, but haven't taken the time to actually use it for anything else than "trivial" i.e. immediately practical things (like remembering groceries list when pen and paper are not available, remembering important numbers from a paper I have read, etc).

But in "Little Big" the skilled magician uses it in a way that I found fascinating: building memory images and then using the slight modifications that her inconscious mind was bringing to them as tools to get additional knowledge. I have been thinking about how to explore this myself, but I am still just at the premises...

If anyone has had thoughts, experiments, or even ramblings, in this direction, I would be very interesting in hearing them.


Varun Bhaskar said...


That's fascinating! I've only used it for trivial memory things, and remembering the details of a dream. The latter was quite by accident,my subconscious accessed the garden while I was asleep and stored something in an empty loci.