Light and Dark

Last night, I celebrated the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified at my apartment and gave Eucharist to a brother in Gnosis. What struck me during the service, in light of recent happenings, were the words spoken during the introductory rites where we declare ourselves united as one sacred communion where, together with the Most High, we raise a temple of living stones from the myriad with which we have been blessed, bothe light and dark.

It may seem odd for many to consider the blessings of the negative things in our lives. Often, we don’t want to acknowledge them and more often we deny them even when they’re standing right under our noses. Yet, the more we push them away, the more sinister they become — yet they can be transformed.

In 2001 I was living in Dresden, Germany; the site of one of the most devastating events of the 20th Century. While I was there, I would frequently pass construction being done on the Frauenkirche which was utterly destroyed during the Allied Firebombings, which you can read about in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”.

The Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, was built between 1726 and 1743 — beginning in the year that Sir Isaac Newton published his thesis on gravity and ending with the year in which Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin was born. The period of the Enlightenment represented the largely free and unchecked progress of humanity however, this progress and spirit of emancipation would similarly carry many darks events: the Battle of Nations, the Napoleanic Wars, the French Revolution and the start of the Industrial Age.

The Church stood as a symbol of beauty and pride for the people of Dresden who, like us, marveled at the beauty of their amazing city and didn’t address the darker elements of their society. Of these darker elements would be the slow and gradual rise of nationalistic pride and antisemitism; culminating in the events which would mark the rise of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.

In 1945, two centuries after the beginning of construction of this great edifice, the Allied Forces dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city over the course of two days during which the entire city and a quarter of a million people were killed. After the end of the war, Dresden became the center of the East German Republic and all religious edifices that were destroyed lay fallow, including the Frauenkirche.

In 1989, after the reunification of Germany, a 14-member group of enthusiasts headed by Ludwig Güttler, a noted Dresden musician, formed a Citizens’ Initiative that would lead to rebuilding this symbol of the people of Dresden. This initiative would not only lead to the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, but also the Great Synagogue of Dresden which was likewise destroyed. The foundation stone of the Frauenkirche was laid in 1994, the crypt was completed in 1996 and the inner cupola in 2000.

Sadly, I never got to see the completion and opening of the cathedral but what struck me as I walked past it regularly was how the architects incorporated the original stones – now blackened from years of acid rain as well as the original incendiary bombings in 1945 – on top of new, beautiful pink limestone.

Years later, reflecting on this, I’m led to wonder how we can come to terms with our own dark stones in the midst of our light. It’s not easy and I don’t have any answers, but when reflecting on this building, which incorporates a history of reason gone awry and turned violent alongside communal efforts out of love, I think we owe it to ourselves to consider the delicate balance and impact all our actions and words have not only for how they will impact others and ourselves now, but how they will survive us and influence others in the future.

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Boosting a Signal

If you want to encourage a great up and coming writer and voice for modern polytheism have the opportunity to speak about the gods and possibly recite T.S. Eliot after a few beers in New York, consider making a donation. Additional bonus! For every $10.00 you donate, you will receive a free sigil or small talisman from myself. From his campaign:

From July 11th to July 13th, a group of gods-worshipers are attending a conference in Fishkill, NY where we’ll be discussing what precisely we’re doing, how to do it better, and more coherently for others.  Gods seem to be flooding back into the world, or we’re noticing them more, and the point of this gathering is to figure out what this all means for ourselves, each other, the world, and the gods.

I know Rhyd to be a wonderful and thoughtful human being and believe that his presence at the Polytheist Leadership Conference will be not only a positive experience for himself, but also for those attending.


Weaving Webs of Belief

In a recent article by doctoral candidate Samuel Webster, he proposes the suggestion that belief is a mental illness. While making some interesting observations, it is unfortunate that his own personal biases against minority beliefs in Christianity have created a problematic logic in his thesis, namely that faith is first the sole central component to Christianity (and I’d presume by extension Judaism and Islam), and that faith itself is irrational and somehow counter to reason. In omitting definitions of belief, he seemingly exempts his coreligionists from having some form of belief, as well as creating a rather messy category of the subject matter. To this end, I am led to the following conclusions.

First, I propose we look at some definitions of faith in order to address some of the misconceptions of this article. According to Protestant, existentialist philosopher and systematic theologian, “[Faith] is the state of being ultimately concerned”[1], “being” in this case referring to the Dasein or principle of humanity at its most genuine state. He continues in stating that as a centered act, faith is the movement of being toward the sum total of being itself – one here may make the argument that this sum total could be referred to as God, or in the case of Neoplatonic philosophy, the noetic One that exists from the sum total of the henadic worlds. Less philosophically, faith is a duty of fulfilling one’s trust[2], or confidence based on reason in that being ultimately concerned.

Belief, then, is the trust in which we are concerned with the sum total of being in contrast to the state of being which is faith. How then do we rest our trust on things that are purportedly immaterial[3]? Belief becomes the element of faith in the self-affirmation of one’s being in spite of the powers of non-being. In his discourse, Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard suggests that faith is not an aesthetic emotion, but something higher because it has resignation as its supposition; paradoxical to be sure, however affirmative of Being in that it is entirely rational and capable of apprehension by the aesthetic person, perceivable by the ethical person, and experiential by the religious self. In the his classic Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas even states, “Science begets and nourishes faith, by way of external persuasion afforded by science; but the chief and proper cause of faith is that which moves man inwardly to assent.” [4] Here, we approach the threat of non-being through discursive measures to arise at a faith that itself is entirely rational and founded on experience as the core of humanity’s nature.

Arguments that faith is the result of some psychosis, are clearly unfounded even at a basal etymological level describing derangement[5]. Since faith is rational it cannot be the result of psychosis, however that does not excuse the reality or possibility of actions that are affronts to faith on the part of believers and may sometimes be irrational as well as rational. Affronts to faith, in this case, could also be considered affronts to reason itself since they indicate either a form of willingness against the objects of faith or they concern the rejection thereof either out of ignorance or spite and are therefore more appropriately acosmic in their natures as they themselves are concerned with an element of non-being.

To illustrate a point, belief is fundamental to religious activity is predicated on the a priori acceptance of a superior ontology of Being. An individual engaging in religious activity is operating in the realm of faith. Were one, for example to build an image some deity, engage in operations dedicated to that deity such as prayers and offerings, yet not believe in the reality of that state of being, then they are merely engaging in pantomime. For the religious person, who may believe in a manifestation of the divine, consecrate it and make offerings, they are necessarily engaging in the activity of faith and, as would happen, believe in that manifestation of Being, a good example would be the affectionate titles of that deity, such as κύριος (Gk. Lord) as well as σωτήρ (Gk. Savior) – epithets of divine affiliation common from the Ancient Greek deity Hermes as well as Jesus the Christ.

Faith is real in every period of history regardless of the symbols associated with the varieties of faith from history to the common era and cannot be discredited by superstition or authoritarian distortions. The denial of faith, in this sense, if indicative of its triumph as it is itself an expression of faith as that movement toward the ultimate concern. If there is a problem with faith in the modern age, it is that the concepts of faith and belief have been reinterpreted as “faith/belief in something unbelievable”. Empirical and epistemological inquiry does nothing to harm faith, instead it is reason and this self-criticism that provide validity to the emblems contained within each faith.

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[1] Tillich. Dynamics of Faith.

[2] faith (n.) mid-13c., “duty of fulfilling one’s trust,” from Old French feid, foi “faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge,” from Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” from root of fidere “to trust,” from PIE root *bheidh- (source also of Greek pistis; see bid). For sense evolution, see belief. Theological sense is from late 14c.; religions called faiths since c.1300.

[3] https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/5e7ed624986d

[4] Aquinas. Article I. Faith. Secunda Secunae Partis.

[5] psychosis (n.) 1847, “mental derangement,” Modern Latin, from Greek psykhe- “mind” (see psyche) + -osis “abnormal condition.” Greek psykhosis meant “a giving of life; animation; principle of life.


On Aphrodite and Mary

It shouldn’t surprise one, then, that the jar of the Magdalene
Contained within itself a precious perfume,
That if we are to believe those sorcerers of Egypt,
Speaking in foreign tongue – perhaps even foolishness -
Was ascribed to the goddess of eroticism,
That we might long as she did, the wild-eyed God-man
And wash with tears and precious perfume,
Finding ourselves rapt up in a tower of fiery passion,
And for once be able to speak of love.

 

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Christian Theurgy

This past Wednesday, yours truly was interviewed by the wonderful people of GnosticNYC, Bishop Lainie Petersen and Bishop Kenneth Canterbury on the topic of Christian Theurgy. For those of you who may have missed it, here is the video.

Realizing that fifteen minutes is all too brief to go into both the specifics of my practice as well as the 1,700 year practice of theurgy in the Christian tradition, I’ve decided to expand on this fascinating topic and provide a much closer look into the practice of Christian and Gnostic Theurgy in a few short articles here.


Christianity as Theurgy: Christ the Initiator

In my previous post, I stated in no uncertain terms that Christianity is, at its root, a theurgical mystery religion. Although I did explain a bit of the context for that, I present the following as a more thorough explanation with context.

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The early Christian period, preceding the council of Nicaea in 325, was characterized by many disparate groups, each with their own particular philosophical and spiritual charism. It is important to recognize that far from being a monolithic movement – Christianity is best described as Christianities.

The first Christians, as described in Acts, were primarily Jewish and centered around Jerusalem and nearby cities. Although it is very clear that the early Christians participated in many of the rituals associated with temple-period Judaism, the pervading Hellenism of the Mediterranean at the time may suggest that Christ himself may have not only been familiar with the mystery religions of the Greeks and neighboring peoples, but may himself had been an initiate.

In a very obscure, but fascinating copy of the Gospel of John known as the Levitikon, we are not only introduced to the Jesus familiar from the Gospels, but a Jesus who was an initiate of the mysteries:

“Therefore the Jews were grumbling about him, because he said: I am the bread that came down out of heaven. They were saying: Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven? Is it because he lived with the Greeks that he has come thus to converse with us? What is there in common with what he learned from the Egyptians, and that which our fathers taught us?”

Similarly, in the Babylonian Talmud, we have indications that, in addition to leading a radical separatist movement from the Judaism of the day, Jesus is mentioned as being a sorcerer who not only incited other Jews into apostasy, performed healings and other magical acts ( Sanhedrin 43a). While these documents may be brought into dispute due to the relatively late dating, other documents indicate that Jesus was definitely associated with acts of theurgy.

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Following the death of Jesus at the hands of the Roman government, the New Testament – in particular Acts of the Apostles – recounts many miracles associated with the apostles, including on very peculiar individual who history records as the infamous Simon Magus.

“But there was a certain man, called Simon, which before time in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God… And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” But Peter said unto him, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.”

While some scholars conjecture that Simon may have been a literary code for Saul of Tarsus, the actions associated with Simon and the literature connected to his name seems to equally suggest that he may have been an early – though non-conventional – convert to Christianity who likewise may have been familiar with the process of initiation into mystery traditions for which a fee would traditionally been paid. Apocryphal writings alongside writings of Josephus and the early Church Fathers record many feats associated with Simon as well.

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Following the end of the Apostolic age, we encounter the rise of the era of the Church Fathers. At this time Christianity had spread throughout the Mediterranean. By this time many important Christian texts such as the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas as well as proto-Gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas began to make their influence of the various Christian communities.

Although it may be easy to imagine that the majority of Christians were largely from the lower echelons of society, it is here that we encounter the intellectual greatness of Clement of Rome, Iranaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Valentinus of Rome, Basilides of Alexandria, Carpocrates and his son Epiphanes. During this period we also encounter the growing shift toward orthodoxy which was acceptable to the Roman elite and the more heterodox groups that would become the early Gnostics.

These early fathers, Gnostic and Orthodox, were all highly influential and knowledgeable in both Greek and Jewish philosophy. It would be in this era that late platonism and the rise of Neoplatonism and Theurgy would influence Christian thought. The Neoplatonic theurgy was quickly applied to the emerging sacramental theory recorded by the apostles and in texts such as the Didache. Such theurgy, employed in the Christian initiatory rites, were applied to reveal the vestiges of divine presence and subordinate humanity to the Divine Will and lift humanity toward theosis in imitation of Christ.

Although the most explicitly magical texts of the early Christians have only recently been discovered such as the Secret Book of IEOU in the Bruce Codex or the preserved Sethain writings in the Nag Hammadi Codexes; the emerging voie cardiaque (way of the heart) espoused in Orthodox Hesychasm also preserve much of the Theurgic operations of uniting humanity to the divine. These operations of initiation and theurgy all expose the Christian to the Divine Spheres.

Bishop Stephan Hoeller, in Mystery and Magic of the Eucharist, describes the purpose of the sacraments as follows:

“The purpose of the sacraments from the point of view of Gnosticism is not the commemoration of the alleged events in the life of Jesus. The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus must become internalized mystical experiences or initiatory awakenings within the soul of every individual.”

In this way, the form of the sacraments reveal the Divine Essence to the Christian, the accompanying rites lead us back to the Substance of which we all belong, uniting us to Divine Nature. According to Iamblichus, these tokens (sunthemata) accomplish the work by themselves; but to the Christian, the theurgy of the sacraments presents an ontological game between the One (to hen) and many (communion of angels and saints and all creation), along with a providential love which preserves the Christian through grace. As the supreme exemplar of initiate and God, Christ is the central principal and essense (ousia) of Christian Theurgy.

Understanding this, it should not be surprising (except perhaps to more modern and materialistically inclined persons) that Christianity is fundamentally a magical path. Although many mainstream Christians and others may disagree, Christianity IS Theurgy when correctly applied and understood and has and does provide that same function now as it did since the incipit of the process by Jesus the Christ.

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Christianity as Theurgy

In a recent post my colleague Rufus Opus recently discussed his experiences as a Christian and a magician. For myself, I have been frequently met with the same essential question, “How can one be a Christian and a Magician?” While it may seem strange to reconcile the two apparently disparate ‘practices’, fundamentally my views of Christianity, esoteric and non-esoteric, is fundamentally a theurgical religion, organized as a mystery tradition – a shared point of origin with many other traditions that helped create the Western Esoteric Tradition, an root to which I personally feel drawn and representative of the true roots of Christianity to which we must return.

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The early Christian movement arose alongside the mystery schools of the Hellenic world, eventually competing with them well into the fourth century. As such, Christianity borrowed much of its early terminology from the mystery schools that prevalent at the time and, as it spread, also adopted much of the language of Neoplatonism. At its core, Christianity is a mystery religion – a religion with particular semiotic markers, signs and symbols and experiences separating initiates from non-initiates. To this day, in orthodox and heterodox churches, the sacraments are oftentimes referred to as mysteries or realities that transcend created intellect.

From here, it is very easy to understand where Christian mysteries and the practice of occultism become necessarily intertwined. The actual process of initiation is experienced separately from the ritual itself, the ritual creating a symbolic scaffold that the initiate would be able to use in integrating the semiotic content into their individual learning and developmental process leading to a greater understanding of one’s relation to the divine either through union with the uncreated logoic nature through contemplation or prayer or through mystical visions of the kosmos and celestial spheres. Applied prayer in the Christian context is nothing short of living theurgy; the miracles attributed to saints and holy persons a form of applied thaumaturgy by those who have by virtue of their initiations and contemplation of Deity are able to directly impact the subtle material world.

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By the time of the late Middle Ages and the emerging Renaissance, Christianity once again was able to reconnect with its esoteric nature with the translation of the Hermetica and the rise of natural philosophers such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, the School of Florence, Abbot Johannes Trithemius, Johann Reuchlin and many others. In his Oration on the Dignity of Man, Mirandola explains:

“As the farmer weds his elms to the vines, so the magus unites earth to heaven. For nothing so surely impels us to the worship of God than the assiduous contemplation of His miracles and when, by means of this natural magic, we shall have examined these wonders more deeply, we shall more ardently be moved to love and worship Him in his works, until finally we shall be compelled to burst into the song: “The heavens, all of the earth, is filled with the majesty of your
glory.”

The Rennaisance, here, represents a return to the mysteries of early Christianity and the ancient schools of Greece through theurgy and the practice of so-called natural magic. The modern magician and Christian is an inheritor of this great chain of union between past and present and as such draws on this great power stretching from beginningless time to the Omega Point at which Godhead draws all things into itself completing the process of reintegration. Magic, here, is an essential tool to facilitate the process, best characterized by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin in his opus, Man: His True Nature and Ministry:

“The powerful virtues of men of God of all epochs are offered us, to strengthen and support us, that our own spiritual virtue may take courage and confidence in the fight, as well as to instruct us in the marvels and grandeur which fill the Kingdom of God, which they began to know, even while they were still in their earthly bodies…. the virtual sacred support of the Redeemer is granted to us, to revive within us all our former regions and powers, upon which He is pleased to take His seat, and to which He communicates His universal life.”

While the more conventional Christian or critic of Christianity and mysticism may find ritual and evocation to be bizarre at best and dangerous or useless at worst – the Christian magician recalls the words the living Christ left to his disciples as the most potent of invocation in the Lord’s Prayer, invoking the Divine Beloved to be radically present to establish the reign of God in the very real here and now. In the Lord’s Prayer, the Christian not only raises themselves to divine union but also, becomes God themselves as co-creator and participant in Creation itself. Therefore, as an initiate in the mysteries of Christ the Christian has no choice but to radically engage and exercise his arete as a being made in the likeness and image of Godhead.

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