Tag Archives: Magic

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.

Raphael-Plato-and-Aristotle

 

[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.


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.

Albani-Psalter_Getsemane
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.

delville_school_ plato

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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Assumption of Mary

Today we commemorate the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated in the Orthodox and Eastern Church as the solemnity of the Dormition. Throughout the history of Christianity, Mary has been an inseparable part of Christian and Gnostic devotion. In my own tradition, she is revered in many diverse ways – come viewing her as a manifestation of the Holy Sophia, others taking a more conventional devotional angle to her as the bearer of Christ or Theotokos.

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As we enter the Sophanic half of the year, the year of subtle turning inward and nuturing the divine within and furthering our own spiritual dialogue with the Divine Beloved. This self-emptying of the ego or kénōsis may seem strange to many people, but it is precisely at the moment that we empty ourselves, we are able to be filled up with divinity in the same ways as Mary came to bear the Christ within herself saying,”Yes!” to the angel Gabriel and bringing forth God into the world.

Even in a culture so full of longing for spiritual fulfillment, it’s often-times difficult for us to say, “Yes” to the Divine as we know it. To open ourselves up is also to make ourselves extraordinarily vulnerable. Imagine if you will the reaction of Saint Joseph when Mary anounced her experience with the Angel Gabriel:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:18-21

It would have been very easy for Joseph as the bridegroom of Mary to simply walk away increduliously at the suggestion that his bride to be was with child. Instead, Joseph as well made that emptying of the self to the will of the Divine and today is well remembered as the devoted foster-fother of Jesus and husband of Mary.

Mary’s own devotion to her son and to the emerging Christian community is most evident in her standing beside him even unto his death on the cross where she became not just the mother of Jesus, but also the entire Christian community along with John the Apostle who became her devoted son even standing beside her as she lay peacefully, falling asleep in the Lord before being raised up heavenly three days later, according to pious tradition mirroring the three days of repose before the resurrection of her son.

Dormition

Interestingly, as a modern Gnostic, I recently became aware of a tradition in action Greece that takes place around the octave of this curious solemnity. Near the 15th of August in the Greek village of Markopoulo on the island Cephaloniaat the Church of the Panagia, one can see snakes slither towards a particular church, the island has many churches but the snakes only go to this church, on the actual day, the 15th they slither on the icon of the Virgin Mary as the church becomes filled with people. In spite of the priest, clergy and people holding the service the snakes show no sign of fear.

According to pious legend, as the island was under the assault of pirates, the nuns at this particular church begged to the Virgin Mary to be saved from what presumably evil fate would befall them at which she turned them all into serpents. Conversely, one thing I may suggest, is that this tradition may also be reflective of an earlier tradition pre-dating the formation of what would become orthodoxy:

“This fellow Epiphanes, whose writings I have at hand, was a son of Carpocrates and his mother was named Alexandria. On his father’s side he was an Alexandrine, on his mother’s a Cephallenian. He lived in all only seventeen years, and at Same in Cephallonia was honoured as a god. There a temple of vast blocks of stone was erected and dedicated to him, with altars, sacred precincts, and a museon, The Cephallenians gather at the temple every new moon and celebrate with sacrifices the day when Epiphanes became a god as his birthday; they pour libations to him, feast in his honour, and sing his praises. He was educated by his father in the general education and in Platonism, and he was instructed in the knowledge of the Monad, which is the root-origin of the Carpocratians’ heresy.” Clement, Stromata.

“And thus, if ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden actions are committed among them, I can no longer find ground for believing them to be such. And in their writings we read as follows, the interpretation which they give [of their views], declaring that Jesus spoke in a mystery to His disciples and apostles privately, and that they requested and obtained permission to hand down the things thus taught them, to others who should be worthy and believing. We are saved, indeed, by means of faith and love; but all other things, while in their nature indifferent, are reckoned by the opinion of men–some good and some evil, there being nothing really evil by nature.” Iranaeus. Ad. Haer.

The cult of the snake as a familiar spirit would have been very common in ancient Greece as in Rome, interestingly, there also appears to have been some continuation of this in other Gnostic sects, most notably the Ophites and Nassene gnostic communities. While we know very little from the Carpocration literature beyond the Mar Saba letter and Clement’s Stromata, it is known that the Carpocrations were a dominant force on this very island in the Second Century of the Common Era and it may be possible that even to this day some element of their presence may remain on the island.


A Vigil Rite of Healing through the Angel Raphael

For those times when a member of the congregation is experiencing prolonged illness or in cases when someone is in immediate need of spiritual comfort, this vigil may be performed to the end of expediting their recovery.

This ceremony may be performed by any member of laity or clergy and may be appended to the Rite of Ministration to the Sick or the Daily Office.

Opening

The bell is rung ///.

Candles are lit and incense burned in censor.

Introductory rite from the Apostolic Johannite Church’s liturgy Grail of Undefiled Wisdom used or similar ceremony used, alternately the Prayer of the Apostle Paul:

I invoke you, the one who is and who pre-existed in the name which is exalted above every name, through Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, the King of the ages; give me your gifts, of which you do not repent, through the Son of Man, the Spirit, the Paraclete of truth. Give me authority when I ask you; give healing for my body when I ask you through the Evangelist, and redeem my eternal light soul and my spirit. And the First-born of the Fullness of grace — reveal him to my mind!

Grant what no angel eye has seen and no archon ear has heard, and what has not entered into the human heart which came to be angelic and modeled after the image of God when it was formed in the beginning, since I have faith and hope. And place upon me your beloved, elect, and blessed greatness, the First-born, the First-begotten, and the wonderful mystery of your house; for yours is the power and the glory and the praise and the greatness for ever and ever. Amen.

General

One or more the following or other passages may be used.

1 John 5:13-15

(These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.)

James 5:14-16

(Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.)

Apocryphon of John

(Thus, the seed remained for a while assisting them, in order that, when the Spirit comes forth from the Holy Aeons, he may raise up and heal him from the deficiency, that the entirety of the Fullness may again become holy and faultless.)  

Invocation of the Holy Angel Raphael

O Holy Angel Raphael, guardian of the light arising, guide of travelers and supreme minister to the sick, through your intercession we ask for the healing of (name of person to be healed) who has been afflicted by suffering of body and soul. Holy Raphael, whose name means ‘God heals’, and of whom the Scriptures praise: ‘Raphael, the holy angel of the Lord, was sent to cure,Saint Raphael, our advocate’ come to the aid of (name of person to be healed) as you came to the aid of the prophet Tobias and put to flight the plagues sent by the Advesary and provided to for the healing of Israel. Amen.

Lighting of the Candle

Celebrant:               Holy Lord, who did charge your children to bring you clear oil wherein the lamp of your love may continually burn in the hearts of humanity, and kindled with the fire of eternal charity, we do present you this lamp most pure that it may burn for the healing of (name of person to be healed) under the ever-watching vigilance of your Holy Angel Raphael. Pour your blessings upon it that they may partake in your blessings and, when healed, magnify your Holy Name.

Celebrant lights lamp representing the person for whom this vigil is performed.

Celebrant:               The Lord says, “I am a lamp to those who would see me.”

All:                          Amen.

Celebrant:               “I am a mirror to those who would perceive me.”

All.                          Amen.

Celebrant:               “I am a door to you who would approach me.”

All:                          Amen.

Celebrant:               “Glory to you, Father, Glory to you, Word, Glory to you Holy Spirit of Wisdom. We gathered here in your presence and in the presence of your Holy Angel Raphael to hold vigil for your servant (name of person to be healed) that they may be restored to full health of body, mind and spirit.

If others are participating, the Celebrant now lights a separate candle from the vigil light.

Celebrant:               The Lord says, ‘I am the light that is over all things, I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.’ Let those who would partake of the light and pray for the healing of (N.) come forth and light their candles that they may burn at peace in their homes for the healing of the whole world.

Congregants come up, one by one, and light their own candles from the central vigil candle.

Celebrant:               Bearing in mind the words of Our Lord, let us now pray with one heart, one mind, and one accord:

Our Father

Closing of the Temple

Celebrant rings bell ///

Celebrant performs the closing of the temple, as in the Liturgy of the Grail of Undefiled Wisdom or prays:

Celebrant:               We give thanks to You! Every soul and heart is lifted up to You, undisturbed name, honored with the name ‘God’ and praised with the name ‘Father’, for to everyone and everything (comes) the parental kindness and affection and love, and any teaching there may be that is sweet and plain, giving us mind, speech, and knowledge: mind, so that we may understand You, speech, so that we may expound You, knowledge, so that we may know You. We rejoice, having been illuminated by Your knowledge. We rejoice because You have shown us Yourself. We rejoice because while we were in (the) body, You have made us divine through Your knowledge.

All:                          The thanksgiving of one who attains to You is one thing: that we know You. We have known You, intellectual light. Life of life, we have known You. Womb of every creature, we have known You. Womb pregnant with the nature of the Father, we have known You. Eternal permanence of the begetting Father, thus have we worshiped Your goodness. There is one petition that we ask: we would be preserved in knowledge. And there is one protection that we desire: that we not stumble in this kind of life.

Celebrant:               Let us bless the Lord.

All:                          Thanks be to God.


Advice on the Mystical Life

In his essay, Hunger in the Pews, Father Benedict Auer O.S.B. observes how many people in our post-modern religious milieu continue to “file into churches throughout this country hungering for the Word of God or even an inspirational word or two… in the face of almost endless disappointment hoping beyond hope that they may get something to take back home with them to help them through their week.” Despite America being unique among the industrialized world in the emphasized role of religion in daily life, most Americans tend to be representative of  a phenomena of people who, in Auer’s words, “a whole generation of Catholic illiterates.” Sadly, this is not only true of American Catholics – it can equally apply across the board of many major and minor Christian denominations – it is also true of those who, having left their pews, have turned to the mystical path hoping to find some kind of recourse (or counter-point) to the spirituality of their youth.

Since the New Age phenomenon of the 1960’s, many millions of people have turned to mysticism as the answer to their problems with exoteric religious teachings, paying thousands of dollars sometimes for seminars on meditation, creative visualization, empowered prayer, etc. The majority of these people, unfortunately, become quickly when they realize that the mystical life is not a “feel good” pursuit as many gurus or authors (misre-) present it but is, as many have accurately noted, a path beset with many external and internal dangers and trials. The high failure, or drop-out, rate for those who pursue the mystical life comes primarily from the lack of qualified instructors or peers in one’s spiritual community as well as the unfortunate severing of the mystical in post-Enlightenment era academic and philosophical inquiry. Among those who are fortunate enough to find sound resources (mostly in the form of literature, though sometimes mentors) toward understanding the mystical experience, this often solitary path can still lead the student astray if they are unable to find an appropriate peer or group to act as a sounding board resulting in the accumulations of various aggrandizements, delusions, or misperceptions.

Amongst those in esoteric religious groups, the above dangers can be especially potent. Anyone with some experience or involvement in contemporary, alternative religious movements likely have some experience or another with individuals (or themselves) undergoing some kind of spiritual crisis. In her essay, Magusitis: A Hydra in Sheep’s Clothing, Nadine Drisseq examines the pitfalls of transcendence: “Some very common examples of archetypal intoxication are: the Wiccan who thinks he is the martyr of the goddess, or the Thelemite who thinks she is the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley. Whilst transcendental states are useful, enjoyable and provide experience of the Numinons, they too have their baggage.” She further breaks down the stages of “infection” amongst those whose mystical pursuit has gone awry:

“PRIMARY STAGE: The magician is immuno-magickally compromised since all the necessary and underlying basis for infection are present. This stage is a latency period where the magician exhibits behavior of talking big to make himself feel better, gloating at people who are magickally less experienced, and general feelings of personal insecurity. Instances of paranoia are common, and the magician feels isolated if these issues are not brought out and dealt with.

SECONDARY STAGE: The magician starts to believe that others are out to get her. She feuds with others, often curses people or groups of people (since cursing makes her feel more powerful and confident). She gloats when others have misfortune as it makes her feel more powerful compared to them (her perceived enemies). She takes the slightest comment the wrong way. She gets upset when she does not win an argument, and this can be combined with the childish mechanisms of sulking (which sometimes gets results through guilt tripping the person she is sulking at). Childish spats of anger and foot stomping are also not uncommon. These behaviors may not be quite so obvious but are translations of these childish idiosyncrasies.

TERTIARY STAGE: The magician really starts to lose it. Tertiary stage is rarely observed by the magickal culture at large because by this time the magician is so enraged / paranoid / sulky / paranoid that she withdraws from from public or community interaction. I have also heard of instances of the magician putting on a lot of weight along with this stage, although this may be a parallel and not a symptom.”

Replace “magician” with “seeker”, “student” or “practitioner”, and it can be illustrated that this problem can arise across most, if not all, spiritual boards. For those of us whose mystical experience comes through the lens of Christianity (in particular Christian Gnosticism), there are fortunately some avenues for those to “check themselves” as they progress along the inward, or mystical, path.

It is highly advisable that one attracted to Christian mysticism have at least some understanding of scriptural study and prayer practice. For Catholics, this is easily obtained through undergoing courses such as the Rite of Christian Initiation in Adults; for others joining a Bible study group may also be of some benefit as well. In addition to this, attending interfaith prayer meetings such as Taizé or even some Quaker meetings might be of some help as well – especially for those who are disaffected by conventional churchmanship. For many self-identified Gnostics, finding and attending a church may be somewhat difficult depending on what part of the country in which one lives; here, participating in online social networking sites such as Facebook may be their only connection to other Gnostics, in particular Gnostic clergy. Finding members of churches such as Ecclesia Gnostica, the Apostolic Johannite Church, Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum or the Alexandrian Gnostic Church should be fairly easy and participation on interest pages can yield some great results where one can meet new people and peers.

If possible, the potential mystic should also engage in a thorough study of classical literature on mysticism. Anthologies such as the Philokalia, the Classics of Western Spirituality through Paulist Press, and the writings of Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, and Meister Eckhart should provide a valuable background. These should be read slowly and ideally with a friend who is either familiar with the material or can read along with you and with whom you can exchange notes and reflections. Auditing religious studies courses, in particular medieval religion or attending monastic retreats is another possibility that should not be overlooked. Throughout the entire process, keeping a journal is also highly advisable as a way of storing and reexamining one’s comprehension of what you are studying. Setting aside regular time for prayer, study and reflection by this point should become a part of daily experience.

After about six months to a year of regular study and practice, one should by this point attempt to find a peer or member of clergy with pastoral experience with whom they can discuss their experiences and discuss their growth either by phone or in person. It’s a common misconception that the mystical life must be a solitary experience. Most Gnostic and esoteric communities are largely led by members who lead secular lives in addition to their participation in religious life and do not offer (at this point) cloistered monastic groups. How this may or may not change in the future is yet to be seen. In absence of being able to find a spiritual guide, finding a good counselor who is open to discussing spirituality is an option that should not be overlooked.

The mystical life, while often a solitary experience, does not need to be a lonely experience. After nearly fifteen years in pursuit of mystical and contemplative life and falling into some of the above pitfalls along the way, I have been fortunate enough to have support along the way by people who have been able to provide me the advice I have given and wish to share it with those who have the discipline to follow through on this very rewarding approach to understanding the divine in its manifold splendor. Keeping balance is (no pun intended) the fulcrum of any healthy spirituality – keeping things in perspective, keeping a fit body and mind, and being constantly devoted to the practice will yield many years of fulfillment. Enlightenment, however, is up to you.


The Way of Prayer: Five Types of Prayer

In my previous entry on revisiting the Lyon Ritual of the Cathars, I mentioned one of the things that drew me to the ritual itself beyond being a historical example of a gnostic method rite of initiation is the direct method of transmitting the knowledge of prayer. Many may question why the transmission or instruction in prayer is necessary – shouldn’t it come naturally? Well, despite the fact that we live in a culture in which prayer is often taught at a young age and demonstrated in public and private spheres, now as in the past, very few people actually know how to pray.

As I was composing my previous entry last night, by an act of synchronicity I received a Facebook message from one of my sisters in my fraternity asking about my feelings and observations of various religious systems relating to the topic of prayer. She writes:

“For example, as a Thelemite, I personally have complete respect for other religious practices (prayer included) and on occasion participate in. My best friend has been a Christian for many years, and now more recently, a Mormon. When we would have meals, depending on who is present, we either do Will, or I ask that her and her Husband lead us in prayer (as this is their custom). I definitely have the intention present in mind of blessing the food as well the well wishes and intent of the particular prayer they speak.”

To this I responded in all sincerity, that this is a topic very dear to my heart and that it is something I’ve struggled with and am still very much exploring myself. As we exchanged correspondence via Facebook and text messaging, I was moved to write this essay to outline an enchiridion on the way of prayer from a Western perspective, although exploring other examples when appropriate.

Simply defined, using the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

“Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creed, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person. There are different forms of prayer such as petitionary prayer, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, and worship/praise. Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one’s thoughts and emotions. Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit or for the sake of others.”

In the West, but also in other cultures, prayer is primarily a conscious effort to make contact with intelligence beyond that of the person performing the prayer and can be performed either singularly by an individual or as an expression of corporate religiosity. Broken down, according to traditional Roman Catholic teaching there are five essential types of prayer:

  • Prayer of Praise and Adoration

“Praise to a higher power or powers as an act of devotion. In Vedic practice, this could also encompass the most basic type of bhakti.”

  • Prayer of Penitence

“Prayer aimed to a higher power or powers in recognition of personal fault or misdeed. In Jewish, Christian and Muslim practice, it typically manifests as a form of individual confession aimed at removing or absolving sin. In Buddhist and Vedic practice, this form of prayer may also conditionally encompass expatiatory prayer aimed at removing the harmful effect of misdeeds.”

  • Prayer of Petition

Prayer aimed at petitioning a higher power or powers to bring about some kind of spiritual, emotional, or physical assistance. By far the most common type of prayer across different cultures. “

  • Prayer of Thanksgiving

“Prayer aimed at thanking a higher power or powers for bringing about some kind of fortune or provision.”

  • Prayer of Intercession

“Prayer aimed at a higher power or powers on behalf of a third party or parties for the purpose of bringing about some kind of spiritual, emotional or physical effect.”

The five types of prayer exemplify the most common aims individuals have during the act of prayer. In practice, many prayers involve one or more of these elements. In ritual or liturgy, it is often common to use all of these types of prayer at varying intervals to help connect the individual or group consciousness with their agreed upon or recognized definition of a higher power or power.

From the perspective of applying a magical theory to these types of prayer we can create the following table of correspondence:

  Type of Prayer Element Power of the Sphinx Evangelist
1. Prayer of Praise and Adoration Air To Know Matthew
2. Prayer of Penitence Earth To Will Luke
3. Prayer of Petition Fire To Dare Mark
4. Prayer of Intercession Water To Keep Silence John
5. Prayer of Thanksgiving Æthyr To Go Holy Paraclete[1]

The above list is largely speculative, but I feel represents from a certain Gnostic perspective the elements of prayer in an esoteric perspective. In the course of my discussion with my sister, we came upon the interesting point which would have made penitential prayer seemingly useless from a Thelemic perspective unless we considered, alchemically, that penance as a correspondence to elemental earth is also connected to the alchemical element of Salt which, in chapter four of Book 4, Crowley considers the following attribution:

                “The Christian idea that sin was worth while because salvation was so much more worth while, that redemption is so splendid that innocence was well lost, is more satisfactory. St. Paul says: “Where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound. Then shall we do evil that good may come? God forbid.” But (clearly!) it is exactly what God Himself did, or why did He create Satan with the germ of his “fall” in him?

Instead of condemning the three qualities outright, we should consider them as parts of a sacrament. This particular aspect of the Scourge, the Dagger, and the Chain, suggests the sacrament of penance.

The Chain is Salt: it serves to bind the wandering thoughts; and for this reason is placed about the neck of the Magician, where Daath is situated…

The Scourge keeps the aspiration keen: the Dagger expresses the determination to sacrifice all; and the Chain restricts any wandering.”

Even though Thelema (and presumably some schools of Gnosticism) outright decry the ontological nature of “sin” as commonly understood by exoteric Christianity, it functionally exists and could be understood to represent the point from which we wander away from our connection with our understanding of the Divine.

It is also worth considering that these five methods of prayer may also have a correspondence to the “orthodox” sacramental system mentioned in the gnostic Gospel of Philip:

“The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. […] he said, “I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place.” […] here through types […]and images.”

The sacramental pentad of presented in the Gospel of Philip could be considered in the following way:

  Type of Prayer Sacrament Element

1.

Praise and Adoration Bridal Chamber Air

2.

Petition

Chrism Fire
3. Intercession Baptism Water
4. Penitential

Redemption

Earth

5.

Thanksgiving

Eucharist

Æthyr

How this all ties into the Lyon Ritual is my profound interest in the Pater Noster, or Lord’s Prayer which was the central mystery (if it could be called such) of the Cathar sacramental system. Unique among the some of the various Gnostic schools the Cathars, in general, formed an anti-sacerdotal party in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting against what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church.

The organization of Cathar religious hierarchy bears a very strong resemblance to later evangelical and Anabaptist schools and seemed, primarily, to be focused on prayer and evangelism in addition to the administration of two primary sacraments: the traditio, or transmission of prayer in which the postulant to the Cathar faith would be instructed in prayer and become a credent (believer), and the consolamentum which functioned both sacramentally and sacerdotally whereby the credent would become a parfait (perfect, or elder) who could function as a minister among Cathar communities and would often preach and administer the sacraments to others. Among the perfects, were also regional bishops; but their role varied from Catholic bishops, not relying on apostolic succession but instead was relegated to being functional overseers of other perfecti.

The rite of traditio mirrors in many ways the origins of Christianity as a dually exoteric and esoteric religious tradition. Exoteric in that Christians, as early as the apostolic age, were recognized distinctly in many ways from mainstream Judaism of the first and second centuries, and esoteric in that certain rites would only have been engaged in by members of the early Christian community. This is already apparent in the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus in the synoptic gospels when Jesus is asked by his apostles about the method of Prayer:

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Immediately, he continues with further instructions:

“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

The Lord’s Prayer, as I have previously noted, is perhaps the best known Christian prayer and is frequently the first prayer that children raised in Christian cultures are taught. It is unique on many levels, not the least of which is that in fifty two words (in English, not including the doxology which raises the word count to 66) it fulfills all five types of prayer and encompasses so much of the Christian experience that it has inspired theologians for centuries to the present day.

For me personally, it is one of the primary prayers that I personally pray throughout the day after I had been taught to pray it without knowing that when I received it as the only act of penance one day, I was being taught how to pray in a way that, I imagine, would have been similarly meaningful to Cathar postulants. All that was required of me was that I, “pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly”; effectually turning the Lord’s Prayer into an act of lectio divina. For this, I would take each line and contemplate it individually, slowly adding on the other verses up until I would reach the doxology – the “eucharist” of the prayer – and have inflamed myself in prayer. It is a cathartic, and purifying experience and has brought me much pleasure and inspiration and it is for this simple fact I am a proponent and student of prayer.

 

A Cathar coin

 


[1] As the inspirer of scripture.


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