Tag Archives: Meditation

Musings on Angels, Daemons and Working With One’s Personal Pantheon

In Chapter twenty six of the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, the great expositor of esoteric wisdom, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, provides us with one of the most complete modern variations of the ancient concept of tutelary spirits, which he divides as the Angel, the Genius and Evil Daemon:

“Drawing [the name] from the disposition of the heaven; as for example, any Celestiall Harmonie being proposed to thee for the making an image or ring, or any other work to be done under a certain constellation; if thou will finde out the spirit that is the ruler of that work… [casting] forth letters in their number and order from the degree of the ascendent, according to the succession of signes through each degree by filling the whole circle of the heaven: then those letters which fall into the places of the Stars the aid whereof thou wouldest use, being according to the number, and powers of those Stars, marked without into number, and order, make the name of a good spirit: but if thou shalt do so from the beginning of a degree falling against the progresse of the signes, the resulting spirit shall be evil.”

Further, he elaborates on the nature of such spirits as they relate to the individual:

“Every man hath a threefold good Demon, as a proper keeper, or preserver, the one whereof is holy, another of the nativity, and the other of profession. The holy Demon is one, according to the Doctrine of the Egyptians, assigned to the rationall soul, not from the Stars or Planets, but from a supernaturall cause, from God himself, the president of Demons, being universall, above nature: This doth direct the life of the soul, & doth alwaies put good thoughts into the minde, being alwaies active in illuminating us, although we do not alwaies take notice of it; but when we are purified, and live peaceably, then it is perceived by us, then it doth as it were speak with us, and communicates its voyce [voice] to us, being before silent, and studyeth daily to bring us to a sacred perfection.”

This concept of a Three-Fold Divinity is common in nearly every Semitic and Indo-European culturea, similarly popping up in some East Asian and African religious traditions as well. For the purposes of this, I’m merely going to treat the Indo-European perspective of the Abrahamic religious tradition through the lens of the Neoplatonism which would have been familiar to Agrippa in his writing.

According to Neoplatonic philosophy, spiritual beings exist heirarchically in two prinicpal forms, a tetrad comprising the unitive intelligible forms of divinity; and a triad, composed of intelligible forms that may be classified as hypercosmic, liberated and encosmic. The Tetradic hierarchy is mostly cosmic, from a a modern Western Esoteric perspective, one might not do wrong by examining much of the material on the mysteries of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) or, from a Gnostic perspective, the Simonian mysteries of the Father, Mother, Son and Daughter as a Tetradic expression of the Trinity. The function of the triadic hierarchies is to facilitate illumination and purification toward Godhead, or in classical Neoplatonic terms, the Pre-essential Demiurgos which is not to be confused with the Demiurge as commonly depicted in Gnostic legend.

From this vantage point, it seems clear that Agrippa’s Genius and Evil Daemon function somewhat as two aspects of the individual’s personal spiritual ‘pantheon’, with the Guardian Angel at the apex of the hierarchy. This is a particularly important consideration as it removes the otherwise gross consideration of having a little angel and a little devil vying for control over a person’s life in a much unsophisticated, dualistic manner that I’m fairly certain Agrippa had not intended. The Genius and Evil Daemon, then, may be seen as enforcers of the Holy Guardian Angel prior to the mystical or theurgical illumination in which the magician or mystic attains knowledge and conversation with the latter and, finally, acheive henosis with the Pre-essential Demiurgos – i.e. Godhead.

The third, or fourth, entity in Agrippa’s schema of personal daimonology is the Daimon of Profession. From a surface reading, it may seem that this particular entity may complete a tetradic heirarchy, I doubt that this was necessarily implied as it does not seem to function in any distinct way other than influencing one’s personal profession which, at the time was more or less fixed according to class (e.g. a son inheriting the father’s business; the daughter, becoming wife and moving up or down social rank through marriage) which we understand now is neither conducive to the concept of Free Will nor theurgic ascent. For this reason, I view it as a changeable entity separate from the triadic heirarchy.

To begin working with the Genius and Evil Daemon, Agrippa conveniently lays out a system of arriving at their natural names through an advanced system of Hebrew gematria and astrological calculation, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book 3, xxvi:

“There are also the Arabians, and many others, and some Hebrews, who finde out the name of a Genius by the places of the five Hylegians, and making projection alwayes from the beginning of Aries, and the letters being found out according to
the order of Hylegians with the Astrologers, being reduced into a known order, and being joyned together, make the name of a good Genius: but they draw the name of an evil Genius from the opposite Hylegian places, projection being made from the last degree of Pisces against the order of signs.”

While one may easily calculate this by hand, there are fortunately many avenues of arriving at this presently; personally, I would suggest finding a person such as the contemporary occult writer Frater Rufus Opus who does so for a small fee and from whom one may obtain much informative literature; the second is through computational means such as those provided by Frater Acher in his blog, “My Occult Circle“. The methodology of Frater Rufus Opus is will be well suited to anyone with a vested interest in Agrippan and Trithemean methods of magical practice and I highly recommend them for those inclined toward that angle. My own personal method, drawing much on my own experiences working more in line with Graeco-Egyptian magic are outlined below.

On a convenient day, preferably making first contact on your own birthday but any Sunday seems to work, arise early at the first hour of the sun and purify the temple space with water and incense. In a symbolic alphabet such as the celestial alphabet or having transliterated the name into a known alphabet be it Greek, Latin or Coptic, draw the name of the Genius at the back of the altar in consecrated oil. Having composed an invocation beforehand; call to that spirit and make an offering of frankincense. Toward the front of the altar, in the same manner, write the name of the Evil Daemon in consecrated oil, make an offering of myrrh and recite a similar invocation. In the center of the altar, light a large pillar candle in offering to your Holy Guardian Angel to mediate between these two forces.

The above ceremony can be done on any day, according to one’s inclinations, to facilitate conversation with these lesser daimones and to indicate to the mediating Holy Guardian Angel one’s intentions toward attaining Knowledge and Conversation, which is not a pre-requisite to this practice and, in fact, I would suggest holding off on until one has a more thorough understanding of the supporting and persecuting forces in their lives.

It should be important to note, that one may choose at some point to only work with the Good Genius or the Evil Daemon on a particular day. This is highly encouraged. From the Good Genius, one may obtain a clearer picture of their own progress along the path of their practice and from the Evil Daemon, obtain a record of their pitfalls from which they are able to rise above, make amends where possible, and move closer up the theurgic ascent. As a note, I absolutely reject the concept of subjugating or otherwise eliminating the Evil Daemon on the basis that I find reconciliation between opposing dynamic forces to be more beneficial and symbolic of uniting relative and ultimate truths of one’s nature and thus Macro and Microcosms, than dividing everything grossly and unscrupulously.

Until one attains to Knowledge and Conversation with their Holy Guardian Angel, there is ample opportunity to explore their own spiritual hierarchy through conversing with the more immediate daimonic forces. I strongly suggest this beneficial practice of obtaining and working with these spirits to be to the ultimate benefit of the aspirant to K&CHGA and significantly more confidence increasing than the current modality of pass and fail with the HGA working alone. To those who may have found benefit with this brief essay, I look forward to hearing your results and if there are any questions, please feel free to comment below.

PlatonicDaimon

Platonic Daimon from the Neoplatonic Tarot by Jeffrey Kupperman


The Way of the Heart and the Way of the Cup

Handed down from master to disciple in an unbroken chain of succession, the prayer of the heart as a spiritual discipline was fixed in writing by the eleventh century Byzantine, hesychast monk Symeon the New Theologian who taught that humanity could and should directly experience theoria, or direct contemplation of the experience of Godhead. In the Orthodox tradition, the preparation for vision of God takes place in two stages: purification, and illumination of the mental faculties. Without this it is impossible for man’s selfish love to be transformed into selfless love and unceasing prayer, as praised by the Apostle Paul who exhorts us in Thessalonians to, “Pray without ceasing.”

Though never achieving much currency in the West, the way of the heart as an esoteric discipline would become a central principal in the writings of the French philosopher, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin who, in his Theosophic Correspondences shares with us, “The inward or centre is the principle of everything; so long as this centre is not open, the greatest external wonders may seduce without advancing us; and, if I may venture to say so, it is our inward which ought to be the true thermometer, the true touchstone, of what passes without. If our heart is in God, if it is really become divine, by love, faith, and ardent prayer, no illusion can surprise us.” In Saint-Martin’s teachings, through similar meditation on God, one may undergo a spiritual process of reintegration with the Divine.

The way of the heart, in both hesychast and esoteric doctrines, is ultimately a form of theurgy. For Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus, the goal is henosis, or unity with God; in the Orthodox East, it is theosis, or the absorption into a divine way of life. I would posit, similarly, that in the esoteric doctrine of the West and the principals of the teachings of Saint-Martin, the achievement of reintegration is a form of spiritual and evangelical salvation of the soul at home with the universal Mind which, after its descent into the innermost core of being, must spread outward in all directions in a like manner as Christ, having experienced at a pivotal point in time descended into Hades and, upon ascent, drew them likewise out of the depths and later, again, spread outward in the form of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost imbuing the Apostles with the same knowledge of doing the same.

Although penitential in tonality, the way of the heart does not contradict Iamblichean principals of theurgy, but indeed does “[enlarge] very greatly our soul’s receptivity to the gods… and accustoms [our] eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods.” (De Mysteriis 5.26.18-40) Similarly, Saint Martin writes: “I think they would do better to call it the sentiment of the presence of intermediate agents doing the will of God. I believe we always perceive this reaction of the Virtues whenever we seek the Verb, not outside of us, but within, looking with intelligence at the temple in which He dwells.” My personal preference for keeping Saint-Martin’s usage of the ‘Verb’ adequately presents the activity of the divine as opposed to the rather abstract and now poorly understood Word, or Logos.

It occurred to me recently that this process is a form of eternal liturgy resulting in the fractio of our limited selves into the chalice representing the fullness of both our hearts and minds. Joining together these two species into one sacrament and consuming it, we experience joy of heaven on earth and partake of the ecstatic ‘Verb’ or action of Godhead. Far from the melancholy, the way of the heart teaches us to live in accordance with our intellect in the very real here and now instead of trying to escape to some indeterminate eschatological future. This bliss and this ecstasy, open to all, brings us not only contemplatively closer to Godhead, but is a challenge and affirmation of our own divinity and active co-participation in the Creation of a redeemed Humanity.

Sacred Heart doves Chalice


A Vigil Rite in Times of Disaster

Following the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings I, like many people around the world, was filled with a sudden sadness and loss of words (and thoughts!) about the immensity of the event. Words do not adequately lend themselves to these types of situations and, after reading all sorts of news articles on the events and reading increasingly sophistic writings about it on Facebook, I grew more sad and a little bit jaded about this event like many who are exposed on a constant level to the horrors that surround us. Each of us comes to terms with these things in different ways: some through song, some through talking and writing, others through crying, and others – such as myself – through prayer.

In the days immediately following the event, I wrote the following brief service based on my own religious tradition. It is not an official AJC ceremony by any means – I’m the only one whose prayed it before -  but I present it that it may be used, and modified, by those in my community or who are otherwise genuinely interested and wanting to contribute prayerfully in the wake of this most recent tragedy at the Boston Marathon.

______________________________________________________________

The Signum

 

Celebrant:          O Heavenly King, the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, who are present everywhere, emanating from the supreme source and filling all things, Treasury of Endless Good and Giver of Life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from every stain, and heal our infirmities, O Good one.

Celebrant:          Holy are You, O Creator of the Universe. Holy are You, O God, Whose Will is perfected by its own Powers. Holy are You, O God, who desires to be known and are known by your own.

 All:                         +Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One. Have mercy on us.

 Celebrant:          Holy are You, who by the Eternal Word did make all to be as it is. Holy are you, who made Nature to have an image. Holy are you, who are uncreated in Image.

 All:                         +Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One. Have mercy on us.

Celebrant:          Holy are you, more powerful than All Power. Holy are you, transcending all preeminence. Holy are you, better than all praise.

 All:                         +Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One. Have mercy on us.

 Celebrant:          Holy God, One in Three and Three in One, have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

Celebrant:          God, come to my assistance.

All:                         Lord, make haste to help me.

 All bow

Celebrant:          Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

All rise

All:                         As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be unto the Æons of Æons. Amen.

Optional, invocation of the holy archangels may take place here:

Invocation of the Archangels

 

Celebrant:          Hail Raphael, Ruler of Air, Divine Physician. As the breath of the Divine moves over the face of the Deep, so do we call upon you to move over the sanctuary of our being, giving voice to our prayer and strength to our journey.

All:                         Lord of Wind and Storm, we invoke thee!

 

Celebrant:          Hail Michael, Ruler of Fire, Divine Guardian. As our spiritual ancestors travelled through the darkness by a pillar of fire, so do we call upon you as pilgrims to light our path through the wilderness of ignorance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

All:                         Lord of Flame and Prince of the Seraphim, we invoke thee!

Celebrant:          Hail Gabriel, Ruler of Water, Divine Messenger. As the Incarnation of the Logos was foretold to our Mother by your                 presence, so do we call upon you that we may truly know ourselves as children of the Divine Beloved.

All:                         Lady of Stream and Ocean, we invoke thee!

Celebrant:          Hail Uriel, Ruler of Earth, Divine Companion. As you stand guarding the gates of paradise, so do we call upon you to lead us at our last through the portal of that undiscovered territory, from which no traveller returns.

All:                         Lady of Stone and Vale, we invoke thee!

Invitatory Prayer

Celebrant:          We gather together and are one of purpose as fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God, who love the good land God has given us; who cherish the freedoms we enjoy, and who lament our innocence lost. With anger we come, and with sorrow;

with confusion and concern. O Lord, look with the eyes of your love upon our confusion and distress, grant that our vision may be made clear and that we not falter in loving one another as you had taught.

All:                         Amen.

Psalm 37, An Exhortation to Patience and Trust

Reader:               Do not fret because of the wicked;

do not be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon fade like the grass,

and wither like the green herb.

 

All:                         Trust in the Lord, and do good;

so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

Take delight in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

 

Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will make your vindication shine like the light,

and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

 

Reader:                                Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;

do not fret over those who prosper in their way,

over those who carry out evil devices.

 

All:                         Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.

Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

For the wicked shall be cut off,

but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

 

Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;

though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.

But the meek shall inherit the land,

and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

 

Reader                 The wicked plot against the righteous,

and gnash their teeth at them;

but the Lord laughs at the wicked,

for he sees that their day is coming.

 

All:                         The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows

to bring down the poor and needy,

to kill those who walk uprightly;

their sword shall enter their own heart,

and their bows shall be broken.

 

Better is a little that the righteous person has

than the abundance of many wicked.

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,

but the Lord upholds the righteous.

 

Reader:                                The Lord knows the days of the blameless,

and their heritage will abide forever;

they are not put to shame in evil times,

in the days of famine they have abundance.

 

All:                         But the wicked perish,

and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;

they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

 

The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,

but the righteous are generous and keep giving;

for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,

but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

 

Reader:                                Our steps are made firm by the Lord,

when he delights in our way;

though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,

for the Lord holds us by the hand.

 

All:                         I have been young, and now am old,

yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken

or their children begging bread.

They are ever giving liberally and lending,

and their children become a blessing.

 

Depart from evil, and do good;

so you shall abide forever.

For the Lord loves justice;

he will not forsake his faithful ones.

 

Reader:                                The righteous shall be kept safe forever,

but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land,

and live in it forever.

 

All:                         The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,

and their tongues speak justice.

The law of their God is in their hearts;

their steps do not slip.

 

The wicked watch for the righteous,

and seek to kill them.

The Lord will not abandon them to their power,

or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.

 

Reader:                                Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way,

and he will exalt you to inherit the land;

you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

 

All:                         I have seen the wicked oppressing,

and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.

Again I passed by, and they were no more;

though I sought them, they could not be found.

 

Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,

for there is posterity for the peaceable.

But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;

the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.

 

Reader:                                The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;

He is their refuge in the time of trouble.

The Lord helps them and rescues them;

he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,

because they take refuge in him.

 

Standing Prayers

 

All stand.

Celebrant:          Glory to Thee, Our God, Glory to Thee.

All:                         Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee. O Heavenly Queen, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,

Who is everywhere present and permeates all things, the Treasury of all good things and the Giver of life: Come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Pure One.

Celebrant:          Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: have mercy on us.

All:                         Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One: have mercy on us.

Celebrant:          All Holy, All Mighty, Everlasting Trinity, have mercy on us; cleanse us from our sins, pardon all our iniquities, visit and heal us from our infirmities for Your Name’s sake.

All:                         Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison.

Christi eleison, Christi eleison, Christi eleison.

Kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison.

Celebrant:           Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

All:                          As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, forever and ever. Amen.

The Lucernarium

The Celebrant pour oil in the lamp and seven members of the community come forth and place a single tear of frankincense into the oil. If alone or with less people, the tears may be divided up accordingly.

Celebrant:           O Logos who dwells on high, we praise the glory of Your majesty Whose light is the light of the luminaries, Who sends forth light from heaven over all the world of humankind

Through You we have the sun to light the day and moon and stars to light the night-time. Through you we have the Lamp to drive back shadow. You are light laudable, holy and primal light. From You does darkness and evil flee.

O Christos, send forth Your healing light into our hearts. Restore us to the glory of the Fullness within and without. Comfort our minds, bodies and spirits, and wipe away every tear from our eyes. Blessed is the Name of Your holy glory and to You we sing a hymn of praise and glory. To the Fullness, to the Word and to Wisdom.

The Celebrant or youngest person present comes forth to light the candle.

Celebrant:          As you illumine this lamp, O Lord

All:                         So illumine our dark places

Celebrant:          The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does                 not overcome it.

O Gracious Light (Phos hilaron)

All:                         O gracious Light,

pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven,

O Lord, the Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,

and our eyes behold the vesper light,

we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,

O Son of God, O Giver of life,

and to be glorified through all the worlds.

Amen.

All:                         We give thanks unto you, O Light, in whom darkness dwells not.

The Universal Prayer

Celebrant:          Having set this vigil light, let us pray to receive and foster the Divine Light which enlightens the world, that within all of us the Sacred Flame may grow ever stronger and we all grow in love and understanding.

Silence or brief meditation as members come up to light their own candles from the lucernarium.

All:                         Amen.

 

Reader:                For our reigning Sovereign Pontiff __________, and presiding Bishop __________, and all bishops of the Apostolic Johannite Church, bishops in amity, and leaders of faith throughout the world, we pray to the Lord.

Or,

For the leaders of our respective communities of faith, wherein we find our connection to the Sacred Flame, especially __________…

All:                         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Reader:                For our President __________, our Governor __________,  and all members of local and regional government and all who give their lives in tireless service to the common good, may they be guided by the Sacred Flame and create the foundations for a holy society, free from tyranny and oppression.

All:                         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Reader:                For those who give their lives in service to the poor, the needy, the marginalized and imprisoned as well as those in need and from want, suffering ostracism and imprisonment; may they all be preserved bodily, mentally and spiritually.

All:                         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Reader:                For our church and faith communities throughout the world; especially __________,  our (mission, narthex, parish, etc.), that they be beacons of light in the sea of existence and guide people to You, in the myriad of ways you provide.

All:                         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Reader:                For our friends and family and all those suffering illness, especially __________, may you renew them bodily, mentally, and spiritually that they may remain with us presently and in future joy.

All:                         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Reader:                For those who have left this world and have gone onward to that other shore from which no one returns, especially __________,  may they be rightly guided by the lights you have set for them and may they be uplifted and encouraged by our prayers.

All:                         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Reader:                                For our own personal needs at this time…

 

All may state their petitions out loud or silently at this time.

 

All:         Lord, hear our prayer.

 

Celebrant:          O Lord, You make all things new. As these prayers are lifted up toward you, renew the world and all those for whom we have prayed that they may abide forever under the providence of your divine light. May all those, especially the victims of [name or location of tragedy] find speedy healing and protection under your wings and may the wings of Holy Wisdom brush gently at our hearts, removing from us the defilements of anger, hatred and confusion.

Closing

Celebrant:          The Lord be with you.

All:                         And also with you.

Celebrant:          The Lord bless us, and bring us to wholeness, compassion and understanding. The Lord enlighten our minds, comfort our hearts and sustain our bodies. May all those in suffering soon find healing, comfort and aid and may we all do what is meet and right in our ways as members of your body, O Lord, to commit ourselves to repair of the world.

All:                         Amen.

Optional, dismissal of the archangels.

 Dismissal of the Archangels

 

Celebrant:           Hail, mighty Raphael, Archangel of the Air, Healer and Guardian of Wind and Tempest. We thank thee for thine attendance and protection here, and before thou departest for thine airy realms, we bid Thee hail and farewell.

All:                          Hail and farewell.

Celebrant:           Hail, mighty Michael, the Defender, Lord of Fire and Prince of the Legions of Heaven. We thank thee for thine attendance and protection here, and before thou departest for thine fiery realms, we bid Thee hail and farewell.

All:                          Hail and farewell.

 

Celebrant:           Hail, mighty Gabriel, Lady of Water, Heavenly Herald, who didst bring glad tidings to Our Blessed Mother. We thank thee for thine attendance and protection here, and before thou departest for thine watery realms, we bid Thee hail and farewell.

All:                          Hail and farewell.

Celebrant:           Hail, mighty Uriel, Dark Lady of Earth, who bringest all at last unto the Nether Shore, Companion of all who offer up their lives in the defense of others. We thank thee for thine attendance and protection here, and before thou departest for thine earthy realms, we bid Thee hail and farewell.

All:                          Hail and farewell.


Good Friday

Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.
- Paulo Coelho

bellini-agony-garden-NG726-fm

ILLE mi par esse deo uidetur, ille, si fas est, superare diuos,qui sedens aduersus identidem te spectat et audit dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te.
-Catullus, Carmina 51

scourging

“This is what is signified by the words Ana l-haqq, “I am God.” People imagine that it is a presumptuous claim, whereas it is really a presumptuous claim to say Ana ‘l-’abd, “I am the slave of God”; and Ana l-haqq, “I am God” is an expression of great humility. The man who says Ana ‘l-’abd, “I am the servant of God” affirms two existences, his own and God’s, but he that says Ana l-haqq, “I am God” has made himself non-existent and has given himself up and says “I am God”, that is, “I am naught, He is all; there is no being but God’s.” This is the extreme of humility and self-abasement.”
- Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, commentary on Mansur Al-Hallaj

Crowning-with-Thorns-lowf

“So you see, Good and Evil have the same face; it all depends on when they cross the path of each individual human being.”
-Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prynn

carrying the cross

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
Laurel is green for a season, and love is sweet for a day;
But love grows bitter with treason, and laurel outlives not May.
- Charles Algernon Swinburne

dali_corpushypercubus1954

Cum ergo accepisset Jesus acetum, dixit: Consummatum est. Et inclinato capite tradidit spiritum.

- IOHANNES XIX: xxx


This Little Light of Mine

As I’m sure we’re all well aware, the season of Advent is quickly approaching. Last weekend, we experienced the feast day of one of my personal favorite saints, Saint Martin of Tours, whose feast in many ways represents the culmination of the octave of All Saints and All Souls day. From the late 4th Century to the Middle Ages, a period of fasting beginning on the day after St. Martin’s Day, November 11. This fast period lasted 40 days, and was, therefore, called “Quadragesima Sancti Martini”, which means in Latin “the forty days of St. Martin.” As times and history would have it, this period of fasting would later develop into the four Sundays of Advent familiar to many in the Western Churches.

Personally, around Saint Martin’s feast day, I start mentally preparing myself for the Christmas season and coming up with personal meditations and reflections as we begin to approach the darkest half of the year which, paradoxically, is also the time of year where the light of the Sun is symbolically reborn and begins to grow and wax once again. For anyone whose read Frazer or Joseph Campbell or has familiarity with contemporary neo-Paganism, the symbolism of the Christ Child being born around Winter Solstice and bringing light into the world is not a terribly novel idea, but it’s that mythic cycle that we can use to help ourselves to illuminate the depths of our own spiritual experiences in a cyclical way.

Last year I experienced a particularly deep and profound spiritual Advent season by intentionally participating in a local parish’s celebration of the season and also deepening my friendship with many at Hagia Sophia community as well as my own relationship with members of my community in the Apostolic Johannite Church. During this period, I thought about and sketched out some notes for a more family or individual based Advent celebration for members of the greater Gnostic community to follow at home since many lack regular access to churches and temples. Inspired by the idea of the Four Luminaries of the Secret Book of John as guardians of the macrocosmic Christ Consciousness, I put together this ritual that can be performed individually or as a small group for people wanting to participate meaningfully in the Advent Season.

Maybe my presentation here is a little premature, but it is my hope that those who wish to participate with me in this might also be inspired by the meditations I will be writing about this season using the readings suggested.

Emmanuel, icon written by Betsy Porter
egg tempera, shell gold, and gold leaf on shaped panel, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2007
photograph by Richard Anderson

Advent Wreath Service

The family or group gathers around the wreath (which is not yet lit).

Leader:

The One has brought forth the One, then One, and these Three are but One: the + Father, +the Word and +the Thought.

Lord, open my lips.

People:            And my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.

Leader:           O God, make speed to save me.

People:            O Lord, make haste to help me.

Leader:           Glory be to God, whose grace and mercy be upon us forever.

All                       Amen.

A member of the community comes to the altar or wherever the Advent wreath is placed and gives the Leader a candle or other source of fire.

Leader

I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.

Leader:

“For from the light, which is the Christ, and the indestructibility, through the gift of the Spirit the four lights appeared from the divine Self-Begotten. He expected that they might attend him. And the three are Will, Thought, and Life. And the four powers are Understanding, Grace, Perception, and Prudence.

On the appropriate Sunday, the candles are lit and the following names are intoned as the candles are lit.

First Sunday

And grace belongs to the light-aeon Armozel, which is the first angel. And there are three other aeons with this aeon: Grace, Truth, and Form.

Second Sunday

And the second light is Oriel, who has been placed over the second aeon. And there are three other aeons with him: conception, perception, and memory.

Third Sunday

And the third light is Daveithai, who has been placed over the third aeon. And there are three other aeons with him: understanding, love, and idea.

Fourth Sunday

And the fourth aeon was placed over the fourth light Eleleth. And there are three other aeons with him: Perfection, Peace, and Wisdom.

After each reading, the Leader concludes with the following from the Apocryphon of John.

Leader

These are the lights which attend the divine Self-Begotten, and these are the twelve aeons which attend the son of the mighty one, the Self-Begotten, the Christ, through the will and the gift of the invisible Spirit. And the twelve aeons belong to the son of the Self-Begotten. And all things were established by the will of the Holy Spirit through the Self-Begotten Christ.”

Phos Hilaron (said together)

O gracious Light, pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven, O Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.

Scripture Reading

After the reading

Reader: The Word of the Lord

All: Thanks be to God

The Peace

Leader: The peace of the Lord be with you

All: And also with you

All may exchange the peace

Leader: The Lord be with you

All: And also with you

Leader:  Let us pray

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer of Witness

Leader

O Lord our God, let us never be removed from the Gnosis which is our innermost nature. Fill us with strength and with the grace which you have bestowed upon us to that we may carry the light to those in ignorance, to our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. Therefore I believe and I bear witness. I go to Life and to light.

All                   Amen.

Final Blessing

Leader:          The Lord bless us and keep us.

All                   Amen.

Leader           The Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us.

All                      Amen.

Leader            The Lord lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace. ALL                     Amen.

Leader:           Let us bless the Lord.

People:            Thanks be to God.

Put out the candle or candles

Here are suggested readings for the weeks of Advent. Alternately, one could use the vesper readings from June Singer’s A Gnostic Book of Hours.

First Week

Sunday Matthew 25:1-13

Monday Isaiah 1:16-18

Tuesday Isaiah 60:1-3

Wednesday Psalm 43: 3-5

Thursday Isaiah 58:6-9

Friday 1 John 2:8-11

Saturday 1 John 3:1-2

 

Second Week

Sunday Isaiah 40:1-5

Monday Revelation 1:7-8

Tuesday Matthew 22:41-45

Wednesday Hosea 11:3-4

Thursday Psalm 130

Friday Micah 6:6-8

Saturday Jeremiah 14:8-9

 

Third Week

Sunday Isaiah 9:6-7

Monday Isaiah 7:10-14

Tuesday Isaiah 11:1-6

Wednesday Isaiah 40:10-11

Thursday Isaiah 52:7

Friday Jeremiah 33:14-16

Saturday Malachi 3:1-2

 

Fourth Week

Sunday John 3:16-21

Monday Luke 1:1-25

Tuesday Luke 1:26-38

Wednesday Luke 1:39-56

Thursday Luke 1:57-66

Friday Luke 1:67-80

Dec. 24 Matthew 1:18-25


Lenten Journey

For many of us who grew up in mainline Christian churches, perhaps the most familiar association with the Lenten season is the aspect of “giving up” something for the symbolic forty days leading from Ash Wednesday to the feast of Pascha, or Easter, as a symbolic spiritual discipline or asceticism. In and of itself there is nothing intrinsically wrong with giving up something for Lent, especially if it is something that is normally a hindrance to one’s usual spiritual practice but, from a pneumatic perspective, it misses the point entirely.

As Father Samuel Osborne+ of Ecclesia Gnostica noted in his Ash Wednesday homily, “Chocolate must be a particularly grave hindrance to spirituality if so many people try to give it up year after year.” Having observed this phenomenon myself for many years, I’m frequently in awe at all the things people are willing to give up for Lent under the impression that it will assist them in their journey closer to God all the while forgetting to pray, read scripture, and perform small acts of charity when possible. The journey we undertake during the Lenten season must be one of intentional imitatio Christi – an imitation of Christ.

During Lent, we seek to foster the Sacred Flame within us that was sparked during Adventide and fan it into a “holy and formless Fire shining flashingly through the depths of the Universe[1]” in time for Pentecost. In order to make that fire shine accordingly, we take Lent as an opportunity to arrange our interior life optimally in order to receive that Holy Spirit in much the same way as having appropriate kindling wood, coals, and protection from external elements is essential toward building a fire when in the wilderness.

Everything about Lent is a deserted wilderness, the wilderness in which John the Forerunner recalls the words of Isaiah, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD[2]”; and which Jesus went into for forty days before beginning his public, earthly ministry. In a similar fashion, we must journey into the spiritual wilderness and rely entirely on the Christ within, the Sacred Flame, to preserve us from the hostilities of our more base concerns and darker cognitions that assail us on a regular basis in the forms of addictions, negative self-talk, depression, mental distractions, and everything else that prevent us from being in constant, conscious communion with God.

More esoterically, we can view Lent as a kind of philosophical month – much like that discussed in alchemical treatises – the period of time it takes to refine raw matter into its fullest potentiality. Appropriately, we begin with Ash Wednesday as calcinatio; the First Sunday of Lent as dissolutio; the Second Sunday as separatio, during which we recognize the Christ without and the Christ within and our perpetual yearning toward God; the Third Sunday as conjunctio, when we understand the inseparability between our perceptions of separateness from God; the Fourth Sunday as fermentationem; Palm Sunday as distillatio, during which our experience comes to “a head”; and, finally, Pascha as coagulation – complete identification with the Christ.

Regardless of how one would like to interpret the Lenten journey, the primary importance is that some change – no matter how small – take place and help us grow in our experience (γνῶσις) of the Sacred Flame. Although Lent is the liturgical recognition of this process, it is something that can be taken up at any point of the year or at any point in one’s life. The process of transformation is as unique to each person as their relationship is to Christ and there is no litmus test of success or failure. As the Lenten season continues, it is my simple prayer that we all change and grow in our connection to the Sacred Flame.


[1] Psell., 14; Pletho, 25. Z

[2] John 1:23


On the Feast of Saint Valentinus

While many Christians take the fourteenth of February to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine – or one of the saint Valentines – many contemporary Gnostics have taken this day to memorialize the great Gnostic teacher and bishop Valentinus who the best known as the most successful early Christian gnostic theologian.

Recognized as a brilliant theologian even by his contemporaries who would later repudiate his teachings as unorthodox, Valentinus attracted a large following in Rome which would later become divided into an Eastern and a Western or Italian branch.

In honor of this great teacher, here are a selection of writings from the school of this great teacher, theologian and bearer of the Sacred Flame.

“Many of the things written in publicly available books are found in the writings of God’s church. For this shared matter is the utterances that come from the heart, the law that is written in the heart. This is the people of the beloved , which is beloved and which loves him. “ – Fragment 6.

“For each one loves truth because truth is the mouth of the Father. His tongue is the Holy Spirit, who joins him to truth attaching him to the mouth of the Father by his tongue at the time he shall receive the Holy Spirit.” – The Gospel of Truth

“For this reason, God came and destroyed the division and he brought the hot Pleroma of love, so that the cold may not return, but the unity of the Perfect Thought prevail” – The Gospel of Truth

“Moreover, the first baptism is the forgiveness of sins. We are brought from those of the right, that is, into the imperishability which is the Jordan. But that place is of the world. So we have been sent out of the world into the Aeon. For the interpretation of John is the Aeon, while the interpretation of that which is the upward progression, that is, our Exodus from the world into the Aeon.” – On the Baptism A.

“It is from water and fire that the soul and the spirit came into being. It is from water and fire and light that the son of the bridal chamber came into being. The fire is the chrism, the light is the fire. I am not referring to that fire which has no form, but to the other fire whose form is white, which is bright and beautiful, and which gives beauty.” – The Gospel of Philip

Wherefore on this day, may we be reminded of the great and holy Valentinus and as successors and heirs give him due honor and praise.

O glorious teacher and protector, Holy Valentinus,
we who are but babes rushing forth from the womb
ask thee to hear our requests,
attend to our prayers,
make clear the path of righteousness,
reveal by your intercession the Truth we seek,
and obtain for us the blessing of the Unknown Father,
that we may be found worthy to join you in the Limitless Light,
: through the merits of the Christos and of our Holy Mother Sophia. Amen.

-unattributed prayer


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, Part II: Engaging the Body

In an essay I recently wrote outlining the five types of prayer, I also shared an example of my personal practice using the Pater Noster as a form of contemplative prayer in the vein blending elements of lectio divina and hesychasm of the Eastern traditions. The practice of prayer is much more than the simple recitation of words and should aim to raise one’s conscious connection with one’s concept of the divine – whether that means God as conceived as in most forms of theistic belief systems or connection to one’s inner conception of God or transpersonal consciousness.

This conscious connection doesn’t simply mean a connection of consciousness which will inevitably happen, but also relies upon the support of one’s five natural senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Engaging these five senses fits in well with the sacramental pentad described previously in that, consciously engaged, the singular or multiple engagements of the senses helps to ground the spiritual experience of the into a very physical eucharist or “sacramental presence” which, to varying degrees, can be said to represent the aims of hesychastic practice in the Orthodox tradition, but can also be found in nearly all mystical systems under different names.

There is an oft-cited truism that I’ve seen on more than a few bumper-stickers that states something to the effect, “we are spiritual beings having a physical experience” which has a very strong appeal to me as a Gnostic who believes that each and every individual contains within him or herself a spark of that divine fire that created the kosmos and to which we are striving to return. Part of our experience, however, is to engage the body that is our temporary residence in this incarnation and to make it into a tool that can be used to direct our consciousness back to that henadic point. In India and much of the South Asian subcontinent, this developed into the very complex science of yoga in its different forms, but elements can also be found in the West, an example of which being the Nine Ways of Prayer of  Saint Dominic de Guzeman.

The Nine Ways of Prayer outlines a series of postures associated with prayer in the context of Christian devotion and was written by an anonymous Bolognese author, sometime between A.D. 1260 and A.D. 1288, whose source of information was, among other followers of St. Dominic, Sister Cecilia of Bologna’s Monastery of St. Agnes. Sister Cecilia had been given the habit by St. Dominic himself. In the Christian liturgical tradition, there are no shortage of various gestures used to supplement one’s prayer practice such as making the signum crucis (Sign of the Cross), folding of one’s hands, genuflection, among others. The Nine Ways of Prayer describes nine different postures along with scriptural references to help focus one’s mind on God. Below is a great summary as gleaned from the traditionalist Catholic website, Fish Eaters:

First Way of Prayer

Saint Dominic’s first way of prayer was to humble himself before the altar as if Christ, signified by the altar, were truly and personally present and not in symbol alone. He would say with Judith: “O Lord, God, the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee [Judith 9:16]. “It was through humility that the Canaanite woman and the prodigal son obtained what they desired; as for me, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” [Matthew 8:8] for “I have been humbled before you exceedingly, O Lord [Psalm 118:107].”

In this way our holy father, standing erect, bowed his head and humbly considering Christ, his Head, compared his lowliness with the excellence of Christ. He then gave himself completely in showing his veneration. The brethren were taught to do this whenever they passed before the humiliation of the Crucified One in order that Christ, so greatly humbled for us, might see us humbled before his majesty. And he commanded the friars to humble themselves in this way before the entire Trinity whenever they chanted solemnly: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” In this manner of profoundly inclining his head, as shown in the drawing, Saint Dominic began his prayer.

Second Way of Prayer

Saint Dominic used to pray by throwing himself outstretched upon the ground, lying on his face. He would feel great remorse in his heart and call to mind those words of the Gospel, saying sometimes in a voice loud enough to be heard: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” [Luke 18:13] With devotion and reverence he repeated that verse of David: “I am he that has sinned, I have done wickedly.” [II Kings 24:17]. Then he would weep and groan vehemently and say: “I am not worthy to see the heights of heaven because of the greatness of my iniquity, for I have aroused thy anger and done what is evil in thy sight.” From the psalm: “Deus auribus nostris audivimus” he said fervently and devoutly: “For our soul is cast down to the dust, our belly is flat on the earth!” [Psalm 43:25]. To this he would add: “My soul is prostrate in the dust; quicken Thou me according to Thy word” [Psalm 118:25].

Wishing to teach the brethren to pray reverently, he would sometimes say to them: When those devout Magi entered the dwelling they found the child with Mary, his mother, and falling down they worshipped him. There is no doubt that we too have found the God-Man with Mary, his handmaid. “Come, let us adore and fall down in prostration before God, and let us weep before God, and let us weep before the Lord that made us” [Psalm 94:61]. He would also exhort the young men, and say to them: If you cannot weep for your own sins because you have none, remember that there are many sinners who can be disposed for mercy and charity. It was for these that the prophets lamented; and when Jesus saw them, he wept bitterly. The holy David also wept as he said: “I beheld the transgressors and began to grieve” [Psalm 118:158].

Third Way of Prayer

At the end of the prayer which has just been described, Saint Dominic would rise from the ground and give himself the discipline with an iron chain, saying, “Thy discipline has corrected me unto the end” [Psalm 17:36]. This is why the Order decreed, in memory of his example, that all the brethren should receive the discipline with wooden switches upon their shoulders as they were bowing down in worship and reciting the psalm “Miserere”  [Psalm 50] or “De Profundis” [Psalm 129] after Compline on ferial days. This is performed for their own faults or for those of others whose alms they receive and rely upon. No matter how sinless he may be, no one is to desist from this holy example which is shown in the drawing.

Fourth Way of Prayer

After this, Saint Dominic would remain before the altar or in the chapter room with his gaze fixed on the Crucified One, looking upon Him with perfect attention. He genuflected frequently, again and again. He would continue sometimes from after Compline until midnight, now rising, now kneeling again, like the apostle Saint James, or the leper of the gospel who said on bended knee: “Lord, if Thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” [Matthew. 8:2]. He was like Saint Stephen who knelt and called out with a loud cry: “Lord, do not lay this sin against them” [Acts 7:60]. Thus there was formed in our holy father, Saint Dominic, a great confidence in God’s mercy towards himself, all sinners, and for the perseverance of the younger brethren whom he sent forth to preach to souls. Sometimes he could not even restrain his voice, and the friars would hear him murmuring: “Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me: lest if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit” [Psalm 27:1] and comparable phrases from the Sacred Scripture.

At other times, however, he spoke within himself and his voice could not be heard. He would remain in genuflection for a long while, rapt in spirit; on occasion, while in this position, it appeared from his face that his mind had penetrated heaven and soon he reflected an intense joy as he wiped away the flowing tears. He was in a stage of longing and anticipation like a thirsty man who has reached a spring, and like a traveler who is at last approaching his homeland. Then he would become more absorbed and ardent as he moved in an agile manner but with great grace, now arising, now genuflecting. He was so accustomed to bend his knees to God in this way that when he traveled, in the inns after a weary journey, or along the wayside while his companions rested or slept, he would return to these genuflections, his own intimate and personal form of worship. This way of prayer he taught his brethren more by example than by words.

Fifth Way of Prayer

When he was in the convent, our holy father Dominic would sometimes remain before the altar, standing erect without supporting himself or leaning upon anything. Often his hands would be extended before his breast in the manner of an open book; he would stand with great reverence and devotion as if reading in the very presence of God. Deep in prayer, he appeared to be meditating upon the words of God, and he seemed to repeat them to himself in a sweet voice. He regularly prayed in this way for it was Our Lord’s manner as Saint Luke tells us: “. . . according to his custom he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to read” [Luke 4:16]. The psalmist also tells us that “Phinees stood up and prayed, and the slaughter ceased” [Psalm 105:30].

He would sometimes join his hands, clasping them firmly together before eyes filled with tears and restrain himself. At other times he would raise his hands to his shoulders as the priest does at Mass. He appeared then to be listening carefully as if to hear something spoken from the altar. If one had seen his great devotion as he stood erect and prayed, he would certainly have thought that he was observing a prophet, first speaking with an angel or with God himself, then listening, then silently thinking of those things which had been revealed to him.

On a journey he would secretly steal away at the time for prayer and, standing, would immediately raise his mind to heaven. One would then have heard him speaking sweetly and with supreme delight some loving words from his heart and from the riches of Holy Scripture which he seemed to draw from the fountains of the Savior. The friars were very much moved by the sight of their father and master praying in this manner. Thus, having become more fervent, they were instructed in the way of reverent and constant prayer: “Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters, as the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress . . .” [Psalm 122:2].

Sixth Way of Prayer

Our holy father, Saint Dominic, was also seen to pray standing erect with his hands and arms outstretched forcefully in the form of a cross. He prayed in this way when God, through his supplications, raised to life the boy Napoleon in the sacristy of the Church of Saint Sixtus in Rome, and when he was raised from the ground at the celebration of Mass, as the good and holy Sister Cecilia, who was present with many other people and saw him, narrates. He was like Elias who stretched himself out and lay upon the widow’s son when he raised him to life…

This example of our father’s prayer would help devout souls to appreciate more easily his great zeal and wisdom in praying thus. This is true whether, in doing so, he wished to move God in some wonderful manner through his prayer or whether he felt through some interior inspiration that God was to move him to seek some singular grace for himself or his neighbor. He then shone with the spiritual insight of David, the ardor of Elias, the charity of Christ, and with a profound devotion, as the drawing serves to indicate.

Seventh Way of Prayer

While praying, he was often seen to reach towards heaven like an arrow which has been shot from a taut bow straight upwards into the sky. He would stand with hands outstretched above his head and joined together, or at times slightly separated as if about to receive something from heaven. One would believe that he was receiving an increase of grace and in this rapture of spirit was asking God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Order he had founded…

Through his words and holy example he constantly taught the friars to pray in this way, often repeating those phrases from the psalms: “Behold, now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord … in the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless ye the Lord” [Psalm 133:1-3], “I have cried to Thee, O Lord, hear me; hearken to my voice when I cry to Thee. Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” [Psalm 140:1-2]. The drawing shows us this mode of prayer so that we may better understand it.

Eighth Way of Prayer

Our Father, Saint Dominic, had yet another manner of praying at once beautiful, devout, and pleasing, which he practiced after the canonical hours and the thanksgiving following meals. He was then zealous and filled with the spirit of devotion which he drew from the divine words which had been sung in the choir or refectory. Our father quickly withdrew to some solitary place, to his cell or elsewhere, and recollected himself in the presence of God. He would sit quietly, and after the sign of the cross, begin to read from a book opened before him. His spirit would then be sweetly aroused as if he heard Our Lord speaking, as we are told in the psalms: “I will hear what the Lord God will speak to me. [Psalm 84:9]. As if disputing with a companion he would first appear somewhat impatient in his thought and words. At the next moment he would become a quiet listener, then again seem to discuss and contend. He seemed almost to laugh and weep at the same time, and then, attentively and submissively, would murmur to himself and strike his breast…

When he read alone in this solitary fashion, Dominic used to venerate the book, bow to it, and kiss it. This was especially true if he was reading the Gospels and when he had been reading the very words which had come from the mouth of Christ. At other times he would hide his face and cover it with his cappa, or bury his face in his hands and veil it slightly with the capuce. Then he would weep, all fervent and filled with holy desires. Following this, as if to render thanks to some person of great excellence for benefits received, he would reverently rise and incline his head for a short time. Wholly refreshed and, in great interior peace, he then returned to his book.

Ninth Way of Prayer

Our Father, Saint Dominic, observed this mode of prayer while traveling from one country to another, especially when he passed through some deserted region. He then delighted in giving himself completely to meditation, disposing for contemplation, and he would say to his companion on the journey: It is written in Osee “I will lead her (my spouse) into the wilderness and I will speak to her ear” [Osee 2:14]. Parting from his companion, he would go on ahead or, more frequently, follow at some distance. Thus withdrawn, he would walk and pray; in his meditation he was inflamed and the fire of charity was enkindled. While he prayed it appeared as if he were brushing dust or bothersome flies from his face when he repeatedly fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross.

The brethren thought that it was while praying in this way that the saint obtained his extensive penetration of Sacred Scripture and profound understanding of the divine words, the power to preach so fervently and courageously, and that intimate acquaintance with the Holy Spirit by which he came to know the hidden things of God.

Many of the elements of prayer mentioned in The Nine Ways of Prayer should be familiar to one degree or another by anyone who has attended liturgy at any Roman Catholic Church. Genuflection, prostration, penitential “thumping of the breast”, standing dieu garde, holding the hands open, standing cruciform, kneeling in adoration, sitting in a position of reflection, and circumambulation are all well-attested postures used in Catholic liturgy and other Christian liturgical traditions and can be powerful physical aids to establishing a conscious connection during prayer. If one of course has some physical disability, it might not be possible to engage in all of them, but the frame of mind can be adopted and the gestures can be adjusted to the comfort and physical needs of those who should need to do so.

In my personal practice, which is deeply influenced by the Hesychastic practices of Eastern Christian contemplative traditions, the two most common postures I adopt during prayer are those of standing, kneeling and sitting with my knees pulled up to my breast with my head lightly resting between my knees. I have personally found these postures and gestures to be sufficient to putting myself in a contemplative mind-set whereby I can focus on my connection with the primordial nous, or God. Hesychastic practice has a varied history and set of rules, but the overall aim is to align the body, mind and heart in single-pointed concentration on God (very similar, in some respects, to the goals of establishing dhyana in yoga). These basic, inward focusing, postures has led some to refer to hesychasts as “navel-gazers” which, despite being more than slighty pejorative in intent, is actually pretty accurate.

In traditional Hesychastic practice, the singular prayer most often used is the famous Prayer of the Heart, commonly known as the Jesus Prayer: “Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν.” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.); or, simply, “Jesus. Mercy.” Other variations of this exist and can also include the Trisagion: “Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς” (Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.), or, as an option for Gnostics and esoteric Christians, the Adoration of the Lord of the Universe: “Holy art Thou, Lord of the Universe. Holy art Thou, whom nature hath not formed. Holy art Thou, vast and mighty. Lord of the light and the darkness.” While some may assert that these prayers are to be recited in a manner consistent with japa or mantrayoga, I cannot over-emphasize that while there are superficial similarities, this is not the case. Instead, one should focus on using stilling the body and experiencing God “heart to heart”.

Amongst some Sufi sects as well as in other ecstatic paths (Voudon and Santeria being great examples) another way of physically engaging in prayer can be through ecstatic dance. Although I am not personally one for dancing at the clubs that I go to, when I am attending sevis at a fête, I can barely resist letting the music of the drums move my feet as I dance with others in honor of the various saints, lwa and spirits present. While some may express some shock at the context, sacred dance even has its role in the expression of the earliest Christian communities which appear at surface level to appear no different in ecstatic expression than many contemporary Pentecostal services. Paul himself, in response to one community “getting a little out of hand”, was forced to write about it in Corinthians. Interestingly enough, there is scriptural evidence in the Gnostic Gospels which indicate that liturgical dance was practiced by more than one community in the 1st and 2nd centuries:

“Glory to Thee, Father! (And we going round in a ring answered to Him:) ‘Amen!’ Glory to Thee, Word! ‘Amen!’ Glory to Thee, Grace! ‘Amen!’ Glory to Thee, Spirit! Glory to Thee, Holy One! Glory to Thy Glory! ‘Amen!’ We praise Thee, O Father; We give Thanks to Thee, O light; In Whom Darkness dwells not! ‘Amen!’(For what we give thanks to the Logos). I would be saved; and I would save. ‘Amen!’ I would be loosed; and I would loose. ‘Amen!’ I would be wounded; and I would wound. ‘Amen!’ I would be begotten; and I would beget. ‘Amen!’ I would eat; and I would be eaten. ‘Amen!’ I would hear; and I would be heard. ‘Amen!’ I would be washed; and I would wash. ‘Amen!’(Grace leadeth the dance.) ..dance ye all.” – The Hymn of Jesus

While we may never know what form the dance actually took, if it was performed at all, contextually we can probably assume that it took a similar form as what it practiced in contemporary Jewish festivals as a roundel, or perhaps something very similar to what neo-Pagans would recognize as their so-called “spiral dance”. Regardless of the form that it took, it is a great example of engaging the physical being in prayer. For many dance as an act of prayer may seem like a revolutionary concept in spiritual engagement, but in the words of “saint” Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution.”

Naturally, there are many directions one could go in exploring different ways to engage the body in prayer. It is my hope that by providing some examples one may be moved to find a way that works for themselves as a spring-board toward enriching their prayer life. Not every method will be as appealing for some as for others, but the important thing is to find something that works to help oneself meaningfully engage and become physically connected to their experience of the divine as they know it.

Icon of Jesus as "Lord of the Dance"


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