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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Apprenticed to Magic

At the end of the 20th century the system of magical training started to break down.  There once was a time that you would be taught by one person who would show you their magical system, which was often worked out over years by experience.  To some measure that changed with the adoption of the Order system.  You would join a group like the Order of the Golden Dawn and that would train you.  What really happened was nothing of the sort.   An order, like the Golden Dawn, would perform some of the magical work on the students sphere of sensation, but actual training was carried out by adepts who knew what they were doing.
But sir, you might know the secrets of the universe,
but you failed to point your Hebrew correctly
 In Whare Ra for example a candidate would be initiated and after a period of assessment they were taken under the wing of an adept who would train them.  Often this was using the Golden Dawn system, but sometimes it was not.  Some of these adepts saw the Golden Dawn as the starting point and would take their students through the same disciplines they had learnt.  In other words the training of a student was an apprenticeship under an adept, the Order provided a backdrop for them to meet and trained them in a common symbolic language.  The thing that was being watched for was not how clever the person was, but what sort of questions they asked.
Now not only ignorance of the Golden Dawn system is common, there more students out there and too few adepts providing them with that specialist type of training. To fill the gap are books, and those who set up groups and orders.  I have moaned before how it is too easy to get into an esoteric group these days and how the competition between the different orders is silly.
But it has created a situation where people think that, for argument’s sake, the Golden Dawn provides the person with training.  All a candidate has to do is complete a system of exams, go through a certain number of rituals and they will be finished.  
The Invisible College needs to go mobile
But the same thing applies to correspondence courses.  The Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea has a correspondence course and one of the strangest questions I get is “how long does it last for?”  In other words when does it finish and you get the certificate that you have been trained.  Many are surprised when I say that I have written 17 lessons and so far can’t see how it is going to end.  My point is that the training does not stop; there is an infinite things to learn and only one short lifetime.
In my generation, magical training changed.  Orders became less formal and the central training method became that of the workshop.    It has to be said that these were a special sort of workshop.  The trainer was an experienced magician, who never read from a script and would include a large amount of practical work.  This work was pioneered by Marian Green whose workshops gave students their first crack at what would pass for experience. 
Workshops also provided a small income for the teachers too, although some kept workshop costs down by selling their books at them.   
In many ways this approach was killed off by those who would charge a fortune for sub-par workshops.  Also the cost of getting some teachers into some parts of the globe meant that prices either became too high, or workshop organisers (or the teachers themselves) were exploited.
But Sir, I have read that it is OK to
have a ritual between Set and the Flower Fairies
The increasing prices also made students wary.  There was a feeling that spirituality should be given as a service, ignoring the fact that the high costs in terms of time of providing teaching was prohibitive.  No doubt there were some, with very little to say, who were milking the system.
Now we have a situation which is developing where people are not getting properly trained.  Many teachers out there are presenting “one size fits all” training packages for students that cover the usual rubbish – make a few elemental tools, ask the student to do the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram (sic) and the middle pillar until they are blue in the face.     At the other end of the scale you get kids playing with Solomonic or Goetic magic, often mixed with systems that do not go together.   They also get incredibly childish when you point out things like “this system does not go with that one.” 
The assumption is now that any idiot can be a magician if they apply to the right Order and the right workshop.  There is little respect for any teachers and students feel free to play out their parental projections upon them without consequence.   You have untrained people telling trained people that they are “wrong” and argue about how many angels are on the head of a pin while not actually doing any practical work.
I used to think that the relaxing of systems at the end of the 20th century and the access to more information thanks to the Internet was a good thing.    I liked the ideas of the autocratic orders which were the bane of my existence had faded.  Now I am not so certain.   In trying to be all things to all people, which is the role of a modern esoteric teacher, I have let students get away with murder.  By not putting my foot down and insisting that something needed to be done in a particular way, there are very few students who have developed in a way that is useful.   I am not saying that it is necessary to be an autocratic arsehole (although it is fair to say that I learnt more under such types) but neither is it possible for a student to learn magic if they are too closed, and trying to run things according to their own egos. 
One think I have noticed is that the Golden Dawn ritual, if performed correctly, does a Stirling job of kicking modern students out of its system.   As the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea came closer to its “contacts” the energy has become less patent with those who are not going to make it.  As a result the period after a 0=0 has been a rough time for MOAA members as the 42 assessors grab students by their pentagram necklaces and give them a good kicking until they sort their lives out.  If they survive, then other experiences are delivered.
But as far as training is concerned, I am thinking that it is better to go back to the old ways, of master and student.  I am beginning to think that new technology can be used for teachers to contact students and create the sort of master apprentice structure which has been lost.  This is the first century were a teacher can be in contact with a student every day or so and, if done correctly, could result in better trained students worldwide.
Time will tell if the Apprenticeship system ends up
being yet another Mickey Mouse training system
This would involve the teacher being connected to the student every one or two days.  Techniques would be given and the teacher and student would interact on the results.  Books would be suggested (after all there is no need to re-invent the wheel) but mostly training would be tailored for each student as much as possible. However the student would not be god.  They would really have to work.  In two days, the teacher will be asking how they are getting on and reviewing work and suggesting new patterns from it.  The teacher could throw out the student who does not work (some would go quite quickly).  Technology could be used to arrange online workshops on specialist subject etc.
The other side of this is that money will have to change hands.  This sort of training would not be for occult tourists and one thing that discourages that sort of behaviour from the student is the fact that they have invested money in it.  It means that the student has to think hard about signing up for it.  It also means that practically the teacher has a good reason for showing up.  Because of the time it takes to train people, there would be a limited number of people who could be trained at a time.  Some training could be skipped by those who know the basics.
I am keen to look at this because it solves some of the frustrations that I have had with training people over the years.  If I go ahead with it, then I will be vetting the students who take part in it very carefully as I would not want to waste their time or mine.  It would not be connected to MOAA, but no doubt would be linked to it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Temple of the Cosmos

I have been reading Templeof the Cosmos by Jeremy Naydler and he hits some rather important points which some neo-pagans might not like much.
The book looks at what the Ancient Egyptian worldview would have actually been and how this could have led to many of religious ideas.  What Naydler accidently does is put a spanner in the works of would be neo-pagans who wished to create a modern form of Egyptian worship with their worldview.
If Temple of the Cosmos is to be believed to get a real Egyptian religion you would have to short circuit many of the modes of thinking of modern life.  Naydler believes that the world that the Ancient Egyptians had was one where their myth, time and material universe were intertwined.  All actions around you were your interaction with the divine myth.
For example when the Ancient Egyptians built a statue to the gods they were not worshiping an idol that they had made.  Their mind-set was such that the statue really was the God or Goddess.     When they looked up at the sky they saw the eye of Horus looking down on them. Nature mimicked the myth of transmutation and initiation.
This is great stuff.  Sometimes the book gets a bit lost in academic verbiage and its point gets missed because Naydler has fallen into saying something that actually sounds more complex than it actually is.   Practically we see that there are huge problems for people who want to adopt a way of life or magic which mimics the Ancient Egyptian mind-set.  It cannot just be that you like cats and wear tons of Egyptian-style jewellery.  You have to be able to apply Egyptian myth to every aspect of your life and not just that which is fluffy.  It is one thing to look into the night’s sky and see Nut stretched over you, it is quite another to see your boss as Set.
Naydler also makes it clear that much of the real spirituality behind the Ancient Egyptian mind-set was down to the actual movements of nature.  The colours of Osiris, for example, become more meaningful when you know the colours of the Nile when it floods.
Where is your Pharaoh now? 
The Ancient Egyptians regarded their Kings as important parts of their religion.  How can you equate your modern politicians with an incarnate God?  It would be difficult to fit David Cameron or Silvio Berlusconi into any scenario where they would be worthwhile let alone divine.
The problem that modern people have is that they have become disconnected from all forms of myth or any gods.  In the West, we can blame science for this, but we can also see that the Ancient Greeks had a role in rationalising away much of this mind-set.  The Ancient Greeks at the time of Homer certainly still had it.  The odyssey is packed full of myth woven into “fact”.
There are some important points to note for magicians too.  In magic there are a lot of references to the Secret Tradition.  What if this tradition was never really secret at all, but a mind-set which was forgotten. 
Reading through this book you can see that magical technology reflects some of these ideas.  The idea that a priest was not just wearing the mask of a God, but really was that God, is something that many Golden Dawn magicians need to understand.  It might be that we can only duplicate the Ancient Egyptian mind-set within our ritual space, but it is there that we should be doing it.
We should be striving to make sure that whatever we are doing in our ritual space is real, we should not just believe it to be true, but know that myth has overcome any form of “reality” as we know it.  This is closer to the Ancient Egyptian way and could be one of the forgotten secrets.
Anyway I recommend this book for those who, like me, like to root their magic in Ancient Traditions. But it is also useful for those who want to understand the core of magical methods.  Those who think that they have past lives with their cats in Ancient Egypt and put their religion as Ancient Egyptian on the census form might be a little disappointed.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Roman Salt

I have been doing some research into the Roman Goddess Vesta and I found something that might be interesting for those who follow the Western Mystery Tradition. 
Salt usually makes an appearance in magical ritual in connection to the North and it is often linked to the idea of purification of the material nature.
Although this was a traditional
image of Vesta she was more often j
just seen as being fire.
New agers like to write off Vesta as the goddess of the hearth and concentrate on her cooking skills.  This makes her into a paragon of housewives.   But she was a lot more than that. She was a fire goddess and as such was the sacred element that held Rome together.  She was one of the first  Roman Goddesses and when her sanctuary closed Rome fell to bits and was replaced by the more Christianised Byzantine Empire.

Vesta had salt in her rituals, but it was not the same sort of salt we put on the table.  It was called Mola salsa.  This salt was used in most different Roman religions.  It was made by taking Farro wheat and toasting it.  Mixing it with salt and then grinding it to a fine flour.

The making of the salt had to be done with reverence and once something was marked with the flour/salt it would be fit for sacrifice.  Apparently the vestal virgins would make a big batch of it in June.

Making it was an interesting process in itself.  The wheat takes a lot of heat before it turns brown.  It is a process much like Vesta herself.  You can see the fire entering into the Wheat (thanks to the modern grill pan).  She purifies the wheat before it is added into the salt.   

I made a small amount.  Half a cup of wheat to two tablespoons of salt.  The Salt had been pre-consecrated in another ritual and the whole lot was made in a coffee grinder.  The result is a brown salty flour with a smell which is a bit like baking.

As far as we are concerned, the use of this sort of salt merges the bread and salt of the 0=0.  If we were to use it instead (eating it) we would be fusing fire and earth and setting our old selves aside for sacrifice (which is an important part of the 0=0 communion).   Now I am not suggesting replacing the traditional bread balls and salt within the Golden Dawn rite, but all this might give you a clue where the tradition came from.