Monday, December 30, 2013

Time and Space, or Rather, Place

In our previous posts we discussed the importance of the teacher, teachings, and community of practitioners and what binds them together—trust. Some have asked me if I was referring to faith, but I am not. Faith is a word that has distinct spiritual connotations to it, as St. Paul writes, “Faith is belief in things unseen,” and here he is referring specifically to spiritual powers and potentialities.  No, by trust I mean very real, down and dirty, human trust—as in, do I need to lock my door with this person?  Do they have my best interests at heart?  Will they carry their share of the load?  Now, there are some very real connections between the terms “faith” and “trust,” and even the word “confidence.” In the beginning we have faith; as we acquire experience, we build confidence.  The same holds with trust. We start out taking someone's word for it, and then, as we have more experience, we begin to understand the difference between talk and action.  It is this difference, the breadth and depth of the gap between talk and action,  that determines our level of trust in a person, group, or organization.  Big gap, little trust; small gap, lots of trust, for when things fall through the cracks, so to speak, we do not want to be one of them.

Trust is one of those rare qualities that is very difficult to obtain, and very easy to destroy; not so oddly, we live in a time and place wherein trust is the very thing that the demonic forces of counter-initiation—oops, I mean The Powers That Be or TPTB—seek to destroy.  Now I say this half-jokingly but also very seriously, as I have pointed out numerous times how media headlines, the very anti-social “social networking sites” (of which Facebook is the prime example), and a host of media messages both mainstream and alternative, in particular, engage in the active destruction of our trust in God, man, and beast.

This fracturing of human relations is tenuous in good times and wholly destructive in bad, as one need only look at history to see that civil wars are among the most brutal, be it the more recent events in Africa, the Balkans, or the 'border states' between the Union and Confederacy during the US Civil War of 1861-1865. 

To engage in any meaningful activity requires that family, friends, neighbors, and strangers be able to trust one another in their most basic of day-to-day activities.  

Trust, however, is the most wanting of virtues in modern spirituality, and in Neo-Paganism, magickal groups, and so-called initiatic circles.  It is absent elsewhere, but these are the ones I am most familiar with, and the measure of trust is simple:  the size, scope, and duration of their organized activities. In fact, this is a simple measure you can use for any movement.  Ask the question, “How committed are they to the cause?”  Simple:  by their fruits ye shall know them.  

If the group has a meaningful size, large enough scope of activities to involve everyone in a 'fruit bearing' project, and has the ability to maintain itself over time, then it has demonstrated trust between its members. It has also demonstrated sustainability.

It's All About The Numbers

Anyone who has ever run anything larger than a lemonade stand knows that size counts.  To get things done requires a mix of people and talents appropriate to the task.  The more people you have, the greater possibility of more talent that can be brought to the table.  People also bring with them physical resources—both cash and material—that can be brought to support the completion of the project. The question often is, what is the ideal size for a group?  That all depends on your stated mission. Why are you together, and what is it that you want to accomplish?  Once these two questions are answered, the “right number of members” is more easily identified.  However, keep in mind that geography and its attendant demographics plays a large part in available numbers.  It may be harder to get twelve people together in the middle of Nevada than in New York City. 

From personal experience, I have found that groups of four people or less need to put serious time into increasing their numbers to at least seven.  This seems to be a magic number where things can start to move.  If possible, getting to a dozen-to-fourteen members should also happen as quickly as possible, as it is at this point when larger projects can be undertaken, regular events scheduled, and responsibilities can be rotated so as not to burn out the members by having too few people carry too much of the responsibility. So it must be clear, as we are talking numbers here, it is quality that matters. Membership is voluntary, so each prospective member must know clearly what is expected from them as part of their membership—this includes financial obligations, attendance at meetings, educational commitments, and possible ritualistic and leadership functions.   

Once a group grows beyond a dozen members it is important to have written by-laws in place. These allow everyone to know in writing what each person's commitments, relationships, and responsibilities towards one another are and the consequences for any infractions.  This is critical and cannot be left until the group is too large, or the risk of its imploding under even a minor crisis dramatically increases.  Like a good ritual, the rules and regulations for the organization should be written out for everyone to study and understand.  

Any esoteric organization fortunate enough to grow to between 25 and 50 members is exceptional.  This is usually the critical growth stage for the group as it is too large to meet in any one member's home, and too small to purchase its own property, so renting will often be required. Think ahead for when this time comes. You should want your group to have to face this problem, as how you solve it will point in the direction of your future growth or stagnation.

On the top end it is also important to know what the largest size your organization or group should also become as well.  Here it gets more theoretical, as few organizations reach this problem;  however, it is not out of the question.  Research by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point has demonstrated that the largest a single, stand-alone entity or organization should be is 144 members.  Strangely, as the group begins to exceed this number—even by as few as three or five additional members—the group starts to fragment. In some of the older esoteric by-laws and constitutions it is stated that the largest a lodge should be is 144 members, and if it exceeds this it should splinter into two groups.  The reason Gladwell gives is that at 144 members everyone in the group can still be known to each other and thereby feel the weight of their responsibilities to the group as a whole.  Once that key number is breached, a tipping point is reached where individuals can shirk their duties, form cliques, and feel as though they are not really that important to the group.  It is interesting that when a small group reaches 12 or 13 members this is often the tipping point towards growth, whereas when they fall below 12 members it often signals stagnation or decline.  The notion of “twelve squared” as an ideal group size is fascinating.  To be clear, this does not mean an order, society, or church should not exceed 144 members total, only that it becomes very tricky once that number is breached in any one chapter, lodge, or affiliated body.  

On a practical level, between thirty-six and seventy-two members, as well as in excess of seventy-two, work very well at the low and high ends of the mid-range for membership.  It allows for the absorbing of new members, loss of existing ones, and transmission of group culture without serious impact on the financial, educational, and practical work of the groups, if they have planned even modestly well.  

It should come as no surprise that small Masonic, Rosicrucian, Martinist, and other initiation groups in the past and present seem to work best when they are within this mid-range for membership.  When larger lodge or chapter membership levels are reached, such as 200 or more, the group may do well financially from dues, but, surprisingly, participation levels are often very low.  Thus, we may have 150 to 200 members on the rolls, but only 15 to 20 turn out for any one meeting.  This again is part of a larger issue—not just of quantity, but also of the quality of the experience members have once they are a part of the group.  

While the mission of your spiritual group may appear, (and let me use this word again), “self-evident,” by all means it is not.  HOW the mission is to be carried out will define your groups' successes and failures, and, ultimately, sustainability.  For example, the average Masonic lodge in North America is defined as a fraternal and charitable institution, yet they spend a great deal of their time acting as a revolving door for candidates who enter and leave, never to return again.  The question is “why do they not stay active in their lodges?”  The answer: the social make-up of long-term members is often too hostile to changes that will accommodate the needs and membership ambitions of the new, younger, and often much busier members.  When new members join they often look for educational programs, instruction on the esoteric symbolism and its meaning, and an avenue to meet others of a similar mind.   When this does not happen, their professional and personal lives require that they cut their losses and look elsewhere.  Thus, a declining older membership is often all that is left, and instead of asking the younger members what they would like in order to stay active, they are criticized for even thinking that there could be anything of depth in the 'ancient rituals.'  In short, the average Masonic lodge is ill-equipped to meet the needs of the bulk of its members, engage and maintain new members, and, as such, it gets an average of five to ten percent of its total membership attending any given meeting.  The secondary effect is that this pushes more demands on the existing members, who then spend all of their time undertaking fund-raising operations in the form of breakfasts, dinners, and holiday events to simply keep the lights on—events that drive new, younger members even further away.  The cycle is a guaranteed spiral of doom, yet few lodges are willing to recognize their self-imposed trap.
A successful model would have classes and means for new members to explore these avenues of Masonry rather than banish them to the dark corner of the lodge. In short, each member must be engaged in something important to the lodge, as well as something important to themselves.  Every member must be important to the group on some level, and find fulfillment in that involvement, for them to remain committed and active.  

Now, this is where it can get tricky, as organizations, no matter how large or small, must be very careful of “mission creep.”  Mission creep is where one incrementally moves further and further away from their stated mission.  When it is looked back upon it is very easy to see how this happens, as each step on the way is very easily connected to the one before and after it, BUT, at some point, they have very little relationship to the original purpose of the group. Here is where people leave saying, “I did not sign on for this.”  

A very good, as well as common, example of mission creep can be seen in many Neo-Pagan activities.  This form of mission creep is particularly damaging for several reasons.  This is where a small group holds a local or regional event and decides to donate the proceeds to an animal shelter, environmental cause, or social service agency.  I am reminded of one local group that held several very nice events, and despite suggestions of moving the event to a site where there was easier access, they still managed to have two successful years in a row.  There was no third year.  The group's leadership fell apart. One of the main reasons was funding: they ran out of money.  Now, this is critical, because I specifically warned them against making a significant donation to a local wildlife sanctuary and, rather,  to bank that money for the next event. This advice was ignored.  Now, there are several points in this example: one, an out-of-the-way location; two, leadership that had no experience in what they were doing and ignored advice from a seasoned professional; and three, raising money for someone other than their own fledgling, start-up group.

The first two points are obvious in their contributions to the eventual collapse and failure of the movement. The third needs more examination.  Just as young men entering Freemasonry say, “I don't need to do all this just to give to charity. Why, I can just write a check, or join Rotary, Kiwanis, or the Lions, and at least there I will make some business connections that can help me professionally as well as personally, while still raising money for charity. Here I sit through boring meetings, am asked to do fundraising just to keep the lights on, and there is nothing in it for me personally.”  How can one argue with that?  It should also be noted that as the mainstream churches became more socially active in the 1960s through 2000, their memberships declined rather than grew. As each church became little more than a social service agency with a Sunday Service filled with pabulum for a sermon, the standard doctrinal political correctness for Sunday School teachings (if they even had enough children to hold classes), they all became indistinguishable from one another.  They were essentially interchangeable—they were no different from the day-to-day world around them.  They lost their mission, direction, purpose, and, with those, financial and spiritual support.

If you are a spiritual organization you need to stand apart from the world, to be a place of rest, instruction, and reprieve from the day-to-day, not just another version of it.  You need to be special, you need to be vital to the life of your members; otherwise, they will simply leave.   

This is why it is important to have a large enough group so that activities such as membership education, training, worship schedule, initiations if they are performed, along with mundane tasks of mailings, email communications, dues collection, bill paying, and banking can all be done and accounted for.  Somewhere between eighteen and two dozen members is where this must acquire a distinct and formal form—have it in place before then and you can easily grow with it.  

However, there is something more insidious about mission creep.  It is almost inherent in modern religious movements.  It is, in short, a failure to recognize and respect one's limits as an individual and as a group.  Achieving anything of importance demands that we reflect upon our strengths and weaknesses and play to our strengths. It also means that we are honest with ourselves.   People come to magical and initiatic groups to overcome their actual and perceived limitations—they seek power to become and do more.  This is natural. However, it requires that we also respect what some of those limits are and that, while we may be able to work around them, we cannot as such actually eliminate them altogether.  More will be said on this later, but for now, remember that limits are a good thing. Recognize, respect, and build on them, and you will achieve more than you would have by pretending they don't exist or are unimportant.

Any group needs rules, and these rules need to be formally known by every member, imparted to them, and written down.  Rules, By-Laws, or a formal organizational Constitution tie it all together. Roles, responsibilities, and relationships—mundane as well as spiritual—are defined clearly for everyone involved.  It is staggering how many hours will be spent organizing a ritual for a group, and then, once in, the new member gets contradictory information on roles and responsibilities.  This ultimately leads to a lack of confidence as well as conflict, even if minor, between members, and damages the group's essential activities.  If it is worth organizing a group around, it is worth having written rules and guidelines for. Do it right and keep things moving smoothly from the beginning.

Duration also has an effect on how one views the importance of their meeting space.  If regular rituals and initiations are to be performed, such as in several Masonic, Rosicrucian, Martinist, or Templar organizations, then meeting space is of prime importance.  Even if one wants to hold rituals outside, the ability to obtain large enough, and private enough, space is increasingly difficult, particularly if one lives in an urban area.  For this, relationships are going to be essential.

The most important paragraph you may read in this blog: small groups must band together to form community focal points wherein they can share common resources.  The cost of a regular lodge or meeting space is about the same as the average monthly home or apartment cost in your given area.  So, if you need to cover a monthly bill of $1,000 a month on 20 members, then your dues are $50 a month, or $600 a year.  Of course, that does not provide any cushion or allow for a decline in membership.  Clearly it would be easier to coordinate a space with another group for half that cost and allow for a cushion for future changes.  

Organizations, like people, have a crisis around the 7, 14, 21, 28 (25-30), and 50-56 year mark. The influence of Venus and Saturn on organizations in terms of personal relationships, finances, and stability, in contrast to rigidity, cannot be overstated.  These points should be particularly important to the readers of this blog who are primarily interested in esotericism and its attendant subjects. Simply look around at what was stated in our first post: the average life span of a movement in America is about 30 years, or one Saturn cycle.  This is true for both large, as well as regional, and smaller local groups.  This does not mean that everyone is doomed to a 30 year life span, only that special attention needs to be paid to these cycles so as to be able to survive their more strenuous elements.  Very few esoteric movements or groups make it to the century mark, but I am aware of several that are very close.  This happens, more often than not, in spite of themselves rather than because of good planning, insight, and an application of occult principles.  However, it has been done, it is being done, and you can do it as well.  

In our future posts we will examine each of the above points in greater detail and give examples of where they have been successfully applied.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Holy Trinity of Spiritual Traditions

In our previous post the five key elements for a spiritual tradition and its transmission were laid out. These are: 1. Teacher; 2. Teachings; 3. Students; 4. Place; and 5. Time. Initially I was going to skip over discussing the first three, believing them to be self-evident, and jump right into a detailed discussion of items four and five. However, apparently whenever anything is believed to be self-evident, more often than not it isn't. No clearer example can be given than the very nature of this blog—sustainable spirituality. It is easy to think the definition and practice of sustainable spirituality is clear and obvious. Apparently it is not; otherwise, I would not be writing about it, and you would not be reading about it.
As a result of earlier posts, I received an email asking me to define sustainable spirituality—the email's author suggested that spirituality “by definition” was sustainable. Below is my reply:

There are a great deal of spiritual practices that are not sustainable. We often forget, as John Michael Greer pointed out in a recent email to me, that Buddhism in India and Japan experienced certain cycles wherein the large monastic and temple complexes collapsed when their financial support was withdrawn. If we look at many Masonic lodges, (and more will be published on this as well as presented to several Masonic bodies), they are essentially unsustainable as they currently exist—the numbers and cash do not warrant the number of members served. Sustainable is a matter of maintenance and functioning in the material world—the only place spirituality really matters—and that is the difficult point to get across. You certainly do not need weekly instruction or monthly rituals when you are dead. So, sustainable can be summed up as ‘resources needed to support the practice of the members in the present AND to provide for a lineage into the future.’ If the resources are not present for the PRESENT, and some degree of linkage into the FUTURE, then it is unsustainable. I hope this is clear.

Re-read the above paragraph one more time. Pay special attention to the section in bold font.
Back to our five points. Students of Vajrayana Buddhism will find them familiar. They are neither specific to a tradition, nor belong to anyone, as they are simple common sense. Again, something that is not so “common,” as, if it were, there would be no need for this blog—and I say this not in sarcasm, but in all seriousness. When things have always been in front of us, we find it difficult to imagine a time when they will not be present. We do this with family, friends, jobs, and even spiritual teachers and traditions.
According to Tibetan Vajrayana there was a time when the Buddhas, those who are Awake and Fully Enlightened, did not teach. They did this we are told because there were no suitable students for the teachings they had to offer. As such, traditions ceased to exist on the human level—the only level we are concerned with for these posts—and teachings instead were given where they could be understood and applied. Now pay attention here: understood and applied. It does no good to give a teaching on calculus to the average Elementary School student, nor does it do any good to give a teaching on auto mechanics to someone who, while capable of understanding, does not have the tools, time, or place to apply the teachings—all that does is create frustration for both the teacher and the student.


So, then, what is the role of a spiritual teacher?
In addition to being a reliable living example of the teachings, they also function as the focal point for a group or organization, its spiritual and administrative head, and, finally, an embodiment of the teachings.

Point One: As the focal point of the organization it is important that the teacher be charismatic and inspirational. If they are not charismatic to some degree, then no one will pay any attention to them. If they are not inspirational, then no one will act on what they have heard. Charisma and inspiration are twins of memorable leadership.

Point Two: The role of spiritual and administrative head are often combined and confused in many organizations. Particularly in larger groups wherein the teacher is believed to be in communion with either higher intelligences, unknown masters, or God itself. As the spiritual head, the teacher functions as a living example, friend, and guide on the Path. However, as a material, day-to-day administrator, the real test is often made: here is where organizations, no matter how large or small, either succeed or fail. One need only look at the stunning success of the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC) under the dynamic, creative, and practical leadership of its founder Harvey Spencer Lewis, continued expansion under his son Ralph Lewis…and sudden and lightning-fast collapse under the leadership that has followed.
Good leadership, be it charismatic and inspirational as is often the case with the founder, (or pragmatic and “grandfatherly,” as was the case with H. S. Lewis’s successor), is very hard to follow as a leader. The number of magical, gnostic, and initiatic groups that have come and gone because of failure of leadership is staggering. Even some of the most well-led and instructed of them, such the Coven of the Cat, founded by Dr. Frederick LaMotte Santee, fragmented into several competing groups after his death. While it managed to weather the storm and continue on, this is in no small part due to the fact that the surviving group's leader was part of the original Santee-led coven, and thereby is a direct student of the founder. The true test will come after the third and fourth generation of leaders who have no direct connection to the founder and must lead solely on their own merit.
However, not all teachers have both the inspirational presence and administrative skills required to do the job. To this end, the duties are either split and acknowledged openly—which is the best way—or split and handled more privately. In esoteric orders, this means that there may be an acknowledged “Outer Head,” or public and administrative face for the organization, while an “Inner Head,” undistracted by mundane duties, focuses on the spiritual connections and needs of the organization. This Inner Head is often unknown to the general membership, or, if known, functions in a sort of “emeritus” fashion. As such, teachers need to know their limits and be good delegators so that needed activities can be identified and related goals achieved—be it building maintenance or organizing the annual holiday party.

Point Three: The teacher is a living example of the teachings. This can be tricky, as it does not mean that they are all-knowing, wise, and perfect. It simply means that they are someone that the student can look to as an example. We hear the question today, “What would Jesus do?”—and this also applies to our teacher: “What would Yoda do?” We try to understand them so as to better understand ourselves. Here is the pedestal upon which many teachers rise and fall. While much has been written about the problems of student-teacher relationships, we can easily sum it up in a single word: TRUST.
No matter how charismatic, inspirational, and administratively effective a teacher is—and no matter how well they understand the teachings—if they are not someone we trust, then a healthy relationship cannot be established. If we trust our teacher—for better or worse—then their failings, (actual or perceived), we can more easily overlook. Now, re-read the above word—TRUST—write it out, and ask yourself, “Do I trust my spiritual teacher(s) as much as I trust my plumber?”
TRUST is the single most important quality a spiritual teacher must be endowed with. Is this someone we are willing to trust with our mind, soul, family, material support? If the answer is “no” to any one of these, then we need to find a teacher for whom we can say yes to all of these.


The teachings must be something for which we know what the results will be; something we can apply, which provides us with a deeper connection to where they have come from, those who are practicing them now, and a glimpse of the future they will provide.

Point One: Teachings must have a clear purpose in mind, be it enlightenment, healing, lucid dreaming, divination, increased sense of happiness, etc. Again, this may sound obvious, but how often have we not been attending a seminar or workshop and asked ourselves, What is the purpose of this? What is enlightenment? How will I know it when I experience it? Good teachings will be able to answer these questions when they arise, and provide enough information prior to practice to give confidence in their effectiveness.

Point Two: Teachings need to be something we can apply. If we cannot apply it in daily life then it might as well not exist. Western Buddhism runs into this repeatedly when there is discussion of the Preliminary Practices in Vajrayana. Here, it is often required that a student perform 100,000 repetitions of a particular prayer, mantra, physical prostration, and ritual offering. This number is staggering, and few people in the West have actually fulfilled this requirement—and even traditional Eastern Buddhist teachers are questioning the value of such a high number given the daily demands of life in the West.
The same is true with laboratory alchemy, as discussed previously, or ritual magic, wherein the requirements can be extensive and demanding. In addition, teachers and reliable teachings will have several consistent and reliable variations of the same practice to accommodate the different levels of practitioners. Someone who is dedicated but lacking in certain skills, someone who is of average intelligence and skill, and someone who is a superior practitioner and possesses superior skills will each need a slightly different practice to assist them in getting to the same level of understanding. This is something easily found in Oriental teachings, but not always easily apparent in Western esoteric movements.
Keep in mind that underlying this is the fact that we will only undertake the extreme requirements of any discipline if we TRUST that they will give us the promised benefit, and, in particular, a benefit demonstrated in the daily life of the Teacher as the living example.
If we TRUST the teachings to deliver as promised we will practice them as we received them, without augmentation or modification.

Point Three: Spiritual practice is by ourselves, for ourselves, but not by and for ourselves alone. There is no such thing as collective enlightenment, but we still give and receive help on the Path along the way. This help comes to us from the past as traditions, lineages, philosophies, and practices that existed even without our involvement with them. Help comes to us in the present from teachers and fellow students.
In turn, we assist those around us and those who will come after us by building strong lineages, traditions, and organizations—strong vehicles for the continuation of the teachings as living and vital practices.

Students and Fellow Travelers

To build these strong associations—and if our practice is to be successful—will require working with others to varying degrees. Some of these “others” will be our teachers, some our fellow students, and some friends and strangers we encounter in daily life. Each of these is a fellow traveler through life.

Point One: “Teacher as Traveler” is where we recognize the words of the teachings as the living voice of God to our soul, as well as the teacher as a fellow traveler who is “like us, and not like us” simultaneously. The teacher is like us in that they are working on the Path as well, unless we are fortunate enough to have a fully illumined being as our teacher—and if that is the case, I doubt you would need to be reading this blog. The teacher is also Other, in that they have special and unique gifts to offer as a result of the success of their Work, and are passing that on to us.
How we come to grips with their “human-divine” status is a direct reflection of how we understand our own. Several years ago over lunch I said to a young lama about a teacher, “I do no need him to be perfect for me. By that I mean all knowing. He does not need to be able to intuit the answers to physics out of thin air, or speak every language ever known. All I need to know is that his transmission of the teachings is perfect, and by that I mean whole and complete. I trust that he has my best interests at heart, and that of everyone really. He practices the teachings in every breath.” I trust him, even if his journey is not yet complete.

Point Two: “Fellow students as Traveler.” Here we come to realize the idiosyncratic uniqueness of each of our fellow travelers. We accept them and, using the methods we have learned, learn to successfully work with them in accomplishing the common goals of the organization. I trust them and can rely on them in good times and bad.

Point Three: “Friends and Strangers as Traveler.” Here is one of the most difficult areas of practice, and that is, while undertaking our path, seeing others as partners with us on the journey—learning how to include friends, enemies, and strangers in our work, and not just people we like. Here, practical relationships can be formed wherein two or more small groups are able to pool resources and obtain needed meeting space, sponsor a conference or event, and accomplish things that we could not do on our own. But to do this requires TRUST.
Trust is the basis for all healthy relationships. Not love, respect, or any extreme emotion, for we can love and respect people whom we do not trust—but we cannot work with such people in a healthy manner towards individual or common goals…that is a different matter. Trust is the glue of healthy societies regardless of size, time, or place.
All esoteric, spiritual, religious, and self-help movements where people come together for a similar purpose with common ideals or philosophical principals is a society. In recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous,  trust is what allows people to speak freely of their addictions. In team-building seminars,  trust building exercises that can be seemingly nonsensical can be a vehicle for helping people learn to work together for a common goal that otherwise they have little combined investment in regarding the outcome. In esoteric, initiatic, and occult groups, members trust that their participation will remain a confidential matter and not become public knowledge. Trust is the basis for all effective, healthy, and stable human interactions.
Spiritual groups fail when trust is either not established or is broken and not repaired. This is important, because without trust, it is impossible to move on to the fifth and critical point of “Place.” We live in a time wherein trust is at a premium. Media of all sorts, mainstream or alternative, is aimed at breaking our trust in authority figures, employers, laws, religious heads, and even our neighbors and people we will never meet. Without trust there is only fear and anxiety, and, ultimately, paranoia, the opposite of altruism, generosity, wisdom, and compassion, the expressions of a truly healthy and spiritual personality.
Take time until our next discussion to reflect on the above points, and explore how much trust you allow in yourself and others. If you do not trust your teachers, fellow travelers, or people in general, why is that? What can be done to repair that trust? What value do you place on trust in general and in your spiritual practice in particular?

Until next time—Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Re-Inventing the Pentagram

Dear Reader, 
Welcome back to The Woman in the Wilderness.  If you have taken the time to read our last posting and to ask yourself the questions suggested at the end of it, you have probably come to the conclusion that your particular spiritual group or method of practice is in trouble when it comes to long-term survival.  
However, all is not lost. 
Recognizing the problem is the first step towards fixing it.  
Some of you may find that you have a healthy membership, but lack leadership training. Others, that you need to find ways to grow the group to a healthy-enough size where you are not dependent on one or two people to keep things moving. Still, some may recognize that to have a genuine tradition means having a multi-generational membership, and that if there is no place for children or at least young adults in your movement, then building a tradition without families is like building a house from the roof down: it tends not to work very well.  How each of you address these issues is up to you; however, there are some things in common that can be used to strengthen your organized group practice regardless of what it happens to be.
Often I am asked what constitutes a working esoteric organization, to which I reply, “It is simple. You need all the points of the pentagram to be present. Then, you will have the causes and conditions established for a functional group or organization.”  This often gets a nod of the head, followed by some silence, and the inevitable request for clarification.  Of course the Pentagram, as we are so often told, represents the Elements which are needed for manifestation of any kind.  This is no different when dealing with organizations than it is with things.  
For us, this Pentagram and its Elements consist of:
The Teacher
The Teachings
The Students
The Time of the Teaching
The Place of the Teaching
Take any one of these away, and the group is incomplete.  Corrupt any one of them, and the process of instruction and initiation, the key components of lineage or tradition, are themselves corrupted.  
With this in mind we are drawing your attention to the following, part of which is from an article entitled, “An Alchemical Epistle on the Causes and Conditions for Completing the Great Work of the Philosophers,” first published in Hermetic Virtues, volume V, Edition 18, Winter Solstice 2011.  The complete article was also published in VOXHERMES.

The Age of Strife, The Time of Saturn 
The Age of Strife, Age of Conflict, the Time of Death, Time of Saturn, Time of the Wolf, the Kali Yuga, the End Times, the Second Coming of Christ, the Time of the Lilly, each in a different language, each meaning the same thing, each pointing to the same general time frame in human history—right now.  
While many in the contemporary occult community have long since stopped believing in traditional religions, having seen more predictions of doom come and go, and—like so many say—‘we are still here,’ we need only look at the material facts before us to see that the ‘end’ is near; by this, I mean the end of alchemy and other esoteric practices as we currently know them.  Prior to the financial collapse of 2008 I wrote and electronically published a brief description of how much it would cost to produce the Philosopher’s Stone, using commonly known paths. In, “Is the Gay Science Dead?” (March 26, 2008) I presented the data to several practicing alchemists, and they agreed that given the price of antimony, acetate, and mercury in 2008, it would take nearly $100,000 - $250,000 (US) to equip a lab and complete the work, assuming everything went as planned.   This figure was in line with early reports given to Israel Regardie (complete with color Kodak slides and an audiotape recording of the work) by two alchemists in Texas, having made the Stone in the 1970s at a cost of around $10,000.  
Given the general financial state of affairs—and the fact that despite their presumption of power to control material events via occult means, most esotericists seemingly always end up at the bottom of the financial rung—there is little hope of the average alchemist making substantial progress in the domain of mineral alchemy at the present time. Alchemy has been called ‘the path of the rich’ for a reason—or, as one alchemist told me, “As for Fulcanelli making gold, that I do not know. But as I was told by one who knew him, he went through a lot of it.”  Even our anonymous Francophone master may not have been as far along on the Path as we might have liked.
In the end, all the average house-holder student of laboratory alchemy can really hope for at this point in time is to become familiar with spagyrics, along with the wonderful cleansing and healing properties it offers, and, if possible, the somewhat easily made Unfixed and Fixed Tinctures of Antimony.  These powerful and profound metallic tinctures have deep and lasting healing qualities that have proven themselves over and over again.  
However, possibly the greatest obstacle that modern alchemists, and occultists as a whole, face in the modern age is lack of faith.  Living as we do, in this, the Age of Strife, the Age of Destruction, the Kali Yuga, violence, greed, and arrogance reign supreme—and no better place demonstrates this than the contemporary esoteric milieu.  Nearly every major and minor initiatic organization of an esoteric character, be it mystical, magical, or posing as alchemical, is in a state of decay or outright questionable health.  One need only look at the various “flame wars” on the Internet that have dominated modern magical movements for the last twenty years or the countless hours and fortunes lost to legal battles over who owns what or can claim copyright over traditions that, since their inception a hundred or so years ago, have rarely seen a day when their adepti were not waiting for their time to appear before the Court of Common Pleas.  This is merely an extension of the dominant nature of greed, as so many of those involved in magic or alchemy seek to find a quick and easy way to procure for themselves what can only be had by sustained, personal effort.  
A little more time in Sunday School learning the meaning of Proverbs 20:3, “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife, but every fool will be meddling,” or the Psalms, (of which we hear so much are mighty in making talismans), “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10), would be well spent.
The entire weakness and reason for the widespread inability of esotericism to thrive over the last 30 years can be summed up in a single phrase one hears a great deal today in all areas of public life—not excepting occultism—and that is: moral failure. While Michael Maier’s “Laws of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross” and its associated rules and laws of the Fraternity are for many guiding principles, for too long they have been ignored as foundational and treated as aspirational or, worse, something unattainable, and therefore as something that could be ignored. 
If spirituality of any sect, creed, tradition, or lineage is to survive, then it must pay careful attention to the following five key points, as listed above; these are the points of the Pentagram. 
Right Teachers
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles [words] of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” -  Hebrews 5:12, New American Standard Bible
A competent teacher will demonstrate: 1. Patience; 2. Generosity; 3. Textual knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (which in Western occultism are the Old Testament, New Testament, Corpus Hermeticum, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as a minimum for understanding alchemical texts) and their historical, moral, spiritual, and initiatic meanings; 4. Theoretical knowledge of the Path; 5. Practical experience; and 6. Demonstrable ability in the Art being taught, be that spagyrics, mineral alchemy, ritual magic, or mysticism.   
Right Students
“Who needs enlightenment? Now everybody wants immortality.” – (Mrs.) Shakti Noyon, The Horde by Baranko (Humanoids/DC Comics)
Right students are as difficult to find as the correct teacher, and they are important, for without them, the tradition dies. You will know a teacher by his or her students. Competent students will exhibit: 1. Respect for their teacher, the teachings, and their fellow students; 2. Generosity of their time, talent, and treasure in supporting the Work for themselves and others; 3. Good judgment; 4. The ability to learn, or ‘a head that is neither too full, nor too empty’; 5. Strength in the face of adversity; 6. Good nature, and general optimism.
Right Teachings
“Preach unto the whole world, saying, 'Strive together that you may receive the mysteries of light in this time of stress, and enter into the Kingdom of Light.' Do not put off from day to day, and from cycle to cycle, in the belief that you will succeed in obtaining the mysteries when you return to the world in another cycle.” – Pistis Sophia
Moral/ethical foundation is essential.  Morality and ethics are the foundation of spiritual success and essential to overcoming the suffering and disappointment inherent in daily life.  
Compassion balanced with personal responsibility recognizes that while I am dependent on those who have gone before me, and to those who are with me, I must achieve my Illumination through my own Work.  I cannot enlighten another, nor can they do it for me. There is no such thing as collective salvation or enlightenment.   We are supported by the traditions, masters, students, and lodges of the past and present and have a moral, albeit a karmic, obligation to ensure that they strengthen and grow for future generations as well.  If this karmic obligation is ignored, then our selfishness will bind us in ignorance and failure, until we have done all we can to repay the unpayable debt of authentic and vital spiritual teachings. This last part is too often ignored by modern students who have become accustomed to thinking the world exists only for them and they have no obligation to anyone other than a cursory ‘namaste’ or ‘Blessed Be.’  It takes a great deal more than that to show gratitude and to maintain and grow a legitimate spiritual tradition—which, after all, is what this blog is all about.
Each set of teachings, as well as the particular lineage(s) spawned from these teachings, must be studied and understood in its historical context.  In the end, it is as the Holy Scripture says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”  Again, if you want to understand the value of a teacher or a tradition’s teachings, look at its students.
Competent teachings will exhibit: 1. A clear origin; 2. Clear lineage or succession of teachers; 3. Clear methods; 4. Specific goals or results from practice; 5. Clear signs of accomplishment; and 6. Teachers who clearly demonstrate a theoretical knowledge of the complete path, and demonstrable success in the process, although not necessarily its fruition.  
Right Place
“The temple is made in the image of Creation…to walk into the temple, or to be admitted to it, is to relate to the universe, that is, to enter into a relationship with the whole of life, transcendence included.” – Andre Nataf, Dictionary of the Occult
Temples, schools, or other locations of permanence are essential to teaching. Laboratories take space, operations take time, and while seminars are nice, it is essential to have a place called home and not be a wandering nomad.  Bookstores have been the modern meeting place, but with the financial collapse of 2008, and the resulting undermining of the modern esoteric communities that accompanied it (thereby demonstrating that modern spirituality is little more than an extension of the entertainment/publishing industry), even these are built on extremely unstable ground.   It is essential that self-sustaining mechanisms be put in place so that regional, if not local, hubs of learning exist.
This is not easy, nor is it inexpensive, but then who said getting enlightenment was either easy or cheap? Jean Dubuis mentioned that, during the Masonic period of the 18th Century, several lodges wherein operative alchemy was taught forbade their members to have private laboratories because of the expense involved. The temptation was too great that alchemy would become an object of abuse rather than enlightenment. As such, all laboratory work was done in laboratories located within the lodge itself.  We see similar activities among the Pennsylvania mystics of Ephrata wherein one laboratory was the common work area of the very few who undertook that path.
Modern occultists, Neo-Pagans, Wiccans, Gnostics, and initiates of all stripes are going to have to make serious choices about how to band together to establish and share resources while still maintaining their essential unique characteristics.  This is the first and most important problem for many to solve, and the litmus test of their value to themselves and others on the Path of Return. Spirituality can be reduced to one giant problem-solving experiment; if you can't solve the problem of where and when to meet for what is supposed to be the most important area of your life, then all other questions are irrelevant.
Right Time
 “We can only transmute without, that which we have first transmuted within.” - Paracelsus
We cannot effectively approach alchemy, or any occult practice, from without, but must first approach it from within. This means that while we recognize our time and place in history, we recognize them as transient and temporary—conditions, like consciousness, are malleable.  We work where we are with what we have, and are confident that we will make progress simply because we are doing the best we can.  How this translates into concrete actions for an individual or group—large or small—is an individual matter.  But here is where we are. Right now—and right now is when the work is either being done or it is not.  Yet the present is linked to the past, as well as shaping and flowing into the future. If we seek certain experiences then we must learn from those who have gone before us. How this will play out for each of you in a time and place wherein we ask the question, “What happens when limited natural resources meet unlimited population growth?” is  the backdrop against which ‘now’ takes place in the outer world.   There is another backdrop to consider regarding the inner world, and the two must be brought together for successful completion of the Work.
Traditional experiences require a traditional philosophical view as the foundation, traditional instruction as the example, traditional techniques as the means, and traditional environments as the support for the entire process. Together, they coalesce into ‘the Tradition’ that transcends time on a historical scale—that of lineage, initiation, and continuity—and on an individual scale, that of providing the causes and conditions that assist the student in getting out of their own way long enough to experience Illumination, or the “Experience of Eternity,” as Jean Dubuis has called it.    
The Corpus Hermeticum states that according to the Prophesy of Hermes, a time would come when it would be nearly impossible to practice the ancient ways, and that few would listen to the Voice.  The description given is no different than those found in other predictions, and demonstrates a near-universal understanding of the cycles that rule the human condition. These cycles are of a personal as well as collective nature, and it is the objective of esoteric practices to either allow us to benefit from the cycles of matter-energy-consciousness occurring, or to free ourselves from them altogether, attaining liberation, illumination, or salvation. Thus, we are saved from the cycles of life and death.  
Getting Back to Basics….the Foundation of Esoteric Practice
Confidence….the Crises of Disbelief……If everything we believe is a myth, then we are free to believe anything we want, as all myths are equal—that is, they are crap we make up and then tell ourselves is true—on some level.  Herein is the rub.  If all of the great saints, adepts, avatars, magi, and alchemists are nothing more than archetypal images projected onto history, but not actually living in it, taking part in it, then Western esotericism is doomed as a serious practice.  
On one hand, occultism in the West has been reduced to a strange form of techniques seemingly devoid of any religious or spiritual foundation. They are often treated as if they will work in the same manner as a light switch. Push up, lights on. Push down, lights off.  With this is a cultural and media obsession with the supernatural.  We seek to believe in the presence of the invisible, even to the point of direct experience, as a host of ghost hunting and paranormal shows demonstrates. We are obsessed with phenomena of the mind, but not in exploring or understanding the nature of mind itself. We have no real understanding or room for the dead, good and evil, or peculiar creatures of the netherworld.
We love being a “zombie nation,” but real zombies are relegated to being fiction or humans who have been drugged, as described in The Serpent and the Rainbow. Yet among those traditional systems that Westerners tend to idealize while simultaneously sanitizing them of anything that would be controversial, politically incorrect, or considered superstitious or irrational, belief in alternate dimensions, their inhabitants, their impact on our lives here, and even the existence of ‘supernatural’ beings in our world is taken as a matter of fact.  The modern Western approach to Tibetan Buddhism is a perfect example of this kind of “take what you like and change the rest to be palatable” approach.  It is this same approach that brought us an excessive emphasis on psychological alchemy in the first half of the Twentieth Century and is distorting beyond recognition what is left of meaningful occultism in the early years of the Twenty-First Century.
These distortions in turn lead to a materialistic view of spirituality, phenomena seeking, and ultimately a crisis of faith that questions whether anything has any meaning at all.  A clear distinction between how modern Western esoteric movements view their traditional stories and how Eastern esoteric movements do can be seen in the following example.  The Fama Fraternitatis is the founding document of Rosicrucianism, and has been studied, analyzed, and dissected since its appearance 400 years ago.  The story focuses around the travels of a young man, Christian Rosenkreutz, who then, as an old man, is entombed.  After a period of 100 or more years, his geometric tomb and its magical contents are found.  There is an eternally burning lamp that illuminates the interior of the vault, and his body lies uncorrupted, awaiting resurrection.
Now I put this forward because in the East, thanks to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, we were told of many miraculous happenings in the Himalayan region, not the least of these being sleeping adepts in caves—practitioners whose meditation is so perfect that they are not even disturbed by the passing of centuries.  Of course in the West we are told these are old stories, and are fairy tales believed by superstitious natives.  However, in his book, Rainbow Painting, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche recounts several stories of yogis in hibernation for years, even centuries at a time, with their witnesses being contemporaries and not from legends.  I have been close to an Indian businessman for many decades who told me of his own experiences in this area.  
In the West we argue over the psychological meaning of the story, or even if it is historically true.  In the East, the discussion is over the value or hindrance of such meditative states, and the proper way to revive those in meditation for their journey to complete the Path. In the East it is simply assumed that the story is true, because the moral integrity of the source is considered unquestionable.   
This is not to say that charlatans do not exist in the East; Tulku Rinpoche discusses several humorous instances of charlatanry, and even its causes—no different from our own in the West. The point is that we have come to reduce all of our esoteric history to myth, myth to allegory requiring psychological explanation, and, in the end, we are left with nothing. No example to follow, no method to practice, and no inspiration to carry us forward.  Just bedtime tales, told by adults to adults, around candles in a rented room dressed up to look like a temple described in a 19th century novel.
How Do We Restore Faith in the Practice?
“Much is achieved by our mind through faith, which is a firm belief, a fixed intention, and a complete absorption of the operator or recipient, and it assists in every matter and lends strength to every deed we wish to do; so that what may be called an image is formed inside us of the power to be assimilated and the thing to be performed in us or by us.  Therefore in every work and application we must employ a strong desire, must stretch our imagination, and must have the most sanguine hope and the firmest faith, for this contributes very much to success…” – Agrippa 
Restoring faith, faith that is meaningful and productive, faith that moves mountains and produces saints, Adepts of the Royal Art, is essential. This can only be done by having teachers who not only teach theory, but demonstrate its effectiveness as well.  However, the burden does not lay with teachers alone. Students must practice diligently what they are taught. The teachings handed down from generation to generation must be clear, precise, and reliable.  Resources must be put forth to provide a place for these three key elements to come together and, finally, there must be a recognition of the appropriateness of all of these for the time in which one is practicing.  Please take time over the next few weeks to examine your individual and group practice in light of the above points so that strengths can be recognized and weaknesses addressed.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Welcome to “The Woman in the Wilderness,” a blog about the future of contemporary spirituality.

How This Blog Came To Be

In July 2005 I wrote a three-part series entitled “The Coming Storm: Peak Oil and You.”  The articles appeared in VOXHERMES, the electronic newsletter of the Institute for Hermetic Studies. While concerned about the future of contemporary spirituality, I realized that addressing the topic directly would have little appeal, so I dressed it up in a topic that did—and still does—have wide-ranging appeal to many in the modern spiritual movements: environmental issues.  The purpose was, and still is, to demonstrate that contemporary spiritual movements such as Neo-Paganism, Shamanism, Wicca, general New Age, Yoga, Buddhism, and even more traditional movements such as Freemasonry, Martinism, Rosicrucianism, and alchemical practices of all sorts are all deeply affected by the time and place in which they are practiced.  One can make a very compelling argument that spirituality at times is more a product of its culture than a producer of it; for modern spirituality, no argument could be stronger.  

In “The Coming Storm,” I outlined how the presentation of spirituality has changed over time;  in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it was really little more than a branch of the entertainment industry.  New Age bookstores replaced temples, weekend seminars replaced committed training, and once-secret initiations and empowerments were given out for the tens of thousands in a single sitting.  To many in the West this represented the beginning of the Great Awakening of the Age of Aquarius: a time of peace, plenty, love, and understanding.  Unfortunately, those who embraced this idea never took the time to recognize that Aquarius is traditionally ruled by Saturn, or the Greater Malefic in classical astrology. It is a difficult taskmaster.  

Also, traditional schools of Hinduism, Yoga, Taoism, and others in the West that generally fall under the category of “Traditionalism” see the modern world as a world in spiritual decline.  Teachings are only written down when they are in danger of going extinct. The living word of the teacher is always preferred to the written word of a text.  Spirituality is about self-knowledge, or as the inscription above the portal to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece read, “Know thyself and you will know the gods.”  Most self-help material is about getting more, not being more; it is about feeling good, rather than being and doing good.  In short, it represents a total inversion of values—an inversion for some that can only take place in a world or culture that is in decline.  This time, for many Oriental schools, is known as the Kali Yuga, or the Age of Death, the Age of Iron (or sometimes “Lead”).  This time is characterized by coarse and painful human relationships (among other things) as well as a decline in spiritual practice—that is, practice aimed at self-awakening.  It is interesting that nearly every Tibetan empowerment or initiation and prayer states that we live in ‘the time of Dregs’—the Kali Yuga—yet how few individuals take the time to understand what this means.

Even if one is not concerned with Indo-Tibetan  and Indo-Iranian astrological prophecies, there is also the historically observable phenomena of the cycles of spirituality as they have appeared in Western history.  Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Russian seer and founder of the Theosophical Society in the late 19th century, hinted at this when she stated that spiritual movements appear generally in the last quarter of each century. These movements (regardless of when they appear) last for about one generation—or one Saturn cycle for those astrologers out there—and then, after about 30 years, fall apart.  Some survive, but not many. One need only look at the various movements that populated the European and American landscape in the later 19th century to see how this played out. The period from about 1875 to 1900 was active and the period between 1900 and 1930 was relatively quiet (some Rosicrucian groups excepted).  Even here, of those spending a vast amount of time, talent, and treasure in battling for control of the Rosicrucian banner, how many are left today, and what is their condition compared to 1935, 1970, or even 1995?  Anyone with an eye to the obvious can see that they have all declined; some exist in name only and others are but shadows of their former selves.   

The vast explosion of Neo-pagan and magical groups in the 1980s has fared no better. Born of publishing and media boom, motivated by pop culture, wherein an entire generation learned more about angels and demons from television than they did from Sunday School or verifiable and experientially practical tradition, we see many returning to the religion of their birth as the weight of age sets in upon them. Those not returning to their mostly Christian roots are either dropping out, rationalizing their beliefs in a form of ‘atheistic paganism’  (archetypal psychology by any other name), or entering the ranks of true believers as their numbers dwindle.

Finally there is the most obvious question I put forth to everyone of my university classes.  "Everything we do in life takes place against the backdrop of a situation posed as a question. For my grandparents it was the Great Depression and World War Two. For my parents it was the build-up in and ultimately the Vietnam War and the early Counter-Culture Movement. For me it was the Cold War, New Age Movement, and the impact of wide spread technology. For you it will be very simple, "What happens when the upward moving line of unlimited population growth crosses the downward moving line of limited natural resources?"  That is the question which defines the backdrop against which everything in your life will be happening.  Where do you fit in and what can and will you do as it unfolds?"

Sustainable spirituality is comprised of spiritual philosophies and practices that sustain us during very difficult times and in turn, it is also something that we sustain with our time, talent, and treasure because it is of value to us, and we desire to pass it on to others and future generations.  It is, as one Rabbi said in an article in Gnosis magazine several decades ago, and I paraphrase, "If I believe in reincarnation then tradition is the gift I give myself in the future." It is also the gift we give others now as well as in a future that has yet to arrive.   

Yet, despite this somewhat grim analysis, modern spiritual movements, at least some of them, can survive into the future and prepare something—a working, viable path—for those who will come after them...if they want to. 

What This Blog Can Help You Accomplish

It would be all too easy to post as an epigraph to this blog the line from Dante's Inferno, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” But this blog is not about abandoning hope, but in finding it, and not only finding it, but acting upon it.  You see, we are discussing difficult topics here—topics that really hit both directly and indirectly at our hidden fears, most importantly the two Existential Crises of Fear of Death and Fear of Responsibility, but also the Fear of Meaninglessness.

While spirituality is in theory supposed to either give meaning to, or help us discover meaning in, our lives, all too often contemporary spirituality has really guided us away from it. We have become drifters in the landscape of our own minds, and are not even aware of it—until now, until someone says, “Wake up!” But we say, “I am awake. Or at least not completely asleep…” While this is true, upon closer inspection we find that, in fact, we are very much in a dream world of our own fabrication—one that prevents us from addressing the hard realities of death, responsibility, and the meaning that we have given our brief time on this planet.  Have courage, read on, and be assured that your life does have meaning, and can have even more if you desire it, but that it is up to you to provide the courage to make it so.  Here we will provide insights, guidance, and maybe even a friend or two for the work ahead.  Together, we can all make a meaningful difference on this planet before we die, and in doing so leave something of lasting meaning and cultural value to our friends, family, strangers, and maybe even ourselves, if you believe in reincarnation. Tradition, culture, spiritual lineage—these are the gifts we give to others, and to ourselves, as we progress through the Wheel of Life.  

What You Will Find Here

Here you will find some very straightforward writing. There will be little time spent on long theory, proving the point, or engaging in debate.  Either you understand the situation as it has been detailed, or you do not. If not, that is fine; however, this blog is a gift from my family and myself to you. It is the culmination of over three decades of experience in spiritual movements across the United States of America, as well as some of their European counterparts, and the time it takes in the present to convey it to you. Please understand and appreciate this. For this reason we cannot take time to answer every question or respond to every counter-point raised.  Take what this blog has to offer, pass it on, or leave it if it is unpalatable.  We are very much concerned about problem solving and solutions rather than rehashing of old arguments or wishful thinking.  Practicality is the word of the day.  As such, we look forward to sharing your stories of success with others, so that you as readers may learn from one another and shorten the learning curve, as time, as you will see, is running out. We have no time to waste. Work needs to be done if spirituality is to survive in a meaningful and potent form for future generations.

This is a critical point:  this blog is not an open-ended project. It will not go on forever. It came into existence to convey important information, bring people together to unite their resources, and to give practical advice on what needs to be done and how to do it.  For this reason, articles will include but not be limited to the following topics in no particular order:

* What constitutes an authentic spiritual tradition?
* How to know if you are serious about having a future.
* How movements live, die, and how they adapt.
* The lie of the Internet age and self-initiation.
* Leadership and responsibility: if a twelve year old can do it, so can you.
* No pain, no gain—and why this is going to cost you time, talent, and treasure.
* Resources you will need, and what it is you will be passing on to your grandchildren.
* The power of leadership, and avoiding its pitfalls (most of the time) when being a friend and guide to others.
* Why it is all up to you, or, incarnating the practice.

To help you get a handle on what we are discussing here, take some time to review the following questions and discuss them with your fellow travelers on the Path. They need not be in the same group, if there is one (let this inspire you to start one); if your group does not want to discuss them, I encourage you to apply some pressure and find out why.  These are very dangerous and threatening questions.  Pay attention to your emotional responses—you will find it very revealing, I may dare say initiatic, in its own way.  You may also feel free to send your written replies and experiences to me at:

1. In your opinion, what is the future of spirituality in general, and your practice or tradition in particular, and how does this differ from past and/or current conditions?

2. What is the current size of your group and has this increased, decreased, or stayed the same over the last 5 - 10 years?

3. Does your group actively train leaders?  If so, please give a description of how and in what manner.

4. What are the top three issues facing your tradition in general, and your group in particular, that are having a negative impact on activities?

5. What are the top three strengths that your tradition in general and group in particular have in its favor?

6. Does your organized body and/or local group have a long-term plan for the continuation of its existence beyond the current generation?  Is there a long-term (10 or more years) or multi-generation vision?

7. Is there a place for children (with parental involvement) in your organization? If not, how do you plan on surviving multi-generationally?  

8. Would you be willing to answer a more specific survey regarding group philosophy, practices, and demographics?  

Thank you for your patience in this our first article.  Please be sure to subscribe by e-mail to be alerted to future posts when they become available, as no more than two posts a month are expected until this blog gains some momentum.


Mark Stavish