Re-Inventing the Pentagram
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 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.