Enjoy, and Happy New Year 2014!
Some Passing Thoughts on Dr. Joseph C. Lisiewski
by Mark Stavish
Over the last year or so I have been receiving communications from individuals and publishers wishing to get into contact with Dr. Joseph C. Lisiewski, author of the now famous book, Ceremonial Magic and the Power of Evocation, originally published by New Falcon Press and currently available through The Original Falcon Press. When Ceremonial Magic his the occult scene in 2004 it caused quite a stir as its fundamental working principal was that one was not to change the words or instructions given in the traditional grimoires or magical books, and to work them exactly as given. For many who had grown accustomed to the New Age notion that ritual magic was something you could modify to suit your needs at the moment, or even make up as you went alone, this was a horrifyingly rigid and orthodox statement. To make matters worse, so Dr. Lisiweski also stated that to modify the rituals in any form risked both failure in the rite, as well as a trememdous psychic and physical backlash from trying to short cut the instructions or 'hot wire' it if you will for personal convenience. Lisiewski's writing style was equal parts of Paracelsian 'caustic bombastic thrashings' and clear instruction on how things are to be done with emphasis on getting the desired material results.
It is here, emphasizing the results, material results at that, wherein Lisiewski stood out from among many who would claim to be his peers in the field of ceremonial magic. You see, Lisiewski had a unique pedigree: he was one of a few people fortunate enough to have studies all seven years of alchemy with Frater Albertus at the Paracelsus Research Society (later renamed Paracelsus College) and for 14 years was a close friend of Dr. Israel Regardie. The relationship between Lisiewski, Albertus and Regardie is detailed in Israel Regardie and the Philosopher's Stone – The Alchemical Earth Brought Down to Earth, published by The Original Falcon Press in late 2008.
In his inscription to the signed copy he sent me, Lisiewski wrote the following:
Feb. 4, 2009
To my very dear friend and collaborator in these things, Mark Stavish. Thanks so much for the Introduction to this book, and for you encouragement in writing it. For if the truth be know, if it were not for you, it would have never been penned. Have a good (2nd) read!
Joseph C. Lisiewski, PhD.
On our work together for Howlings from the Pit – A Practical Handbook on Ceremonial Magic, Goetia and Theurgy, which is a compilation of articles from his highly successful newsletter of the same name. Dr. Lisiewski hired me to compile, edit, and add commentary to the material so that it would be more organized than it was in its original magazine style format. He stated that given the length, duration, and nature of our relationship, I was the only one he knew and trusted sufficiently to undertake this task of taking his at time difficult writing style and clarifying the ideas for a new and different audience – one not necessarily grounded in ceremonial magic or historical grimoire work. In addition to his generous payment for my work, an amount that would take a while to be returned on standard book commissions, I was also given complete rights to this particular title by Dr. Lisiewski. Howlings was published by The Original Falcon Press in April 2011.
As Lisiewski's close friend, co-worker, confident, and here even semi-official biographer. Our first conversation started late on a Sunday night, around 9:00pm and lasted for over two hours, I think closer to three. He called me weekly and eventually daily for over five years, and several times a week after that. His calls arrived like clockwork in the late afternoon, as Joe's schedule is to work across the night and into the early morning. I had the privilege of casting his natal chart, to which he compared to the reading Israel Regardie had done for him using the traditional Golden Dawn system of astrology. I heard all of his rants and ravings about a life spent – and at times wasted – in magic and alchemy and understood more deeply, clearly, and precisely than anyone how he came to be the person he was, and the important message he had to tell – no scream – to those entering the occult path. It is no surprise that there are many wonderful similarities in the personalities, temperament, and practical skill sets of Dr. Lisiewski and William Gray, a man described as 'wreaking of psychism like he wreaked of incense'. Gray was a formidable magician capable of very definite manifestations in this world. The same is true of Dr. Lisiewski. His magic was and is about power; his mysticism was and is about divine union as the way to that power. That was a hard lesson to learn, for him, as well as many current struggling magicians. “In the end, they all become mystics” as a favorite quote of Lisiewski's.
While our official meeting occurred in May 2005, we had in fact exchanged several emails in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, and I can remember is so clearly, my computer crashed, and I was left without means of contacting him. Lisiewski had emailed me informing me of his relationship to Albertus and Regardie, that he resided in Pennsylvania, and extended an invitation to open correspondence. Later, when I came across Ceremonial Magic I remembered his emails, or rather occult pedigree, and asked several of my old Philosophers of Nature associates, who were also PRS alumni if they knew of Joseph Lisiewski. Jack Glass, the only person to attend all seven years of PRS training twice and co-instructor of AMORC's alchemy classes in the 1980s, confirmed the name, his work, and stated relationships. Similar confirmations were given by others, and Pat Zalewski suggested in an email that I might find alchemical discussions with Lisiewski of value.
Oddly, life like magic is rarely linear. Just as my contact with Lisiewski was delayed about six years, it was also after my initial contact with Lisiewski in the the late 1990s that I also received an email from an active duty chaplain in the US Army asking for assistance in preparing for the Abramelin operation. I prepared some guidelines for him, in addition we met one evening at the temple of The Wyoming Valley Society for Esoteric Studies, located on the third floor at 239 Schuyler Avenue, Kingston, Pennsylvania, to discuss his proposed work. During this time he briefly mentioned some work that he did earlier in his youth with a friend. Years later I would find out that the man standing before me was in fact Lisiewski's assistant in his very first evocation as outlined in Ceremonial Magic. I spoke once more with the chaplain, this time around 2008-2010 with, and the events as given by Lisiewski in were confirmed to me. All hell had broken loose, and it played no small role in his career choice.
Despite having withdrawn from the public scene, Lisiewski is still a controversial figure in the magical world – although less so than when he was doing his regular publishing.
In late winter or early spring of 2011 I went to Shamokin, Pennsylvania to visit a building owned by a good friend of mine. We had known each other in college and he was a guest at my wedding, but it was not until hearing from him nearly 20 years later as Worshipful Master of one of the most prestigious Masonic Lodges in the area that we got to go from being acquaintances to friends. The building is a beautiful example of late 19th early 20th century coal country wealth. With a retail store and offices on the first floor, the second, third and fourth floors were home to the Masonic lodge, and constituted a men's club that at one time would have included the business and political elite of the region. Walking through the building was like walking back in time as we examined several rooms that had seen little use in years. On one of the playing card tables there was a newspaper laid out as if it had just been put down while its reader went to the nearby 7-Up bottle vending machine to get a drink. The date was from the late 1970s. This was, and still is a beautiful building carefully being restored and is a jewel for the town. When I mentioned my visit to Lisiewski he immediately began to describe the unique interior of the retail space, as this had been one of his favorite haunts as a young boy. It also appears in one of his novels which takes place in a fictitious town in the Pennsylvania coal regions.
Two people well known in the American alchemical community and former classmates of Lisiewski's at PRS are Hans Nintzel and Curt Kobylarz-Schmidt. Our discussions would often come back to these two men as I had known them both, but not to the same level of intimacy as had Lisiewski. Nintzel was a pivotal figure in the 20th century English speaking alchemical movement as the RAMS, or Rare Alchemical Manuscript Series books which he published were for decades, and for many still are, the working alchemical texts used in much practical laboratory work. At great cost to himself and his family, Nintzel obtained rare manuscripts and had them translated into English and made them available in photocopy form. According to Lisiewski, Hanz spent a great deal of his time at PRS in the library, leaving the practical lab work and reports to Lisiewski. Several other people have mentioned to me that while Nintzel taught practical laboratory alchemy he was more of a bookworm than a lab rat.
I spent some time with Hans at various PON conferences and found him to be a likable and sincere fellow, if not at times a bit abrasive more by accident than design. I am told that Jean Dubuis held Nintzel in a very special place in his heart for all of the work that he did to develop alchemy in the United States. I spent a weekend with Hans and a dozen or so of his close students at his house in Dallas, Texas 13 -16 January, 1995. His wife Jody was warm, kind, and a wonderful hostess to all of us sleeping on the floor, couch, and various spaces around her home. Hans spoke of his time at PRS, his relationship with Regardie, and initiation into a Hermetic order in Los Angeles. The experiences I had during the visit were very profound and stay with me to this day, including the fortuitous arrival of a Horsetail plant stone, made for Hans by a French alchemist. I was given a thin sliver from its black taffy like strip to try. On the back of the door to Hans's study was a wonderful poster which I hope to find a copy of some day. It illustrated a magician in ceremonial robes looking up at a huge demonic being, the text below read the famous line from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft , “Do not call up that which you cannot put back down.” Good words of advice for any novice magician.
I later wrote and published an article entitled, “A Weekend With Hans: Alchemy the Old Fashioned Way” which can be read on the Institute for Hermetic Studies website. Several years ago one of Hans son's sent me an email thanking me for the kind article in memory of his father's contributions.
While I cannot say for certain, I must think that the work of Hans and others has weighed heavily in the formation of Lisiewski's attitude towards practical occult work, with emphasis on the word practical. At one point I sent Lisiewski a three-inch white three-ring binder containing a copy of various notes and instructions that Nintzel had compiled from his time at PRS and thereafter. It included a travel diary of his journey to France, an alchemical pilgrimage if you will, along with additional notes of experience he had with various practitioners of the Art. The material was given to me by Russ House, and given Lisiewski's relationship to Hans and Albertus I wanted his opinion on the laboratory material it contained.
However, it is the reality that Hans devoted his life to alchemy, as have so many others that Lisiewski and even I know. Many are dead. They have not achieved the Philosopher's Stone, nor from their lives anything close to it. They have suffered tremendous indignities at the hands of family, friends, enemies, and worst of all – fellow Companions in the Art of Hermes. The speed with which the RAMS material was quickly scanned and dumped on the internet, with pirated copies of CDs containing the various volumes being sold by people who had nothing to do with its compilation, translation, transcription and formatting for publication when everything had to be done by hand or with a typewriter, is staggering. It, like so many routine thefts that happen within the 'spiritual community' is a condemnation that speaks louder than any squeaky 'blessed be' or 'namaste'. It is this disregard for the hard work of others, and disrespect for their sacrifices that truly irritated Lisiewski.
It was his 'all or nothing' approach to occultism that made Lisiewski the only person Regardie would recall as being second only to Crowley. Total commitment is what is required on the Path and students are told this often, however few actually grasp the meaning, or undertake the commitment. He was totally dedicated to his teachers – thus opening himself up to a certain degree of manipulation by them – as he would find out, Albertus could be very compartmentalized in his dealings with people. Lisiewski built a furnace as a challenge from Albertus. This furnace eventually came into the possession of Art Kunkin, who when I spoke to him about it was unaware of who had created it. I first met Art Kunkin at the Philosopher's of Nature alchemy conference held at the Wild Rose [Girl Scout] Camp Ground in September 1994. An article summarizing this event entitled, “Pass the Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury If You Please” appeared inGnosis Magazine. It was my first article to appear in Gnosis. It was also at this seminar that Kunkin gave me a copy of an interview with him that appeared earlier in Gnosis complete with an errata sheet he had compiled. Instructions for a furnace similar to it can be found in the booklet “Lil'l Bertha – A Compact Electric Resistance Shop Furnace” by David J. Gingery, Lindsay Publications, 1984.
Having come of age in the declining coal regions of eastern Pennsylvania, it would come of no surprise to say that Lisiewski was a 'self made man'. That is, despite tremendous personal obstacles he went to college, majored in a demanding field, obtained a BS in Electrical Engineering, and later went on to get a PhD in physics and mathematics. When I first met him he had recently returned to his hometown for a period of time. During our late night conversations he would make mention of what it was like growing up there as a child and how it had changed, something I can relate to having seen similar changes in the area where I was born and came of age. Occasionally our conversations would be interrupted by children who came asking for money, soda, or simply to talk. Apparently the street urchins had taken a liking to him, and he them. His generosity is not well known and he likes to keep it that way believing that charity is best done in silence. I know that he has sent considerable amount of books, printed materials, and CDs to his students, and friends alike. If he liked it, and he could be a very hard man to please, he wanted to share it with those he cared about. Lisiewski sent me a copy of his own edition of The One Year Manual by Regardie.
Lisiewski photocopied the Crowley Collection at Penn State University and sent it to Regardie. This was at a time when photocopies were ten cents a page and it added up very quickly in real money. According to Lisiewski, Regardie asked him to report to him about the various activities of fledgling GD groups and people, many of whom who claim the Regardie/GD banner, Regardie had little use for. Of course, Regardie as becoming very much the “grumpy old man” by this time. Lisiewski discussed his fall-out with the A.A. taking blame in part upon himself in part, for his immaturity regarding the relationship. He discussed having taken a student too early in his ability to teach, and the student's ability to learn and the fall-out.
One of my pleasures was on November 8, 2006 when James Wasserman spoke to The Masonic Reading Society on the topic of the Knights Templar. His presentation was at The Westmoreland Club, South Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre (Pa). Prior to Wasserman's presentation Lisiewski called and I put the two of them on the phone together. It was the first time they had spoken since the early 1980s.
While Regardie and Albertus played the major roles in shaping Lisiewski's occult life, among the 'masters of the Art' long gone, it was Eliphas Levi and A.E. Waite that he spoke of the most. Levi because despite his questionable reputation as both a historian and a practicing magician, he had managed to obtain a comfortable and respectable position for himself and was “without want”. A good place to be in life. He admired Waite for much the same reasons I do. Waite came from a poor background and struggled against the arrogance of wealthy snobs like Crowley, and while he had little in the way of formal education, had managed to carve out a name and place for himself in history. Waite knew what it was like to have dirt under his nails. He was someone both Lisiewski and I could relate to.
During our conversations I was given insight into the darker areas of occult practice, and by this I do not mean simply demonic evocation, but the stranger and more troubling areas of the human psyche and the cosmos. The psychic world is closer to ours, closer than most would like to admit, and once the veil is pierced, a host of invited and uninvited guests can come through. One of the more intriguing areas of magic written about by Lisiewski in his newsletter and later detailed in his book of the same name, Howlings from the Pit, is the ritual of “The Watcher”. The practice as outlined is extremely precise in the equipment needed – however, this is part of the defenses against someone simply working the ritual and getting success. You see, the ritual, like nearly all of the Solomonic magic is difficult, and it is in the difficulty and successful carrying out of the rituals specific requirements that the energy for success is derived. I have seen similar ritual practices and performed them myself, with similar results – all equally frightening when the unseen hand or presence is felt. But it is the ability to maintain one's composure at that critical moment that gives one mastery, not simply sensing the invisible presence. The words of Lovecraft echo in my ears, “Do not call up that which you can not put down” and are good words to place above the portal to one's temple just as Jean Dubuis stated that “Patience” is a good word to put above the portal to one's laboratory.
In addition to having written numerous books on magic and the occult, Lisiewski also wrote several novels. His book The Altar Path was a veiled magical reflection on his childhood in Kulpmont, Pennsylvania, and his other novel Nightshadow was a look at his research while in the United Kingdom (Wales) during his thesis defense. Here, he believes that the true nature of necromancy is not to raise the dead, but for the magus to be raised from the dead.
During one of our discussions regarding meditations on The Cube, a symbol commonly applied to Malkooth in Kabbalah, and sometimes to Yesod, as well as described in detail in the Sepher Yetzirah, as The Cube of Space, we noticed a peculiar phenomena. This was the appearance of a door and sense of the presence of other intelligences. Lisiewski felt that these beings were guardians of some sort – I called them Archons out of habit – and that this door was a trap one should never go through. I am uncertain of that point.
It is unclear if this phenomena has been written about by others, as neither of us has seen it.
If I am asked what is it that I learned from my relationship with D. Joseph Lisiewski, it is this:
Only the results matter.
This is a hard lesson. It is neither warm nor comforting, It offers little hope and much recrimination. Failure is seen for what it is – personal and painful. Success is hard earned, and not to be treated lightly. Such an understanding can make one hard if they let it. Yet the Path in part is designed to make us hard, hard so that we can support the weight of the cosmos on our shoulders, so that we can not only soar like the Eagle, but have the strength of the Bull as well. This is no different from what I have been told in nicer and more eloquent ways by Tibetan lamas and yogis. Yet, when Lisiewski says it, it is hard edged. The blood shed of decades of experience was always seeping though.
In addition there were other lessons learned, some a little more palatable to the weak hearted and gentile folk of modern spirituality, but still none the less, critically important once the above truth is branded into one's consciousness.
- There is objective and subjective. The objective reflects the subjective and is to serve it. The subjective is the world of causes, and the objective is the world of effects.
- If we cannot get the objective world to reflect our subjective desires and aspirations, then all occult practices are worthless from a practical point of view.
- Magic and Mysticism are not the same, nor do they share the same goals.
- Mysticism can be more powerful than magic, when the powers of the mind are applied directly without the intermediary of symbols and ritual.
- If magic and mysticism have no practical value, then life is just a bloody battle for survival.
This may sound somewhat materialistic, but it is important to remember that the Hermetic axiom is, “As above, so below; as below, so above. To accomplish the work of the one thing.” The material world is as divine and spiritual as the mental and psychic worlds, for in fact, there is no difference between them.
It is this failure to consistently get the desired results from magical and various occult practices that pushed Lisiewski to re-evaluate his work in the Golden Dawn system from which he came to the well known conclusion that “the Golden Dawn is an eclectically imbalanced system”. In short, it is top heavy. Too much is piled on – Hebrew, Egyptian, Enochian, Christian - all hoping that if you throw enough against the wall something has got to stick, or in this instance, work. Work being defined as getting the desired results – and not just as “changes in consciousness at will” but in the environment, in one's day to day life.
These changes were not only experienced by Lisiewski, but according to him, by his wife as well. He stated that during one operation a dark figure of a man was continually appearing on the edge of the property of their rented townhouse. Another time he went to obtain his 'dagger with the black handle' - a tool of Solomonic magic used only in rites of death and destruction which Lisiewski claimed demons feared only second to the so-called “Blasting Rod” described in detail in his publication “Howlings from the Pit” - when his wife noticed a trail of blood coming from his hand. Lisiewski stated that he did not notice cutting himself, but that the dagger wanted “to drink”. A similar remark was made by HH Shenphen Rinpoche regarding 'the demon of the weapon' that encourages us to act violently when we own weapons, and the reason why Tibetan practices are heavy on purification and offerings.
Prior to the financial collapse of 2007/2008 he informed me that it was coming, and that martial law was a very real possibility as a result. Representative Paul E. Kanjorski (PA – D) would later state this publicly as justification for the massive federal bailouts to financial sector. Lisiewski also stated that there was widespread ease dropping beyond what is commonly thought, and when, at the time, I asked several engineers involved in communications if this was possible they said no. In 2013 it was finally revealed that the NSA is reported to have actually recorded, traced, or tracked every electronic communication in the US and much of the world. He also stated that there was also a large, planet like object somewhere in or near the asteroid belt. This was recently stated in the news in either 2012 or 2013.
So, how is it that Lisiewski and I get along so well? Very simple, I accept him for who he is. I did not ask him or expect him to be anything or anyone else. He is a trained physicist. By nature this is an intellectually demanding field, and ego are made and destroyed in very heated arguments. I simply accepted that as his strength, not a weakness. While some of it definitely rubbed off on me, I do hope that some of my patience rubbed off on him. Having someone who looks at the operations of the mind, occult theory, and magical rites with the clarity of a scientist looking for causes and effects for consistent repeatability is exceedingly rare – too rare. The ability to have alchemical samples analyzed in a few days time for nothing more than the cost of postage, was well worth listening to the amusingly profanity laced tirade about a publisher, author, or occasional political candidate.
This inability to accept our teachers for who they are rather than how they stack up against our laundry list of expectations of what theyshould be like is a major cause for the often violent and damaging rifts between students and teachers, just as it is among friends. This does not mean that we should accept abusive and possibly harmful behavior from our teachers or friends when it involves us, only that we have to always be clear about what it is we are in the relationship for, and what it is we are getting out of it as well as bringing to it. This level of self-reflection is rare, but critical if we are to truly learn from anyone let alone a would-be-guide on the Path of Return. Not all guides can take us to the end of the journey, but many guides properly chosen, and properly left, can take us step-by-step along the Way.
When I say my daily prayers, and ask that all beings of the Three Worlds be freed from ignorance and suffering, just as Jesus had done when he entered into Hell to preach to the damned, and when I include prayers of gratitude to each of my spiritual teachers, as well as companions, I include Lisiewski as all three: teacher, companion, and friend.
01 January 2014