Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Meditation Demystified 2 (Pranayama)

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The second stage of raja yoga, is pranayama, which we often think of as 'breath control', but is really the control of the life force (prana). So while this practice starts with the breath, it is really the prana that is being manipulated, or better to say regulated, through the breath. Throughout the various oriental traditions of meditation and yoga are various approaches to this, each with their own theoretical models and concepts. The Taoist methods of Tai chi and Qi gong are good examples, particularly the latter, of pranayama, and I would recommend them as extracurricular activities. 

The most basic form of breathing exercise is simply watching the breath. Either just gently following it or counting to ten with each cycle. This method can itself lead to the highest results and to be completely honest little else is strictly necessary, with the caveat that this is true for a mind already well disposed and balanced, in a healthy body capable of relaxing fully. The rest of us have to work at this, and so we have the methods of Yoga.

Modern man (and probably historical man too) has a huge number of stresses and imbalances to work through before he can really get down to business. Not all of us are called to live in a monastery, and all of us have baggage, so auxiliary exercises are necessary to prepare the initiate for meditation. Once Asana has been established, the first of these is of course pranayama.

If we peruse Liber E, A.C. gives various methods and variations on breathing exercises that the student can try out. I won't repeat or comment on these individually except to say that the student should beware of letting this practice turn into a sort of competition to try to constantly slow the breath more and more. The breath naturally slows as the body relaxes, the muscles and circulatory system open up, the blood flows more efficiently, delivering oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body, and with it the flow of prana becomes both stronger and more even. If you try to force a tensed body to slow the breath you only suffocate it, and the sign that you are doing this is that after a few cycles you are gasping for breath.

In all things the breathing, while being ideally slow and deep, should be natural and in harmony with the state of the body. Crowley talks about automatic rigidity, but in my experience at least this is only a preliminary stage early in the practice of pranayama. After this a gradual and deep relaxation occurs, much like success in asana, with which this state is essentially identical. Once automatic rigidity is obtained it should immediately be relaxed. Rigidity is the body trying to hold on to something, and in meditation we really don't want to be holding on to anything. The breath should be natural and slow, in through the nose, out through the mouth, slowing to a point before you start to feel short of breath, so initially it might be quite rapid. I would aim for an inhalation of about 10 seconds, and inhalation of about 15 initially, shortening a little if you start to feel short of breath, but allowing the body to naturally relax with each exhalation until a sort of settle liveliness, not the dead relaxation of a rock, but the living relaxation that we can see in a cat at rest. 

You can also experiment with adding Kumbhakam (holding the breath) for short periods at the conclusion of either the inhalation or the exhalation. The two have different effects, although for relaxation I would recommend at the end of the exhalation where it can be held longest without strain. In the above suggested 10/15 cycle I would add perhaps 5 seconds to make 10/15/5, although you may well find that other cycles suit you better, so experiment, and listen to the body. Of course bodies differ, and even the same body will differ depending on a range of variables such as time of day, weather, stress levels and others. The job of the aspirant is to learn for herself which variables influence her practice and to adapt accordingly to maximise the benefits of the practice.  

In A.'.A.'. terms, the initiate must be able to hold to a cycle of pranayama for a given period of time, traditionally one hour. Personally I don't think this is necessary and have methods available to determine whether the results of pranayama have been obtained. The real results should be a deep relaxation, steadiness and great improvement of the quality of the asana, which before was measured rather bluntly by how long the Zelator could maintain it. At this point we really want to look for quality rather than quantity, since anyone with a bit of grit can endure an hour of sitting. In pranayama, only constant and intelligent practice will bring about the sort of relaxed steadiness that is required.

These methods are difficult to describe, so I won't go into detail, but in general the examiner will sit with the student for a period of time in asana, and the latter will then begin pranayama. The resulting relaxation should come fairly quickly, after less than a dozen cycles, after which the examiner can test by gently pressing the student while in the asana, while himself completely relaxed and centered, carefully sensing movements of the automatic reflexes for signs of tension or instability. Small tremors and movements will betray the slightest tension. Of course, knowing that he is being tested will tend to cause higher levels of tension and thus pronounced responses, but this is ok since it makes for a better test of the students steadiness and relaxed state.

As was implied earlier in this post. Pranayama isn't about the breath. The breath is just the method. What is really being trained is prana, which is to say the nervous system and the energy which flows through it, which, while invisible, is perceptible through its action in the body. Where body and mind are not unified and prana is not under control, it will tend to respond to all sorts of outside influences, particularly those administered by the examiner who knows exactly what to look for. If the students pranayama isn't resulting in greater levels of relaxation, both of mind and body, these impulses will remain beyond his control and thus beyond the scope of his will. If he cannot control these then he does not have control over himself, except in the crudest of terms. Will is still a matter of deliberate mentation, and not yet part of the students being 

Personally I wouldn't expect perfection in a Practicus, but I would expect a level of relaxation above that obtained by the same individual as a Zelator. While the testing itself could last only a few minutes I would be looking for signs that even if the prana is twitchy, the Practicus is aware of this and is able to respond appropriately, not by tensing, but by deepening her relaxation. 

Space here does not permit a full detailed examination of the methods I use, and in any case they are liable to be misinterpreted unless shown first hand, for which one to one contact is required. I am aware that these methods may appear rather idiosyncratic, but actually they are derived from Raja Yoga as practiced and taught by Japanese students over the last 80 years under the tutelage of Nakamura Tempu, an ex-Japanese Army spy operating in China in the 1930's, who later practiced Raja Yoga in the Himalayas before returning to Japan to teach it to some of the early Aikido instructors, themselves students of zen Buddhism and Ichikukai misogi training, and familiar with methods of meditation. I use these methods because they work, are devoid of metaphysical speculation, and with practice can be taught to and learned by anyone. I would not say however that these methods should be universal, individual instructors will have their own methods. In my case, when I was a Practicus my instructor offered no such testing, but since I was already undergoing training in pranayama and relaxation and being regularly tested as part of my Aikido training. She, being a martial artist and Yoga practitioner, recognised the validity of what I was doing and its applicability to the A.'.A.'. work, and passed me on those grounds, For this reason I employ the same methods. 

 Love is the law, love under will.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Meditation Demystified 1 (Asana)

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The training of the mind is central to the curriculum of the A.'.A.'. and can fit nicely into practically any spiritual tradition due to its non-sectarian, empirical nature. Crowley wrote extensively on the subject, and his 'Eight lecture on Yoga' is a classic that I think anyone wishing to take up the practice should acquire.

There is, as Crowley notes, more nonsense written about yoga, than about anything else in the world. I can only echo him when he states; "There is nothing mysterious and oriental about Yoga". I would venture that despite recognising this fact, he himself wrote a fair amount of nonsense on the topic, and going by an examination of Liber E seemed to regard yoga as a branch of athletics where the aim is to gradually deepen ones pranayama and lengthen the time spent in asana.

Having gone through these practices and also trained in another school of Raja Yoga I am pretty confident in stating that there is no goal to this practice; meditation is as useful as drinking wine and listening to Mozart. It serves no purpose, you won't get anything particularly useful out of it, you do it because you 'dig it', and Alan Watts puts it. Reality is an acquired taste and most of us are engaged in various forms of escapism much of the time. If your yoga practice is producing visions and strange effects then you are not in fact meditating, but in fact doing something else. 

It should be noted though that Liber E is really no more than an aid-memoir, and the student should really discuss methods with her supervisor who should be in a position to advise. I would also recommend enrolling in formal sessions of yoga or zazen, if these are available, since nothing beats first hand instruction. 

Meditation is central to the A.'.A.'. curriculum, so I want to address the topic in as simple a way as possible. While I have stated that meditation is useless, it is interesting. Just as our Mozart and wine connoisseur will learn to discern nuances and details inaccessible to the tyro, the meditator will also in time come to appreciate the movements of the mind in ways not apparent, and in this way acquaint himself both with the mind and with reality as it is in itself, and this constitutes illumination. 

While the Hindu tradition says a lot about Yoga that the practitioner can only confirm or deny by experience, I feel that it has the potential to be misleading. This is because it starts from a religious perspective, positing a definite doctrine and cosmology and expecting experiences to conform to this. For the A.'.A.'. student this may also be the case and he is liable to ascribe all sorts of meaning and mileposts to his 'results' based on a Thelemic understanding of things. Personally I prefer the zen approach, which does not assume anything or set definite goals, but proceeds empirically, is entirely observation based, and (in my opinion) better suited to the 'method of science', that the A.'.A.'. purports to teach. However, Crowley knew little of zen (at least he wrote little about it, if anything except indirectly when he discussed Taoism) and his Buddhism seems based largely on reports of 19th century commentators who interpreted it as a sort of nihilistic, world denying death cult. But that's a different topic, I digress...   

In this post I would like to outline my approach to meditation and yoga. I will not discuss here things like astral travelling or the spirit vision, which do not really relate to meditation and in fact serve the opposite purpose. Meditation is not about 'transcending' the real world. Nor is it about going on intense inner journeys or safaris in ones' own mind or on the astral planes. It is not about getting outside the body, talking with spirits or angels, and most definitely not about obtaining visions. While meditating these things, if they arise, should be considered breaches in the magicians circle. The Japanese word for them is Makyos, and they constitute the hallucinations and mental distortions that arise in the course of meditation. They can easily be mistaken for results by the inexperienced practitioner, but are best brushed aside. As a rule of thumb, the meditator should ignore anything that arises in his meditation.

While astral work and the rest are part of the A.'.A.'. curriculum, and necessary for formal progress in that system, they have the potential to do damage to the initiate, to 'loosen the girders of the soul', and are purposely destabilising. Meditation serves as a counter balance, a tether in ordinary life. This is why, immediately after the completion of the 1=10 grade, in which the aspirant is purposely shaking things loose, she is expected to step up her meditation practice and get well and truly grounded. The practices given for this are those of meditation, specifically Raja Yoga but other options are, in my opinion, perfectly fine.

1: Posture

The first thing that needs to be done is the stilling of the body. The practitioner wants to be able to think (or not think) without undue disturbance from the body, something that will be essential when she comes to tackle Pranayama and Dharana later on. The classic practice for this is Asana. A look at Liber E shows a range of postures, derived from classical sources. They all have their potential benefits and drawbacks. rather than go through each exhaustively I will discuss what I feel a good asana should consist of.

Crowley states that an Asana is that which is 'steady and easy'. It is then any posture that keeps the body upright, preferably with minimal external support, and allows for total relaxation. The spine should be upright and straight, and definitely not leaning on the back of a chair. The breathing should be totally unencumbered. I like to sit cross legged, but in such a way that the knees are not twisted, so full-lotus is out. Knee joints only have limited torsional strength, and once they give way they will always be weak, so a position in which they are neither twisted, nor hyper-extended is best. The Dragon, otherwise known circles as Seiza, can be useful if taught correctly, which it usually isn't. In the dragon posture, care must be taken to not slump back onto the heels and the body should be aligned so that the weight is directly between the knees and ankles, not over one or the other. While many traditions involve long periods in this posture, it can get uncomfortable, particularly if you have a large frame. 

The spine should be straight whatever asana is chosen, and the head upright, facing forward, with the eyes either straight forward or gazing gently at a spot on the floor two metres from you, assuming you are sitting on the floor. You should not be looking down, as this tends to withdraw awareness. In zazen the eyes are not closed, but do not look at anything in particular. Closed eyes will cause the awareness to withdraw and mental traffic to increase, and the intention is not to block out the world around you, but to become part of it. If you wish to escape reality then there is always alcohol, sleep, or TV. 

I like to use the half lotus posture, sitting cross legged on a small cushion, left foot over the right knee, spine straight and hands cupped in my lap in a mudra, left hand over right, both palms up and thumb tips lightly touching. A small cushion under the bottom can help elevate the body a little, assisting the posture. If the weather is cold a blanket across the knees is also useful. Once the posture is assumed it should be perfectly balanced. Spine straight, as it the head were being lightly pulled upwards by the crown. The neck, shoulders and arms should be relaxed. The chest should be neither thrust out or collapsed inwards. After ten minutes or so an unbalanced posture will become painful at the point of greatest strain, typically the lower back. You can always adjust and in time and a little experiment the best posture will become apparent. 

The place of practice should be quiet, clean and uncluttered with no cold drafts and little to draw the eye. I like to face a wall and will sometimes burn a little incense. Music it not required since the objective is presence in the here and now, with little to distract and only the mind and five senses for company. Avoid anything extra and anything that might draw the mind into mystical speculations or internal ruminations. The mental attitude is as important as the physical one, and in asana the best way is to not try to stop thoughts, but to be aware of them in the same way as you would be aware of birds singing.

I will cover some of the methods of breathing in detail later, when I discuss Pranayama, but for simplicity you can breath gently through the nose, follow the feeling of the breath or count each breath cycle from one to ten. Breathing should be soft, natural and easy. We are not trying to control anything at this point but instead allowing the body to  adopt its natural activity. Essentially, movement of the chest is minimal, let the stomach expand and contract lightly and easily, there should be no gasping and the breath should be deep and slow just as if you were asleep. 

While there is no point in waiting for Asana to be perfect before moving on to Pranayama, I would consider this the fundamental practice, the one on which all others are build, and probably only the really important one since it contains all of the critical elements of body and mind. These days it is the one practice that I do most often, and it really is the cornerstone of my practice.

A word on asana relating to the zelator grade of A.'.A.'.. As per tradition, she must sit in her asana for one complete hour without moving, shifting or scratching, in order to be formally passed to the grade of practicus. In order for this to be possible she must have selected a posture which is comfortable, balanced, and relaxing. One hour is a long time to sit entirely motionless and if your posture isn't really good by the time you go for testing it's going to be hell. Remember also that asana isn't a competition, and while an hour is mandatory for the A.'.A.'., in daily life you need not sit this long. I typically sit for 10-15 minutes, occasionally longer. One thing I do insist on, is that during the test, the examiner sits with the zelator, also in their asana, for the whole hour. Not only does this demonstrate commitment on the part of the examiner, but also gives support to the zelator and enables them to sit, not with the feeling of being watched, but in the common experience of sitting, which is something I feel is missing from the solitary life of an A.'.A.'. aspirant.

Love is the law, love under will.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Outgrowing Thelema

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

A little over a year ago I was talking with a friend and brother and I informed him that I was no longer a Thelemite. At the time I didn't entirely know what that meant, I only knew it to be the case. I was no longer saying Resh, facing Boleskine, doing Star Rubies or even reading Crowley's works. His philosophy, while interesting, no longer seemed, or seems real to me, and no longer touches me on any deep level. I am no longer a Thelemite, although it is part of my makeup. But then so are a number of other traditions.

I have now been actively involved in the A.'.A.'. for coming up to ten years. I have memorised Holy Books, performed magickal ceremonies and workings, invoked under the stars with wine and strange drugs. I spent 5 years in the OTO, leaving when it became apparent that they were not really 'doing the work', but instead engaged in an elaborate laarp (an understanding that hit me like a flash right in the middle of my II* initiation ceremony), and was rapidly being subsumed by the alt-right, cleft by identity politics, intrigue and accusations of sexual misconduct as well as battles for hegemony of the A.'.A.'. by contentious factions. If that's organised Thelema I wanted none of it.

Though I have been involved in occultism since my teens, Thelema didn't really take off for me until my 20's. One fine, clear night in the very early spring of 2001 I was approaching my 21's birthday. I recall thinking that I was unhappy with where I was in life, having left school at 16 with only a single GCSE to my name and no discernible future. I had spent a lot of the time taking hallucinogenics and doing magic. All I really knew was that I didn't want to still be in that loop in ten years time. I recalled that night Aleister's words: "If you want to change your luck, you have to do something out of character". I took him at his word, and to the shock of most of my friends I signed up for 4 years in the British Army, where I was involved in surveillance and target acquisition and did two tours of active service.

That got the ball rolling. You could call it an act of Will, i.e. probably the first thing I had ever done that wasn't an automatic response to circumstances. But get the ball rolling was all it did, and it was several years before I learned to steer. When I got out of the Army I immediately went into autopilot, very nearly getting married to an alcoholic and settling down to a life that promised nothing but mediocrity and boredom punctuated by drunkenness and resentment. Luckily Uncle Al came to the rescue again and by way of escapism I began reading Thelemic works again and started quietly looking into the A.'.A.'.. After a betrayal of trust on her part I left my fiance, skipped town, joined the A.'.A.'., and the following year enrolled in university, where I spent eight years training to be a scientist.

Now looking back it appears something of a roller-coaster ride since that starry night 19 years ago. I am of course thankful for the Thelemic mindset. It gave me a lot of grit and determination. It is for this that I selected the motto 'Pertinax' (Stick to it). As far as the Outer College work goes, persistence is key. As in life, if you want to attain a set goal, persistence is key. Yet I maintain now that I am not a Thelemite. Not any more, at least not in the strict sense.

In terms of Doctrine, much of the bells and whistles of Thelema no longer ring true for me. I don't believe the reception story, I think Crowley simply wrote Liber Al whilst on a sort of mental high. It's full of his style and bluster and I see no reason to believe a preaterhuman consciousness dictated it. I do accept the basic premise Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, and that Love is the law, love under will, and the metaphysical concepts described as Nuit, Hadit, and Ra Hoor Khuit, but these are only words to me, they point to things but in themselves are misleading. Babalon to me is overly sexualised and tends to short circuit the end it is intended to serve, defeating its own object and causing the mind to focus on the distractions of procreation. As for the A.'.A.'., well, there clearly are no Secret Chiefs. I agree with Shiva that the A.'.A.'. is a spectrum of consciousness that anybody can plug into. The mundane order by that name that Crowley founded is only a syllabus and a structure, and currently subject to a tug of war between various proponents clawing at its carcass while the real secret is right under their noses, unrecognized and disregarded. Nonetheless the spectrum of consciousness remains, and many of us have been successful in implementing it in our lives, so we continue to use the model and teach to others on request.

The last couple of year have been about burning up old karma. About neutralizing the effects of previous causes, and what Castaneda called 'erasing personal history'. The sum total of my actions over the last 19 years is rapidly approaching completion. This is by no means permanent, and like anybody else I have to plan for inevitable change. Unlike before however I have no defined goals, the HGA didn't leave further instructions beyond what I am doing now. I have no True Will as such. One of the first things that happened when I was admitted as a 5=6 is that the HGA, up until that point a constant guide and companion, disappeared. The vision and name obtained prior to that proved empty signs, fingers pointing to the moon. I had my marching orders back in 2015, which I duly obliged, and by doing so found myself exactly where 16 year old me had dreamed I might end up, although at the time it was only a fantasy. It is now down to me to reach my own understanding, without having it given to me by an apparent outside force, and I am fine with that.

Now I am here, and by a much stranger route than I would have imagined. Nearing the completion of that particular karma, there is nothing left to will, no right or wrong path, only decisions that I make in the presence of the eternal. From here it's less about True Will and more about momentum. I am like a planet cast out of its original orbit around its birth star, out into the wilds of space. How far I go and how fast depend on momentum built up, and whether I hit something in the meantime; life can always throw a curve ball. 

I am less inclined to force anything, let alone set my will going in any particular direction. I have become more acquiescent, reflective. "Behold where thine angel hath led thee", now jump! My daily study and practice is that of Zen, and the Christianity that I was originally brought up in, now understood afresh from the perspective of an initiate. The significance of the crucifixion, original sin and other core elements beyond the mass of cultural accouterments and biases added to it from its inception in the 1st century. Not that I believe it in any literal sense, only that I understand the formula and can thus accept it as a praxis. A deepening appreciation of existence as it is, rather than what I would like it to be. Presence, mindfulness really, and a connection to life on its own terms, as per the Golden Dawn 5=6 ceremony: "even as we are bound to the cross of suffering", the only way to get on with life is to accept it, warts and all, without evasion or fear. I suppose I am reaching middle age, being 40 this year. Gone to seed, as a younger, more condescending me might have said, with a slight sneer no doubt. I will never be the sort of Christian that the church likes, an obedient sheep, and I am probably a poor sort of occultist, not rejecting Christianity wholesale as I did in my youth, but instead wearing it like an old jumper, a bit ragged, with holes and stains, but undoubtedly comfortable.

While I myself am no longer a Thelemite, I don't disregard it's value. Thelema is like a dose of salts, it gets results, and quickly. Anyone who takes up Thelema as a core philosophy should hold onto their hat. For those stuck in a rut it's just the thing, as well as for those indoctrinated with the more pernicious fundamentalist sorts of religion I would recommend a prescription of Thelema, as well as to anyone who's life has stalled and looks set to crash on takeoff. For this reason I continue to work within the A.'.A.'. system, as a spectrum of consciousness rather than a dogmatic position' Let others make a new religion of Thelema, I am quite content to just quietly tend my own garden.

Love is the law, love under will.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

An Order of the Spirit

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Those starting out on the path often meet with confusion when they discover that contrary to their expectation of a singular Order known as the A.'.A.'., there are in fact dozens of A.'.A.'.'s. They then find themselves faced with the task of discernment: which is the 'real' one? Endless sleuthing then ensues, chasing paperwork chains, trying to verify claims and endless conflict in the lower planes. This conflict arises even among so-called initiates claiming their bit of the sand-box here in Malkuth. It really is endless and cyclic, and serves as a fantastic winnowing pan, but sooner or later we have to move on if we are to advance in the way of the Spirit.

You see, A.C. was quite clear when he stated that the A.'.A.'. has existed since time immemorial as an Order of the Spirit. My own experience and that of others that I have spoken to confirm this, we work not within mundane or even yetziratic spheres, but in fact much higher up the tree of life. While we that work within this or that lineage descended from A.C. must take care to preserve his outer rules and guidelines for consistencies sake, in reality it is not this or that person or group who will initiate an aspirant, but the Spirit of Wisdom itself. Sometimes a student will struggle under the confines of the formal system and its technical requirements and be held back. Or conflicting with the personalities of supervisors will withdraw altogether. If he is wise he will realise that these things are of the lower planes in the world of action, and that the Spirit of Wisdom continues in the background irrespective of these issues that occupy us so deeply.

Of what I have seen of aspirants over the years, including myself, those who take their oaths seriously and get 'hooked up' as it were, tend to continue in the work whether they plan to or not. Movement between lineages happens, those who formally leave continue alone because it is in their nature. Occasionally people re-join outer orders when they are more properly fitted or other wise get moved from place to place. My supervisor now isn't my original supervisor, since she withdrew formally about 5 years ago and I was obliged to seek another connection, in the outer at least, and I wasn't going to call it a day just because she had. We can never tell where we will be fitted to the chain. Since the world of action requires a special patience and maturity that often only develops away from others solitude is needed.

Once the hook is in, as it were, the aspirant is like a fish on the line; the spirit moves in him and he is drawn inexorably up the tree of life irrespective of conditions in the outer world, the spirit often has little regard for the letter. The signs are there if he knows how to look and whilst an A.'.A.'. aspirant has to pass various practical and written tests and complete technical work in order to be formally admitted to a grade, real initiation does not necessarily abide by these rules. One of the most difficult jobs in an outer order is attempting to marry up formal and actual initiation. Usually an aspirant will have actually obtained a grade quite some time before being formally admitted. On the other hand, once this actual admission is recognised by the aspirant it usually serves as a catalyst for them to complete the work, so I like to let them know when they are ready, it gives that extra impetus needed to reach the next summit!

While I hold with the opinion that if a person expects to teach A.C.'s system to others he should have learned it thoroughly himself. I also have to concur that the 'Real' A.'.A.'. is much broader and deeper than the syllabus set out in Crowley's writing, and in fact is a school with many colleges where students study many different topics and methodologies. This is not an Order of rules and regulations, of strict deadlines and exact copying of the work of dead men, this is an Order of the Spirit of Wisdom! Wisdom guides and teaches, not other men and women who are, when all is said and done, no more than fellow pilgrims on the road!

A promising aspirant may have difficulty in settling into a formal Order with its rules and syllabus of technical teachings. Not to say that these things are bad, they work for some and the Outer College curriculum is a fantastic primer to initiation in general, but each must come to the work in his own way, answering the call as he understands it. As we hear occasionally, there are many Brothers and Sisters of the A.'.A.'. who never hear of such an Order existing. I would only add, that there are also many members of formal orders who never enter the Order of the Spirit and instead fixate on mundane works, spending their lives in tribal groups and never really ascending beyond this burning ground of Malkuth. When a finger points to the moon, you don't look at the finger.

Our task then becomes one of making ourselves fit, learning to listen, wait watchfully for the movement of the Spirit of Wisdom within us and in those who we work with as aspirants. Not only watching, clipboard in hand to make sure they (and we) meet certain prescribed criteria so that we can put a tick in a box, which can lead to little more than a heightening of the judgmental attitude that I feel precludes real communion between people. Rather we watch for the movement of the spirit that signifies real progress, a movement that marks out aspirants as surely as the brand on the forehead which he receives when he is admitted to the order. Learning to recognise this requires real humility and discernment, since we must always be careful that we don't fall into a doctrinaire interpretation of things and thus exclude the Spirit entirely, for the simple reason that it is easier to understand written and formal rules and we lack the subtlety to discern the spirit. We do not try to bring the Holy Order down to our level; on the contrary it is our responsibility to rise up to meet it. 

Love is the law, love under will.

Friday, 1 May 2020

The Vision and the Voice

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

Having been working through the A.'.A.'. system for most of a decade now I've gotten pretty familiar with most, if not all of the writings of Aleister Crowley's writings. As I have gone on, I have more and more branched out and explored areas of mysticism that Crowley never wrote much about, or at least only touched on briefly. Other things he seems to have completely missed, or else ignored. These omissions have largely carried over into the writings of his predecessors, who unsurprisingly follow similar veins of thought and arrive at similar conclusions. It has become the thing to try to emulate Crowley, to obtain his visions, his 'heights of ecstasy', and to understand the path in the way that he did. Along with Thelema as a system; a Victorian era occultism, Jungian psychology, dream analysis and other visionary experiences are a big part of the A.'.A.'. system, so they are important as a basis for a spiritual education of this type. However there comes a time when the book needs to close on these things, some distance gained, as a way of getting perspective and developing as a person along lines derived from ones karma, if you like, rather than the forced growth of a vine trained to a frame for the convenience of the gardener.

The more my own practice deepens, the more I realise that this stuff really is only the preliminaries of the spiritual life. The Neophyte is encouraged to work with astral and etheric forces. By doing so she opens up the doorway to Yesod via the path of Tau, and from there becomes a denizen of the astral realm, that of the instincts followed by an incursion into realm of the mind, of concepts and images, and at a deeper strata the realm of emotions and socio/sexual programming, in short the things which for many of us make up our personalities, who we are, or who we think ourselves to be.

The best way to view a mountain isn't from the summit, but from a distance. In terms of practice, a lot of what I do these days is less about climbing to the summit of who I am, but of getting sufficient distance from it to be able to appreciate it, both in itself and in relation to the landscape in which it sits. Thelema is very individualistic, as is modern western culture. The 'individual' takes centre stage in his or her own drama. Given the inevitability of death and the disintegration of the body, and with it the individual, this is vain worship of a false idol. Modern society all but forces this worship, making it the default position. We worship vapidity and temporariness and spirituality of all stripes teaches us to hope implicitly for an afterlife of some sort, a continuation of the individual after the death of the body, either by resurrection or reincarnation, both speculative at best, driven more by hope than knowledge. We focus so much on our individuality that we lose sight of our person-hood, as members of humanity, and the fact that we are social creatures who only really derive meaning in life from our relationships with others, a fact that should be more apparent now in these days of mass self-isolation where the importance of our connections is brought to the fore. 

Even the wisdom of the ancients, from paganism to yoga and anything in between, are all drafted in to propagate the cult of the self. All point towards the improvement of the self, a becoming,...but becoming what? All change is a process, but a process is not necessarily an improvement. It strikes me that as individuals the only thing we are all undeniably becoming is rotten flesh in a casket, the very idea of becoming when married to the idea of the individual is doomed to failure, because it is founded on a delusion, it is to be married to a ghost.

Rather than becoming, and focusing on the individual, focusing on myself and MY path, perhaps it is better to simply observe the process of constant change. Increasingly my inclination is to just be, just exist with no special aim beyond the task before me. Birds sing, flowers open to the sun, the moon goes and returns in eternal cycles, this is True Will in action. As a biologist it is apparent to me that organic life is a constant cyclic dance, interacting with the minerals of the soil, the air around it, and all fueled ultimately by the sun or, in a very few cases, by the heat at the centre of the earth. In the Soto zen tradition the idea of becoming, linked to the idea of self, is seen as illusory, a fantasy that does nothing but compound our stuckness. The central practice of zen, meditation, is about sitting in quiet awareness as an expression of Buddha nature, not intent on becoming a Buddha, but simply existing. In Tai chi chuan the form in its intricate flowing movements is an expression of the Tao, Koichi Tohei taught that meditation is an expression of the universal mind, and the author of the Psalms writes: "Be still and see that I am God!"

This vision, that is no vision, since it reflects off of nothing, this voice that rings like the deepest silence. Light shines in darkness and the darkness does not comprehend, because the darkness is the 'individual', the ego and the mind which is opaque, not permeable to the light, and so does not comprehend it. The daily round of practice, meditation and mindfulness serve best now, like sinking into deep water, into sleep, like dying, "as an acid that eats steel, as a cancer that utterly corrupts the body, so am I unto the spirit of man!" Or, "And I said, Now have I begun: this is the change of the right hand of the most High". The rest is silence, and the eternal glimmer of distant stars.

Love is the law, love under will.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Outer Order Grades 6: Dominus Liminus

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

"Let any Philosophus be appointed a Dominus Liminus".

The status of the Dominus Liminus can be thought of as a sub-grade of the Philosophus. This is not quite accurate however, and in practice this grade bears more resemblance to the Probationer grade, or that of an 'Adept in waiting'. Not being officially assigned to a Sephirah, this grade resides in the region of the Tree of Life called Paroketh. The name of the grade translates as: Lord of the Threshold, and as such the Dominus Liminus is one who again waits at the door, but this time the door is that of the Inner Temple, that of the Rose Cross, as signified by the emblem he wears on his breast.

This grade is situated at the intersection of Peh and Samekh, and is essentially a grade of harmonisation. Having traversed the pillars of severity and mercy he returns to the middle pillar, since it is along this grade that real progress is made. There is no set time limit for advancement to the subsequent grade, which can occur at any time that authority confers it.  

The Dominus Liminus is encouraged to meditate deeply on the path. This is a grade of integration and of bringing to fruition the work carried out so far. In previous grades the aspirant has been assessed by his supervisor at the conclusion of each grade, but here things are different, the tests too critical, and he is instead assessed by Preamonstrator of the A.'.A.'.. I would like to say that assessment is by committee, in that the Dominus Liminus is recommended for advancement into the Order of the Rose Cross by his supervisor, there may or may not be some debate, but ultimately the final decision lies with the Preamonstrator, or else the senior active initiate.

The Dominus Liminus is expected at this point to take up an office in a temple of initiation, and to facilitate this he is issued a copy of Liber Mysteriorum which contains the Temple Initiations of the Outer College. This takes care of his memorisation task and will also help to integrate the essential keys of the outer college curriculum and give structure to his work, furthering his central task of harmonisation. He may well have served in the temple prior to this grade, and in particular a Philosophus may well have served the Order in this capacity, fulfilling the requirements for both grades.

Control of thoughts provides a complimentary exercise to the Yoga prevalent in this grade. Exactly how this is carried out depends on the aspirant who is left to himself in all things. One example might be to adopt separate personalities, and at a physical signal such as the wearing of a ring, adopt one or the other. This is a very difficult practice to maintain for long periods but can prove useful in highlighting where the personality is still dominant, veiling the Self.

The harmonising of knowledge is a difficult thing to assess. Really I would regard this as a work of synthesis. Previously in each grade the aspirant has worked in a specific manner and on particular subjects. The 1=10 concerned himself with ceremonial, hermetic science and all the paraphernalia and objects of occultism, the 2=9 became a Hatha Yogi and so on. The Dominus Liminus is not limited by this, and rather than being partial and deliberately focused on one area of attainment he instead finds his own natural balance where the four broad areas that he has worked on become synthesised into a single praxis according to his own nature. It is for this reason that Initiates of this grade or above may seem a little idiosyncratic in their approach, making them difficult to pin down. What is actually happening here is that the Dominus Liminus is maturing, gestating we might say, in his own silence and according to the inner prompting of the Angel which increasingly is his sole guide in these matters.

This brings us to, Lighting the magick Lamp. We read in Liber A:"This shall he accomplish secretly and apart, without asking the advice or approval of his Adeptus Minor." Refers not only to the practical but the inner requirements. The Dominus Liminus constructs his own lamp and places it within his own temple, where it burns without wick or oil, being fed by the Aethyr, which is to say, from this point he is left to his Angel and should refer ever more to that inner light. To facilitate this the practices of Raja Yoga again will play a key role.

He is expected to bring his Yoga to a higher standard still; Dharana leads naturally to Dhyana, subject and object while still distinct, are at the same time one. Pratyahara begins and consciousness is withdrawn from the senses by profound relaxation, and may well be facilitated by the practice of Mahasatipatthana learned in the 4=7 grade. Where this practice involves a separation of the senses, Pratyahara goes one step further and is removed from the senses. This is not to say unaware,  since consciousness continues, and with a though you can a return to full waking awareness. But within the practice itself is silence, the mind is turned inwards to the secret depths of ones being as if you were at the bottom of a well, something like the space on the edge of sleep, only controlled, balanced, liminal, a door between the worlds, only not the worlds of dream on the threshold of sleep, this is Paroketh, the threshold of Briah, the creative world. The Dominus Liminus will need this liminal space if he is to enter the next grade, since it is here that communication with the Holy Guardian Angel takes place, in silence, withdrawn from the world and even from oneself, where vision proceeds not from the light of the things of the subconscious, but of the Logos itself, the light of the Aethyr.

I recall this grade as a quiet time in my Outer College work. Where the previous grades had been full of activity, suddenly I was left with little to do except digest and reflect. Aside from the aforementioned tasks I worked on commentaries on the Holy Book chapters that I had memorised, and also continued to work on the adaptation of Liber Samekh that I had begun as a Practicus. The effect was not unlike that of a student who, having completed his finals now awaits the exam boards decision. There was also a regular sense of being questioned, almost interrogated by an unseen person or persons questioning my right to be where I was at the threshold, which is consonant with the statement in part 5 of the task of this grade "his mastery will be often disputed, though he knoweth it not".

The transition from this grade to the next was silent, almost imperceptible, as if at a given point my perspective changed of its own accord, the lamp lit as if by itself, and a light ascended to the darkness.

This brings to an end my brief exploration of the Outer Order Grades of the A.'.A.'., a work that covered just under four years of constant daily study and work. On the whole this exercise has been something of a recapitulation on my part, not unlike the work of synthesis carried out as a Dominus Liminus. While some of the ideas and images here may not chime with what others have written, and there is sure to be some disagreement, I hope that there might also be some common ground, and that this account might be of use to somebody considering the path or already on it.

Love is the law, love under will.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Outer Order Grades 5: Philosophus 4=7

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

As before, there is no ritual admitting to the grade of Philosophus. Now entering the third of the yetziratic triad the new Philosophus will now have build up considerable momentum. Furthermore, he will have lost some excess weight in the form of outmoded thinking and attitudes. Having been put through ordeals both of the body and the mind he is ready for the next stage of the process.

Netzach corresponds to the planet and Goddess Venus, and refers to love, more properly Agaph, which we can handily think of here in it's original sense of brotherly love. Where Hod was the library of the temple, Netzach is more of a social space for interactions with other beings, quite possibly a bar, and there may be alcohol, exotic dancers, and other forms of intoxication around with which to lubricate social interactions. Many people stay here all there life, and it is easy to see why! The usual translation of the name Netzach is 'victory', which gives us another insight into Venus, since in ancient times the goddess of love was also goddess of war. Aphrodite was reputed to be the mother of the warrior Achilles, and while we all know him for his weakness in the ankle, from which we draw the name of Achilles tendon, if we re-read the Iliad it becomes apparent that peerless in warfare, his real weakness was of the romantic kind, and was the cause of his dispute with the king Agamemnon which almost cost the Greeks the Trojan war.

The task of the Philosophus is as follows: "To obtain control of the repulsions and attractions of my own being". This compliments that of the previous grade, vacillations being essentially sideways movements, repulsions and attractions are movements forward and backwards, towards and away. This describes in one sense timidity and aggression, what we shy away from and what we head towards vigorously, as well as what repels or attracts us about other people, for the Netzach grade is essentially outward looking. A pattern begins to emerge, and this is summarised by the symbol that distinguishes the Philosophus, the Calvary cross of the elements, which now has a sturdy base with which to touch the earth and is fully extended in all four directions (see the top of this post).

This grade is related to the socio/sexual conditioning of the aspirant. This is the Sephirah not simply of love, but of who and how we love. It is also the sephirah of hate and conflict. The work of this grade seeks to uncover deep drivers of behavior beyond the merely intellectual. The instinctual drives, what you love and what you hate, and how you respond to the world around you. In the Zelator grade something similar is carried out in the physiological training of Hatha Yoga and a good yoga instructor or ones supervisor will be able to test this. In Netzach something similar occurs in the life of the Philosophus as a result of his grade work, and he will be able to adapt this principle of self-testing to obtain insight into his repulsions and attractions, thus enabling him to begin to exercise some control over them. 

The core practice of the Philosophus is that of Bhakti Yoga, which is Yoga by devotion. The precise Bhakti referred to here is para-Bhakti, or pre-bhakti, and is encompassed in the practice of Liber Astarte, a text which instructs in the building of a devotional practice aimed at a specific deity of the aspirants choice. He is also tested in his devotion to the order, but as other writers on the matter have stated, he will by now probably have demonstrated a considerable degree of devotion just by getting to this advanced grade! Crowley writes in Liber Astarte that the practice is better if the deity selected for devotion is one whom the aspirant has no particular love for, and in fact antipathy might be better to begin with. Again this refers to the main task of the grade in which the Philosophus must be ruler of his repulsions and attractions to the extent that he is able to maintain equanimity with regards to his likes and dislikes, thus freeing him from another potential barrier to the realisation of his True Will, being his own personal preferences! In any case this pre-Bhakti is deliberate, targeted, and trains the aspirant in devotion as a principle in itself, not out of instinctive passion, as he might be devoted to a desirable partner, but to willed devotion. We can look at this work as a precursor to 'love under will'. 

The ritual work designated for this grade is Liber V vel Reguli, also called the ritual of the Mark of the Beast. After learning and practicing this ritual for a while, I used it to construct my own ritual of the same type, which I dubbed Liber co, This went on to become my 'Act to represent the Universe', of which more later. He also applies himself to chapters 5 and 6 of Liber O, which instruct in rising on the planes, which is not tested here but should be noted down as usual in the diary, which will give some indication of the quality of the work, which covers the path of Samekh, and Art: leading directly from Yesod to Tiphareth along the middle pillar.

The practice of evocation is assigned to the 4=7 grade and is attributed to the path of A'in. The Devil, with the Goetia being the go-to text. However other texts can and should be looked in to. My approach was to use the Goetia method as a basis, but by this time having obtained certain magickal keys of my own I departed from an exact replication of those methods and instead utilised my keys in harmony with tradition, constructing a lamen, talisman and triangle of art in keeping with my then understanding of ADNI and the names, signs and numbers so far received, and used these in my evocations. It is worth noting that in harmony with what I wrote earlier about Netzach and the socio/sexual drives of the aspirant, this work is by definition a bringing out what is within, so beyond the simple ability to summon a medieval demon to poison your enemies cow or enchant his wife, which is child's play compared to the purpose of the Great Work, the work of evocation summons and bring to the surface the demons of ones own hidden drives and compulsions, which you then have the job of reigning in and bringing into the service of your will. My advice: don't forget to consecrate your triangle of arte! 

The third path to traverse is that of Nun, and the tarot card Death. The practice here is Mahasatipathana, essentially a form of introspective mindfulness. The reason for attributing this to the path of Nun will be apparent once you begin the practice. This practice is really an analysis by detached observation, first of the body followed by the mind-body connection, the thoughts, the impulse of though (pre-thoughts perhaps). The practice can begin in Asana, lying down, or walking, with detached notice being taken of each arising 'skanda', perhaps joined with the phrase 'not this, not this' (neti neti). The four domains in Satipatthana are (Body, feelings, mind, and dharma, which Patenjali divides into Yama (constraints) and Niyama (observances)). You will note here the commonality here with the task of the grade. Mindfulness then becomes another tool for obtaining control over ones repulsions and attractions, and is thus death to the wandering ego that thinks it is in command but is in reality a victim of circumstance, drawn or repulsed like iron filings to a magnet.

Liber DCCCXIII vel ARARITA is a beautiful book which indicates something of key importance to the 4=7 grade. As usual the Aspirant chooses a chapter to memorise. These chapters are short, only fourteen verses each. I would advise study of the whole book for some time before deciding which chapter to commit to memory, since the message contained is a key to understanding the whole grade from the position of equilibrium of the middle pillar.

The wand of a Philosophus, constructed of solid copper and gold-plated brass and formed according to Liber A.

The Philosophus cuts the magick wand (See above), and in accordance with Liber A, uses it in an act to represent the universe. For me this was a ritual act, which as mentioned above, I called Liber co, pretentiously subtitled THE RITUAL OF THE UNIFICATION OF THE ONE WITH THE ALL IN THE FORM OF THE UNIVERSAL FIRE. Since I had been re-reading the Chaldean Oracles at the time, and A'sh you will recall is both fire and that which is burned up in the fire, and encapsulated my understanding of the universe as a self creating, self immolating process at the time. The Philosophus can create whatever act he wills here, the supervisor need only get the gist of it and see that it is in harmony with the overall trajectory of aspirants work.

Some words finally on the ordeals of the grade. Formally, the Qlippoth here is called Orev Zarak, translated by Crowley as 'The Ravens of Dispersion'. This name evokes the aftermath of battle when the ravens descend to devour the corpses that only that morning were proud and belligerent young men, bringing to mind a haiku penned by the wandering poet, Matsuo Basho:

Summer grass,
Of warriors splendid dreams,
The aftermath.

We can reflect on what Basho saw here, at the site of the destroyed capital of Fujiwara, nothing left but ruins and the bones of the dead among the summer grass. You will recall that Venus is a goddess of both love and war, exciting men to passion not only of love but of conflict. Nationalistic pride leads to slaughter, a fight over a girl outside a bar leads to a visit to A&E or the morgue: it's all the same to her once the ravens are flying. 

This grade is essentially outward looking and social. Practically speaking the challenges are those of emotionalism and failure to regulate our response to our environment. Believe it or not these responses and ingrained habits are not absolute and can be changed with conscious training. After all, if such change was impossible then the whole theory of Magick would be in question, the person who feels that they cannot change these things is anything but a magician! 

A way to think about our repulsions and attractions is in terms of likes and dislikes. If you have a lot of likes and dislikes this indicates that you are easily manipulated by your environment. We have probably all had occasions where we meet people that we irrationally dislike; it could be a mannerism or a habit of speech, but is quite often unjustified when we analyse it. The same applies to picky eaters and those with finicky tastes such as the child who will only eat bread with the crusts cut off: a healthy appetite enjoys all manner of food. 

Not that Venusian behaviour is of itself a bad thing, but it can be addictive and can lead to any of the traditional vices. Addiction to socialising itself can indicate a similar reliance on environment to regulate our feelings, as can an intolerance to crowds, which is something I have struggled with, being more of a compulsive hermit. We can also be drawn into cycles of pleasure leading to the abuse of intoxicants or behaviours which can be destructive both to our bodies and our family lives. As initiates we are responsible for ourselves and our own behaviour in response to such things, and cannot blame others or the world around us for our own actions. 

There is an element of stoicism in this: the aspirant, having hopefully begun to experience the fruits of meditation will be in a position to go beyond the judging mind and the human tendency to discriminate and blame and instead will have begun to develop what another school calls a 'spirit of non-dissension. This attitude is what is meant by the often misunderstood injunction to "love one's neighbour as oneself", not as passive, servile acceptance of hurt or injustice by which a coward convinces himself of his virtue, still less the silent harboring of the words and misdeeds of others in our hearts, which is mere endurance and leads only to resentment and the internalisation of strife, but  is the expression of an open, magnanimous attitude, as that of the sea that accepts all tributaries into the wave-less depths of the heart. 

Between birth and death,
Three in ten are following life,
Three in ten are following death,
And men just passing from birth to death also number three in ten.
Why is this so?
Because they live their lives on the gross level.

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers can find no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so? Because he has no place for death to enter.

(Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 50)

A look at the book 777, column 50 shows us that the transcendental morality associated with Netzach is unselfishness. Just as the Practicus is bound to an adherence to reality as it is in itself (truthfulness), the Philosophus is bound to realise unselfishness, which is an expression of Bhakti yoga. This is the original meaning of Agaph, brotherly love, which is not to say you need to like everybody you meet, but should work to maintain a positive attitude despite the behaviour of others. The Ordeals of the grade can also take on a sexual character that requires a deep understanding and control of the reproductive instinct. The approach is much the same, Agaph implies absolute respect for other persons as "members of the body of God".

My supervisor regards this grade as the one most likely to blow a fuse in the aspirant and the one responsible for more casualties than any other. Most of us with the best will in the world, even when we are capable of controlling the foundations and vacillations of our being, have our work cut out when it comes to our repulsions and attractions. In most situations where this gets put to the test will find that we have acted without thinking as our socio/sexual circuits take over, revealing us to be little more than semi-aware automatons programmed to flee, fight, procreate or eat according to deeply ingrained responses of desire, anger, love, hatred and the rest. 

To my mind, the best weapon for this fight, and the core practice to carry out all throughout the Philosophus grade is that of mindfulness. The aspirant has demonstrated courage as a Zelator, and shown insight as a Practicus, and an incisiveness which like a razor can, if held with a cool eye and steady hand, cut painlessly into the tender flesh of the aspirants deepest fears and desires which he has exposed by his evocations and which will, unless he is prepared, run riot in his life. Here, perhaps more than ever, I am inclined to agree with Israel Regardie's assessment, anybody approaching initiation needs their head examined!

Success in this work entitles the aspirant to add the red petaled rose of the Spirit to the cross of the elements, which is the symbol of the willing crucifixion of the Self in the world. The developed Philosophus may then take the oath of a Dominus Liminus, returning him to the middle pillar in preparation for the final stage of the Outer College work.

Love is the law, love under will.