Recent blog posts regarding the spheres of Chaos have been prompting some reflections for me on the way that progress on the magical path might be experienced within our bodies. We might acquire new titles or embark on yet another curriculum promising new Gnostic vistas (Aeonic timeshare anyone?) but do these chunks of learning or imagined shifts in status actually translate into tangible shifts in how we experience our bodymind?
Much ink has been spilt on this blog with regards the centrality of body within our experience of this initiatory pathway that we call magic. To dance, shake and vibrate the names of god in our bodies is central to the type of ecstasy and awakening that we are in pursuit of. Ours is not a means of escaping the physical, rather the insights gained come through the messy, fragile realities of our flesh.
My own baby steps as a spiritual explorer began when I discovered a book on hatha yoga that my Mum had used whilst being pregnant with me. Much to the amusement/dismay of my working-class builder Dad, the 10 year old me spent hours trying to master “Salutation to the Sun” and crashing into furniture as I attempted daring headstands. On reflection, a big part of my love for this approach was the extent to which it demanded something of me at a very physical level. For the proto-adolescent me trying to come to terms with a rapidly changing body, the discipline and degree of bodily awareness that these exercises awakened felt deeply congruent with stirrings of the libido and the unfolding of sexual awareness.
As my body underwent the alchemical awakening of puberty, I sought to use the channels of asana, pranayama and the Maha mantra of the Vaishnavas as a means of trying to negotiate the primary challenge of “identity vs. role confusion” (cf. Erik Erickson). Eventually I chose to run into the arms of the church in hope of escaping my growing sexual uncertainty, but even here Pentecostal ecstasies found their messy way into my body via glossolalia and Holy Ghost tremblings. My own journey through Christianity and ultimately out the other side, felt as though it were a response to this deep need to experience religious sensuality as a whole body experience. Although the lives of St. Francis, St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila point towards such embodied ecstasies, personally I needed technologies that mapped this territory more fully.
Whilst in the early stages of training for the Anglican priesthood, the ideas of Jung turned on the lights with regards depth psychology and the potency of occult knowledge. These concepts were not abstractions, Jung’s ideas concerning anima and animus flicked another switch with regards my own gender fluidity. The breadth of his engagement with alchemical traditions allowed him to develop a psychological model that contrasted starkly with orthodox Christianity. The primary dualities of light/dark, Christ/Satan that are generally viewed as oppositional, are now viewed as being polarities within which a natural oscillation can take place over time. Whether using the yogic psycho-physiology of the Ida, pingala and shushumna or the severity/mercy polarity of the kabbalistic tree it becomes possible to dance with apparent opposites rather than struggle against them. These dualities are not mere topics for intellectual ascent, but realties that can be mapped and felt within the body.
The decision to step out onto the path of occult knowledge and magical practice is rarely an easy one to take. For me the core conditioning received via the church dictated that such a journey was psychologically and spiritually dangerous. In many senses I’d agree – the desire to eat from the tree of knowledge brings with it a process of individuation that necessitates pain and growth. Such processes ask us to examine and challenge the beliefs that we have inherited so as to break new ground in the hope of becoming who we need to be.
As I began trying to find a path or magical tradition that made greater sense of my spiritual yearning, I became aware of how much of the body-focused material from the yogic traditions I had absorbed was resurfacing within neo-paganism. From Theosophy, the Golden Dawn and the work of Crowley I came back into contact with a heady fusion of ideas that while potentially helpful, were also confusing in the lack of intellectual transparency with regards their origins. What would it look like to engage more thoroughly with the source material from which these ideas originated whilst retaining the spirit of creativity and rebellion that stirred their genesis?
Personally I have found that my own attempts to cultivate a dynamic, magically informed sadhana have provided an invaluable lens through which I can appreciate the efforts of my tantric forebears.
My own attempts to make head-way along this path eventually led me to seek initiation within an Order that remains unapologetic about its east/west hybridism. My own initiating guru within the AMOOKOS tradition was clear in stressing many of the commonalities that exist between hermetic and tantric approaches. Given my history this has helped me greatly in seeking to integrate different aspects of spiritual explorations. Some may be uneasy about this type of approach, but for me this considered syncretism continues to contain a potentially magical dynamism.
As I walk my own path, what I find myself returning to (albeit in a number of differing traditions and sets of practices) are those methods that ask me to deepen the degree of holism in the insights that I might gain. This leaking, failing body is both the arena for potential ecstasies and the ultimate reminder of my own mortality. For me the process of alchemical refinement that I am pursuing is not one of moving up and away from the body, rather it aims to be one of return and refinement as new levels of consciousness are brought to bear.