In Search of Depth – A Review of ‘The Magickal Union of East and West’ by Gregory Peters

Much of the writing on this blog is preoccupied with the question of how we as Magicians of varying stripes seek to develop both depth and meaningful direction in our spiritual work. Rather than signing up to the concept of “one teleos fits all”, I hope that team Baphomet manages to balance a lively interest in the development of mature practice while revelling in the many potential ways that this might be pursued.

Once we move beyond the initial stages of understanding the core myths and ritual techniques of a given tradition it can feel bewildering as to how one can put down the type of deep roots that will enable more long term sustenance. While finding a helpful teacher or a structured Order may provide guidance for those lucky enough to locate them, I would not underestimate the role of a good book in providing us with new insight. Thankfully in The Magickal Union of East and West Gregory Peters has provided us with one of these volumes.

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Peters comes from a rich background of Thelemic ceremonial magic and various lineages of both  Hindu and Buddhist tantra. In this work he seeks to outline some of the key ideas and practices that he and other magical colleagues have worked with, within the Ordo Sunyata Vajra (OSV) over the past 18 years.  As is suggested by its English translation as an Order of the “Adamantine Void”, this is a curriculum that seeks to equip the magician with both philosophy and ritual technique for exploring dimensions of the “true” and “silent” self.

Peters is an open and enthusiastic guide who offers the insights he has gained with a deep sense of gratitude to those teachers and currents that have informed his work. Whether it be the work of Kaula Nath lineage of AMOOKOS, Dzogchen or Chan Buddhist practices, he presents these approaches within an explicitly Thelemic world view. However much he has gained from these Eastern traditions, his work seeks to engage with them as means for getting to the deeper dimensions of Crowley’s work as it was carried forward by Kenneth Grant, and Greg’s own mentor Soror Meral (Phyllis Seckler).

If we are to move beyond superficial heavy metal styling’s regarding the expression of “true will”, we will need to explore what will this mean in terms of the transformation of self and the manifestation of Thelema and Agape within our everyday lives. This is not a rejection of the Western magical tradition, rather it is an attempt to reconnect us to those spiritual traditions that were critical to the reconstitution of Neo-pagan paths long deprived of their own change technologies.

Our author is a big fan of Kenneth Grant and clearly sees the focus of the OSV as being profoundly connected to the recovery of a perennial form of “Stellar Gnosis”. In contrast to Grant however, Greg (as a Tantric and ceremonial practitioner) provides us with plenty of guidance with regards things we can do. Malas can be blessed and altars can be created and there are plenty of ritual outlines that we are invited to explore and adapt depending on setting and inclination. We also spend time thinking about what it means to inhabit the “dragon seat” of meditation in order to explore the oscillating sense of being and non-being.

For me, this work provides some helpful maps for exploring the limited spatial metaphors that we as magical types can get hung-up on. If we adopt a psyche-centric focus for work, are we seeking to reinforce concepts like ego-strength or are we pursuing the dissolution of our self-concept? In seeking to simultaneously deepen our engagement with both True Will and the formlessness of the Void, Peters seems to be acknowledging the inevitable spiralling movement of the self as it dances between such poles. In sitting with a spaciousness that demands the alchemical transformation of our Will, Self is ultimately embraced even though its newer form may now seem barely recognisable.

I would highly recommend this book to those magicians interested in how the Aeon of Horus can shake-off some of its dustier, pseudo-masonic origins. In the spirit of Grant’s Typhonic work and Nema’s Maat magick, the work of the OSV provides some highly helpful guidance as to how we as contemporary practitioners can work with both Eastern and Western magical currents in a manner that feels at once respectful, deep and innovative.

SD

Neuro-Apocalypse,  by Danny Nemu – A Review

This work by the Reverend Nemu is a heady brew that plunges us into a world of deep Kabbalah. In this second part of a planned trilogy, he leaps headlong into the realm of neuroscience and the way in which language development shapes consciousness and human evolution. Like I said, it’s deep!

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Danny’s writing is lucid and engaging and he cuts between personal travel log, biblical exegesis and riffing about the joys of neuroplasticity. It made me think that if Robert Anton Wilson knew his Bible better he’d probably have written like the good Reverend. Nemu admits that his textual interpretations are unorthodox, but he is a serious exegete who while paying close attention to cultural context also engages in creative use of rich mythic concepts.

As much as Danny clearly enjoys playfully interacting with how language has shaped him both personally and spirituality, he has a more far-reaching exploration in mind. Not only does our learning of new languages shape us as individuals, but the incoming of the logos into the grand narrative of human evolution is central to differentiating us from other primates. Danny transports us into the deep time of Eden’s Garden and treats us to a director’s cut of what was really going on with that wiley serpent of consciousness.

While some might find the radical juxtaposition of material disorientating, personally I felt that it induced a psychedelic state of awareness that felt resonant with the type of conscious brain-change that he was seeking to describe. Yes this work is at times dense and demanding of concentration, but the author does well to intersperse his theory with some entertaining experiential vignettes.  Danny provides us with some vivid personal biography regarding his experience of the ayahuasca community and then builds upon this in seeking to draw parallels with other forms of ecstatic and contemplative spiritual practice.

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Serious exegete

I especially enjoyed his examination of what we might learn from the experiences of folks who are more atypical in their neurology (people on the autistic spectrum or who voice-hear) and what these lessons might mean more widely for human potential. While understandably speculative in places I enjoyed the positivity of this as a re-frame for mental health experiences that are so frequently problematised.

In many ways I experienced Neuro-Apocalypse as a deeply Gnostic work, as the Rev. Nemu allows us to accompany him on a roller-coaster ride through his rich personal mythology. While such journeys can be fraught with either narcissism or excessive eccentricity, I felt that Danny did a great job in remaining true to his personal vision while ensuring that we, as his readers, can glean riches that are applicable to our own paths.

Rev. SD

A Fondness for Snakes – the Art of Marchesa Casati

Imagine that you are invited to an astonishing, opulent house. In the property’s winter garden, near the west wing, dwell fabulous beasts; scaled and feathered marvels. On entering the building you are greeted by a mechanical stuffed panther, moving and growling, its eyes flashing feline fire. You are escorted by exquisitely liveried footmen into the bedchamber of the lady of the house. A woman with kohl ringed eyes dilated with belladonna extract, and wild flame-red hair. She is one of the richest woman in Europe (you have been transported back to France in the 1920s ).

Admitted to the bedchamber you discover your hostess; “…enveloped in white tulle and crowned by an upside-down silver flower pot, adorned by a single white ostrich plume…sat on a vast green carpet made to resemble a grassy lawn.” However the lady is not pleased by the inclusion of felt daisies in the weave of her indoor sward and asks you to join her in snipping off these disagreeable blooms. There are gilded scissors to do the job along with, “…foie gras and champagne served from a picnic basket presented by a black youth in fancy dress”.

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Images of the Marchesa Casati courtesy of Ryersson & Yaccarino and The Casati Archives

This isn’t some baroque hallucinatory event but one of the many real, utterly fabulous, moments in the life of the Marchesa Luisa Casati who, in the early 20th century, was one of the most outlandish, shocking and remarkable figures of the age.

I’d only briefly encountered the Casati story so it wasn’t until reading two wonderful books that I came to appreciate both the significance and astonishing flamboyance of this woman. Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of The Marchesa Casati by Scot.D.Ryersson & Michael Orlando Yaccarino is a wonderful biography, meticulously researched and a real page-turner of a read (the quotes above are from that volume), and The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse, a lavishly produced, image rich, large format book by the same authors.

There is a tale of a brief meeting between Casati and Aleister Crowley and it appears they didn’t get along too well. Were history to have unfolded differently in that respect we might already have Thelema as mass global religion (which may or may not be a good thing…) since the Marchesa was easily as much an incarnation of Babalon as Crowley was of the Beast. Like Crowley, Casati shocked the high society of la Belle Époque and the fin de siècle decadence, as nations cranked themselves up for the first century of industrialised warfare. Naked beneath furs, great strings of pearls dragging on the floor, leading her cheetahs on diamond studded leashes, Casati adorned and scandalised the age. She had the money to do so, a vast fortune which, like all interesting people, she blew on sex, drugs, art, parties, and magic.

Though details are obscure Casati was an occultist, with magnificent rooms dedicated to magical pursuits in her various houses. These were spaces of rare esoteric tomes, divinatory equipment, heavy incense and yet more exotic pets; ritual spaces that would undoubtedly have made Crowley as green as the Marchesa’s large eyes, with envy.

The stated (magical) intention of the Marchesa Casati was “I want to be a living work of art”, and this she did. Reading the list of artists that chose her as their subject is like reading a Who’s Who of 20th century European Art: Picasso, Man Ray, Epstein, Augustus John, Alberto Martini, Romaine Brooks… the list goes on. Costume (often outlandish, frequently revealing or otherwise transgressive, sometimes genuinely dangerous), sculpture, photography, painting and  more were enriched by the Marchesa as muse and by her financial support of numerous avant-garde artists.

The Marchesa with her crystal ball

The Marchesa with her crystal ball

Of course like any magical figure Casati managed, in a sense, to disappear. That is, while her money and eventually her body gave out (she died in 1957 and was buried in London, ironically beneath a monument that records her name incorrectly), she was reborn (much as Crowley has been) as an cultural icon. She is ground zero for many of the experiments with identity and style of the late 20th and early 21st century. Madonna, Lady Gaga, even Robert Smith of The Cure and Tim Minchin are (knowingly or not) the aesthetic children of the Marchesa. To quote one online article that explores her legacy; “the Marchesa is possibly the most artistically represented woman in history after the Virgin Mary and Cleopatra– her influence is all around us.”

Perhaps it is fitting, as we head towards Halloween, that I’ll soon have the opportunity to visit Luisa’s final resting place. Beneath the London earth, wearing her black and leopard skin finery and a pair of false eyelashes, Casati is interred with one of her beloved stuffed pekinese dogs. Halloween is of course the season where we celebrate the sign of the Scorpion (emblem of magic, money, sex and death) and seek to commune with our ancestors. Money was undoubtedly a vital ingredient in the story of the Marchesa Luisa Casati and my visit to her grave will coincide with  a spot of collaborative ‘Money Magic’. In the words of one of our conspirators “…a group of independent artists, magicians, pagans, druids, and media workers…plan to hold a series of ritual events in the City of London…Our aim is to bring the subject of money creation to public attention using ritual as our symbolic tool. We say that money is a sigil, a magical symbol which enters our lives on the most fundamental level, as desire. Money represents the fulfillment (or lack) of all desire in the current world and we carry it about on our persons, in our wallets and our purses, in our pockets and handbags, allowing it to control us on the most intimate and secret of levels.”

The Machesa Luisa Casati, like Crowley, displayed a fascinating relationship with money; she went from being one of the richest women of her age to having debts of over $25 million, and ended her days in a one room apartment. Yet according to many commentators she retained an irrepressible joie de vivre even in her most impecunious periods. Casati managed to dispose of her fortune in pursuit of her desire to become ‘a living work of art’ much as Crowley broke the bank with his Will to become ‘the Prophet of the New Aeon’. In both cases their money was used in the service of their ‘highest ideal’, their self-absorbed and yet self-transcending intention. This is an approach to life, to money and wealth, that goes beyond ideas of individual ownership, that spurns the hoarding up of capital for its own sake, and even now, still manages to shock the bourgeoisie.

JV