Spiritual Freethinking

Being a human often involves the construction of stories. In trying to make sense of our own lives, those of other beings on the planet and the Universe more generally, we create narratives to help us order what might be going on. We respond to the information we receive and fuse it with our existing perspectives in order to make decisions about how we wish to live and the potential risk things pose to our current experience of being alive. Most of this time we do this amazing work without even knowing that it is going on, but sometimes we have moments when we realise that we are doing it, and that we might want to make conscious changes to our method and style.

Most religious movements and schools of philosophy lay claim to providing tools for waking us up from the automatic reliance on assumptions. The process of becoming aware of the lenses we rely on for viewing the world can be both shocking and disorientating as we try to incorporate any new insights gained. The problems for most religions come when the incoming of new, enlightening knowledge (Gnosis) begins to disrupt the presuppositions that they themselves rely on e.g. that God either doesn’t exist or is radically different from how they were initially understood to be.

think-for-yourself

Sapere aude!

Many of the posts on this blog are penned with a view to promoting a process where we begin thinking about how we think and consider the risks involved in stepping outside the lines of received orthodoxy. If we start to question “received truths” and embrace the heretic’s path of choosing our own way, then we must realise that we will increase discomfort for both ourselves and those around us. For the freethinker, to refuse to question is often an even less desirable, stultifying path, but we would be naïve if we underestimate the disruptive force of heretical thoughts and behaviour.

Part of the creative, disruptive power of the heretic, is that they take existing received truths and they bend them. It would be bad enough if we adopted an antithetical position, but the fact that we take an image or language and inject it with a new, nuanced or odd meaning, truly infuriates those seeking to maintain their monopoly on perceived truth. The gnosis of the heretic triggers a creative process in which their artistry reveals strange variants of reality. While on one level we reject the easier answers of Faith, we often retain a symbiotic relationship with those beliefs and images. In our heresy we internalise these ordered creeds and transform them in to something both far stranger and more interesting.

For me, the adoption of such bold new readings allows the possibility of inhabiting a place of greater spaciousness that often feels more congruent with the lives we wish to live. Such territory is often at the outer edges of familiar maps and requires a level of wit and will that many of us experience as demanding and exhilarating in equal measure.

While each of us need to discover our own optimum means for accessing spaces of cognitive liberty, I have noticed that my own is often facilitated by allowing apparently disparate sources to sit alongside each other. I have been aware of my own journey in allowing the different aspects of my personal religious history to dialogue with each other. The Witch and the Cleric have been sitting down together for a beverage and conversation in the hope that new meaning might be discovered. All too often I have tried to rush them in the hope of a tidy resolution, but thankfully they have resisted my efforts!

In seeking to allow the unique parts of my own story to have a voice, I have often found more help in dreams and art than I have in theological concepts and reformulations. Of course I find great value in thinking and writing, but they often face the danger of overly concretising those states that are more subtle, subjective and sensed. In seeking to resist the urge to prematurely reconcile, synthesise or harmonise this multiplicity of voices and ideas, I have often found that artistic experimentation within a ritual context is a powerful tool.

art1

Occult art experiment

While others may gain greater stimulus via extended textual analysis and linear debate, on their own these have not been enough to allow me to access the type of psychological integration that I long for. The Queer and transformative states that I need in order to challenge the bulwarks of orthodoxy in my own life, have been found more readily in the images of Abraxas, Baphomet and N’Aton than in attempts at systematic theology. For me these part-made gods embody the ongoing dialogue between idealised androgyny and the complexity of Queer experience. The Queer aspirations of “Postdrogyny” and “Pandrogyne” are the first fruits of an artistic exploration of the possibility of identity. This is an Aquarian age in which our neat categories are troubled and disrupted by the bold lives of those seeking a more authentic way.

The use of sigils, collage, and altar sculpts can all be means of allowing us to inhabit a type of magical space that allows for a personal alchemy that I hope will catalyse change on a wider, societal level. This zone is the place of the crossroads, and as I have observed elsewhere:

If we journey to the crossroads in our attempt to rediscover our magic, we are inevitably entering a realm of liminal possibility. The crossroads is a meeting place of apparent opposites and seeming contradictions. The dynamic tension generated by the friction between these polarities makes it the place of initiation.
A Gnostic’s Progress p. 155

The crossroads is a place of incarnation and inspiration, and the word must become flesh (John, 1:14) in order for us to experience its fullness. May our art, inspiration and willingness to explore, allow access to such fullness! This is rarely an easy peace, but as we allow ourselves to tune into the complexity and mystery of our lives, may all of us experience greater authenticity and freedom.

So Mote it Be!

SD

A Gnostic’s Progress: A book from our own Steve Dee

A_Gnostics_Progress_Cover_for_Kindle

The word ‘gnosis’ was adopted by early explorers of what became known as ‘chaos magic’; essentially as a synonym for ‘altered (or ‘extraordinary’) states of consciousness’. Gnosis is imagined as the engine of magic; a radical awareness where the relationships between self and other are destabilised and a visceral, direct and unmediated knowledge can be encountered. Within A Gnostic’s Progress Steve Dee provides a reflection of this understanding and asks instead what insights chaos magic can bring to the tradition of Gnosticism?

The usual Gnostic universe consists of a top-down, hierarchically framed series of relationships between principles such as the Pleroma (the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations), the Demiurge (the creator of the world, sometimes imaged as a power antithetical to the purely divine), and Sophia (the spirit of wisdom and allegedly the reason we’re trapped in material reality). Such models come with plenty of value judgements about good and evil, spiritual versus material but how, asks Steve Dee, can we make sense of the relationships between these concepts if we use in its place the relativist and questioning approach of contemporary chaos magic?

Steve

As a professional therapist Steve Dee leads the reader into the territory of Father Gods, Divine Feminines, Archons, Aeons and all the rest and, rather than repeating patriarchal conclusions, instead approaches these divine players as members of a family. How, asks Steve, can we re-imagine these relationships in a way that acknowledges the differing perspectives and insights of these forces?

Looking into the relationships between the actors in the gnostic universe isn’t just a cerebral practice and Gnosticism ritual doesn’t need to look like a pseudo-High Church ceremonialism. Rather our author provides a range of practical methods for gnostic/chaos magic unapologetically postmodern exploration including stripped back ritual technology, contemplative and meditational methods, along with tales of gnostic practice from other practitioners (the book features an interview with and art work from Jung scholar and Temple of Set initiate Lloyd Keane).

Written from the perspective of contemporary magical practice and informed by depth psychology and artistic process, this is gnosticism, but not as you’ve ever seen it before…

JV

A Gnostic’s Progress can be found on Amazon. British sales here, US here; other countries please search on the appropriate Amazon site for your location. A Kindle edition is also available, with some illustrations in colour.

 

 

From the Foreword:

Steve, on the other hand, is demonstrably eager to do something with Gnosticism. Anyone who feels the same way will find plenty of examples of devotional and magical approaches to the legacy of the Gnostics here.

These essays may be delivered in bite-sized chunks but these are nourishing savouries not quick-fix sugar bombs. He is very aware of being a modern or postmodern spiritual explorer: “We make no claims to lineage or secrets shared on Grandma’s knee, rather this is a Witchcraft born of a connection to a raw coastline, the beating of drums and a desire to awaken.”

So enter a world filled with speedo-clad yogis and surfer fundamentalists, in which the ancient Nag Hammadi text Thunder Perfect Mind is declaimed to a backdrop of trance drumming. Steve’s writings do not merely reflect a lowest common denominator of the above influences, a Venn diagram intersection of three or four contemporary spiritual trends. His tastes are more eclectic than that, perhaps, but more importantly I sense that he is always bringing his experience to bear and is always trying things out. As the reader will discover, Steve even encourages us to try things out too.

Andrew Phillip Smith

Editor of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality.

 

Feeding Part-Made Gods

In my last post, I got to thinking about the way in which certain god forms (such as Abraxas and Baphomet) seemed to allow a process in which apparent dualities could be danced with. Rather than certain qualities being located in oppositional members of a given pantheon, these strange hybrid deities seemed to hold such polarities within their beings.

For me as a gnostic explorer these are gods that I am drawn to precisely because they mirror the project of personal integration that I find myself wrestling with. On some level such an admission may seem like high narcissism, but I believe that a degree of honest self-reflection is warranted as we walk this path. Often we choose (and create) the gods most like ourselves as we seek to both make sense of our current experiences and also in our aspiration to become something more, something greater that we currently are. As a magician who is continually seeking to explore and understand the role that belief has in shifting consciousness, I also have a strong suspicion that this is far from one-way traffic i.e. our gods are feeding on us as much as we are feeding on them!

The need and desire to feed is for many of us, an uncomfortable aspect of our existence on earth that we might want to hide from. At a basic biological level in order to survive, humans need to consume, destroy and absorb the life of something else. As much as we may want to whitewash the process, our day-to-day survival is premised on a degree of violence. Once we step outside the boundaries of “civilisation”, we quickly comprehend that we also can become the hunted as well as the hunter; such are the dynamics of the biosphere. Awareness of this principle may well influence our dietary and lifestyle choices, but it remains none-the-less.

For those seeking to explore more magical perspectives on the world, such awareness may also extend to how feeding occurs on an energetic level.  In for example, the work of Gurdjieff and other Fourth Way teachers we find the idea of reciprocal feeding i.e. everything in the universe feeds on and in turn are fed upon energetically. To me this feels decidedly vampiric and as long as the feeding is mutual, it maybe a helpful metaphor for understanding our relationship with the any imagined numinous realm.

The universe feeding on itself

The universe feeding on itself

Any scan of the Internet will provide a startling array of individuals and groups seeking to engage with Vampire and Otherkin identities as a means for making sense of their lives (I have written at greater length about these themes here). However fumbling we may view these attempts to engage with these potent archetypal images, at best the Vampire represents a conscious engagement with the dynamic of feeding, in order to maximize its potential for wellbeing and the pursuit of initiatory goals.

It feels less than coincidental that that the popularity of the Vampire myth in western society seems also to parallel and increased awareness of many Asian religious traditions that make more explicit reference to the “subtle body” and the possibility of energetic exchange. Time does not currently permit a detailed examination of these sources, but those alchemical practices broadly described as “tantric” or Taoist often dealt with the cultivation and movement of subtle energy and the physical uses of bodily “elixirs”. Any contemporary explorer of the vampiric would be wise to integrate the insights of such traditions in evolving their own magical experiments.

Feeding need not be parasitic and there are many models of magical practice that promote an approach that is far more symbiotic and consensual (insights may well be gained from the devotional work undertaken by many practitioners working with African traditional religions). The idea of feeding is hardly new within the realm of religious expression. Whether it be a Catholic high mass, a Vaishnava’s offering of Prashadam (sacred food) to Krishna and Radha or a Heathen sumble, the use of ingesting food to express faith is as old as humanity itself. How we eat and what we eat, are unavoidable expressions of who we are and what we want to become-this is true of both our shopping habits and also the way we use food in the context of our own spiritual journeys. What more powerful way to connect to your god, than ingesting his “body and blood” and fusing them with your own physiology?

 

Classic vamp

Classic vamp

We need to pick our gods and heroes with care in that the very acts of our devotion generate seismic ripples within our psyches that yield inevitable consequences. Others (e.g. social media and advertising) may well have a strong interest in what we are “fed” and what feeds upon us. For those of us seeking to cultivate a certain degree of cognitive liberty, we may well need to employ our best banishing practices in order to create our own space.

As a magician working with the chaos tradition, I may value the odd psychic take-away or ritual “ready meal”, but in the longer term I know the value of slowing down and making sure that my sources of sustenance have a more balanced nutritional value. My own work with Abraxas and the whole Chaos Craft approach described in our blog have been an attempt to adopt a “slow” method that seeks to foster a more long-term, creative relationship to working with those Spirits that I would like to see at work in my world.

In devoting my time and focus on these beings I both feed my own inspiration and seek to allow them to utilize my energy in manifesting their presence in our world. My gods of choice may well be fluid, liminal and strange, but at a time when the subtle and complex are often sacrificed in favour of the big, bold message, as an aspiring cultural alchemist I continue to invoke my part-made Gods.

Io Abraxas!

SD

 

In Praise of Part-Made Gods

I think it’s fair to observe that I spend a lot of time thinking about God. This has been going on for some time (probably the last 35 years) and I don’t imagine it’s going to stop anytime soon.

A friend of mine who I play lots of music with asked me whether I “believed” in God, and while I’ve made some valiant attempts at doing so in the past, I felt unable to answer conclusively. Famously when asked this question, Carl Jung answered that he didn’t believe that there was a God rather he “knew” there was. Familiarity with his biography enables us to know that Jung was a fairly seasoned Gnostic explorer at the point he made that comment, and based on his reception of “The Seven Sermons to the Dead”; it is unlikely that his deity of choice was of an orthodox variety.

In contrast to either creedal formulations or some distant “unmoved mover”, for Jung the God that seemed to encapsulate the endeavour of the Gnostic explorer, was that strange bird Abraxas. Abraxas like Baphomet is one of those Gods whose queer visage keeps popping up in esoteric lore, while at the same time being very difficult to categorise. Research will provide some insights into the roles that he played/plays within a whole host of occult traditions-this strange cockerel (and sometimes lion) headed being with its serpentine “legs” is viewed as an Aeon by some and as an Archon or the Demiurge by others. Both his number (using Greek Gematria) being 365 and his association with the seven classical planets, connect him to both the round of the year and the physical cosmos.

For Jung, Abraxas represented a movement beyond dualism. No longer is the divine image split into a good Lord and an evil Devil; rather the mysteries of godhead are held within the complex iconography of Abraxas:

“Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Therefore is Abraxas terrible.”  The Seven Sermons to the Dead

Terrible Cock God

Terrible Cock God

When one meditates on the more common cockerel headed form of Abraxas, we cannot but be struck by the bizarre chimera-like quality of the image. The body of a man is topped by the head of a solar cockerel (possibly symbolizing foresight and vigilance), while from under “his” concealing skirts; strange chthonic serpents come wriggling forth. This cosmic hybrid seems to be holding together the transcendent and immanent, solar and night side. Viewed through my late-Modern lens I am both awed and unsettled by the sense of internal tension that this God seems to embody.

My own attraction to strange gods is hardly new territory-that monstrous hybrid Baphomet has long been jabbing at my consciousness as I’ve sought to make sense of life’s dissolving and coming back together. For me both Abraxas and Baphomet represent something of the core paradox that many of us experience in trying to make sense of the world.

Most attempts at constructing “big theories” (metanarratives if you like) are designed to make sense of the universe that we live within. The success or failure of any such world views seems to largely determined either by their ability to manage nuance and complexity or conversely the naivety of those willing to block out new information. For those of us however who are seeking to promote some form of cognitive liberty, it seems inevitable that at some point we are going to have to develop deeper strategies for managing complexity, paradox and the types of uncertainty that such realities often give birth to. (See also this.)

In previous posts we have considered the way in which the duality and tension that exists within many Gnostic myths potentially trigger the awakening of consciousness and in many ways these iconic images of Abraxas and Baphomet are little different. The juxtaposition of apparent opposites and the sense of movement that they contain speak to us of dynamism and process rather than fixed Platonic certainties. Whether via weird cosmologies or shape-shifting iconography, these gnostic riddles push us to the edges of comprehension and certainty. In seeking to engage with such material we often experience a profound unease and yet for the intrepid explorer such discomfort can trigger the types of “strange loops” that arguably enable the evolution of consciousness (for more on this check out this great article by my friend BK).

Cocky movements

Cocky movements

This circular, iterative use of myth and paradox leads us away from certainties that cannot bear the weight of new insight, rather we are asked to engage in an unfolding process of becoming of both ourselves and our perception of the numinous.

I will conclude with the brilliant aeonic litany contained within the Mass of Chaos B, which provides us with a vivid example of how such evolution continues to occur:

“In the first aeon, I was the Great Spirit.
In the second aeon, Men knew me as the Horned God, Pangenitor Panphage.
In the third aeon, I was the Dark One, the Devil.
In the fourth aeon, Men know me not, for I am the Hidden One.
In this new aeon, I appear before you as Baphomet.
The God before all gods who shall endure to the end of the Earth!”

SD

Gnostic musings – Part 2, Dancing with the Demiurge

In part one of these reflections; we considered perspectives on what the Gnostics were pointing toward in their vivid and at times anarchic mythologies. It’s hardly surprising that more mainstream Christians got pissed with them – while outwardly appearing orthodox in many ways, their take on the nature of the divine was radically subversive.

For the majority of the Gnostics, the realm of nature and the God of the Old Testament were incompatible with the picture of the divine painted by Christ in the New Testament. If both Yahweh and the natural world were capricious and violent how could one reconcile this with the “heavenly Father” that Jesus believed was ever listening and attentive? For many Gnostics, the tribal, desert God of the old covenant represented at best an outdated perception of the Pleroma’s true nature; at worst this “God” was a deceiver actively seeking to blind humanity to the divine spark within. While I personally don’t buy into such beliefs, they do reflect an important human dilemma as we seek to evolve metaphysical principles that we feel are more congruent with our own experience of life.

In reflecting on these themes, I think it’s fair to own my own biases as both an aspiring Process theologian and a creative magical practitioner. For the uninitiated, Process theology is deeply interested in what the emergence of religious myth reveals about the shape and concerns of human consciousness. Even a cursory study of religious phenomena reveals both our greatest aspirations and the depths of our prejudices. Humanity’s religious expressions, be they tribal deities, anthropomorphized monotheisms, or Lovecraftian terrors, all mirror our collective journey through history. This is not to imply some bleeding out of mystery; rather it glories in religion as art. The gods are real precisely because we’ve made them so (see Pratchett’s “Small Gods” for a fantastic exposition on this concept).

As I hinted at last time, my hunch is that the Demiurge gets a bit of a hard time from many of the Gnostic traditions and gets turned into some sort of cosmic whipping boy! In most Gnostic myths, while the Pleroma kicks back as the “unmoved mover” in his cosmic chill-out zone, it’s the feisty Sophia and her wayward son who actually get on with doing something! Good ideas are great, but unless they work their way through to planning and creative expression, they remain ideas only. The Demiurge arguably represents the messy reality of how we produce and maintain a creative endeavor. As humans we may long for an idealised state in which nothing dies and pain never gets felt, but our shared experience of what happens day-to-day is far from this. Our yearning for Platonic ideals may well be part of our evolving consciousness (you can blame your Neo-Cortex if you want :)), but it may be that the complex joy and violence of Life is like this because it couldn’t function otherwise.

Feisty Sophia

Feisty Sophia

So how do we seek to reconcile our ever-changing, messy world with this longing for a more tranquil numinosity? We could certainly have a decent attempt at going into denial about either part of this equation and burying ourselves in either materialist hedonism on one extreme or spiritual fantasy on the other. The trickier alternative (and my suggestion) is that we have to bare the tension! Here we need to return to the wisdom of the Mother. Between Pleroma and Demiurge lies Sophia. Although some of the gnostic myths want to lay blame at her door for seeking independence, Sophia seems to be key in understanding how the realm of the ideal works alongside our experience of reality. Wisdom (the heady fusion of intellect, experience and intuition) allows us to oil the cogs in helping our ideas move into plans, our plans into actions and our actions into Art.

In contrast to most “believers”, magicians are often those who actively seek to explore dualities and are willing to get their hands dirty in the process of seeking a potential synthesis. The tension between the transcendent and the imminant is what fuels the art and science of magic. What we experience in being embodied and feeling the pull of the transcendent fuels our curiosity and the alchemy of self-transformation. The interplay of longed for ideal and pragmatic action create a hermetic frisson via which new realities might be born.

In my own work as a magician I find myself attracted to those depictions of the Demiurge that reflect something of the alchemical tension innate to a more awakened encounter with the human dilemma. The images of both Abraxas and Baphomet that are most familiar to us, provide vivid pictorial depictions of the cosmic balancing act that we are engaged in. Humanoid bodies mutate with animal heads and transgendered bodies, as arms point at balance or bear the whips and keys of our deliverance. For me these glyphs are road maps for becoming; the path of the demiurge being a journey through the reality of our lives not simply away from it. As much as the realm of matter and the body may provide challenges and obstacles, this is the place we find ourselves, and where the work needs to happen.

SD