At the Heretic’s Altar

Having just passed the 12 month anniversary of The Heretic’s Journey being published, I thought I would share part of the Foreward with you all as a blog post. Also, one of the many magical exercises that are peppered throughout the book – enjoy!   Steve Dee

This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy! The territory I invite you to explore is that of the spiritual free thinker who is no longer satisfied with the easy answer. The literal definition of Heretic is “to choose” i.e.  to make a conscious and active choice rather than merely accepting an opinion due to it being espoused by the mainstream or by those in authority. To walk such a path is far from risk-free, but in my view the rewards of such self-sovereignty are powerful and profound. It is my hope that this work (The Heretic’s Journey) will act as a catalyst for your own exploration of your heretic self, and in that exploration you will experience the unfolding of who you truly are.

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Spiritual Freethinking during Pride month

Such an unfolding can take time. The magical axiom “To Dare, To know, To Will and To Keep Silent” for me points to a circular process of refinement where the daring Mage receives new insight, which when proven through practice is internalized (kept silent) so that this incubation then gives birth to further development/mutation.

This internal alchemy can birth things within us that at first seem monstrous. As our freethinking allows us to conceptualize and articulate ideas beyond the realms of orthodoxy, so we will be viewed as Monsters. Witches, Werewolves, Vampires and an assortment of other freak-labels were at times applied to those who questioned the limits of what we thought we knew. 

While the mundane world may conspire to keep us small and within a form that makes its control of us more possible, as explorers of awakening we have a more formidable task ahead of us. Our own initial response may be to flinch when we see the possibility of who our deepest self might become; these glimpses at the edges of sight may demand too much of us; too much sacrifice, too great a transformation. Dear traveller, be of stout heart! The inner genius of your daemon doesn’t require that we reach the goal before the journey has begun; rather it asks of us the bravery to stop and truly look at the possibility of who we might be…”

 

Exercise 1: Sculpting the Heretic’s Altar

One of the techniques that I employ during my day-job (as a Systemic/Family psychotherapist) is that of the Sculpt. Sculpting is a tool for making an external picture, or ‘sculpt’, of an internal process such as feelings, experiences, or perceptions.  It can use both items and bodily postures as ways of experimenting with the relationships between things and how their proximity or orientation might express the dynamics of communication and power.

In this activity I am proposing that we create an altar as a means for exploring the interplay between different aspects of our heretical selves. So often religious or spiritual altars express something of our aspirations and longings, and it is interesting to note the changes we make to them (or the time we spend in front of them) depending on which guiding principles or realities we wish to experience more of.

The first part of our task is to collect a series of objects, pictures and texts that embody those heretical, rebellious and inspirational figures and ideas that mark us as outsiders and inspire our processes of free thought. At this point it is important that we don’t over-think this process. 

We may draw our inspiration from a broad spectrum or it may reflect the narrowness of our current obsessions. In my case I had everything from an icon of St Francis, a Gurdjieff book, a leather-clad Catwoman figurine and a Henry Rollins CD. I made little attempt to rationalise why I needed this collection of heretic heroes together, I was simply aware that they embodied important markers in my own journey of personal liberation.

As a person with strong devotional tendencies, I then spent some time offering incense to the assembled representation of free-thinking and undertook my normal meditative practice. This felt less like an act of worship and more a process of acknowledging and aligning myself with these embodiments of freedom.

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Heretical Heroes

If you choose to undertake this task, I would recommend an initial period of simply sitting with the choices that you have made. Maybe note their presence and position within a journal or magical diary so that any future changes can be noticed.

Working with sculpts can be accomplished in many ways, and it may be interesting to note how this altar-sculpt evolves over time. You may want to shift the objects to change their proximity to each other (interestingly, Cat Woman currently seems to be whipping St Francis; but it looks consensual) or we may want to introduce new elements to either maximize a component or to provide a sensed need for counter-balance (in my case a black feather representing Ma’at).

However you choose to work with this exercise, as with most sculpts, the aim is to externalise those key aspects of who we are so that in seeing them “out there”, we can gain a greater sense of clarity having brought them more fully into the conscious parts of self. The purpose of beginning such work is usually far more beneficial if we view it as an unfolding process of questioning and exploration for ourselves rather than attempting to rush towards answers prematurely.

More about The Heretic’s Journey can be found here: https://theblogofbaphomet.com/the-heretics-journey/

Steve Dee


In other news…

Julian is teaching Sigils at Treadwell’s Books in July and Magical Words and Signs at The Museum of Witchcraft in August

Our dear friend Lucia is offering a Tai Chi retreat in the magical Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury. Lucia is an awesome practitioner and a great teacher. Find out more here.

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Wyrd Relationships

When following a path of initiatory magic, however much we may want to emphasize our rugged individualism and uniqueness, most of us eventually come to the realization that we can’t do this on our own. However potent our initial gnostic insights regarding the need to take a radical degree of responsibility for own salvation, we soon realize that we will need to connect to the others for this process to be sustainable.

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Creating New Connections

I have already written on this blog about the influence of Gurdjieff/Fourth Way ideas on my path generally, but I have been especially influenced with regards to that tradition’s focus on the importance of finding dynamic spiritual relationships, in order to challenge and deepen our own explorations. Learning something by one’s self is of course possible, but most of us realise quickly that everything from Tai Chi to foreign language learning is made easier (and ultimately more fun) if we have a competent teacher or teachers. In having an experienced mentor, our learning becomes more rounded as pitfalls are avoided and the full range of sensory and kinaesthetic information becomes available to us.

Learning within an esoteric or magical context is usually associated with groups of other humans who organise themselves into Orders, Schools or networks centred on a shared philosophy, lifestyle or ritual aesthetic. This is often how we do things as Homo sapiens and however much our politics and aspirations hope to flatten hierarchies, we usually self-organise into something that looks like a tribe or family system. When we enter such environments, inspired by our search for meaning, it is unsurprising that most of us look to the longstanding members of such groups both for guidance, and evidence that the group’s claims have some degree of validity.

Okay, so far so good, but if such groups can be beneficial why is it that they can also be a complete pain in the arse? For me, part of why Schools and Orders can be challenging is they often have profound tensions at their core. In reflecting on this, here are a few of them that seem critical:

Openness versus Discernment

Most religious and philosophical groups require the internalization of a certain amount of information and adherence to specific behavioural requirements. When we enter this as a newcomer to a group we can often feel that we re-enacting those scenes from our childhoods in which we were seeking approval. When this is going on alongside the message that we should be aspiring to become powerful, competent initiates we can be forgiven for becoming somewhat confused and disheartened.

For me, the saying attributed to Christ is helpful: “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). If we are too naïve we risk exploitation and buying into a type of group-think that can run contra to the aims of initiation, but if we are too shut off and not willing to unlearn then there is little point in being there.

Most of us don’t get it right upon the first time of trying and it is also possible that part of our difficulty lies in bringing the same expectations to the School that we would to other (more conventional) religious contexts. Many enter a School seeking a Church and then seemed shocked that it feels more like a dojo!

Freedom versus Structure

Working with others can be tricky. By definition most magical practitioners are free spirits with anarchic tendencies. We can experience a deep desire to work with others in order to empower and sharpen our work, but most of us are prone to experiencing claustrophobia when we feel our agency and liberty is being threatened!

In traditions that involve truly transformative perspectives there is a certain inevitability that we will need to challenge existing values and certainties. While they will never be perfect in their execution, many Orders out of necessity have had to spend time reflecting on how they provide boundaries and guidance to ensure that ethical standards are understood and respected. Such reflection often takes decades of shared work to develop maturity and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Groups will always make mistakes in the doing of the Great Work, but what feels critical is that they have mechanisms for feedback and reflection so that the inevitable mistakes are learnt from. The presence of such processes for self-reflection are vital in ensuring that a School’s core philosophy is both truly life promoting and able to counter any organizational excesses.

Personally speaking, being part of a more formal magical Order has provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn. Even if I might not agree with some of what’s being proposed, the content and structure of such systems provide me with something solid to bash up against and thus refine my own initiatory understanding. The pursuit of grades and curricula may become yet another form of “spiritual materialism”, but at best they can fulfill our need for structure and a way of mapping our development, especially in the early to intermediate stages of training.

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Something clever about trying to think outside the box

Personal versus Impersonal

While undertaking any deep spiritual work will inevitably lead to the forming of close relationships with others, one of the strengths of an Order is that they usually provide a corpus of techniques and perspectives to engage with. Without a solid body of ideas and practice with which to engage, there is a danger that our involvement becomes overly reliant on interpersonal connection. While warm rapport and friendships can be a major strength in the sustainability of group involvement, if we become overly dependent on this, then our own motivations for doing the work can become distorted. People inevitably come and go from magical and initiatory groups as their own focus changes or the costs of involvement outweigh the benefits. Finding like-minded souls can feel amazing after perhaps years of feeling isolated, but we must remain clear about our own goals, and alive to where we may need to go next.

These tensions are likely to remain in play while we choose to take the risk of working magically with others. The probability of finding some imagined perfect balance between these polarities is both unlikely and frankly a bit dull. Like the perfect job or the perfect relationship, the perfect group or school simply doesn’t exist, but in recognizing the dynamics at work we may become more conscious of the push and pull of such forces and how we might play with and respond to them more skillfully.

Steve Dee