Monday, October 23, 2017

The Path of Initiation - Conclusion

This article is Part Twenty of a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, Part Three can be found here, Part Four can be found here, Part Five can be found here, Part Six can be found here, Part Seven can be found here, Part Eight can be found here, Part Nine can be found here, Part Ten can be found here, Part Eleven can be found here, Part Twelve can be found here, Part Thirteen can be found here, Part Fourteen can be found here, Part Fifteen can be found here, Part Sixteen can be found here, Part Seventeen can be found here, Part Eighteen can be found here, and Part Nineteen can be found here.

Over the course of the last nineteen articles in this series, I have tried to communicate my understanding of the path of initiation into Western Esotericism as it has worked for me, and as I expect it will work going forward based on my practice and study. In previous series I discussed the practical magical work of the elements, planets, and signs, and that was done for the specific reason that a focus on mysticism over magick seems to be the default approach of many teachers.

This is not to imply that I think practical work is necessarily more important than mysticism. Mystical practices like the path of initiation outlined here should elevate and illuminate your consciousness and also make you a more effective practical magician, while practical magical work should align your life in such a way that it becomes easier and more convenient to do those practices with greater regularity and focus.

So as you can see, engaging in both approaches at the same time results in each strengthening the other. This also suggests, for example, that a person who gets to some point in the path and decides they are "done" with practice, both mystical and practical, is making a big mistake. These practices should be ongoing and you should maintain them throughout your entire life. Much as a Buddhist who does no meditation is not much of a Buddhist, a magician who does no magick is to my way of thinking not much of a magician.

But let me clarify that a bit. I don't necessarily mean that a period of practice focused on mystical work is somehow inferior or lacking. If we define magick as Aleister Crowley did, as "the science and art of causing change in conformity with will," mystical operations are simply magical operations in which the target of your work is yourself - your own physical body, energetic body, and consciousness. There are points along the path where such a focus is highly appropriate.

This also implies that the opposite can be true. A person who focuses on practical work for a sustained period is in no way inferior to someone who happens to be focused on mysticism. And this is an important point to make, because I have seen way to much of it over the years in the magical community. People sometimes throw quotes around like "I practiced magick for twenty years and learned that I didn't have to do it." How does that even make sense?

Of course you don't have to do magick - you can always quit if it just doesn't agree with you or doesn't work for you. But the problem is that when people do that, the most common result is the development of a smug, condescending attitude towards those who keep going with the practical work. I am convinced that such people don't understand magick and don't understand how it works.

And to be clear, the same thing is true of any practical magician who feels a need to denigrate mysticism - though in my experience such people are a lot rarer than the reverse. A spiritual practice is like a living thing, and it can go through many different phases that may involve different approaches at particular times. It's all about your individual will as a practitioner, and where that will takes you.

One of the points that came up in the discussion of these posts is that the Tree of Life I am using is Aleister Crowley's Naples Arrangement as found in Liber 777, which is a modern elaboration of what is called the Kircher Tree of Life. The Kircher Tree comes out of the Hermetic period during the late Renaissance when Christian mystics began picking up Traditional Jewish Kabbalah and adapting it into a Christianized system with many differences from the original.

In fact, many modern magicians use an entirely different spelling, Qabalah, to denote that what we are doing is fundamentally different from Traditional Jewish Kabbalah in many ways. The Jewish version is primarily a system of scriptural exegesis and meditation, while Hermetic Qabalah has strong connections with magick from the Renaissance forward.

The main issue that many who have studied both Qabalah and Kabbalah have with the Kircher Tree is the order of the paths. According to the Sepher Yetzirah, one of the main sources for Kabbalah, the mother letters are attributed to the horizontal paths, the double letters are attributed to the vertical paths, and the single letters are attributed to the diagonal paths. The Kircher does not follow this schema at all.

Instead, the Kircher just starts with the first path (Key Scale 11), attributes that to Aleph, the first letter, and plots the Hebrew alphabet in order down the Tree from top to bottom. It seems that the reason the founders of the Golden Dawn went with this version of the Tree for three reasons. First of all, Samuel Lidell MacGregor Mathers' main source for Qabalah was his edition of Knorr von Rosenroth's The Qabalah Unveiled, which included up the Kircher arrangement.

Second, the founders of the Golden Dawn were familiar with the works of Eliphas Levi, who also used the Kircher. Levi attributed the Major Arcana of the Tarot to the letters of the Kircher Tree, starting with Atu I, The Magician, for Aleph and ending with The World for Tau. The Golden Dawn revised this slightly, starting with The Fool (Atu 0) for Aleph, The Magician (Atu I) for Beth, and so forth. This was done according to material in the cipher manuscripts telling them that the secret of attributing the Tarot trump was the formula 0=1 - that is, Atu 0 = Aleph. Aleph has the gematric value of 1.

This is the third reason, that it makes the Tarot trumps line up with the order of both the paths and the Hebrew alphabet. But it seems to me that the importance of the order is anyone's guess. The founders of the Golden Dawn obviously liked it because it made for a pretty pattern, but it is not clear to me that this is significant enough from the standpoint of the natural world to justify using this arrangement only.

Crowley's Naples Arrangement was originally based on a series of correspondences that he obtained from his Golden Dawn mentor Alan Bennett, so naturally it follows and expands the Golden Dawn arrangement. Crowley's system, therefore, uses a version of the Kircher as well, and the entire Thoth Tarot is constructed according to that arrangement.

Now one of the points where I agree with the commenter who brought this up is that this version of the Tree of Life has become THE Tree of Life for many practitioners and to many authors. That just isn't true. Just because I use it doesn't mean it's the best version out there or anything like that. If you feel inspired to do so, I would recommend taking a look at some of the other versions just for comparison.

For example, you can rearrange the Kircher according to the Sepher Yetzirah rules and you get some interesting associations that are not there in the original. Start by attributing Aleph, Mem, and Shin to the three horizontal paths from top to bottom by Key Scale. Then attribute Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Lamed, Peh, and Tau to the vertical paths, again from top to bottom by Key Scale. Finally, attribute the remaining letters to the diagonal paths, also from top to bottom by Key Scale.

So as just one example, the path from Kether to Tiphareth changes from The Moon (The Priestess) to Mercury (The Magician). Mercury is the psychopomp, so in some ways it makes more sense for the path of Mercury to go across the Abyss rather than the Moon - although it is also true that Thoth has lunar aspects in addition to Mercurial ones. From a more Thelemic standpoint, if you swap the Star and Emperor cards so Heh is the Star and Tzaddi is the Emperor, the path from Kether to Chockmah becomes Aquarius, the sign of the current Aeon, rather than the element of Air, which seems to be a poor match.

My practical operations are based primarily on elements, planets, and signs rather than the position of those paths on the Tree of Life, so they should work just as well regardless of where you place them. And Liber 777 will still work fine as long as you keep your Key Scales straight to determine the proper attributions.

Now personally, I don't do this. I think the Kircher Tree works fine, and using it gives me a common language with other OTO initiates and magicians working with Crowley's system. I certainly don't agree that using the Kircher instead of one of the other arrangements is hazardous to your health - I find that a pretty bizarre claim. Maybe the Kircher is sub-optimal in some way for magical work, but that would require another round of time-consuming experimentation to compare probabilities and the like to verify it.

Keep in mind I'm pretty agnostic about this, or as agnostic as I can be. If somebody has verifiable evidence that a version other than the Kircher works better than what I'm using, I - of course - will go that route because I want to work the most powerful and effective magick that I can. But so far I haven't seen the kind of data I would need for the argument against the Kircher to be convincing. A prettier pattern, even a more traditional one, is not going to do it. What I need to see is hard data that I can replicate for myself - you know, just like any other scientist.

I should also say a bit here about the current A.'.A.'. groups, since this whole series has used the A.'.A.'. schema from Crowley's One Star in Sight even though I am not and never have been an initiate of any A.'.A.'. group. One Star in Sight was published in The Equinox, and can be found here. I think that it would be useful for you to read this over while studying my articles on the various steps, to see how the whole thing fits together.

Back in Crowley's day, he had this idea that the A.'.A.'. and OTO would work in tandem, with the OTO essentially acting as the socio-political arm of Thelema and A.'.A.'. providing spiritual instruction on an individual teacher-to-student basis. In the 1960's and 1970's a conflict arose between Marcella Motta, who took up the mantle of A.'.A.'., and Grady McMurtry, who revived the modern OTO, over the Crowley copyrights. This was a divisive time with Thelemites on both sides.

The result was that, in my opinion, something really interesting happened. Motta started up his "Society Ordo Templi Orientis," which was essentially a version of A.'.A.'. that incorporated a bunch of OTO ideas. And McMurtry brought teachings that had previously been taught in A.'.A.'. over to OTO. So in fact, the vision of "The Order of Thelemites" that Crowley had towards the end of his life - to combine the A.'.A.'. and OTO into a single order - came to fruition in two places, and from two different directions.

My personal opinion is that my will as a magical practitioner is more suited to the modern incarnation of OTO than it is to any of the other groups working the A.'.A.'. system, which is why all of my initiations have been through OTO and my practice has been informed by the course of training taught by the order. I've become a teacher myself, leading a weekly ritual workshop event at my local body, Leaping Laughter Oasis. I do my personal work according to my own less formal interpretation of the A.'.A.'. schema, which is essentially what this series of posts has been all about.

So at this point I'll give you the best piece of advice I have. If you seek initiation into the path of Western Esotericism, take a look at my series, start at the beginning, and take up the work. Not many people study magick these days, and most of those who do never actually practice. Just taking up the work and keeping it going will give you a leg up on all of them, and let you actually use magick to transform your life and enlighten your mind. And really, when you get right down to it, that's what it's all about.

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Blogos said...

Results with the Kircher Tree are suboptimal at best - dangerous at the worst. If you don't compare and contrast you cannot know.

This post is very brave though. Not many of the G.D. et al are willing to entertain the idea that Mathers etc picked up an incorrect notion (the Kircher) and ran with it. I congratulate you for the effort you are making in telling people to shop around, those who don't are being either ignorant or intellectually dishonest.

I realise like many others you have invested your time in learning this error but I urge you to play around with the *lighter more accurate* version of the Tree of Life. The tarot-paths for instance become better with the Saadia version.

Here is what you will lose:

34=32 nonsense of 777
Conflation of planets with Sefirot
Incorrect planets to double letters
Ignorance of the rule of 3,7 and 12

You need to realise that if you use the Chaldean order of planets (the one the ancients used) with the order the letters appear in the Alefbeit - the following order is constructed

Bet - Saturn (Magician)
Gimel - Jupiter (High Priestess/Juno)
Dalet - Mars (Empress)
Kaph - Sun (Wheel)
Pe - Venus (Tower)
Resh - Mercury (Sun)
Tav - Moon (World/Diana)

Here are some thoughts to get you started if you want to compare and contrast:

The erroneous arrangement of letters to doubles is one of the most critical failings of the Kircher Tree a la G.D.

Check out this link:

Scott Stenwick said...

I do not have any problem telling people to experiment with different versions of the Tree. I'm all about experimentation - as I see it, if it works it works, and we all want our magick to work as well as it can, right? I'm not one of those traditionalists who thinks that better versions of anything should be passed over just because "the tradition" says something different. Magick is a progressive science, and it should change and evolve over time as better methods are discovered and explored.

So by all means, I hope that people will experiment and see if other version of the Tree of Life besides the Kircher work better. The practical operations I have posted here won't differ much since they are primarily based on elements, planets, and signs. I suppose, though, as part of the visualization you could see the corresponding paths as connecting different sephiroth. I don't know how much of a difference that would make, but I expect actually trying it is the only way to be sure.