Archive for the 'Esotericism' Category

Jul 08 2013

Ordo ab Chao

I’ve inadvertantly stumbled upon the phrase “Anti-Cosmic Satanism” (what?), and have tracked down this definition (albeit on Yahoo):

“…they believe that the realm of Chaos is ruled by the Eleven Gods of Primordial Chaos. They believe that there exists an Aeon for each of these Gods, or these manifestations. These are the Aeons of Moloch, Beelzebuth, Lucifuge Rofocale, Astaroth, Asmodeus, Belfegor, Baal, Adramelech, Lilith, Naamah and Satan. Azerate is eleven united as one, and these forces combined are those revered by the MLO/Temple of the Black Light. These eleven gods are actually ruler manifestations of Chaos and are eleven extensions of the Greater Godhead that these Satanists call Azerate. Azerate is the eleven headed black mother dragon that is the ruler of all chaos.”

Is it me, or does that sound kind of…orderly?

(yeah, yeah, I know, go read the stuff from Temple of the Black Light or something – I will. It’s on my “to read” pile.)

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Jun 26 2013

Magick in Theory and Practice

Published by under Consciousness,Crowley,Esotericism

In 2003, I packed up what little life I had, and drove 3,101 miles to California. My goal was to find a way to organize the research I had been doing up until that point into the nature of consciousness. I found a graduate program that suited my needs, applied, and was accepted.

This is not that story.

In the deep dark days before the Internet, if you had an interest in occult matters, you had to rely on word of mouth, or patch together your own connections. Or, at least you did, if you grew up in suburban Maryland, like I did.  Let me give you a brief rundown of how this worked in my case.

  • Junior High: Laurie Anderson’s album, Mister Heartbreak is released. I am 14. William S. Burroughs provides vocals on the track “Sharkey’s Night.” A friend of mine lends me the album. WHO THE FUCK IS THIS OLD GUY WITH THIS STRANGELY HYPNOTIC VOICE?!“William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch,” my friend tells me.
  • time I go to the mall, I stop into Waldenbooks. This, and B. Dalton (also at the mall) are the only book stores within a reasonable distance from my home in 1984.  Sure enough, I find a paperback edition of Naked Lunch.  It looks mysterious – possibly dangerous. I flip through the book (honestly?  I can still recall the smell of the book and Waldenbooks in my head as I write this – the book is that powerful). The book is, let’s face it, not the easiest of things to just dive into.  I don’t buy the book (until several years later).  But Burroughs is on my radar.  Obviously he’s somebody important, otherwise Laurie Anderson wouldn’t have put him on her album.  Right?
  • As anybody who grew up in the 80s can tell you, Waldenbooks was also the purveyors of such wonderful paperbacks as The Satanic Bible, and The Necronomicon. Shortly after becoming aware of Naked Lunch, I stumbled upon these. Some kids go to bookstores and sneak peeks at Playboy (or Heavy Metal) back in the day, I was the kid who snuck peeks at The Satanic Bible and The Necronomicon I didn’t discover Lovecraft until a few years later, so as far as I knew, this was HEAVY SHIT. And, hey… what was this?! William S. Burroughs had blurbed The Necronomicon! “Let the secrets of the ages be revealed. The publication of the Necronomicon may well be a landmark in the liberation of the human spirit.” WTF was going on here?  Also, in my many glances through the (let’s face it, equally incomprehensible) Necronomicon was mention of some fellow named “Aleister Crowley.”  My search for Crowley yielded no results at the time. As I’d gotten friendly with a number of the staff at both mall book stores, it wasn’t a subject I felt comfortable bringing up with any of them.
  • necronomicon-simon-paperback-cover-artEventually, I purchased both books (and later discovered the works of H.P. Lovecraft, whom I love to this day), as well as Israel Regardie’s book The Golden Dawn. Yet Crowley remained elusive.  At least until I got to college. One day, on a whim, I looked him up in our college library. It turned out that, much like Lovecraft’s fabled Miskatonic University, Gettysburg College had a few “forbidden tomes” in its stacks – in this case, Magick in Theory and Practice and Book 4. I think at some point, I even convinced my parents to get me a copy of The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (finally available at B. Dalton’s!) for Christmas one year. Forgive them.  They know not what they did.
  • Eventually, more and more of Crowley’s works seemed to turn up in mainstream book venues. I’d had quite the library at one point.  Now I’ve trimmed it down to a few volumes. Over the years, I’ve had an odd fascination with the man, and with Thelema.  And that is what this story is about.

If you’ve read through or glanced at the Commonplace section of this site, you’ll see that I’ve written about Crowley a few times. Over the years, as I delved deeper into reading him, I pondered trying to join the O.T.O. or the A:.A:.

(I am simplifying this story a bit, from here on out, because my run-ins with Satanists, Setians, former TOPY members, and Chaotes really aren’t relevant to where I’m going with this whole narrative).

Crowley’s doctrine of Thelema (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”) spoke to me. The idea of finding one’s True Will, one’s Purpose, and living life according to it, is seductive, and I still believe, to be a sound goal to have in one’s life.

For a brief while, I was involved with someone who fancied herself a Thelemite. She was performing LRPs every day, and having mixed results.  One thing I noticed, however, was her genuine frustration at nothing really happening with it. Also, she was rather wrapped up in the drama of the chain of succession after Crowley’s death. She was in the Marcello Motta camp. I didn’t really have a camp, as I believed (and believe) that making Crowley’s works available to people was what was important. Whether Motta did it, or Grady McMurtry did it, was unimportant to me.

I’d also been on a few Thelemic e-mail lists, and was frankly surprised and disappointed that the level of discourse was pretty consistently along the lines of:

You’re an asshole!

Oh yeah? How do you know it isn’t my Will to be an asshole?!

I’d hoped this was all isolated idiocy, and thought maybe one day, I’d find an O.T.O. Lodge worth joining, and learn from people who had more to offer than general bitchiness. I’d also looked a bit into Chaos Magick by this point, and this was starting to make more sense to me.

As time wore on, my interests diverged. I still found Crowley to be a fascinating individual (and still do), but had given up any sort of hope for contact from any of the organizations using his name and works as a basis.

A few years ago, I met someone who randomly invited me to attend a Gnostic Mass in Oakland, at what I’m assuming to be the Blazing Star Oasis, as Thelema Lodge had run into some “difficulties” in the past. I was taken aback.  I hadn’t even been actively seeking any contact with the O.T.O. for years at this point. Was this a case of “when the student is ready, the master will appear,” or merely “too little, too late”?

I’d been going through some immense personal difficulties at the time, and it was tempting to think that I could find refuge and solace with a group I’d once very much thought I wanted to be a part of. But at this point, I also was able to recognize the subtle flattery that comes with trying to get someone to join in an ultimately unrewarding relationship. It was curiously reminiscent of being recruited for Amway.

Ultimately, I declined, and I think this was the right decision. Over the years, I’ve noticed that group structures do not hold. Groups seem to have a limited shelf-life before devolving into schisms, factions, in-fighting, and disintegration (even moreso when the original charismatic leader dies).

The problem with groups is, ultimately, that they’re made of people.

People disagree about things.

Or, conversely, sometimes they agree too much about things.

I’m okay with limited shelf-lives for groups.  I think it’s of vital importance, as it allows ideas from dead groups to permeate into new combinations of ideas in new groups, until they fall apart, and so on. Circle of Life, and all that.

The other day, I randomly stumbled upon a text called The Black Lodge of Santa Cruz, by “Satyr,” in which the dirty laundry of Thelema Lodge, specifically, and the O.T.O. in general is put out in the open. I was originally attracted to the story, as I have been to or lived in several of the geographical locations where the story takes place. I probably also know people who know the players involved. Additionally, it is fascinating to read all of this and consider that it is going on underneath the radar of ordinary existence. It’s a lot of drama. A LOT.

Reading this, led me to Peter-Robert Koenig’s site The Ordo Templi Orientis Phenomenon, specifically the article on Spermo-Gnosis (I realize there’s a long convoluted tradition of this in various systems – personally, I think it’s a way of disguising one’s sexual proclivities. If you’re into this kind of thing, hey, awesome. Just don’t try to disguise your kink under the auspices of something else).

And, then there’s Allen Greenfield’s takedown (short version here, long version in his book  The Roots of Magick).

What a colossal cluster-fuck of lunacy.

While I can’t vouch for the legitimacy of either Satyr’s narrative, Koenig’s research, or Greenfield’s assertions, put together they constitute a massive amount of WTF for me. I am grateful I dodged this bullet.

In 2003, I had the good fortune to attend a book-signing/reading by Gary Lachman in Oakland.  I had just finished reading his book Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties And The Dark Side Of The Age Of Aquarius.  I’d been struck by his portrayal of so many people who had delved into occult matters as having failed, utterly.  Was it the material? Was it the people?

I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the people who got involved in the occult -of which I have an interest myself- wound up going mad, or were just crap people. I’ll be the first to admit that Crowley was no saint. My interests are in trying to salvage the good and the meaningful from the systems, primarily, and seeing how they can be used. Do you think the failures that you’d noted were due to the systems themselves, or the personalities of the people involved? In a way, the book almost reads like ‘VH-1′s BEHIND THE MAGICK’”

Gary’s answer hit the nail on the head:

“Ultimately, both, and that a lot of people don’t ground themselves when looking into the occult, or spirituality, and that there is a reason that most of these systems strongly urge people to be of at least a certain age before getting involved, so they understand life first. These systems sound great, but without an underlying structure, they can run amok.”

Honestly?  At this point?  I still believe there is some value in the basic tenets of Thelema, and Crowley is still an endlessly fascinating character.

As far as I’m concerned, however, the O.T.O. can eat shit.

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May 06 2013

Gems from Hidden Wisdom

Hidden Wisdom

Hidden Wisdom by Jay Smoley & Richard Kinney

Some notes from Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney:

“Though it is all too rarely spoken of in esoteric literature or at New Age workshops, the specter of madness haunts the spiritual search. To point this out should not be dismissed as mere pessimism or negativity.

“A recurring motif of the esoteric traditions is the realm of the unseen – other dimensions, invisible entities, inner planes, etheric bodies, energy centers, planetary forces, hidden masters, the list goes on and on. While it may prove necessary to grant a provisional reality to such claims in the course of inner exploration, there lies a real danger in swallowing them wholesale and proceeding blithely onward. It is all too easy to project one’s wishes or fears onto the twilight zone of the invisible, reading deep portents into chance occurrences and seeing connections where none actually exist.

“Some people with a tendency toward paranoia are strongly attracted to the esoteric precisely because it mirrors their secret fears: Unseen forces affect our lives, consensus reality is a sham, the universe is somehow converging on our personal slice of life. The spiritual landscape is littered with erstwhile magicians and addled mystics who jumped into esoteric belief systems that were more than their sanity could bear and – most significantly – more than their closely watched personal experience had borne out.

“Which leads us to [a] skill that it would be wise to cultivate: the ability to maintain a simultaneous belief and disbelief in all matters esoteric until you have undeniably experienced them for yourself. Let us call this ‘faithful skepticism.’

“Exoteric religions encourage unquestioning belief in their tenets based on the authority of scripture or institutional leadership. For many of us, this is inadequate and unpersuasive. But by the same token, blind faith in esoteric traditions or the fascinating revelations of mystics and clairvoyants is no more advisable.

“The kind of ‘knowing’ that one finds in gnosis is personally verified. It isn’t based on the hearsay of another’s experience or revelation any more than it is based on theological dogma or belief. Even when you have experienced something that seems real, it is well to compare notes with an experienced teacher and keep room in your worldview for the possibility that it is all in your imagination.

“…No matter how shattering the truths revealed, how overwhelming the feelings unleashed, or how fascinating the manner in which ‘it all fits together,’ the fate of the universe does not hinge on convincing others of your truth. In fact, should you feel compelled to broadcast your revelations to the masses, it is a sure sign that the ego has seized hold of an insight and inflated it into a life raft.

“The paradox of gnosis is the realization that we are each simultaneously a speck of dust and Absolute Being. Esoteric work may lead us to this realization, but it remains for us to keep both sides of the equation in balance.” (pp. 311-313)

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May 06 2013

Some Notes from Grossinger

Waiting for the Martian Express

Waiting for the Martian Express

Reading through Richard Grossinger’s book Waiting for the Martian Express: Cosmic Visitiors, Earth Warriors, Luminous Dreams, and struck by a number of things.

Quotes below:

“The marketed New Age is at best a series of well-meaning simplifications and at worst a hustle and a fraud made possible by those simplifications.” (p. 12)

“Harmonic convergences are counterproductive to the degree that they distract people from the real issues. They are like Fourth of July celebrations and rock concerts – on the calendar mainly to promote ideology and commerce.”  (p. 13).

“In our imaginary (cumulative) New Age holy book, life (and the universe) are a Gothic tale with plots and subplots (including angels, extraterrestrials, Atlanteans, intelligent sea mammals, Yetis, Indian guides, spirits taking turns taking over bodies and speaking oracularly, magical temples, messages left in pyramids, multidimensional travel, past-life evolution, the Second Coming, and the like). The New Age is not yet a commitment to the unknown nature of reality, or our own novel experience; it is a screenplay for events that have supposedly been programmed and foreshadowed, narrated to us by those who have already lived. This kind of on-high prophecy seems pretentious and elitist in the face of our actual condition.” (pp. 12-13).

“The motivation behind New Age millennialism is supsiciously self-serving. Even if some of the apocalyptic scenarios intend to accelerate our evolution and rescue the whole planet, others have the same mean-spirited impetus as right-wing religious propaganda and chain letters: the faithful can barely wait for catastrophe because they expect to be its beneficiaries.” (p. 15)

“In addition, the various rescues by aliens, earthquakes, and economic collapses that have partial New Age allegiance (depending upon one’s affiliations) are denials of the complexity and commitment of life. It is not that they couldn’t happen; it is that they are not real. The biological process that underlies this world is profound and serious and represents a covenant with the divine force; it cannot be abrogated from other dimensions. If there is a macrocosm and a microcosm, these are not separated by great walls  or even master geometries; they are joined a billion times more intimately than the minute branching and impregnation of nerves and flesh.” (p. 15).

“It is unclear whether the sources of ‘spirit’ messages are truly external and if external whether they are located on this planet, but additionally there is the problem of their content which is either overly pat and cliched or utterly obscure – leading one to question why any evolved being would go through the trouble to initiate such communications. Given the obvious difference between any embodied and disembodied worlds, real transmissions from spirits and the dead should be succinct and pithy. Yet you can find material identical to most of this channeling of multithousand-year-old beings in any second-rate metaphysics or theosophy book from the last five hundred years.” (pp. 15-16)

“If someone is dead, is he or she necessarily wiser?…The implication that the glimpse beyond death is so enlightening it lone transcends any earthly enlightenment tends to trivialize both this life and the fact of dying…” (p. 16).

“There is nothing malign or even unenlightened about these communications; they are in fact good gospel, but at the same time static, impersonal, and sanctimonious. They don’t grapple. They suggest that the path has been provided…If the cosmos is presented as a finished thesis in a mediumistic context, then authority takes precedent over experience. And there is no place to go with such law, no way to generate new form and experience. Only when there is a feeling of unfathomable mystery and a sense of wonder do we change and affect the world.” (pp. 16-17)

Grossinger, Richard. (1989) Waiting for the Martian Express: Cosmic Visitiors, Earth Warriors, Luminous Dreams. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

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Oct 23 2012

Blessed to Death

I went last night, as I have so many other nights, to one of these wondrous New Age gatherings. And I don’t think I can take it any more. I get sick. I must escape the torture of being blessed to death during evenings such as this…[U]nderlying all of this beauty lurks a darkness, only thinly veiled by beatific platitudes of sweetness. I call this beast New Age Fundamentalism, a belief that I am right and everyone else is wrong, stupid, or evil; a belief that I represent the forces of light and goodness, while everyone else is duped by the forces of evil…What is so maddening about New Age Fundamentalists is that their judgments and moralizing are hidden behind facades of New Age doctrine, behind smoke screens of “we love everyone” and “we are one” – John Babbs (1991).

I sympathize.

The other day, unbidden on my Facebook feed, an image presented itself to me. A friend of mine had posted a photo of a Buddhist monk meditating by the water, with the a quote from “The Arcturians”.

It was actually something that I agree with.  At least, the first part.

Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness. Your job is to simply do your work…Sacredly, Secretly, and Silently… and those with ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ will respond.

According to this site, the Arcturians are “the most advanced 5th Dimensional beings in this galaxy,” and “they operate under [the] 5th density mostly.” Apparently, they are spying on us.

What bothers me, I suppose, are several things.

“Why’s it gotta be The Arcturians?”  Really, the quote is a good one, and reminiscent in many respects of Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18. Even the bit about “with eyes to see and ears to hear” is pretty much echoed by Jesus in the New Testament. Is there any reason that this quote HAD to come from some alleged Intergalactic Council of Space Voyeurs?

How many ‘Arcturians’ are there? Do they all speak at once? Like a chorus? Do they take turns? Do they have names?

What does a meditating Buddhist monk have to do with this? I have no idea.

These questions, I think, are not unreasonable.  From experience, however, I know that these questions make people uncomfortable.  It rattles their belief systems too easily. And, I have to ask, if their faith is rattled so easily, is the “new paradigm” so many of them profess to believe in, one worth pursuing, if its followers cannot answer simple questions? My questions aren’t meant to be antagonistic. But too often, they are perceived as such. I actually want to go along for the ride. If you’ve told me something interesting, I want to know more.  I expect and hope that you can tell me more.

Unfortunately, however, that’s usually not the case.





  • Babbs, J. (1991). New Age Fundamentalism. In Zweig, C. and Abrams, J. (Eds.). Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (pp. 160-161). New York: Jeremy Tarcher



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