Since the very dawn of mankind, religion has been of prime interest and importance. In every land, in every culture, in every dwelling and in every heart, the relation of the individual to some "higher power" has been significant. Even those who flatly deny the existence (and the necessity) of a Creator never-the-less wrestle with concepts of natural forces which effectively govern and order their world. They struggle against what appears to them as a cold and mindless fate, without benefit of the tradition of "spiritual" wisdom made use of by the religionist. It is a mystery and a challenge before us all; and, each of us must find our own way to some conclusion, some understanding, by which we locate ourselves into a our own niche and come to some semblance of peace.
There is one other lofty, innate yearning in man. It is the want and need to know the nature of the forces that rule the Cosmos. It is a desire to understand the processes of seemingly supernatural phenomena, with the hope that somehow those forces can be bent or shaped, and that fate can be somewhat directed. To take up what weapons, methods and wisdom one can find, and to use them in the struggle against the "slings and arrows of an indifferent fate", has been called "magic". Moreover, if one traces the rivers of Time, back and back through the mists of foggy shores to the Oceans of Remembrance, religion and magic entangle, entwine and are one.
The separation of religion and magic is a relatively recent occurrence, placed on a time line from early man to the present. It is this separation that has left religion almost completely barren and hollow, while stripping magic of its wisdom, purpose and reverence for Divinity.
In religion, God is in His Heaven of Isolation, and the believer must wait for death to free him from his body so that he may rise to his reward. Life in the flesh is a test of morality, and the measure of a soul’s greatness is weighed in suffering.
Magic, in recent centuries, was banished to the whispers, the caves and the woods…beyond the dwellings of "civilized" and learned peoples. Thus, those rarely educated persons either outside of, or at best on the fringe of, civilization became the vessels of magical tradition. The passing of time erodes the necessarily oral tradition, and the wisdom of the ancients is reduced to superstition. There are exceptions, of course, and we will discuss those in due time.
Be that as it may, the separation of religion and magic is not, nor can it ever be, complete.
The Mage recognizes the Ritual in the Holy Communion of the Church, and likewise the relation of "prayer" to "spell". Further, there is every correlation between the faithful prayer of the believer to his God of Peace and the Witch’s evocation of Ra, the Egyptian Sun God. The separation, then, is somewhat illusory, yet its effects are real enough.
The Orthodox or conventional religions suffer from accusations of stagnation, priggishness, corruption and ineffectuality. They scramble to re-write doctrine when the evolving world opens unforeseen frontiers of moral dilemma. Then, from a full two steps behind everyone else, they bellow "Follow us!" The world laughs and sneers when the puffed-up televangelist is indicted for fraud, or when he is caught (quite literally) with his pants down in a house of ill repute.
The world gasps as one and begs "why?" to no good answer when disaster claims the lives of the innocent. Then, when the dust of the cataclysm settles, when all that’s left to be done is count the bodies and tag the toes, the priest steps in to usher the departing souls into an afterlife about which the priest himself knows nothing.
Magic fares no better under the gaze of a modern and educated society. True Occult science is scarcely known, but to be feared. And, those devotees to the Old Religion, with whom society has some dealings, are accused of loose morals, drug abuse, flippancy, outright silliness, and consorting with evil spirits.
Unfortunately, the witch-cult is often identified with (and all too frequently identifies itself with) certain groups who are (rightly or wrongly) called the "drug culture". What is seen as fraternizing with the drug culture, under the banner of communing with nature, is the proof that many use to support their claim that witchcraft is simply the way that a great many people excuse themselves of moral and ethical responsibilities.
Meanwhile, neighborhood witches everywhere, having never penetrated the Veil, nor having actualized the doctrine behind that veil, give ambiguous (though often intuitive) Tarot readings over tea and cakes. Society sees them at the mall in their best neo-gypsy shawls of black lace, and hears their attempt at subtle wit as they make reference to secrets they are oath-bound to secure. To be seen as a witch is apparently more important than being a witch. But wait…it gets worse.
On a nationally televised program appears a rotund Wiccan Priestess. She comes in a star-and-moon-spangled robe, with dyed red tresses, and with make-up patterned after Endora from TVs Bewitched. Despite themselves, many wish she were real. But, alas, the Priestess bats her glittered lashes and Spells a Spell of love, and good fortune, and well being, and peace, to everyone everywhere. All the while she waves about her a pretty little fairy-god-mother wand of glass and crystal: this as if her colored stones, and the smile between her ample cheeks, could instantly cure the world of all its ills.
"Quack," says a disappointed public. But, that's not all.
Those who collect books of dubious content, of sigils and seals and diagrams of power and authority over beings variously called "angels" and "demons" are accused of escapism and character weakness. The public wonders why such drastic measures, when all the world shares the same travails. Why resort to the ridiculous? Most people simply hunker down and "deal with it". The average guy on the street would view such an interest a sign of desperation, and proof of ineffectuality.
At times, the believers and the heathens of occult studies will find themselves together and at odds. "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live," says the believer. "Thou shall not kill," the witch replies. One wonders how we can be so quarrelsomely disposed to each other, when the same deep and mysterious belief in a higher power is at the root of the motives of us all. Divided though we are, by the separation of religion and magic, it is none-the-less the same calling from somewhere deep that leads us into our varied branches of the religio-magical tradition.
Who among us, regardless of school, tradition, religion or doctrine is unmoved by the Summer stars alight against the backdrop of a cobalt universe? All mankind stops to gaze in awe at the immensity. It is itself evidence of some great power, by whatever name, which must be the source. Indeed, even the source of ourselves, for we are of the universe as surely as the stars. Do we not, at such times, feel strangely akin to those same stars? Do we not feel that somehow we belong to them and they to us?
When the length of days grows short and the leaves of the trees turn color, autumn winds roar like chthonic phantoms come to drive the life of the trees down ahead of them into their dark, nether regions. Who among us does not feel this changing of the very spirits awing in the night? Hearing the woeful moaning of the trees, do not our souls sorrow with them, seeing that the death-sleep of their Winter season is come? Yet, soon, the wheel will turn, and they will return again in Spring.
At such times we know we are of this Earth, Who gives us form and sustains that form; and, we know that in a little time we will give that form back. Then we will sleep the death-sleep of our own winter season and await our next coming to be in the world of form.
It is all very deep and mysterious…this sensing, this knowing of ancient dreams that haunt us from the outer rim of comprehension. They hover there, just beyond conscious knowing, like angels on the wing, and we all take pause in our hearts to consider what message they bring us. We make ourselves very still, very quiet and pensive, hoping in our silence to hear echoes of ancient whispers. If we are exceedingly quiet, we can hear the waves of Time lapping at the shores of memory’s deepest ocean, and can just make out the tinkling, wind-chime laughter of joyous undines who feel our presence near to them in another world.
Ultimately, the desire to know the source of these unusual feelings is at the heart of the student of the occult. That is his quest. Each and every one of us who answers the call from the deep, marching intrepidly into the moon-lit woods of mystery in search of truth (not in search of power, nor sorcery, nor pacts with spirits nor shades of the dead, but in search of truth and only truth) takes leave of the light of common or public knowledge, and wanders out into that vast world of secrets with only the heart of his quest as his guide.
Because he does not have the answers, he is vulnerable to deception. One who knows already can easily pick and choose his way through the maze of trails. Many are marked and signed, lighted by glimmering half-truths and brilliant deceptions. One who knows not must be ever wary, measuring all that he sees and learns against the inner vision that had first called him forth. Otherwise, he may be lead down trails of ignorance and superstition, perhaps having deceived himself, perhaps being deceived by those who are already deceived (either of themselves or by others).
Those who poke their nose into the mysteries timidly, of idle curiosity, or without the discipline needed to stand fast in the face of tempestuous emotion and desire, may find themselves ringed and lead off by that same nose, to be used of and prostituted by those who use the mysteries against true purpose, or worse. There are those who set into motion nearly unstoppable currents of self-destruction.
Those who come seeking personal glory, or pacts with demonic entities, or any other type of self-aggrandizement, may find their false glory readily attainable. That, however, only if they are willing to persist. The way is not easy. Because most of those who seek aid from powers outside of themselves (and beyond the normal experience) are not willing to work things out for themselves, they have no hope of activating the "powers" behind the mysteries. The effort required for success is far greater than they are willing to expend.
Oddly enough, this same type of individual is happy to imply that he is adept. These are the type we see wearing all manner of trinkets designed to be evidence of their power. They advertise their very lack of success in the mysteries, however, because power is inward. Those who have true power do not wear their sacred symbols as "jewelry". They simply do not advertise the fact. Power isn’t achieved by wearing a five-point star dangling from a neck chain. One gains no wisdom from a tattoo of Hermes…not even if it's placed dead center in the forehead.
Never the less, many push through who have no good reason to be so deep in the woods. It happens, but little good comes of it. As the old ones said, the wrong man using the right method simply uses the right method wrongly. Know Thyself includes this warning. Realize that engaging the flow of spiritual force will actualize the potential in you. It won’t matter in the least to the forces involved, whether you are geared for great works or toward self-destruction. Open a channel and it will come through.
Further, and here we hint at the problem with a great many of the modern magical systems, deflecting the flow of the forces we contact in the mysteries for purposes not in harmony with the greater Will causes discord. All of the forms generated by such a deflection are disharmonic and tend to destroy themselves. They also try, as far as they are able, to wipe out their source as well. It is a Sorcerer of rare brilliance, incredible power, and impossible vigilance who can maintain his "creations" and guard himself against the recoil of energies improperly applied. The repercussions are so closely related to the natural forces of decay, decomposition and (eventual) regeneration that those who fall in this manner can be set back many lifetimes. Be warned.
Only those who seek truth and service to the greater good have a right reason to enter realms where form is given where force is applied. Apart from the danger one can be to oneself are the dangers of being hopelessly lost on paths of ignorance and superstition. Only by certain keys can one open the doors to the correct paths, leading to the hidden gate behind which is the fountain from which all life comes into being and through which all life is sustained.
To clarify the vision, to bring it into full view, shadowy and remote though it is, for now we see through a glass darkly, we must rely on the tradition of attainments that we, in younger lives, bequeathed to ourselves. That tradition can point us to the gate.
As Dion Fortune said, many are not aware that such a tradition exists. Many do not know that there is a foundation from which that tradition springs. She used the analogy of a river and its tributaries, which is the one I will also employ. Let’s trace our river back a little way and see what we may see.
One can easily see that our river of tradition is the product of numerous tributaries, which have flowed into the mainstream over the passage of time. While it isn’t popular to admit it, some of the freshest and most recent (and needed) additions to the tradition have come from the revamped Craft of the Wise. The reverence for nature that is the hallmark of modern witchcraft is as necessary to success as is reverence for Divinity, for the two are One.
Looking back from this point, we see that the invaluable work of the Theosophical Society has poured into the stream, clarifying the what, how and why of that which is called "magic". That was preceded by, though very near the same point that the Fraternity of the Inner Light and other hermetic groups poured their wisdom into the river.
Continuing up the stream, we find the points where the works of Eliphas Levi were added, as were the works of his contemporaries. We can locate a tributary we might label Alchemy just a little further back. Likewise, the secret societies such as the Freemasons, the "non-existent" Rosicrucians, and others, pour their fragments of symbol and rite, attributed to them for safe keeping, into the river of tradition that comes down to us.
As we continue to trek our way up the stream, and back in time, we find all manner of streams flowing in and out. Many of the outflowing streams find their way into deep basins, where they pool up like lakes, settling into more or less fixed forms. We may call these "doctrines". We may condemn them, for we know that all things must continue to evolve, else grow stagnate and die.
Yet, we are wise to not judge them harshly. They may yet overflow their banks and come rushing back to the mainstream with new and very significant developments that would not have been possible without the requisite separation from the mainstream itself. They may well be advancing and developing along particular lines which could only have been brought about by persons locked into a form in order to transcend that form (just as we are bound to the flesh so that we may learn to conquer the flesh). It is wise not to judge, as an old one told us.
Rather than slowly devolving, they may be moving steadily forward. Rather than stagnating and dying from pollution, they may be purifying themselves. It is for this reason that the Old Ones, who it may be said were our own younger selves, left the warning against judging the faiths of others. The very next ray of shining wisdom we need may come from a source we despise. If so, will we be open to receive it?
Consider the wisdom, not the source. Wisdom is not the exclusive property of any individual, group, cult, nation, race or god. Indeed, wisdom belongs to all of us equally, and portions of it may be found with any one, any group, any where, any time, if we keep alert.
These lakes and streams of diversity, and the dissemination of wisdom among varied groups of people, points to the influence of Intelligences who have been guiding their particular and specific groups into particular and specific spiritual attainments. We see that Truth is a many faceted jewel, giving off colors that differ according to our perspective. We know that mankind has not always been as capable as he is today of supporting complex realities full of abstract principles. We understand, then, that any building up of a multi-faceted, highly complex truth would have to be accomplished by first limiting the focus of various groups to particular portions of the whole. At such time as one group truly grasped one principle, and when that concept became truly fixed and understood, that group could be lead into contact with yet another portion of the complex whole. To do so before the first is solidly assimilated would simply result in the first principle becoming a shadow in the light of the second. The second would obliterate the first.
Moreover, even as our analogous rivers and streams flow one into another becoming One, our groups, our races, have been lead into unions with each other that are specific to the combination of attained spiritual principles we discussed above. An esoteric review of the history of the peoples of the British Isles will make this readily apparent, wherein all manner of people have added their blood, and their specific spiritual expressions, to the resulting new races.
And now, particularly in the West, another amalgamation of races is taking place, which is similar to that which took place in ancient Alexandria. The significance can not be overlooked. Ultimately, there is only the race of man. We are One. Further, we are One with the Creator. Each of us is an expression of the Everlasting One, on a journey down through the planes, learning, growing, and becoming as the Creator Is.
When we take our spiritual evolution into our own hands, it is because we hear the call of something deep and overlaid within us. We wish to work free of the layers of time standing in the way of our inner vision. We hope to know again the Divine wisdom into which we were born. We try to remember. We try to wake up.
Yet, what is it that exists before existence? Can such a question have an answer? Does it make sense to pose the question at all? Perhaps if we narrow it down somewhat, ask it in a different form: What is it that existed before our universe?
Still, we can not know, because we are creatures in manifestation. That which brought forth our universe was not in manifestation. Those existences and intelligences on the other side of the veils of existence are not knowable to minds on this side. Manifestation, that is Creation, is the crystallization of spirit into form. Form, necessarily, has limits. Form is the energy of spirit confined in its expression.
This is why the Earth Mother is both the giver and sustainer of life, and also the dark and terrible figure standing before us at the gate of death. Pure, living, vibrant spirit is completely free of limitation. When bound up in form, as it is to the utmost here in our physical plane existence, the life of the spirit is sacrificed to the form. Einstein’s famous equation stating that energy and matter are the same thing is a perfect illustration of this point.
Our minds, existing as they do in this world of manifestation, are much more free than the energy in a rock. Yet, compared to the free energy of spirit in its pure form, our minds are dead. With such a mind, can we approach "God"? With our minds of crystallized spirit, can we know or comprehend a manner of life that is completely unlike manifestation?
Yet, we are Spirit first, and all else is added thereto, as we descend the planes. It is in transcending our forms, our bodies of flesh, our clouds of emotion, and our limitations of mind, that we can know. And, so, when we transcend even our own minds, we can glimpse a former glory, full of promise for the life to come.
This is, of course, very closely related to the strange sensing and knowing of which we spoke before. To transcend is to unveil the True Self. It is that same Highest aspect of each of us that subtly calls us to awaken. No amount of straining and worrying and mulling it about could ever call to mind a memory of the "before". We can not remember, with minds in manifestation, anything at all of the existence before the existence of that same mind. We must yield to spirit…to our own Higher Selves.
We must still the appetites of our bodies, which would enslave us; we must calm the turbulent seas of our emotions, which would toss us to and fro; we must transcend our minds, which would direct our focus always back into the world of manifestation to which it belongs, and give ourselves over to our own True and Higher Selves.
This is the Great Work of the Alchemist. It is also the true essence of Christian doctrine. It is the practice of every yogi, every mystic, every qabalist, and every student of every mystery school past and present. It is the underlying theme and purpose of every uplifting faith, sect, tradition, school and philosophy that has ever been.
The message in all true faiths is the same, on the highest level, regardless of the various ways men have dressed them up. The core is the same because the original teachings were from the same source.
The Qabalistic tradition of the Angels descending to teach early man the method of reclaiming his divine nature is based on fact. There have been such teachers in every land, every culture, and all have poured their specific attainments into the river of tradition that awaits us.
The culmination of all the works of the pioneers in our tradition, that is, all the progress that we attained to in lives past, is the legacy and heritage we built up and left to ourselves. And as we follow that river back into antiquity, we see the highest spiritual principles of the ancient adepts, those who learned at the feet of the "angels", flowing together to form the fountain-head of our river of tradition.
From Sumer, from Egypt, from Babylon and Crete, from Persia, from the Hebrew tribes, from the Phoenicians and the Greeks, from all the adepts from all the ancient civilizations, all rivers run West, so to speak.
The same is true of the foundations of our culture and society, where the roots of our civilization are recognized in the ancient world.
Where spiritual frontiers are concerned, volumes would be required to illuminate the step by step process which built up our tradition. It would take a lifetime to complete such a work, if it were to include each and every spiritual attainment of man in all of his millennia of evolution. Much of it would be well beyond the capacity of verification by the sciences, but that is of no import to those who work the mysteries. The Initiate has recourse to specific knowledge that needs no archaeological support.
Aside from the sources discussed, there are those that are as old as man himself. They bubble up from the underground waters of pre-history to form the fountain-head of our tradition. Those great subterranean currents that surfaced as spiritual wisdom, if traced to their source, lead us back through the spirals of time to memory's deepest ocean, back to a knowing so deeply submerged that many of us feel only the slightest stirring of spirit.
For those of us who feel more intensely and wish to know again the old gods who raised us up from virgin spirits to rational, creative intelligences, the tradition exists to carry us forward.
Many people feel that if we could lay our hands on just one truly ancient text, the way would open before us as it never has before. The idea is, if you go back far enough, back there in the misty past, we knew. The idea is both right and wrong at the same time.
While it is true that if you go back far enough we knew "all things", it is also true that at that time we were not yet "individualized". We were then as yet flames within and in-separate from the Creator. In order to become individual, capable of evolving into creative beings in our own right, it was necessary that we descend into matter, into the physical world, and experience isolation. It is the method of individualizing the "flames" off of the Divine and Eternal Flame.
The meaning of "Penumbra" comes from this descent into matter. Penumbra is that portion of a shadow alongside the full shadow, wherein we find the deepest penetration of light. It is thin light, and greatly diffused, yet it is light. That which is sometimes called the fall of Man, is symbolized by the eclipse in the Penumbran parlance. Our spiritual nature, including our knowledge of the Creator, indeed our very relation to the Spiritual world of our origin, was eclipsed, cut off, by our descent into matter.
Yet, just as the shadow-casting body slowly moves by and the deep shadow of eclipse gives way eventually to full light, the passage of time since our deepest plunge into matter has brought with it the Penumbra. There is some light in the shadow. In time there will be more. In time, we will move beyond Penumbra, for we shall stand in the fullness of light.
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