Esoteric Secrecy

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about secrecy, privacy, and mystery in the context of the occult and esoteric religion. These three concepts come up a lot, from oaths of secrecy, secret societies, hidden mysteries, and so on. Let’s start by making some distinctions between those terms.

Secrecy is the act of not sharing information you have and others don’t. Some examples are the signs of recognition in Freemasonry and other secret societies, not revealing the name of your initiator, or not sharing your membership in¬†a particular order.

Privacy is about not sharing information you have, but other people also have it, or can reasonably assume it. What you do in the bathroom isn’t a secret, everybody knows what you’re doing, but we don’t share the details because it’s private.

Mystery is something that can’t be told, only experienced. We say that the Eucharist is a mystery, and I think that’s pretty apt. We can talk about the Eucharist all day long, but it’s the experience of it that can’t be relayed through a website or book. Of course, I might be biased ūüėČ

There was a time when it was very important for people who studied esoteric subjects¬†to¬†keep their interests a secret, but those days are largely gone. As a result, I believe most people think of secrecy in the occult more along the lines of privacy these days. It’s unlikely, in¬†most places, that you would lose your job for your esoteric beliefs, but there¬†could still certainly be social repercussions, and for that reason alone, sometimes leaving things unsaid is still a useful strategy. Of course, I believe there are also some things in ceremonial magic that can be psychologically and ontologically dangerous, and keeping those teachings for more advanced students is also prudent, but I’m not sure if actual damage from this is all that common. But your mileage may vary.

To paraphrase Dion Fortune, the real secrets of the occult can’t be told, they can only be experienced. In other words, mystery. For many, this is how secrecy is actually experienced in esoteric orders, and I think there’s some real value in this approach. There isn’t a lot of occult knowledge that you can’t find in¬†a few minutes of searching, but what good is reading a book of magic without¬†picking up a candle and actually doing it? You can read about the benefits of meditation for the rest of your life, but you won’t have any grasp of¬†it at all until you sit many hours in silence.

Of course, I’m a Gnostic, and not just a regular Gnostic, but one of those really deviant, hard-core, world-hating dualist kind (I’m only half kidding). As a Gnostic, I see another use for esoteric secrecy that I haven’t seen a lot of people talking about. If we take the Gnostic worldview seriously (and definitely if we take it literally), then there are forces at work in the world whose job it is to, at best, maintain the status quo, or at worst, forcefully preventing us from achieving our divine potential. These forces operate on a different level of “reality” than our normal consciousness, and as such, if we are to transcend their influence, we need to change how we¬†interact with the mundane world.¬†We literally need to do things differently than we are used to doing them. I propose one way to do that¬†is to strategically use secrecy as a magical¬†act in and of itself.

This idea isn’t yet fully formed, but the seed is there. What I’m thinking is that, as a ritual act of defiance against the rulers of this world, that we can use the tools of secrecy, privacy, and mystery to shield our actions from the demiurge and his minions. Online encryption, codes, secret signs of recognition, liturgy and ritual, or just plain keeping your mouth shut about some important things, these are just some of the ideas I’ve had on this so far. Talking about esoteric subjects online with your religion nerd friends? Try using PGP to encrypt your emails. Having coffee with your initiator?¬†Do a quick warding ritual. Just remember what the sphinx does: Know, Will, Dare, and Keep Silent.

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There will be more to come on this I’m sure, but these are just my opening thoughts. Of course, like many ritual acts, these are more to work on our own consciousness than on the spirit world, but every time you do a small ritual act to make yourself more self-aware, this has a profound cumulative effect. If you try any of this out I would love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

The Cause and Effects of My Procrastination

I just read a fantastic piece by David Cain entitled “Procrastination Is Not Laziness” on Though Catalog (via Wil Wheaton at¬†http://goo.gl/XVDvh). He describes procrastination in a way that I’ve been thinking about it for some time now. I struggle with procrastination in a pretty significant way. In fact, I more-or-less lost my last job because of it. A year ago this month I started my email marketing business, and to date I only have a handful of clients, most of whom I don’t charge. What am I doing to prevent my success? More importantly, when I am successful, what am I doing to trick myself into finishing things?

At the time of this writing, I have 331 items on my to-do list. To be fair, this list contains everything from “pay X bill” to “build a Gnostic retreat center” so they aren’t all urgent and important. Many of them are longer term. However, the list doesn’t ever get any smaller. I’m constantly thinking of new ideas, tasks, and future projects, and I never seem to get around to crossing many of them off.

As Mr. Cain says in the article, procrastination stems from the belief that failure at a task, in the mind of the chronic procrastinator, equals failure as a person. As a result, it is less emotionally draining to put something off until the last minute than to do it right away and risk failure.

I would actually take this one step further, at least for me. I’ve recognized in myself that if I can put myself in a position to fail on my own terms, usually by not trying, that is far preferable to trying really hard and potentially failing anyway. This way I can say “well I never really put any effort into that in the first place, it wasn’t very important to me, of course I failed. No problem.”

There are a few recent glaring examples of my successes recently, and those would seem to negate everything I’m saying here, but there’s a reason why I was able to finish my book, and make progress on a few other large projects for the church in the last year. I was on Skype with Bishop Tim Mansfield the other day, he is the Johannite bishop who covers all of Australia and New Zealand, and he was complimenting me on all the stuff I’ve accomplished in the last year. My answer to him was that since I’ve been “under-employed” I had more time to work on church stuff. He replied that most people in my situation would sit around and play video games in my situation. I actually felt a bit of panic at that thought. I am never not busy, at least I think that I’m not, but the truth is probably that I fill up my time with stupid small things because those are easier to deal with if they fail. Don’t get me wrong, I play my share of video games on occasion. I don’t think that people should be without some leisure¬†time.

The reason why I was able to finish my book was because I put myself in a situation where people were counting on my to finish. I made a public deadline (which I still missed) and I even asked people to donate to help me finish it. I had people who paid me money for a book by a certain date. That was what motivated me to finish it. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t done that, the book would be yet another one of my unfinished to-do items.

I have to learn to either A) use that trick more often or B) figure out a way to not have to use it and be proactive about the things I want to accomplish. I’ve been using “The Secret Weapon” as a productivity tool for this past year (http://www.thesecretweapon.org). I can credit that for a definite boost in my creativity. Since using it I have generated a ton of fantastic ideas for projects. I haven’t finished a single one of them since I started using it, so the solution isn’t in the tool I use, it’s in the way I think, and that is far harder to change. It’s a process, and I think I’m getting better.

Do you have procrastination troubles? More importantly, have you overcome procrastination troubles?

Photo credit: lazy cat by taomancer on Flickr (http://goo.gl/F63AV)