personal development

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.

sphinx bannerArtboard 1

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.

Apocryphon Asceticism

If you‚Äôve been listening to Talk Gnosis After Dark for a while, you know that I‚Äôve been doing a lot of work with the Apocryphon of John lately. The Gnostic Ascent project is an attempt to develop a visionary ascent working based on the Apocryphon. I think this was clearly a very important part of the early Gnostic spiritual practices that has been, pretty much, entirely lost. If we want to have a full Gnostic experience in the 21st century, I think it’s essential to recover an ascent practice.

As part of that work, I‚Äôve been thinking about what kind of ascetic practice the Apocryphon of John community (generally called “Sethians” by scholars) would have practiced. This community had a sort of love/hate relationship with the human body. They saw it as an imperfect creation by flawed and evil beings, a material prison in which our Divine Spirit was trapped, but they also saw it as something created in the image and likeness of the First Human, Barbelo. The body is‚Ķ

‚Äúa map of the substance and structure of reality with all its tensions and conflicts. Simultaneously, it is the territory on which the struggle for truth is waged.‚ÄĚ
Dr. Karen L. King, The Secret Revelation of John

The Apocryphon details the beginning of everything, from the emanations of the Divine realm, to the creation of the material universe, to the creation of human beings. The one theme that pervades the text is the role of the Proper Divine Order‚ĄĘ. The beings of the Pleroma are all created through a process of first asking permission of the Invisible Father, the Monad, and then working in conjunction with the proper partner to bring forth another being or set of beings into existence. Everything is all neat and tidy, following the PDO‚ĄĘ, until Wisdom, Sophia, decides to act on her own, without consent or her partner, resulting in the creation of the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth. This upsetting of the PDO‚ĄĘ represents the beginning of a whole heap of trouble. Not the least of which is the creation of evil, the loss of her own Divine Spirit, and the road that eventually leads to death. Sophia is thoroughly sad about this.

Yaldabaoth goes on to create his own set of flunkies, the archons, out of the soul material he possesses, who represent the signs of the zodiac and the planets. They collectively they go about their business doing whatever it is that soul beings do, until they see the reflection of the First Human in the waters of the firmament. They find the First Human very pleasing to behold, and decide to make thier own. Their first attempt fails, because they only create using soul material, and the human being doesn’t move. Sophia, in an attempt to correct her error, asks Barbelo for help, and Barbelo sends Autogenes/Christ and the four luminaries to trick Yaldbaoth into blowing his mother’s (Sophia’s) spirit into the human being. That does the trick, the Divine Spirit now residing in the human, and Adam is now sentient.

This also creates an inversion of the PDO‚ĄĘ. As Adam now contains the Divine Spark that once belonged to Sophia, he is now higher than the Demiurge and his archons in the Divine hierarchy. This drives the archons into a bit of a jealous rage, and they create a material body out of the four elements and stick Adam into it. They bind humanity under¬†the rulership of the fates, and introduce earthly temptations, “the passions of the soul and enticements of the body” (also King,¬†The Secret Revelation of John) to prevent humans from becoming aware of their actual place in the PDO‚ĄĘ.

A lot of other stuff happens in the story, including a Q&A session with Jesus and the world’s first cases of god-on-human rape, but you can read all that on your own.

The Four Temptations

There are four particular things about the world that bother the authors of the Apocryphon, and those are food, beauty, wealth, and lust. These four worldly temptations are specifically mentioned in the Apocryphon as created by the archons to continue to entrap the Divine Spirit in material humanity, and thus allowing the continuing rule of the archons over humans, who, by right, should be higher than the Demiurge in the celestial pecking order. Another relevant quote from Dr. King:

Christ’s revelation exposes transient beauty, food, material wealth, and lust for what they are: imitations of divine creativity¬†and spiritual nourishment intended to lead humanity astray by keeping them tied to the ignorance and moral evils of bodily passions. Their “life” is, in fact, death. their “pleasures” are the spirit-destroying bonds of passion and suffering.

My assumption, then, is that the Apocryphon community would have paid special attention to these temptations, and developed a set of proscriptions around them. In furtherance of¬†the visionary ascent work I’m trying to develop (linked above), I’ve found the need to have some sort of ascetic practice in line with the morality of the Apocryphon. I’ve been working on some ideas for a few weeks, and started to put some of it in practice, but it’s now time to formalize it. I find that the timing is perfect, coming, as we are, into the Lenten season. Lent being the traditional time of spiritual preparation for the resurrection (which I read as “ascent,” see the Gospel of Philip about achieving the resurrection while alive, for example).

Here, then, is the ascetic practice, which I am calling “The Rule of the Apocryphon of John” until I come p with something better. I hope I have the fortitude to stick to it for as long as I need it, and I’m sharing it here in public so that whoever reads it may hold me accountable and shame me tremendously if I go far astray, for I am weak and I need all the help I can get. I’m also going to write this out as if it was meant to be followed by another person, simply for my own ease of use, but I want to point out that I have no expectation that anyone else will want to follow this rule. If you do find it useful, however, you may use it at your own risk, consult a doctor, and all the rest of that legal mubmo jumbo that seems to be required these days.

The Rule of the Apocryphon of John

A note about the strictness of this rule: Just as the early Apocryphon community had a love/hate relationship with the body, so, too, should you. If you find yourself unable to follow one or more of these rules, either temporarily or long-term, you should not feel the slightest guilt about ignoring it. Replace it instead with the awareness of the rule as you break it. Concentrate on the influence of the temptation on your body and soul, and participate in the temptation knowing that its influence is both false and transitory, and does not affect the Divine Spirit within you. So if you are out with friends and find a need to indulge in something on this list, be aware, and be moderate.

(Please note that this list is just bare bones for the moment, for the sake of getting it out on Ash Wednesday. I will fill this out with notes and commentary very soon. A lot of this needs more explanation, so stay tuned.)

Food

  • ¬†yes simple food
  • yes homemade food
  • yes fruit, nuts, and vegetables
  • less meat
  • no mass-produced food
  • no expensive food
  • no unhealthy snacks, sugary and salty especially
  • no overeating, stop eating before you feel full.

Beauty

  • vanity
    • simple clothing, nothing very flashy
    • don’t intentionally draw attention to your appearance
  • distraction
    • info diet
      • educational media okay for projects, but don’t read/watch “educational” stuff just because it’s there and interesting
      • it’s always okay to consume media that furthers your spiritual growth
      • entertainment media only rarely
    • social media fast, once a day only
    • video games rarely
    • notification anxiety, shut off most things that send you pointless notifications
    • books, audiobooks, music, podcasts, all you want
    • avoid things that advertize at you excessively, like terrestrial TV and radio, distraction-based websites

Wealth

  • anti-materialism – don’t buy anything that isn’t essential to your life
  • Mustachianism

Lust

  • “proper” procreation, recognizing the true likeness in another, not creating counterfeit spirits
  • sex only within romantic relationship, no casual sex
  • no commercially produced porn

Photo credit: “Thoreau’s cabin inside” by Namlhots – [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

P.S. The “TM” thing is a joke, please don’t send me nasty comments.

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)