spiritual practice

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.

Altar Boxes

I’m thinking about putting together a few “cigar box altars” that I could offer for sale. I’ve mocked up a version of what they might look like, which is the picture below. Here’s what I’m thinking they will include:

– A wooden box, either painted or natural finish, decorated with the AJC “Triple J” logo
– 4 Archangelic tea-light candle holders (smaller than the ones pictured so they fit in the box)
– 1 Sacred Flame votive candle holder
– A linen altar cloth
– A pamphlet with the text of the Logos Service
– A copy of my book “Sanctuary of the Sacred Flame”

I’ve done some research into the prices of the components, and it looks like I would have to sell them at about $35 a piece, plus $12 shipping (in the US). I could do $30 if you don’t want a copy of the book.

My question is, would anybody be interested in this? I’d like to get at least 5 or 6 people who are really interested in it, and would be willing to pay that much for one, before I start buying any of the materials.

Do you want one? Please let me know in the comments below or email me at¬†anthony.silvia@johannite.org. Showing interest will not be construed as a¬†commitment¬†of any kind, but I’d like to get a sense if there is interest before I go any further.

The Mysteries of the One Thing

I’ve been thinking a lot about alchemy this past week, specifically laboratory alchemy. I enjoyed a brief stint as a student of an alchemy teacher from the southern hemisphere, but I wasn’t really prepared for the work involved, so I didn’t make very much progress.

I’ve been considering taking it up again. I’m not sure how I feel about the focus on planetary attributes, since some Gnostics generally don’t have good opinion of the planetary powers. I’m envisioning an alchemy that doesn’t include any references to planetary attributions. I would be interested in experimenting along those lines.

In a theology of emanations, the Divine is present in all of creation. If we take that as a given, the symbolism of separating and purifying the component parts of a thing, such as a plant, and recombining them, one could think of that as a symbol for the process of Theosis. I’m still working on it.

This isn’t something I’m planning to do any time soon, since I’m already in the middle of another esoteric project, but I can start collecting the equipment. Last time I did alchemy I spent entirely too much money, and ended up giving the equipment away for nothing. Ebay calls!

No Answer

I dropped my mobile phone the other day. It shattered most dramatically, and it was actually kinda pretty. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but the only camera I have is my phone.¬†It’s since been replaced, so I can go back to my Ingress and Angry Birds and my productivity tools.

I think we have a mobile phone problem today. The always-available nature of information and entertainment that these smartphones represent are a constant distraction. If I happen to find myself with a free minute or two and I don’t have my phone, the unfilled minutes can seem like an eternity.

The technology by itself isn’t bad, and neither are the information nor the entertainment. As with all things in the world, it’s how you use it that matters. There are other issues with materialism and consumerism, but those are for another post. For now I want to suggest a discipline practice that might help.

Don’t give up your phone, but see if you can avoid using some of the advanced features for a few days. You can use it to make and receive calls as necessary, but try to avoid making any calls that aren’t absolutely necessary. Spend a few days without casually texting your friends. If you have a question that you don’t know the answer to, look it up later, when you are at home, instead of looking it up right away.

Think of it as a fast from media, at least some of it. People did it for thousands of years. When you get the urge to use your phone, why not instead say a short prayer? Try this one: “Holy art Thou, Most High God.”

What It Means to Give Up

Well, I finally missed a day blogging. I knew it would happen eventually, but it’s okay. I blogged in¬†person¬†instead at St. Sarah’s parish in Boston. By that I mean I blathered on incessantly to anyone who would listen. Fortunately, I think I was entertaining enough that people didn’t mind.

Fr. Donald gave a lovely homily last night. I don’t remember all of the specifics, but it boiled down to something like “don’t be a dick.” (TM¬†+Wil Wheaton) Alright, it was actually much more complex than that, but I have a bad memory. It was the parish’s commemoration of the martyrdom of the Cathars at Montsegur. The Cathars made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith, they gave up their lives instead of denying what they knew in their hearts to be true. I pray that nobody should even have to pay that price again.

So the Cathars gave up everything, and it’s Lent, and the subject of “giving things up” is usually prominent at this time of year. The spring is actually full of festivals commemorating martyrs in the Johannite liturgical calendar. Jaques de Molay and Tau Harmonius are also right around now. These are people who were forced by the religious and secular authorities to give up their lives for their¬†beliefs. What can we do to honor their memories?

In my book I talked about these commemorations and some possible ways to honor the martyrs through your own spiritual practice. My suggestion is to fast on the days when we commemorate martyrs. I would recommend the Roman Catholic style “no meat” fast. Fasting¬†is not done for the sake of ego, because that would defeat the purpose of it entirely. Eliminating meat and eating only simple foods is plenty to keep you in the spirit of the thing. Anything more extreme, if you haven’t sufficiently prepared for it, could become spiritually and physically dangerous*.

The point of a fast is to remind you throughout the day that there is something special happening. The Undifferentiated Ground of All Being (sometimes also called God) doesn’t care if you fast or don’t. The only thing God wants from you is for you to return to the Fullness as a fully realized being. Doing the same thing we always do day in and day out is not going to get us there. We need¬†reminders¬†that we are Spirit experiencing the illusion of separation. Fasting triggers this reminder in us every time we are hungry. We fast, not for God, but for our own selves.

The upcoming martyrdom commemorations are:
– Montesegur Day: March 16
– Holy Jacques de Molay: March 18
– Martyrdom of Tau Harmonius: March 22

Will you commit, with me, to honor the memories of these brave people and fast on these days? Let us give up a little so that we too may have a share and inheritance with all those saints and adepti who have gone before. If you make your commitment publicly in the comments you are much more likely to remember.

Photo credit: Meat by Phillie Casablanca

*Fasting can be bad for you. Consult your doctor if you are considering some extreme fast.

Lucid Dreaming and Awakening – Part 1

Do you have lucid dreams? Tell us about it in the comments!You’ve probably heard of lucid dreaming, but if you haven’t, it’s the act of consciously affecting your dreams. in other words, you’re aware that you are dreaming, and you can affect the dream¬†environment. Some people treat this as nothing more than a novelty, but a lot of people who do this do so with the intent of spiritual advancement.

I’ve not had any real success with it myself, but I’ve read, in a number of diverse places,¬†about¬†a technique that is supposedly very effective. It involves building up a habit while you’re awake that you can trigger when in a dream. The most common method I’ve seen is what I call the “door check-in.”

To do the door check-in, you must become aware of yourself every time you walk through a door. When you walk through the door you touch the door jam and ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” Ignoring, for the moment, the Gnostic implications of that question, which can have profound contemplative value in themselves. When you ask the question, take a¬†thorough¬†inventory of the sensations you are¬†experiencing and the thoughts you are having. Are you hot, cold, just right? How does the weight of your clothing feel against your body? What were you thinking about just now? Force yourself to become fully aware and conscious in that moment, and do that every time you walk through a door.

Eventually (so I’m told) you will come to a point in your dream when you walk through a door. You will, because of the habits developed, become aware of yourself, and when you ask yourself if you are dreaming, you will find the answer to be yes. At that point you will be able to take control of your dream.

What you do with that will be the subject of a future post. Let me know if you have any success with this.

Photo credit: Dream Wallpaper by ~ZokiDizajn

 

Hey! Printed books!

Buy the book here

Now that I’ve seen them, I’ve learned some things.

The cover is too dark, and not printed very well, to be perfectly honest. I’ll re-upload the cover after I brighten it up a little, although this isn’t a big deal. Nobody’s buying the book for the cover.

The interior is a little odd too. I think the line spacing is too big, I should have just stuck with regular spacing, but I was worried about readability given the small dimensions. The margins are also too small. I know now for next time.

I picked 5″ x 8″¬†specifically¬†because it’s the size of the¬†Levitikon¬†and¬†Living Gnosticism. One could buy all three as a gift for someone and they would make a nice neat little package.

I hope I’m smart enough to apply these lessons to my next book. I have some ideas on that front, and I’ve started outlining two of them. When I have something to show, I’ll be sharing stuff here, so¬†be sure to follow the blog to get updates.¬†I plan to be very transparent about the next book, and I’ll be asking for opinions and sharing pieces as I go along.

Have you bought the physical book, or did you read it online? If you got the print copy, what do you think? What would you change about it?

Count to Ten

I’ve been working with a practice for the last several months that is really kicking my butt. It comes from Josephine McCarthy’s book¬†Magical Knowledge Book I Foundations. It’s the very first exercise in the book, and it seems so simple, but it’s really not.

This practice is fundamentally different from the practices I put in my book, because it has a very specific end goal in mind. You¬†can¬†fail at this practice. In fact, you will, probably for weeks, if not months of steady work. I’ve only succeeded a few times. However, if you’re looking for a practice that will help you to really kick your spiritual development into high gear, this is the place to start.

I will¬†briefly¬†describe the practice here, but I also recommend that you buy the book. It’s especially useful for those interested in the esoteric path, but it has a decidedly mystical feel to it as well.

The basic practice is to close your eyes and count each breath until you get to ten. The challenge is to do it without being distracted by either inner or outer stimuli. If, in your counting, you have a stray¬†thought, you need to start over. If hear a car go by and you take note of it, start over. If you get to 7 and you get excited that you’ve almost made it, start over. This practice is a harsh task-master, if you are honest enough with yourself to let it work. Only you will know if it’s working, so you have to be brutally honest with yourself, or the whole thing is pointless.

This practice builds towards an entire system of esoteric work in McCarthy’s book, but this practice, as part of a Gnostic practice, can really polish that mirror so the Light can shine.¬†Give it a try! I like to set a timer for 20 minutes. Any more than that and the distractions become overwhelming. If you do, please let me know, in a comment to this post, how you did.

Roadside Cross Practice

I’d like to share with you a simple practice that I’ve been using for some time. When driving, you will sometimes see crosses on the side of the road. These mark the sites where there was a fatal accident. Friends and families of the victims will erect these monuments, and will often revisit them to add flowers and to remember the loved ones they lost.  While these memorials are often controversial, we can all certainly understand the impulse. Losing a loved one unexpectedly is truly a tragedy.

I have a practice that I use when I pass one of these memorials on the road. When I see the memorial I make the sign of the cross and say a short prayer. Most often this is the Jesus Prayer (‚ÄúLord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner‚ÄĚ), but sometimes it‚Äôs something spontaneous. I take a moment to contemplate my own mortality, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my work here on Earth. There‚Äôs still a lot of things I hope to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

For me, this accomplishes several things at once. I am honoring the dead, though not usually the specific person for whom that memorial was erected, because it’s unlikely that I would know, at 65 MPH, who it is for. I honor the people I have known who have died, the people in my tradition who have gone before, people who have influenced my life in a substantial way, and more.

I’m reminded that someday I will also die, and as a Gnostic I know I have work to do before that time. Some Gnostics believe in reincarnation, others don’t. To paraphrase Msgr. Stratford, I’m not willing to wait around and find out. I hope to achieve the Resurrection in this life so that I can inherit the Kingdom. Practice is the way to ensure that, I believe.

Having cues as I go about my day that remind me to pray are a vital part of my practice. This is just one of them. This is a great technique to serve as a reminder, and you can use it, and many other things, to remind you to pray. You may think it is inappropriate to build a spiritual practice off of the suffering of others, but this is not what I’m doing at all. I am grateful to the victim and their friends and family every time I pray at a roadside memorial, and I think that if they knew I was doing it, they would be pleased that they continue to make a difference in the world in some small way.

Do you have any ‚Äúprayer triggers‚ÄĚ in your life?

(Photo:¬†Roadside Memorial by Richard Croft –¬†http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/792998)