Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Work of the Hierophant - The Foolishness of the Neophyte

Last week I read Josephine McCarthy’s ‘The Work of the Hierophant’. The book explains in great detail how to set up and run a magical lodge. A lodge that is well connected to the inner realms and balanced by the two currents of divine and chthonic energies emerging from the veil beyond and the depths within the Abyss. 

...enter the adventure here.
I guess there aren't many books out there who go on to explain this process in such clarity and transparency, step by step, chapter by chapter? To be honest, I actually don't think there is any other book out there that even touches on what happens in the inner realms when forming or re-awakening a magical lodge with such a precision? And this is what makes this book exactly the type of literature you want to keep away from magicians who are still inexperienced in working actively in the inner realms. Magicians who still life their lives according to the simple principle of 'stay hungry, stay foolish'. Magicians who believe that nothing bad can happen to them as long as they remain curious, full of positive intent and empowered by their love for all things living... That's right: magicians like me.  

If you don't, though, and hand this book over to magicians who are really Neophytes of the Inner Realms a couple of interesting things will happen. Well to be frank, more accurately we can call these events for what they really are: painful mistakes. Here are few that happened to me...

First mistake: I guess we all have come across books that feel so real while reading them that we actually think we are doing the work described while swallowing the words that describe it. Big mistake. We are not doing the work until we do it. At some point we all have to learn that there is a painfully real difference between inspiration and skill, between commitment and competence.

Holding a great book in our hands that takes our mind on a journey hidden in its pages can easily blur the line between experience and imagination. It might evoke the impression as if the work described in it is taking place in this very moment. I guess this is the natural effect all movies and novels feed off? Yet it is clearly not real: Imaging the inner realms is different from acting in them. It's different like the echo from the spoken word, like the living form from the image in a mirror, like the pleasure of a fire-side story from the fear of the present moment. An experienced crime-novel reader doesn't make a good detective necessarily. 

Many before me have called this the difference between an armchair-magician and the price of real field studies... But let's consider this: When encountering a book like Josephine's we can utterly enjoy it as magical theory only. We can enjoy it as what it is: stories of other people's experiences handed on to us. We don't need to strive to make these our experiences. Unless we want to - and unless we are ready to pay the price. If you read the 'Bourne Identity' as a recipe for a successful life it's pretty clear what you will get. If you read a book like Josephine's as instructions for your own magical practice the road ahead is equally open and clear... it will take a toll.

What I am trying to say is - 'The Work of the Hierophant' shows us a hidden path through the maze of how to set up and run a magical lodge in the inner realms, how to build the astral fundament, the chapels and altars of the inner temple, how to form the vessel of the egregore and how to use angelic beings to construct forms and shapes that are both living and sheltering life. I guess many of us have searched for this knowledge for a long time... Yet, the fact that fate opened the window shutter to a forbidden room doesn't mean we are ready to open its door and walk right in. We always have a choice.

Second mistake: Let's assume the above was unknown to a magician like yours truly. What's next? Well, if you don't get the difference between commitment and competence you will assume that the love for riding a bike will make you instantly able to do so. Unfortunately working in the inner realms isn't exactly like riding a bike. Or maybe it is? But it kind of hurts more if you fall...

Having read through two thirds of the book I sat down and went into the inner realms. If Josephine's instruction kit on how to create temples on the inner realms really worked there must be plenty of temples around to visit? That's right - I had visited the physical remains of the ancient temples in Greece, Turkey, Persia and the Roman Empire. Why not visit what was left of their astral power-houses on the other side? So I set out and roamed through the desert that stretches between the Abyss and the River of Death. After a while I found a temple buried under sand. Only a small entrance at the very top had remained open - and I jumped right in.

What I found underneath during two subsequent visits was impressive. Huge dark halls arranged around a central eight-sided pyramid, containers of energy that glistened like gold, shining surfaces that were covered in moving sigils, walls that were build from a strange organic substance and a 'discussion hall' that contained an oversized harp which could be played by moving your body through it... Until I evoked the temple guardian and he kicked me out.

Some of you might have read my earlier post about the first journey to the city of the ziggurat? The story where I take over the body of one of my ancestors and just possess her? Well, I am getting familiar to the fact my manners in the astral realm aren't what they should be. They actually really suck.

Being thrown out by the temple guardian was a strange thing to experience. First of all I had never encountered any being so huge like this one. The difference between theory and practice, between inspiration and skill became painfully real at this point. He grabbed my astral form - I was shielded by the body of my angel - and in a blast of energy blew me out of the central tunnel through which I had accessed the temple. For a moment I was dancing on top of the beam of energy, like a drop on top of a fountain of water...

It was only later that day the tides turned and the related emotions were released into my body, like ice melting into water... I was laying in bed for hours that night, looking at strange visions behind closed eyes, painfully nervous for no obvious reason. The force of the energy blast had remained with me and now took its toll on my nerves: all my inner senses were irritated and tried to shield themselves against a thread that had long withdrawn into the depth of the temple under the sand. And quite successfully the guardian ensured that I wouldn't return and disturb the silence of the temple and shining walls and the instrument that played melodies on being touched by light... You wouldn't want to share such a space with strangers, would you?

Third mistake: As all of this has happened quite recently only I cannot give you much more at this point. Except for one thing that dawned on me when I got up this morning. Once you have opened the door and failed, once you have fallen off your bike and bruised your knees, the only reasonable thing to do is to get back on your bike right away. Well, maybe to get some more help first and then get back on your bike... 

Having run into two obvious mistakes after reading Josephine's wonderful book I still have a chance to avoid this third one: Assuming that the difference between commitment and competence can be closed in a single attempt. Cause here is what will hold true always - wether we work on the inner realms, try to learn how to ride a bike or build a romantic relationship that actually lasts: the difference between inspiration and skill is called 'try again'. The only thing that lies between a magician and a fool is time as well as the continuous courage to keep on learning...

Once I heard someone express exactly this in a wonderful sentence about what he called 'development courage'. I looked it up again and here it is... Isn't it wonderful how the same rules apply wether we roam the outer or inner realms? If we manage not to be afraid of our own fears, if we only manage not to be afraid to lose, to change and to transition life will be such a wonderful journey.

"Someone with Developmental Courage values learning more than comfort. That means they are willing to risk public failure, deep frustration, and the repeated hopelessness of being at wit’s end all in the name of building new skills, awareness and knowledge."

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Spirit Contact Cycle - or what makes magic an 'Afterwissenschaft'

I guess reading this blog entry will take you about 10 min give or take. That is enough to hear this wonderful tune at least twice in the background if you like... At the end of the day wonderful Mrs Feist and I are saying just the same. She obviously in much nicer words. 


The Spirit Contact Cycle originally came to life as a model to illustrate how humans engage with each other and their environment in the 1970s. Its core value lies in the fact that it describes all conscious and subconscious stages that need to be passed through in order to create vibrant and satisfying contact. Derived from that it also was a great model to explain all sort of things that can - and tend to - go wrong while we pass through these stages... Since its creation by Zinker in the 1970s it thus became one of the key models in Gestalt Therapy - and this is also where I got to know it from. 

Click here for the full article on
'The Spirit Contact Cycle'
But why do I share this here - or went through the work to write in length about it on myoccultcircle.com? Well, this has two reasons essentially. One personal and one, well how do call it best?, maybe epistemological... 

As I know this will be easier let's start with the latter: Ludwig Blau in his seminal work on ancient Jewish magic "J├╝disches Zauberwesen" (1898) used the term 'Afterwissenschaft' (anus-science) to refer to magic and sorcery in a highly derogative way. Wether we like it or not, he probably had a point there? What Blau criticized with this term were two ideas mainly: 
  • First of all it was the fact that the fundamental approach of magic is to create connection between ideas and objects by use of 'sympathetic means', i.e. analogies and correspondences. As the identification of these analogies doesn't follow any scientific standards (but mythical and spiritual principles at best) it is a deeply flawed approach from a scientific perspective.
  • Secondly, since it very early days magic has the tendency to absorb and amalgamate ideas, practices and artifacts from various cultures, times and fields of study into their very much bastard-born approaches. While this might be considered the pinnacle of pragmatism it also needs to be considered highly unscientific again. 

It was in light of these points that Blau - and many other scholars after him - termed magic an 'Afterwissenschaft'. Well, let's call that fair enough. Because the real point is that no practicing magician would argue against that. Call it whatever you want - being agnostic about where things come from and focussing on the results they can produce together - that sounds like an awful good approach to me? Tearing down the paper-walls between school of thoughts and paradigms, sciences and arts as well as ancient cultures and today's spiritual practices might create a mess in your living room. It might look like a bomb exploded or a your children had another party in your favorite study room. Yet it keeps everyone involved from becoming anal - and it would have never born the poisonous idea of 'purity' of concepts, school of thoughts and races ultimately... 

So what does that have to do with the Spirit Contact Cycle? Well, this model is exactly the type of bastard that has always earned the scorn of anal scholars and scientists alike: It's mother Gestalt Therapy, it's father a Ritual Magician. They met at night and lay on a bed of grass when the child was conceived; and a few months later it was born behind a barn in the fields. The mother was horrified by its look - so much not like her - turned away and left it alone. The father was never to be seen, busily working in the barn that he had converted into a temple, no time for his former lover or any offsprings... So let's find a home for this little thing and bring it back to where it belongs: right in the middle between humans and spirits.

I also mentioned there was a personal reason to share this lovely bastard child of my two favorite passions. This reason, however, is not so lovely after all.

When I first learned about the Contact Cycle in a Gestalt context I learned that every contact starts with becoming aware of an unconscious sensual impulse. This can be as simple as realizing that we actually are hungry, angry, sad, tired - anything - before this impulse builds up unconsciously and erupts in uncontrolled emotions or actions. The starting point and fundament for any healthy contact - I learned - was to be open, sensitive and aware to what is going on within us right now. Not to what we think or want to go on, but what is actually happening in our bodies, hearts and minds without our conscious interference right now...

It immediately dawned on me that I had spent the better part of the last decade to develop the magical equivalent of this ability: the skill to become more sensitive and aware to the things that were going on in the inner or astral realms around me. Like many of us I had spent years practicing asanas, meditations, trataka exercises, rituals and kabbalistic prayers - all aimed to increase my spiritual awareness and ability to determine what was going on around me in the invisible realm right now.

Over these years I had made some progress. While I clearly didn't land where I had hoped to - or where Bardon and alike suggested I should land - after more than 10 years I could now at least hear spirits when they were standing right in front of me screaming at me in full voice. I could also feel a slight itching when they slapped me in the face or - more appropriately - a growling nervousness in my stomach when they kicked me in the guts for weeks. So after all the spirits and I were in contact and started to have nice conversations. 'Nice' in the sense of a Caspar Hauser-like idiot stepping out into the sunlight for the very first time and inviting the first run-down pedophile he met on the streets for an afternoon tea... Not very smart but at least unafraid to get hurt.

That part, however, was the part I was okay with. What was not okay with me was when I realized that I had spent all these years training my astral senses to become more subtle and aware. But in doing so I had completely fucked up my physical senses to become better trained in things that happened around me on a plain social level...

While I considered myself a Neophyte at training my astral senses I had run into the completely wrong direction on a physical level for years. On an interpersonal level I wasn't in the vestibule of the temple, I was in a completely different part of the city! 

To be quite honest, this painful insight only dawned on my during recent weeks. Only then did I realize how often I get defensive or aggressive still in front of loved ones. Not because they or the conversations deserve it, but because I don't take care of myself well enough. And the reason why I don't is simply because I haven't learned how to do it... being so occupied with magic, rituals and astral ascension didn't leave me enough time to realize when I am hungry, sad, tired or simply incredibly exhausted.

This is clearly not the person, not the lover or magician I set out to become. And it was the Spirit Contact Cycle that helped me realize this truth. 

This is why I have written and am sharing this article with you. To share what has and is helping me and hopefully to contribute another little bit of waste to our wonderful 'Afterwissenschaft'.


What a wonderful life - when we have both musicians and spirits accompanying us, always finding the right words for what we are trying to say...

Secret heart
What are you made of
What are you so afraid of
Could it be
Three simple words
Or the fear of being overheard
What's wrong

Let em' in on your secret heart

Secret Heart
Why so mysterious
Why so sacred
Why so serious
Maybe you're
Just acting tough
Maybe you're just not man enough
What's wrong

Let em' in on your secret heart

This very secret
That you're trying to conceal
Is the very same one
That You're dying to reveal
Go tell them how you feel

Secret heart come out and share it
This loneliness, few can bear it
Could it have something to do with
Admitting that you just can't go through it alone?

Let em' in on your secret heart

This very secret
That you're trying to conceal
Is the very same one
That you're dying to reveal
Go tell them how you feel
This very secret heart

Go out and share it
This very secret heart

Feist - Secret Hearts