A Way without a People

Recently, Andrew Watt put up a post about geomancy resources he shared with a ceremonial magic 101 Tumblr, in part in response to Gordon’s lament of the fragmentation and erasure of magical knowledge. It is a fine post for the audience, but it seems like the audience is part of the problem underlining Gordon’s lament. It is another ‘101’ affair because, well, the history of fragmentation and erasure leads us to ‘go back to basics’ constantly.

That is worth talking about from a couple of different fronts. One of those fronts is an old bee in the bonnet of mine, namely the way in which the habits of the Golden Dawn remain deeply entrenched in occult thinking. It remains profoundly philological, with all the problems attendant to that. The establishment of lists and correspondences too often precludes the play of meaning and reference that really blow open the doors to spiritual experience. It feels a bit like trying to build a house with nothing but a few disparate equations and little attention to the geographic features of the landscape.

John Michael Greer’s book on geomancy is great. It was the perfect place for me to begin doing geomantic work. But very quickly, I found that the associations tallied in his book were not the ones that would give me access to the spiritual world I was exploring. I had to develop those on my own.

Those didn’t come out of pure inspiration, though. They were rooted in a broader reading of the geomantic world and provided me with a better sense of the diversity already present. Works like Judith Gleason’s A Recitation of Ifa were invaluable. It wasn’t that they showed me how to use geomancy like an African babalawo (as if), but they helped me to see the possibilities inherent in my own use of geomancy.

In other words, a study of some of the diversity in geomancy helped me to synchronize the divination with my spiritual sensibility. My planetary associations shifted, Kabbalistic ones developed. Ibn al’Arabi’s gnosticism came into play, as did the Brethren of Purity. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that my associations are ‘more correct’ in an absolute sense than the ones described by Greer, but they are more correct for my work and provide me with the means to clarify and intensify it on its own terms.

I very recently came across a 17th-century text by John Heyden entitled Theomagia, or, The Temple of Wisdome. In it, you can find many of the sorts of associations made by Greer, but organized according to a quite different logic. That different logic is not mine, but it’s exciting and invigorating to examine it. It makes me consider more carefully my own variations, wonder after to whether they may yet be too pat.

Which brings us to the second front of this discussion, the poverty of occult infrastructure. Gordon makes a good point, observing that this phenomenon isn’t strictly limited to the occult community, but having never had robust infrastructure, it is more strongly impacted by it. The ‘streamlining’ of information for ready consumption and rapid application by its nature spends less time dwelling upon the context of their application. We have more people accessing information than ever, but the richness of that information has declined.

This creates something of an intellectual bottleneck in which diversified complexity gets mistaken for noise (e.g., ‘doing it wrong’) and subsequently gets excluded, ignored, or reduced to bland paste. This provides a counterpoint to the eager internet visionaries who foresaw an explosion of knowledge diversity headed our way. Quite the opposite, it seems to have generated a narrowing in the sorts of knowledge promulgated. There are more people in the world than ever and yet, as a collective, we seem to be thinking less creatively.

To get beyond that, there need to places where people take time to understand diversity as a basis to moving toward workable (rather than final) generalities. This means individuals working together in some fashion, even if it is just working together to broaden the account of diversity a bit. That’s hard, that takes time, and so few of us have the extra time above and beyond our personal work to do that.

The sorts of communication favored by our information age surely doesn’t help us here. Understanding complexity and diversity becomes an increasingly local and peculiar affair, dealing with matters difficult to summarize and transmit through the rapid channels most information passes. Ironically, those lists of correspondences? Well, they fit pretty comfortably into these channels even if the experience that animates them doesn’t.

The esoteric models do travel, have always traveled. I do make use of Kabbalistic and geomantic models that have been around for some time. But, but, but! Once they landed in my life, they developed in directions that transformed them, gave them roots in my spiritual experience. They became points of access, yes, but what they opened shaped how I understood them. We have lost some sense of how common this was when these models were really active–there were a lot of philosophical-esoteric schools back in Antiquity, even if many are lost to us, or survive only as a mention or fragment.

This puts my peculiar takes on the Tree of Life and the geomantic groupings in a broader context. While I hope that they may come to inform that context, these things don’t travel as easily as the tree itself or geomancy, but they sink deeper into my spiritual work and life. In part, because they are more fully hybridized with other aspects of my work, from the spirits that gather close to the movements of the moon and the stars. But it is their hybridization in my experience that gives them life.

I’m not trying to tout my work here as particularly profound or exceptional. Quite the opposite, I’m trying to suggest that these sorts of hybridization should be more common. We need more diversity of material if we are ever going to have richer and more robust generalities.

The problem seems to be that there is only a little of this going on. Of that, whatever can be fed easily back into the shallows, what can be most easily packaged to sell (books, readings, rituals), gets the most value and attention. The stuff that takes weeks and months and years of engagement? Not so much attention. There are exceptions, but their exceptional nature tends to deform and inflate their value.

Too often, specific techniques or tools are then offered up as solutions to systemic disengagement. If only you have more intense feeling, more dramatic ritual, more knowledge of obscure rites, blood sacrifice, ecstatic possession, or respected initiations, then you would be hooked into the ‘real thing.’ We need to realize that what defines engagement is dwelling with the duration of spirit itself, not with this or that event within that duration.

I hate to sound so much like Heidegger, but there it is. Those techniques and tools are important, but they don’t mean much if they aren’t integrated into a continuum of engagement, a dwelling within the earth.

The infrastructure capable of supporting that sort of engagement can only happen, only take root, where people are actually living and/or working together, in the flesh. The educational system is one case in point, but so too are think-tanks and residencies. That means toning down the bibliophilia and toning up up the communitas. That is really hard to do when the practitioners are spread so thinly and possessed of such disparate agendas.

It also raises the question as to whether what we have can bear the weight of an actual community with diverse concerns. If we want this to have roots and life, extension and duration, it needs to be able to warrant people caring about it to invest in it institutionally, not just as one more fleeting commercial curiosity (e.g., an internet storefront, an online class, a subscription).

That last question bites; I’m not sure it can be answered affirmatively.

Which means that we may be getting exactly the system of knowledge of which we are presently capable.

If we want something else, it will take a different sort of work than that being done, more than one more conference or one more good book. It requires addressing more directly the individual nature of the work and finding ways to balance that against the institutional demands of somewhat more developed infrastructure.


3 thoughts on “A Way without a People

  1. Thank you for an interesting reflection on a complex subject. I’m glad to have been the launching-off point for the discussion, though, as you point out, it’s yet another ‘beginner text’ in a wilderness of beginner texts, another librum in search of a communitas.

    I’ve taken a brief tour through the links; there’s a lot here for me to consider as I get started in reading through your archive. It’s kind of a first step in knowing where someone is coming from, magically and spiritually, I think. I’m pleased to see the Yeatsean connections, though; I’ve done some work with the Mansions of the Moon and find that they are a pleasing system for my own spiritual labors!

    One of the things I’m aware of, which you touch on briefly here, is the way in which we rehearse basics constantly. Our personal flowering is just that — personal. It rarely lasts beyond us, in part because of the broad diversity of magical systems available today, over which the Golden Dawn casts a long shadow.

    Anyway, I wanted to say hello, and I look forward to the chance to communicate further on these issues.

    1. Io

      Somewhere I wrote a note to myself that one of the ways you know you are on your spiritual groove is that you are returning again and again to the same thing, only more deeply. T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” but with a faster tempo so you cram a few lifetimes of groove cutting in. so, yes, definitely the basics keep coming.

      Which is one of the things that interests me about the Yeatses–that is what their spirits are suggesting is the wave to come, the increasingly personal dimension of the spiritual experience.

      Undertaken as the tone of an era, that calls for some new ways of living religious community and I think we are still in the infancy of that, imho. We have more than a few stumbling to collapsed efforts, but that’s learning to walk, right?

      But that is where infrastructure is important, because without that, there isn’t a lot of preservation, and so the next generation ends up having to be the first generation all over again. No easy answers there!

      Jung, Crowley, the Yeatses, the greater spiritualist renaissance (I cherish the Caribbean part of the equation, but it’s global, and I think the Golden Dawn makes the most ‘sense’ as an element of that), they all seem to part of that. And I think I put more stock in that spiritualist renaissance than anything else, because that is where ways of life are being challenged and changed.

      Hello and welcome. Hope you find something of value in this little knot of mine.

  2. Pingback: Syncretism | Disrupt & Repair

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