21 June, 2013

Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's theurgy.

I was recently asked if I thought people were born to be magicians, if it was fate, in the astrologically determined sense of the word. This, of course, got me thinking about what Iamblichus says about incarnation, which is found largely in the surviving fragments of his Peri Psyche, On the Soul.

According to Iamblichus, souls incarnate for one of three reasons. Most people are dragged into incarnation by their daimons. The souls, or their pneumatic vehicles, of such people, what would be termed the "mass herd of humanity," are so far off their path they must incarnate for further purification. The second kind of soul, what might correspond to the philosopher or theurgist, still incarnates for the purpose of purification, but there is also something of a willingness of the soul in its incarnation. It knows it needs more purification and so acquiesces to its fate. The third kind of soul is fully purified, associated with what I call the theurgic sage. Such must incarnate because that is the nature of human souls, but does so with a complete coordination of the soul with its telos. This soul is above Fate, which affects only the sub-lunar realm, and basks in divine Providence. Iamblichus says such souls incarnate in such a way that they, unlike the other kinds of souls, never identify themselves with their bodies. The body remains subject to fate, as this is part of nature, but this soul, because it has not confused itself with its body, is not.

That doesn't answer the question. We're getting there. Honest.

Every rational (i.e. human) soul is sewn into the orbit or series of a leader god, which in Iamblichean thought appear to be Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaistos, Demeter, Hera, Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Hestia, Athena, and Ares. This determines the souls' telos or purpose. Within each god are sub-domains of purpose as well, so two Hermaic souls may not have an identical telos. The gods, after all, are vast.

Souls have free will, even if not all incarnate humans do. The incarnate therugic sage has free will, even though his or her body is subject to fate. The other two kinds of incarnating souls, which identify themselves with their bodies, are under the sway of fate while incarnate. However, when in the process of incarnating the soul has free will and may choose how it will incarnate and in doing so projects a certain kind of life into incarnation. Purified souls always project a life in line with their telos. Other souls may or may not, and the more impure* they are the less likely they will project a life appropriate to themselves.

So, what does this have to do with the question? When a soul projects a life into incarnation, it projects a life that incarnates at a particular time and place, one that is, from an astrological perspective, appropriate, or necessary, to the life being projected. Astrological variations are enormous. By this I mean many different natal charts can produce similar lives. So while I do not think there is a specific "occultist natal chart," a soul projecting a life with the purpose of engaging in some sort of occult or esoteric practice will have a corresponding natal chart, even though it may, or will, be very different from a different soul projecting a similar kind of life. As there are many different kinds of occultists this makes a certain amount of sense.

From the Iamblichean perspective, a person's life, whether or not they are fated to be a magician, or a nurse, or a mortician, or any combination of any number of professions, would be found in one's natal chart.

*What constitutes purity and impurity is a whole different discussion.

24 March, 2013

I Have Not Started a Trend

Probably. Unless I have. Here is Father Anthony Silvia's post about how he would go about forming an open-source order of Martinists. If he were to do such a thing. Which he is not.

14 March, 2013

Why I'm not Starting a Rosicrucian Order

This started out as something of a joke, and I received the more or less expected reactions. But, seriously, I have no plans to start a Rosicrucian Society. There are at least four reasons why, three of which are even sort of good.

First, it is simply not something I could do on my own. If you look at If I were to Form a Rosicrucian Order you will see a list of things I think should be included in the instructions of such a society. I am familiar with maybe half of that list. All the alchemy stuff? Nothing. While I have a vague interest in the subject, I essentially know nothing about it beyond the most basic principles The actual practice? Zero.

Second: Time. I'm in the midst of poorly organizing a new religious organization. I'm also a father, husband, university professor, writer, book binder, jewelry maker, artist, martial artist, and steampunk. I also stand in for the tooth fairy every third Thursday of the month. Aion may be eternal, but I'm not. I can barely do justice to what's already on my plate.

Third: There are like a bajillion* Rosicrucian orders and societies out there already. Most of the public ones are either Masonic, descended from AMORC or based around the Golden Dawn. There are a few exceptions, and likely a number of Rosicrucian societies that are not public and which I know nothing about. Because they are not public. I am not convinced the world needs another group.

Four: I suck at naming groups. No, really. I have named two: the Ekkleisa Neoplatonismos Theourgia and the (admittedly fictitious) Ordo Rubeus Crux Ansata. What do those have in common? Horrible anagrams. Giant talking trees on the one hand, killer whales on the other. The world has enough problems without this.

So, that's why I'm not starting a Rosicrucian society. If you don't like those reasons I'm certain I can make up more.

*Technical term.

On Being the New Kid and Not Pleasing Everyone, Therefore You're Evil

Yesterday, the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, elected a new Pope. Pope Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. By his election, Pope Francis sets a number of firsts, being the first Jesuit and first Argentinian to be elected Pope, and the first to name himself for Saint Francis de Assisi. While his is not the first non-European Pope, is his the first non-European Pope in over a thousand years. Being the new kid is hard. Having to be the new kid in front of half the world, probably more so.

So, Pop Francis is the new kid, albeit a 78 year old new kid. Being the new kid, in charge of the largest denomination of Christianity in the world comes with a lot of scrutiny. Scrutiny is good, doubly so for those who lead others, religiously or secularly or both. Who is this man, what does he stand for, how will his pontificate affect the Church, etc.? The new Pope's opening speech and prayer, and asking to be prayed for, in keeping with his Papal name, all suggest a deep humility. He is a man who took the bus to work. He prays to the virgin Mary. He has also been implicated, albeit with no supporting evidence, in cleric disappearances in the Dirty War and has a staunch anti-gay rights stance.

The general reaction I've seen to the election of Pope Francis seems to move in one of three directions. Either he is the best thing since sliced communion wafers, a person with a troubled past but with hopeful prospects in the future, or evil. To me, the first and last reactions are understandable, and both can be worrisome. In the case of the former, there is a jubilation at having a new Pope, the father of the Church. We can let bygones be bygones, or ignore them as slanderous, even if they are not because, you know, he's the freaking Pope. Here the issue is that the man is Pope and that's enough. Nothing else matters.

The later reaction has generally focused on Francis' anti-gay rights stance. To be fair, I'm not sure why anyone would have expected anything else at this time. And, despite evidence of Francis being a moderating voice, even if not being a moderate. Disappointment in this stance is understandable. Not respecting the stance equally so. Condemning the Pope as essentially evil, irredeemable, and in all ways bad for the Church and the rest of the world, for this stance alone, not so much.

Okay, this goes somewhat beyond "not pleasing everyone." The issue is an important one in the lives of hundreds of millions of people, and the Pope's choices and beliefs will affect over a billion people, both directly and indirectly. But I have a hard time seeing the Pope as evil because of this. I absolutely disagree with his position on the subject. I think it is a damaging perspective that ultimately causes more harm than good, if it causes any good at all. But does that mean everything this new Pope will do will be equally bad? I have seen nothing to suggest this.

From where do these reactions come? It is something I see in American politics a great deal. If you disagree with me you are not only wrong, but evil. Often this centers around one primary ideology. Some people will vote for a candidate almost solely because they are pro-life or pro-choice. Nothing else matters.

Except it does.

04 March, 2013

If I were to form a Rosicrucian Order . . .

. . . which I'm not, it might look something like this:

The order's organization would be based loosely around the formative myth within the Fama Fraternitatis, with degrees of study based on the generations, as it were, of those original Rosicrucians. So, there would be three degrees for the three generations or rows of succession, as well as an office of Custodian, representing the place of CRC. Note that three degrees is a particularly original thing. This could go further into the teachings mentioned in regard to each generation as well.

The teaching material would be based on a number of traditions brought together in the Fama and Confessio, as well as their otherwise hidden contexts. For the most part this would consist of a study of Marsilio Ficino's Neoplatonism, talismancy, theoria, and astrological medicine and laboratory and inner alchemy. Platonic political science would be important, and would include a study of Ficino's Book of the Sun and Tommaso Campanella City of the Sun, both of which were likely influential on the writing of the Fama and Confessio. A study of Trajano Bocalini's Universal Reformation, which was once included with the Fama. Pythagoreanism and sacred geometry would also be included, probably including the Pythagorean materials of Iamblichus. A study of the Ramak's kabbalah, due to its over Neoplatonic content, would also be included, as would herbalism, preferably under someone with professional training in the subject. Ficino's Neoplatonism, as it draws from Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus and Dionysius, acts nicely as the unifying force for everything concerned. A study of at least basic physics and scientific thought would also be important. And, of course, the old Rosicrucian documents should be studied in depth, both for their historical context and mystical and political teachings. This covers most, if not all, of the courses of study found in the Fama.

Everyone, of course, likes initiations. Presumably there would be one for each degree, as well as a conferring of lineage or what-have-you upon the Custodian. These would be based on the FamaConfessio, and Chymical Wedding. All oaths would be based around the six precepts of the Fama, maybe with some of Michael Maier's Laws.

What would this look like in practice? Probably not a lot like ceremonial magical orders, though there might be some group theurgy. Much of the work would be personal and solitary but close communication between brothers and sisters would be important, with an emphasis on the fraternal nature of the Order being foremost. There would be practical, physical work, such as the laboratory alchemy and herbalism, towards the fulfillment of the primary Rosicrucian vow to cure the sick, and that gratis. There would be internal work such as contemplation and internal alchemy, and maybe something like the "Masonic qi gong" described in Sebattendorff's Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons. Would there be communes and such, as described in the Fama? I have no idea, though it is a romantic notion.

That, anyway, is something like what a Rosicrucian Order would would look like if I were to start one. Which I'm not.

01 March, 2013

Fate, Providence, and . . . Astrology?

Recently, Monsignor Scott Rassbach wrote an insightful blog post on astrology. This is not so much a response to the Monsignor's post but is somewhat inspired by it. It likely wonders around a bit, and doesn't necessarily come to any real conclusions, but you're probably used to that by now.

Fate may be, if somewhat over simplistically  defined as that which we must do, and is classically seen as being determined by one's natal horoscope and the ways in which it interacts with the movements of the stars and planets after birth. It is the organizing principle set forth over the realm of generation by all superior organizing principles, from the One down. Providence, on the other hand, is the free divine giving that is over and above Fate. In short, Fate determines, Providence sets free.

The late Platonists hold an interesting view of the relationship between Fate and Providence. Iamblichus, in particular, writesthat Fate and Providence were the same thing. The problem lies not in Fate, or the stars or evil archons but with us and, more specifically, our perspective. Taking this into consideration we might say Fate is Providence seen from below.

How does that work? The late Platonists have a fairly robust view of free will, but one that applies to the soul more than the incarnate life that soul may project. Souls may freely choose whatever life they project, even if it is not "proper" to them, running outside the lines of the soul's immutable and divine essence. Iamblichus and Proclus give various examples of it, such as a Solar soul projecting a Mercurial life. To complicate things, a soul can project a proper life but one that will have improper activities, such as a Solar soul engaging in a Solar life but having Lunar activities. Their examples are much better than mine, this is just my sneaky way of trying to get you to read them.

Why does a soul do this? Typically, the answer is because the soul is "impure." In Neoplatonic terms this means that through the soul's necessary with matter, it has come to identify itself as material and hulic accretions have formed around the soul's pneumatic vehicle, the soul's interface between material and spiritual realms. This, in turn, prevents the souls from participating the divine Intellect and knowing itself. So, not knowing itself, the soul makes unhealthy decisions. And that makes things worse.

What does this have to do with Providence and astrology? Here's the interesting implication about the soul's free will and ability to project a particular kind of life. Not only can it do this, it does so in a particular way. In terms of classical thought, which sees life as being determined by the stars and the gods whose bodies they are, in order for a particular life to happen, it must be born as a particular time and place, and this is what the soul does. If the soul has projected an inappropriate life that is reflected in the person's horoscope. In effect, the soul has sealed the fate of this life by projecting it as it has. That life is organized as nature and Fate dictate based on the rules Fate itself has to follow, and it typically does not turn out completely awesome as the soul is attempting to fit itself into a whole shaped for another.

But a soul can also choose to project a life in accord with its essence and "leader god." The mechanics are the same and that life is locked into its Fate, but that Fate is one absolutely in line with the soul's overall purpose and essence, it's telos. The soul that regularly does this is the purified soul, one engaging in demiurgy and following its leader god. It understands its place in the grand scheme of things and willfully goes along with it, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of others. This becomes not a life of dictated Fate, but of divine Providence, wherein the soul, and its projected life, participate more intimately with the divine benefits while it engages in shared rulership of the realm of generation.

The role of astrology is interesting in all this. While astrology may be used to predict some things, and the later Neoplatonists were somewhat dubious as to its overall effectiveness as a human form of divination, the idea of needing to transcend one's horoscope is now called into question, or at least requires careful consideration. We might argue this is exactly what material theurgy is about. Through this kind of theurgy we come in contact with our leader gods through having purified our souls, coming in contact with our personal daimons and making ourselves more like how we really are, which in turn allows us to better participate Providence.

But escape Fate? Not necessarily during this lifetime. From the Platonist's perspective the movement of the stars, cannot be changed, and should not even if it could. But we can change our relationship to them and how we view what happens in our life. This doesn't so much change Fate and it changes us. The pure soul does not escape Fate either, mind you, but has set it in motion to its benefit, transforming Fate into Providence by a proper choice of projected life. But that's what we've been saying from the start. Fate and Providence are a matter of perspective. This doesn't magically make a crappy life wonderful, but it does perhaps set our understanding of it in place, and sometimes that can make all the difference.

09 January, 2013

Agalmata Empsychon

I am currently in the process of writing a chapter on the agalma empsychon, or ensouled statue, in Living Theurgy. Having gotten beyond the Hermetica's descriptions of wonder working, sometimes actually moving statues to the late Platonic views, I have come to find these a rather fascinating idea. In the chapter I connect this to the use of icons (eikons) in Orthodox Christianity, which itself is interesting. But to me, the most interesting aspect of the subject is the connections to, and differences from, the way the gods and other greater kinds ensoul their bodies in relation to how humans do so, and what this suggests about the human body, Platonically speaking at least.

Iamblichus establishes, throughout the course of De mysteriis Aegyptiorum the relationship between the greater kind; the gods, angels, daimones and heroes, and their bodies. Speaking especially about the material gods, whose bodies are seen as the seven ancient planets, Iamblichus tells us they rules their bodies from without and do not, unlike us, become identified with the matter so associated with them. This has some significant ramifications in terms of ensouled statues. The most important of these is that the god does not, ever, reside within the statue. The late Platonists of the Athenian school seemed to have found this important to stress this, and we find it mentioned, in various ways, but a number of them. The statues are not gods. They are not divine in and of themselves. Even though the statues are filled with the signs and tokens of the gods, they are not themselves the gods.

But what about human souls and bodies? In the Timaeus the universe is described as an agalma of the World-soul and made as a home for the eternal gods. Agalma can mean shrine as well as statue, and the idea seems to be that the cosmos is a body for the world soul. The World-soul is, in turn, an image of Nous, which is an image of Aion, which is an image of noting, because the One doesn't have an form from which to make an image. The human souls are products of the World-soul, and are embodied in a physical form just as is the World-soul. This suggests that the body is itself an agalma to soul, just like a cult statue can be a body for a god.

Except, of course, we're not gods. That's not to say we're not divine. Even as the least of the greater kind, human souls are still divine. But we're not gods. The gods control their bodies from without, we enter within our bodies. The gods do not identify themselves with their bodies, we forget our unembodied nature. What affects the body of a god leave the god untouched, we feel every pain the body has to offer. The gods are fully immortal, the embodiment of the human soul makes that which is immortal mortal and that which is mortal immortal. We are not gods, but we are god-like, formed in their image and likeness. And, through realizing the divine in a statue of their tokens and symbols, we likewise realize our own divinity.

The consecration of a statue is likewise a consecration of us and by sacralizing a body we remember not only the heavenly realm but our place within it.