"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

THE ANGEL MOST HIGH, PART 2; The fourth article on the work of Andrew Chumbley

As I mentioned before, the word "occult" simply means "hidden," and the word "esoteric" means "inner" (its opposite is "exoteric," the outer appearance of things).  These definitions must always be kept in mind by those approaching literature of this kind.  The really great occultists, and I think Chumbley belongs in this category, write passages like Russian matryoshka dolls.  If you look at the surface of what is written, you are missing what is hidden inside.  You need to dig, dig again, and then dig some more.  The reasoning behind this sort of thing is not merely to encode it--something that was desperately necessary in the centuries when the Church had the power to execute those who questioned its doctrines--nor to keep it from the eyes of the 'profane.'  The fact is occultists are often trying to communicate something incommunicable, or more to the point, something that the reader must seek for himself.  Once more, the world of magic is a mirror, and in digging through a layers of a passage like this, the reader is looking deeper and deeper into himself.  You cannot simply be "told" any meaningful secret...it has to be discovered and earned.  My purpose is unpacking this 300-word passage of Chumbley's is not only to illuminate his philosophy, but to demonstrate to the reader the intricacy of this kind of work.

You cannot simply be "told" any meaningful secret...it has to be discovered and earned. 

And so Chumbley has given us a recycled version of the myth of Lucifer, simultaneously drawing us deeper and earlier to the Hebrew "fallen angel" myth that precedes the Christian retelling.  In doing so, he has tipped his Gnostic hand.  There are at least two deeper levels ahead, but we need to stop a minute and consider the meaning of what we have already discovered.  We need to dwell on "Gnostic" for a bit.

"Gnosticism" is an umbrella term for hundreds of sects, but what they all share is an approach to truth if not the same conclusions on what the "truth" is.  The Indian subcontinent, which gave rise to some of the richest philosophical and religious traditions in the world, often employs the word yoga when discussing spiritual practices.  This is not merely stretching and breathing exercises; in India it is synonymous with "religion."  In fact, the word yoga is connected to the English "yoke," both Sanskrit and English being descendants of a common Indo-European tongue.  They both mean the same thing; something that "joins" two things together.  This is exactly the meaning of "religion," from the Latin re ligio (to bind two things together; "ligature" comes from the same source).  

India recognizes many types of yoga, or religious approaches, three of the most common being bhakti yoga (joining yourself to the divine through love and faith), karma yoga (joining yourself to the divine through good works and proper conduct), and jnaya yoga (joining yourself to the divine through knowledge and direct experience).  Historically, the Christian Church in the west decided early on that bhakti was the official method of coming to God, with karma running second.  But Christianity has always been uncomfortable with "knowledge," a word again linguistically related to both the Sanskrit jnaya and the Greek gnosis through those same Indo-European roots.  It is a matter of historical record that the Church tried relentlessly to eradicate any knowledge that contradicted its teachings--the Renaissance only could occur after prolonged contact with Islamic civilization, which had preserved classical writings instead of destroying them.  The church discouraged seeking direct knowledge of the divine in favor of serving as the sanctioned intermediary between man and God.  The Gnostics, as their name implies, rebelled against this.  What joins all the various Gnostic sects is the doctrine of initiation, of discovery, of knowledge and personal experience as the road to truth.

Who the heck are these "Elder Gods" Chumbley is talking about?

We cannot blame the Church entirely for its discomfort with knowledge...it inherited this from the Hebrew priesthood it is modeled upon.  In retrospect it was probably Islam's lack of an institutionalized religious authority that left it more open to knowledge; there was no Islamic church or temple that needed a monopoly on knowledge to justify is existence.  Twice in the Hebrew myths connected to this passage we have seen God frown upon "leaks" in heaven's knowledge monopoly.  First in the passage's reference to Eden and the serpent (the fall of Man caused by eating the fruit of knowledge) and second in its reference to the fall of the Watchers in 1 Enoch (damned for teaching the arts and sciences to men).  Ironically, the Church seems to have inherited its "we have all the answers" mentality from the very priesthood that Christ accused of not having all the answers.  But the Gnostics were having none of it, and Chumbley is throwing his lot in with theirs.

Which brings us to the part where we must lift the next veil.

Who the heck are these "Elder Gods" Chumbley is talking about?

While many readers are familiar with the story of Lucifer and the that of the serpent in Eden, and careful readers of the Bible are aware of the Watchers and their dalliance with the daughters of men, this notion of gods existing before (G)od probably comes out of nowhere to them.  Well buckle those seat-belts gentle reader, this is where the real fun begins.  

Let's start with the most obvious.  I cannot say with absolute certainty, but I would be more than willing to wager, that Chumbley is sneaking in a reference to H.P. Lovecraft's fictional brood here.  Lovecraft--who was himself a materialist and atheist--wrote weird fiction and horror tales that often included the "Old Ones" or "Elder Gods."  These were vast and incomprehensible alien beings who reigned over the cosmos long before man evolved, and fell into decline before the first human civilizations appeared.  Now they are somehow locked "outside" of our universe, and much of his fiction deals with them trying to get back in.  These Elder Gods were purely fictitious, but--as we shall see--reflective of genuine mythological beings.  More importantly, they found their way into occultism around the mid-20th century.  Anton LaVey--who like modern Chaos Magicians viewed belief as a tool and all gods as symbols--published two rituals dedicated to these Elder Gods.  Several other occultists, most notably the anonymous "Simon" and more recently Donald Tyson, have published their own versions of the Necronomicon, a book Lovecraft invented detailing these Old Ones.  But the reason I am quite comfortable in linking Chumbley with them is that Chumbley was a member of Kenneth Grant's British offshoot of Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis from 1993-1999.  While Grant is a fascinating figure in his own right, what matters here is that he wrote extensively about Lovecraft's prehistoric gods and included them in his magical teachings.  I have no doubt this is how Chumbley comes to incorporate them.

We need to remember the mask and the mirror, the lies that point to truth.  

Am I telling you that Chumbley is now talking about fictional entities in his occult teachings?  Yes, and no.  We need to remember the mask and the mirror, the lies that point to truth.  I spoke at length in my article on Qutub on the Qabalistic concept of zero, of nothingness, and the true nature of God (ultimate reality).  Basically, the "real" God is by definition ineffable and incomprehensible.  Anything less and it could not be God.  Yahweh, like all gods, is a human invention, an attempt for the sake of convenience to put a face and a name to that which is nameless and faceless.  Yahweh is thus no more real than Lovecraft's gods; but God being omniversal, these gods can tell us something true about God's nature just as surely as Yawheh can.  In fact, from the Gnostic point of view, the Elder Gods are closer to an accurate conception of God than Yawheh is because Lovecraft's deities are themselves incomprehensible.  By being outside our ability to understand, the Elder Gods are more reflective of real ultimate reality.  Further, the Gnostics believed that the "true" God existed outside of the universe, something we touched on in talking about the Azoetia.  For them, the universe was far too imperfect to be the handiwork of a perfect being, and thus ascribed Creation to the "Demiurge," a manifestation of the true God with delusions of grandeur.  In their conception, this tyrannical God manufactures the universe and traps humanity within it.  Having fashioned the cosmos and shut himself away from the True God, the Demiurge becomes the "jealous" god of the Old Testament, convincing himself he is the one and only god and setting himself up as a despot.  The Gnostic path was to escape our prison and return to the True God outside of it.  Chumbley is clearly merging Lovecraft's extra-dimensional deities with the Gnostic one.

Again, he has a sound reason for doing this, but before we get there a moment must be taken to scratch our heads over his cryptic "Those who are without number and yet are numbered as Eight."   The first half should be easy to understand by now; without number is 0, the Qabalistic conception of nothingness.  The Eight is a bit more problematic.  I will submit three points for your consideration.

It is possible that Chumbley is taking a page from Crowley's play book, and that this "Eight" is a sly reference to the "infinity" symbol (an 8 on its side).  Those who are without number and yet are infinite.

It is possible that Chumbley is nodding his head towards Chaos Magicians, another group he had close contact with (having written for the journal Chaos International).  Without getting distracted now--I plan on talking about Chaos Magic in a future entry--it is enough to say now that this school uses Chaos as a way to describe the same idea as the Qabalistic Zero, and that the unofficial but widely used Chaos symbol is an eight-pointed star.  We will come back to Chaos at the close of this entry, so keep it in mind.

Or it could be that he means the Qabalistic "Eight."  Qabalah is another topic that demands an essay (or a hundred essays) unto itself, but to summarize here Qabalah ascribes symbolic meaning to numbers, especially the first ten, which form spheres of experience on a diagram called The Tree of Life.  We have already discussed the meaning of zero, but to fully grasp what Chumbley is telling us we need to breeze through the next ten.  I will use a model created by Aleister Crowley, the elegant and succinct "Naples Arrangement," to summarize for you. 

After the infinite, indescribable perfection of Qabalistic nothingness, we arrive at One.  This is the mathematical point, or Qutub, again.  It is the "I" and the "eye," a mystery we will save for later.  The point is the first manifestation of nothingness, positive yet undefinable.  It has position but nothing else.  It is the number of the Demiurge, the god who thinks it is the first to exist and the source for the rest of the universe (ie numbers).  "With the conception of the Universe was the Beginning and the Fall of the One, the One that men have named falsely," Chumbley tells us.  One thinks it is the first, but Nothing was before it.

In short, if all the pairs of opposites in the cosmos are viewed from a distance, everything vanishes into zero.  Observer and observed, hot and cold, light and dark...all of the positive "n" plus the negative "n" balance out to 0

"At the side of the One there was the Secret One, the Angel Most High, Emissary of the Elder Gods."  Here is the number Two, who Chumbley identifies with the Elder Gods (Zero).  Why?  The answer again is Crowley, who attempted to reconcile the old mystical question of whether the universe was dualistic, monistic, or nihilistic with an elegant equation.  The "dualistic" universe is that wherein God creates the universe but stands outside of it.  The monistic universe, most famously seen in the Indian Advaita Vedanta school, postulates that "all is One" and separateness is illusion.  The nihilistic school is typified by early Buddhism, and says the nature of the universe is nothingness.  This is also the Qablastic position.  Crowley stood forward and said "2=o," that the universe appears dualistic and is simultaneously nihilistic.  In short, if all the pairs of opposites in the cosmos are viewed from a distance, everything vanishes into zero.  Observer and observed, hot and cold, light and dark...all of the positive "n" plus the negative "n" balance out to 0 (n + -n = 0).  It was a cornerstone of his system of Thelema.  "One" is leap-frogged over because it is not as perfect as Zero and cannot be defined without Two; "...position does not mean anything at all unless there is something else, some other position with which it can be compared.  One has to describe it.  The only way to do this is to have another Point, and that means one must invent the number Two..."  Here then is Chumbley's Angel Most High, the number Two that is secretly the true manifestation of Zero and the "Secret One" that the One needs to even exist.

Then comes Three, a number that is necessary for the universe to begin.  Two points makes a line, but we cannot even say how long that line is without a third coordinate to measure it.  Three gives us the first geometric shape, the Triangle (the circle belongs to Zero), it gives us the synthesis that reconciles thesis and antithesis.  It is the child of the Mother and Father.  

Four is the manifestation of Matter, a point defined by three coordinates, the birth of the Third Dimension.  The first Pythagorean solid, the three sided pyramid, now is possible.  Five introduces Motion, and therefore "time."  Six is said to be where the Point becomes conscious, able to define itself by position, direction, and form.  Now the next three are forms of experience drawn from Indian philosophy, Ananda, Chit, and Sat.  These are the things the conscious and manifested point experiences on its journey.  Ananda is "bliss" or "sensation," and is associated with Seven.  Sat is "being," the awareness of existence.  That is number 9.  But the number 8, which I skipped over briefly, is "Knowledge."  And this brings us back to Chumbley's "Those who are without number and yet are numbered as Eight" and the third possibility.  

Knowledge is the union of two points.  One point-event experiences another when they collide.  If it helps, think of "knowledge" in the Biblical sense.  But this is 2=o again.  In knowing each other, two points become one and difference is erased.  The third possibility is a very Gnostic one, and ties up our entire discussion neatly.  The Eight could be Chaos, it could be Infinity or it could be Knowledge, all of which are expressions of the Qabalistic Zero or how to attain the ultimate reality of the Qabalistic Zero.  My suspicion is that it is simultaneously all three.

Next, in the third and final essay on this simple three-hundred word passage, we will tie up the lose ends and pull back the final veil on this deceptively simple myth.

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