"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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


"In speaking of the Poet and Poem we speak of the Point and the Crooked Path that strikes forth from it; we speak of the Way and of the Steps placed upon it.  We describe the breach between the centre of the world and the horizon, between the zenith and the nadir.  In speaking of Poet and Poem we speak of many things of which we may not speak.  Amid these words a secret is voiced.  Do not mistake it amidst its own echoes."

- Andrew D. Chumbley (as Alogos Dhu'l-qarnen)

Andrew D. Chumbley died suddenly, on his thirty-seventh birthday, of a severe asthma attack.  There is a qabbalistic irony in that I think he might have appreciated.  Thirty-seven is the number of the Perfected Man, the seven spheres of the tree of life below the abyss crowned by the divine triad above.  It is Adam before the Fall.  For a man who had so obviously mastered very deep arcana, departing the world after thirty-seven solar revolutions is an eerie coincidence.  This doesn't mitigate the tragedy of losing him at such a young age; it would have been extraordinary to see what he might have produced next.

I never knew the man, but I knew his work, and would comfortably place him alongside Austin Spare or Aleister Crowley in the list of the 20th century's greatest occultists.  This was not another self-help, mass market, Llewelyn New Ager.  Chumbley had tapped into very deep magic, terrific and terrifying, awesome and awful.  His Azoetia is probably the first genuine grimoire written in centuries, and his second work, Qutub, is a black jewel.  Both are now nearly impossible to find, commanding prices of one to two thousand dollars when you do, despite being less than twenty-five years old.  It's hard to imagine any occultist in possession of them being willing to let go.

Qutub is, like the Emerald Tablet or Crowley's Liber AL vel Legis, a work of extreme brevity but tremendous depth.  It's seventy-two verses took a year to write and one could profitably spend ten times that puzzling them out.  As Crowley said in his "Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic," the world of magic is a mirror, and Qutub explores this riddle in slowly spiraling mysteries.  Magic is both a mask and a mirror, a projection and reflection, a lie and the truth, and the point where these opposites merge into one.  That place is Qutub, the Arabic word for "point."  The verses of this meditation are designed to bring you there.

From the Qabbalistic perspective, by stripping God of its "darker" attributes and assigning them to Satan, the Christians are committing a very serious kind of blasphemy.  God must be the totality of being.

Qabbalistically speaking, "nothingness" or "zero" is a kind of code word for God (or "ultimate reality," if you prefer).  God contains all things, and thus nothing is all that can be said of it.  It cannot be said to be "good" because that denies it "evil," it cannot be said to be "male" because that denies it femininity, it cannot be said to be "light" because that denies it darkness.  This is why the Buddha called it nirvana, and why the Hebrews didn't give it a name.  God must contain all opposites because it is the source of all opposites.  Aleister Crowley nicely summed this up as n + -n = 0.  If you take all opposites and add them together, they become nothingness, perfect, without definition or limits, eternal and unchanging.  Nothing lasts forever.  Nothing is perfect.  From the Qabbalistic perspective, by stripping God of its "darker" attributes and assigning them to Satan, the Christians are committing a very serious kind of blasphemy.  God must be the totality of being.  They are cutting it in half.  (I have always found useful here the notion of "nothing" as an empty sheet of paper...because it has nothing on it, it has the potential to become anything.  Once you start to write or draw on it, you start limiting it, defining it, and stripping that unlimited potential away)

The Point then is that first breath God took before it said "let there be light."  A point exists, but is without length or breadth; it is unity, but right on the very doorstep of being nothing itself.  After that breath, the moment God says "let there be light" we now have "Two," the duality of light and darkness.  But that initial "One" is the very first stirring of creation before that happens.

Qutub then--which enumerates to 111, also the number of the Tarot Trump "The Fool," symbolizing the beginning of the Journey--is the start and the finish, the initial step out the door and the moment of arrival, the alpha and the omega, if you will.  It is where something comes from Nothing and returns to Nothing.  This is the sense in which Chumbley uses it.  It is a cosmological code word for the ultimate mystical experience, the dissolution of the ego and the sense of becoming "one" (or Nothing) with everything, as well as the act of creation.

This is all pretty standard mysticism.  A Sufi, a Buddhist monk, a Hindu ascetic, and a devout Christian contemplative could all relate to it.  But Chumbley takes us there along the "crooked path," a phrase which at once reminds us of both the Qabbala's "lightning strike" of creation and something more sinister.  And by "sinister" I mean the Latin for "left-hand."

The Left Hand Path (properly vamamarga) is a Sanskrit concept that arises in some tantric practices.  Without getting side-tracked, what it amounts to is a "short-cut" to enlightenment through antinomian practices.  If the goal of the Right Hand Path is to overcome the Self through bhakti (love and faith) or karma (work and meditation), the Left Hand Path seeks to do the same through jnaya (knowledge and experience).  By intentionally breaking taboos, not out of animal weakness or by accident, the seeker breaks down all barriers between him and the Infinite.  He overcomes the Self by dissolution.  Thus in India the tantric would do things like eat meat, drink wine, or engage in ritualized sexual activity with "unclean" women.  The point was not to party, but to unwind the Self and undo identity.

The term shows up in Western esotericism in a somewhat bastardized sense, but with some similar characteristics.  Here it takes on more Jungian dimensions; the merging with the Shadow.  It attempts to reach that essential state of Nothing by embracing the negative and darker characteristics of the personality as a lover; again, n + -n = 0.  The Seeker makes a bride of those things in himself he has been taught to reject.  This is in defiance of conventional religious law, which keeps the individual divided from himself, told to embrace only the "good" within him and reject the "bad."  The Left Hand seeker embraces both in an attempt to know the totality of experience and being, and from this vantage point sees opposites reconciled.

...this is where we must remember magic is a mirror...if you look into the darkness and see only evil and sin, that is because your brought them there with you...

Thus Qutub invokes some very dark characters in its verses.  Chumbley himself says of it "...this work treats the Arcanum of the Opposer, a magical formula of the Crooked Path concerning the Powers of Self-overcoming."  That Opposer--again the Shadow--is encountered in the work at various turns as Lilith (the first wife of Adam from Jewish folklore who refused to obey and was replaced by Eve), Iblis (the Islamic satan), and Melek Taus (or Malik Tawas, the "Peacock Angel" of the Yezidi religion, believed to be a Lucifer that rebelled but was later forgiven and redeemed).  But this is where we must remember magic is a mirror...if you look into the darkness and see only evil and sin, that is because your brought them there with you.  As Chumbley says at the opening of the book, "he who is illuminated with the brightest light casts the darkest shadow."  This is precisely why the Peacock Angel is the epitome of transformative redemption.

The whole of Qutub has a very intentional Arabic, "Sufi-esque" vibe.  Indeed, one of the "non-dark" figures invoked by the poem is Khidir, a sort of Sufi "saint" or "boddhisatva" who appears in many guises to help people discover the Infinite.  Qutub is a shadowy reflection of the poet Rumi, who wrote of God as the Lover and the Other.  My old mentor, the Sufi and religious scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, often cited the Sufi teaching that there were many revelations and many paths, all leading to the same center.  This imagery is referenced again and again by Chumbley as the poem unfolds, as are many other images drawn from Arabic and Persian mysticism.  Looking for the center is like seeking an oasis in the desert.

...the magician discover(s) his True Nature and embrac(es) it, taking his rightful place in existence.  In doing so he becomes the current of magic flowing from the center of all things into the world, he becomes the very path he walks upon...

And where does the poem lead?  What is the destination?  "The main purpose of magical practice," Chumbley tells us in the poem's commentary, "...is to refine, develop, and eventually to transmute the Entire Being of the Magician, this process being in accordance with his Will, Desire, and Belief.  It is to recreate oneself in a form aligned unto one's True Nature.  ...Although the (magickal) Current (which originates and flows from the center) affects all Nature, it has conscious direction through the Initiate, who, being possessed of the Gnosis, actively works to manifest this Current: to become Magick Incarnate.  This is the subject of the poem Qutub."  We seem to be seeing a variation here of Thelema and its doctrine of "True Will," a concept far too large to properly enlarge here but which, in essence, states that all things in the universe have their own path or trajectory proper to them, determined by composition, position, and in the case of sentient beings, disposition.  It is not fate or destiny becomes it does not claim to know the end, but merely the proper direction one should head in.  For Thelema, the main thing is to discover your True Will and to do it, and thus you will have the "inertia of the universe behind you."  Chumbley's own Arte Magickal seems to embrace a similar line, with the magician discovering his True Nature and embracing it, taking his rightful place in existence.  In doing so he becomes the current of magic flowing from the center of all things into the world, he becomes the very path he walks upon.  Those familiar with the Tao Te Ching or certain schools of Buddhism will recognize the concept.

But the question we are left with, is “does Qutub deliver?”  Can it actually help one discover himself and follow his path?  This is a valid question for any esoteric document, and the answer is always the same; “yes...and no.”  Chumbley is very up front with this in his commentary;

“...The mystical and symbolic language of the Poem is, in a literal sense, occult; it simultaneously conceals and reveals the sum of its meaning by way of cipher.  The eternal nature of Symbols is revealed facet by facet, moment by moment.  In being cast out before the Mind their timely significance is divined and, like a mirror, will reflect the Beholder.  Do not blame the mirror for that which it reflects.  Look Beyond--Look Within!”

In short, this is not one of those New Age works that crowd the shelves at Barnes & Noble.  This is not force-fed consumer illumination.  Qutub is challenging and will unlock only for the right people, something that can easily be said for the Tao Te Ching, Liber AL vel Legis, or a thousand other esoteric works.  But it is a genuine work of esotericism, and a very powerful instrument for self-realization, something few modern books on the “occult” can actually claim.  For this reason I cannot but recommend it highly for the serious student.  With time and contmeplation, Qutub not only unlocks its doors, but yours.   

1 comment:

  1. Andrew used to write to me frequently and exchange book ideas.He did not think I was a very good writer. I thought he was an excellent writer but a bit too flowery. He was on several of my Yahoo groups from 1996 till he died -He dedicated several things to me as "She" (My first name is Shé.) I heard less from him before he died - Probably because the yahoo groups fell into obscurity - His family were neighbours of my father's family in Essex. He felt we had a common thread and held many views in common, including our solitary existence. He was very adoring and noble and deafened my points of view on-line many times. He loved a good discussion. Would some time provoke with with outragous claims of who he though I was in truth. We exchanged many intimacies . I remember him with much fondness...