"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.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

GOTHIC and GOTHICKA: A Look at Victoira Nelson's New Book

Gothic [ˈgɒθɪk]
3. (Literary & Literary Critical Movements) (sometimes not capital) of or relating to a literary style characterized by gloom, the grotesque, and the supernatural, popular esp in the late 18th century: when used of modern literature, films, etc., sometimes spelt: Gothic

For the last twenty-five years of my life I have been playing with a dark jigsaw puzzle.  Perhaps you have seen the pieces strewn across the entries of this blog; religion, occultism, dreams, horror, imagination, the fantastic, the macabre.  I've never met Victoria Nelson, but having just finished her fascinating new Gothicka (Harvard University Press, 2012), it is clear that she has been playing with the same puzzle.  Gothicka shifts back and forth between literary criticism and spirituality, tracing the origin of "Gothick" (her spelling) as a post-Enlightenment genre of fiction and following its shadowy trail through Western society into the present.  She leaves no stone unturned as she tries to understand how the genre came to be, how it has grown into a thriving subculture, and where it might be leading us.     

Generally said to have all started with Horace Walpole's 1764 The Castle of Otranto, Gothic fiction is the precursor of the modern horror tale.  Like all genre fiction it is littered with certain tropes; the innocent young heroine, a dark and menacing stranger, grim family secrets, brooding and ancient architecture, and the power of the past to act upon the present.  But the black heart of the Gothic isn't these trappings.  It is about the intrusion of the supernatural into a rational and ordered world.  I think it is important to emphasize this because it is what separates Gothic from fantasy fiction.  In fantasy, the supernatural belongs.  It is part of the fabric of the setting.  In the Gothic, the supernatural is the iceberg and rational reality the Titanic.

Nelson clearly places the Gothic into historical context.  It appears during the Enlightenment, a period in which the earlier, medieval view of the world--a supernatural hierarchy ruled by God, administered by angels, and seeped in magic and miracles--has by and large been shattered.  To the medieval mind the world was supernatural and mysterious; to the minds of the Enlightenment it was something ordered and rational.  Reality could be studied and understood.  The Gothic emerges to preserve that earlier world view.  It seems to suggest that maybe we are wrong...maybe the world is irrational after all.  This is why we call it Gothic, a name that conjures up the Dark Ages.  In the Gothic story, scratch the surface of the modern world and the medieval is there looking back at us.

Which, of course, explains the disproportionate presence of Catholicism in the Gothic tale.  Roman Catholicism and medievalism are inextricably linked in the Western mind.  The Church dominated that era.  Thus whether it is The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, The Rite, The Exorcist, The Last Exorcism, or even the classic vampire tale ('Salem's Lot, Fright Night), it is to Catholicism and the trappings of Catholicism that people automatically turn in the face of the supernatural.  When was the last horror film in which you saw a Baptist minister summoned to cleanse a haunted house?  A Lutheran pastor?  Deep inside, we understand that these newer protestant sects have no power over the intrusion of the Dark Ages back into our lives.  It has to be the Church that was there.

Gothic fiction thrived in the 19th and 20th centuries in the vacuum created when the supernatural was banished from daily life.  People now continued to experience the supernatural in the pages of fiction or on the silver screen.  But as we drew closer to the 21st century, something unexpected began to happen to the Gothic, and this is the core of Victoria Nelson's book.  Since the 1960s the monsters have been undergoing a transformation.  The Witch became the beautiful Samantha Stevens, the feisty Willow Rosenberg, the ladies from Charmed.  The Werewolf became sexy hunks like Jacob Black and True Blood's Alcide Herveaux.  And the Vampire, from True Blood to The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, is the brooding heartthrob.  And across the board they all had one thing in common...the transformation of the human being into something larger, greater, "higher."  The monsters of Gothic fiction stopped representing states of damnation and became instead paths to ascension.

None of which is as strange as it seems.  Again, we must remind ourselves that in the medieval imagination nothing, not even Satan, was as terrifying as God.  It was God who sent the Black Death, it was God who watched you at all times, it was God who would punish you if you disobeyed.  God, as the ultimate representative of the supernatural was terrible, awful, and inexplicable.  It was wise to be "God fearing."  But at the same time, God was the gateway to the numinous, to transformation, to becoming something greater than your self.  Horror and awe go hand-in-hand.  

Modern religions have been increasingly about the evolution of the self into a state of godhood.  The doctrine of salvation from above has become one of self-transformation.  We see this in Scientology, Mormonism, and Christian Science.  We see it in newer occult movements like Thelema, Satanism, or some schools of Wicca.  And we see it happening in the heart of the Gothic.  The shock and terror of the supernatural breaking down the walls of ordered reality has given way to possibility...to the notion of escaping the rational world into a higher state of potential and power.  Where once the Vampire was the ultimate state of damnation, cast forever from the grace of God, in the absence of God he becomes a transformative savior figure who offers liberation from human frailty and death.

It is clear that in the Gothic genre and the subculture it has spawned, Nelson sees a kind of emerging spirituality.  Though she mentions Anton LaVey several times in the book, in many ways she echoes exactly what he envisioned.  This is particularly the case when she discusses "Primary Believers" (religious practitioners who inhabit an ultimately supernatural world) and "Secondary Believers" (people who suspend disbelief and enter into a supernatural world temporarily).  This is exactly what LaVey believed his new religion to be, a society of Secondary Believers who experience the supernatural as self-created and self-transformational psychodrama.  I suspect the Church of Satan is a precursor of the kind of experience she sees Gothic heading for.

There is a lot going on in this book, too much to sum up here.  For me, reading it was a sort of validation for things I've been trying to express for years.  I would strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Gothic, in horror, or the supernatural. It was a gripping, highly informative and provocative read.              



Friday, August 2, 2013

ZEALOT: Some Thoughts on Reza Aslan's Book

It would have been impossible to have written a book like Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, without it generating a bit of controversy.  For starters, there is that title.  Today, we hear the word "zealot" and think of Osama bin Laden.  It has landed in the same category as "fundamentalist," "fanatic," and "extremist."  Sure enough, the dictionary tells us a zealot is a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.  If you read a bit further down, however, you come across the older, original meaning of the word;

a member of an ancient Jewish sect aiming at a world Jewish theocracy and resisting the Romans until ad 70.   

Hmm.  Someone advocating a universal "Kingdom of God" who challenged the might of the Romans.  Sound like any biblical figures you know?

But here is where it gets really controversial...for some people, at least.  Aslan's book is a meticulously researched, highly readable study of 1st century Roman Judea and the historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth.  It is not, however, about Jesus the Christ.  This is not to say that Aslan sets out to prove Christianity is all wrong or that Jesus was just an ordinary man.  He is very careful not to do that.  Rather, he is trying to write a modern history of Jesus, a concept that did not exist when the Gospels were written.  He points out that the authors of the Gospels had no intention of relaying historical facts, but rather were attempting to convey spiritual Truths as they understood them.  The question of his birthplace is a good example.

All four Gospels call him "Jesus of Nazareth," and agree he was a Nazarene.  It was common practice in an age when people lacked surnames to specify your birthplace in this way  to avoid confusion (in fact, of the many 1st century charismatic leaders in Judea who claimed to be the messiah there was even another "Jesus," Jesus of Ananias).  The author of Luke, however, tells us Jesus was actually from Bethlehem, and concocts a story that his contemporary readers would all have known was absurd.  In this tale, the Romans call for a census that requires families to uproot and return to the place where the head of the household was born to wait there and be counted.  It is ridiculous of course, and the Romans never did anything of the sort (how can you take count of persons and property when the property was left behind?).  But the point is Luke's Roman audience would have known it was not factually accurate, but it did explain how Jesus was born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of prophecy (Micah 5:2).  Matthew goes even further and adds another absurdity, having the family flee soon after into Egypt to escape Herod, who is killing infants in the area.  This also never happened, but in fulfils yet another conflicting prophecy that the messiah would come out of Egypt like Moses (Hosea 11:1).  Contemporary readers would likely have also known this was not a description of real events, but the ancients were not as unsophisticated as we like to think.  They understood that something could be inaccurate but also reveal a Truth.

Aslan's book, then, is not an attempt to reveal that Truth but rather to be factual accurate.  It is not debunking the biblical narrative, but relating the facts as we known them.  There is the Jesus that people accept as Truth--the Son of God, the peacemaker who died for our sins--and there is also Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who existed before Christianity, and of whom all written accounts we have come from decades after his death.  By sticking to the facts that all accounts agree on, and comparing them to what we know of the period, a very interesting figure emerges.

1st century Roman Judea was a volatile, violent place about to be completely and literally wiped off the map in 70 C.E.  Under the Roman occupation, the local peoples saw their culture and values under assault by foreigners and foreign ideas.  Essentially a theocracy (the word was actually invented to describe the ancient Jewish state), it was a land divinely ordained, giving to the Hebrews by their God.  How then could something ordained by God be taken away from them?  The answer was, it couldn't.  A messiah would emerge and drive the Romans out.

Interesting word, that.  Messiah in ancient times meant a "king."  David, for example, was a messiah.  Under the Roman occupation it came to mean the "true king" rather than the false puppets the Romans had installed, a king anointed by God who would restore the old Jewish state (the "Kingdom of God").  Under Roman rule there were literally dozens of men claiming to be that messiah, and nearly all of them met with the same fate.

It is a simple fact that the Romans reserved crucifixion for one crime and one crime only; sedition or treason.  It is also a fact that they placed a sign over the victim's head to announce the nature of his treason.  Though the English translation for those who died alongside Jesus is "thieves," this is in fact a mistranslation.  A closer word would be "bandit," and it meant people who hid in the hills like modern Al Qaeda fanatics, robbing passerbys to fund their campaign against the state.  The Romans never crucified simple "thieves."  Nor was the charge levelled against Jesus a joke.  To the Romans, at least, "I.N.R.I" was his crime.  He had claimed to be King of the Jews.

Given that fact, it becomes clear that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans for the crime of defying Caesar.  The bit about Pontius Pilate being reluctant to kill Jesus and forced into it by the Jewish establishment is almost comical.  The historical Pilate had nothing but contempt for the Jews and ordered hundreds of crucifixions, and actually had to be scolded by the Emperor Tiberius for going out of his way to antagonise the Jewish people.  He was eventually recalled for his treatment of them.  After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., however, Christianity was fast becoming a Roman religion, and it became necessary to soften the Roman involvement in his death.

Looking back at Jesus as one of the men crucified for the crime of claiming to be the messiah, Aslan examines his life and doings in this light.  What emerges is a fascinating picture of a revolutionary, quite possibly a disciple of John the Baptist who would eventually take over and expand his movement after John's arrest.  From his birth (possibly as an illegitimate child--when he first returns to Nazareth the locals call him son of Mary, which meant only one thing in a culture where "son of" was followed by the father's name) to his terrible death, Aslan retraces his steps, and it is a gripping account.

In the end, the most controversial thing about Zealot is how uncontroversial it really is.  There is little in this book that I was not taught twenty years ago studying the history of early Christianity. It does disturb some sacred cows, but doesn't attempt to butcher them as Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens night have.  Aslan is not out to rob you of your faith.  He simply presenting the facts as academics have done time and time again before him.  But Aslan has a knack for breathing life and passion into what otherwise might be dry and dusty history, and Zealot is a surprising page turner.  Further, its theme--a fundamentalist religion that feels it is under attack by foreign influences and changing times--is as relevant now as it was twenty centuries ago.

Highly recommended for those interested in the historical Jesus, believer or non-believer alike.     


Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I have this adorable green Cthulhu plush toy; well, two actually.  One is a proper stuffed animal, with floppy wings and the cutest little face feelers.  The other is a large, soft pillow shaped like the Great Old One's head, complete with tentacles.  What Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) would make of his most famous creation--a titanic mass of world-destroying alien horror--reduced to something that elicits the same response as puppy dogs and kittens, I don't know.  But he is certainly in good company.  Bram Stoker's arch-vampire helps children learn to count on Sesame Street, and Mary Shelley's manufactured monster is now a berry-flavored breakfast cereal.  Lovecraft has joined a rather curious pop culture club.

How do old monsters go from horrifying to huggable?  Part of the problem might be overexposure.  When Stoker penned Dracula in 1897--or when Le Fanu wrote Carmilla a quarter century earlier--readers must have been terrified by the notion of beautiful young girls mysteriously experiencing blood loss and wasting away.  Today, however, there is hardly a single person out there who wouldn't immediately know to stock up on garlic and religious accessories at the sight of two puncture marks on a victim's neck.  Vampires (or more politely, as Buffy put it "Undead Americans") are as common as the common cold.  If fear of the unknown is the greatest terror humans can know, how could we expect vampires to still be scary?  Lovecraft's monstrous alien thing is in the same boat.  We've seen him in comics and video games, RPGs and CCGs, and he's been Cartman's best friend in a Totoro-inspired South Park.  He's become so well known that every four year he runs for President on the slogans "No more years" and "Why vote for the lesser evil?"

But there is something deeper going on here.  In Danse Macabre, his brilliant analysis of the genre, Stephen King described the work of the horror writer as 'psychic judo,' seeking the psychological weak spots of the reader and striking at them.  The problem is, weak spots change.  Sometime towards the end of the 20th century for example, vampires stopped fleeing from crosses.  Then they stopped being 'evil.'  They became sex symbols.  And having eventually lost all credibility they started to 'sparkle.'  This is because society changed.  For the Victorian reader, the most horrifying thing conceivable was being eternally 'damned' and denied the grace of God.  They didn't see vampires as 'immortal,' but rather forbidden from ever entering Heaven.  But if you remove God, damnation, and the soul from the equation, vampires suddenly become attractive.  They sleep all day, party all night, and live forever.  There is no longer a downside.  In an age of Botox, plastic surgery, and endless hours in the gym, who wouldn't drink a little blood to look like the cast of The Vampire Diaries?

Frankenstein is a similar case.  In 1818, the idea of man playing God was radical.  Nearly two centuries later we've split the atom, walked on the moon, and mapped the human genome.  Playing God?  Been there, done that.

And then there is Lovecraft.  In his youth, Howard lived in a universe consisting of a single galaxy, still run by a benevolent God, and following the nice and tidy laws of classical physics.  The world was widely considered a few thousand years old.  In his lifetime, Einstein and his ilk turned Newton inside out, Heisenberg completely reshaped what mankind knew or was even capable of knowing, the world became millions of years old, the universe billions, and our galaxy was just one of countless others.  We went from being God's favorite ape in a neat and tidy cosmos to a microscopic speck of dust in a universe run by chance.  Well...at least that is how it seemed. Lovecraft's weird stories zeroed in with laser-like intensity on all this uncertainty.  He wrote of man's insignificance, of the immeasurable age of the cosmos, of our civilizations being just brief blips in the endless Aeons of time.  This was heavy stuff for its day.

The problem is, most of us have gotten used to these ideas.  There are still flat-earthers who--like four-year-olds covering their ears and chanting "I can't hear you"--deny science and try to live in fantasy land, but reasonable people far outnumber them.  We know the universe is billions of years old and bigger than we can wrap our heads around.  We know the planet was not created for our benefit and just as there were dinosaurs before us there will be something else after.  We've digested this.  And because of that, Cthulhu doesn't pack the same existential wallop.  Hermey the wanna-be-dentist had pulled the Abominable Snow Man's teeth, and now he plays nice with Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, and the gang.

Ironically, the stuff in Lovecraft that still 'works' isn't the cosmic horror, but the nasty stuff critics have always condemned him for.  The underlying racism and xenophobia common in his work continues to be a psychological sore spot for people today.  In both Europe and America, a fear of invading "primitive cultures" (we politely call them "developing countries") undermining our way of life still exists in the hearts of many people, a fear that Lovecraft would have merrily responded to. And while few people continue to advocate racial purity--as Lovecraft did--the Westboro Baptist Church and Justica Scalia's "argle bargle" of a dissent show that a pervasive fear of "unnatural" and "deviant" sexuality still abounds.  This is yet another area of discomfort Lovecraftian fiction exploits.  And most obvious of all, Lovecraft's fear of religious mania and zealotry remains as pertinent now as ever.  Millions of people live daily with a deep seated fear of foreign religions, and we have all seen the extremes that belief can drive people to.  For all these reasons stories like Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, an insane basket of xenophobia and sexual deviancy and alien religion, continue to push our buttons, even if The Call of Cthulhu does not.

These themes in Lovecraft, mixed with more common ones such as nihilism, body horror, and fear of death, continue to strike those psychic pressure points.  Yog-Sothoth and Shub Niggurath and Great Cthulhu may have lost their original punch, but it is hard to match the degenerate shock and horror of The Rats in the Walls.  There is still gold in them thar hills of Lovecraft country, if one knows how to pan for it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

THE WHOLE OF THE LAW, Some Observations on Thelema

Here is the official story.  Do what you will with it.

While on honeymoon in Cairo, the young bride of one Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) fell into a sort of trance, and started telling her husband that the god Horus was trying to get in touch with him.  Crowley had been, prior to all of this, l'enfant terrible of a magical order known as the Golden Dawn, but he had retired from the magical arts and was at the time a practicing Buddhist.  His wife, by contrast, had no esoteric background or knowledge, and he was understandably irritated by her ramblings.  He took her to a museum and challenged her to point out who was trying to reach him, sneering to himself as she blindly walked right past all the well known images of Horus.  But straight she went to a small, painted funeral stele, and pointed excitedly.  Sure enough, it displayed Horus (Ra Hoor Khuit), as well as two other deities, the Egyptian star goddess Nut (Nuit) and Behdet (Hadit) the winged solar disc.  She insisted this was the source of the voices calling to her, and Crowley, who had been raised in a strict Christian sect and had been called by his mother "the Beast" and "Antichrist" for his rebelliousness and rejection of her faith, couldn't help but notice that the museum exhibit number of this little wooden item was number 666.  It was enough to convince him to listen to her.

Following her instructions, Crowley locked himself in his bedroom between the hours of noon and one o'clock on three successive afternoons, April 8th, 9th, and 10th.  There he sat down at his desk, pen and paper ready.  And there, the story goes, a voice dictated to him Liber AL vel Legis, also known as The Book of the Law.  He always insisted it wasn't in his head.  He heard it from over his left shoulder, from the corner of the room.

This book, and the message it contains, is absolutely central to my world view.  Though I dislike the word "religion," and agree with Crowley that it has no place in discussions of Thelema (the philosophy arising from The Book of the Law), if I had a religion this would be it.  But part of the reason I call myself a Thelemite is because it asks me to believe nothing, including the origin story I just shared with you.  Did the gods reach out and dictate this book to Crowley?  I don't know.  I do know, however, that he himself was convinced of this.  Crowley was a skeptical polymath, relentlessly self-critical, and kept meticulous diaries.  It is clear from them that he rejected The Book of the Law, and was initially dismissive of its claims.  He refused the role it assigned to him for years.  But the more he studied the book, the harder he tried to reduce it, the more convinced of its authenticity he became.  It became crystal clear in his mind that The Book of the Law had been dictated to him by an intelligence greater than himself, and it was his firm conviction that his life mission was to bring the new law to all.  I for one and glad he did.

So what exactly is in this book?  For starters it is divided into three short chapters, each dictated over the space of one hour as Crowley furiously scribbled them out.  We know this because those pages are preserved, and photos of each one are included in every copy of The Book of the Law for all to examine.  These are not the golden tablets of Joseph Smith, conveniently whisked away by angels after he translated The Book of Mormon from them.  Each chapter was dictated, through a messenger named Aiwass, by a different deity.  Like the Christian Trinity, however, these three gods are part of a whole.  The first is Nuit, the goddess of infinite space.  The second is her counterpart Hadit, the tiny spark of the infinite within each of us.  The third is Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the Crowned and Conquering Child of theirs who governs the space between them.  Think of Nuit as the circumference of a circle, Hadit as the center, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit as the radius and the area (everything in The Book of the Law is intensely mathematical, and it is riddled not only with mathematical conceptions but hidden codes and encryptions).  Another way to regard them is with Nuit as the Universe, Hadit as our own individuality and consciousness, and Ra-Hoor as how we interact with the world around us.

Aside from this cosmology, which is in itself actually key to the rest of the message, The Book of the Law is declaring a New Aeon and a new Magickal Formula for humanity to live by.  That takes some explaining.  For starters a "Magickal Formula" is simply an observation of reality and a prescription of how to interact with it.  "The early bird gets the worm," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," "E=MC2," and "pi" are all examples.  They reflect our understanding of how things work, or how they should work.  Thelema postulates beyond this that there are bigger, all-encompassing Magickal Formulae that govern entire stages of human development, also known as "Aeons."  Crowley discusses three of these, and given the Egyptian origins of Thelema, he uses Nile gods to label them.

The Aeon of Isis governed human prehistory.  It was the time of our hunter-gathering ancestors, and its chief Magickal Formula was the Great Mother.  Chiefly concerned with "where does life come from," the answer seemed to be from women, and the earth.  Women appeared to spontaneously bring forth life, as did the land itself, and both produced food from their bodies.  Archaeological evidence abounds demonstrating this ancient cult of the mother, from massive breasted fertility figurines to skeletons buried in the fetal position as if returning to the Great Mother's womb.  

With agriculture came a new formula, and a new Aeon.  Crops were produced by the seed, incubated in the soil.  This led to the conclusion that the male seed, semen, was the source of human life as well, with women merely as the incubator.  This was an idea that lasted well into Roman and medieval times.  Further, the importance of the sun in the cycles of nature and the growing season moved the focus from Terra to Sol.  The new formula was God the Father, Lord of Light and Life.  Believing to have the mystery of where life came from solved, attention turned sharply to "what happens after death."  The answer came from the Solar Father; the sun dies each night and rises reborn.  This became the formula of the Father God cult.  By obedience and worship to God the Father, like him we will rise from the dead.  This was the central teaching of scores of antique mystery religions, from Osiris to Christ.  Crowley chose to name this Aeon after the former.  With this Aeon of Osiris authority moved from matriarchal families and tribes to patriarchal states.  It lasted until the dawn of the 20th century.

The Book of the Law initiates the Aeon of Horus.  For the egyptology-impaired, Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris, and just as the first Aeon was the Mother's, and the second the Father's, the New Aeon is that of the Child.  Humanity is no longer ignorant of the facts of life; we understand conception requires both egg and sperm equally.  The union of opposites becomes  an essential Magickal Formula of the Age.  We no longer believe the sun dies and is resurrected; we know it is always there, and that the rotation of the planet creates the illusion of solar death.  Thus we can discard all this resurrection nonsense; even "death" can be dismissed.  Nothing "dies," and the molecules of our bodies--forged in the hearts of stars countless millennia ago--are simply translated into something else.  Death comes from the erroneous conclusion that we are separate from the Universe.  The end of bodily life does not erase suddenly the role we played.  The effect we had upon the world endures forever.  We are part of the fabric of being and this never ends.

Dispensing with the question of birth and the fear of death, Thelema asks us to focus on the most important spiritual question; "how should we live?"  It provides us with an answer, the new Magickal Formula of the Aeon of Horus.  "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

Perhaps nothing else in Thelema is as poorly understood, or as central, as "do what thou wilt."  Thelema is the Greek word for "will," and the very definition of a Thelemite is one who seeks to discover and do his or her will.  By "will" we mean True Will, and it is nothing less than what you are meant to do with your existence.  Will is not assigned to us by an external God; we are not to do God's will but our own.  The time of the Father, like the Mother, has passed.  We are to take responsibility for ourselves now and move out on our own.

For the Thelemite, "every man and every woman is a star."  We are each the center of our own solar system, the source of our own light, the sole sovereign of our own existence.  But at the same time we are clustered into galaxies, and each of us has a trajectory we are moving on through space.  Your Will is that trajectory, determined by your position, composition, and disposition.  It is always natural to you.  You are drawn to it, you are good at it, it comes naturally and feels right.  It is not a chore, though it may not be easy.  The Thelemite works to find his or her Will and then do it as best as they can.

But there is a corollary to this Law of perfect freedom; "...thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay."  The Law does not say "do whatever you please." You are required to do your Will; if you are gay it is wrong to try and force yourself to be straight.  If you are a gifted painter it is wrong to force yourself into accounting or medicine to please your parents.  Trying to make your life easier by not doing your Will violates the Law.  Further, no other may say "nay."  The only sin, The Book of the Law tells us, is restriction.  Any action that restricts another person from doing his or her own Will is "evil."  Rape, as a violation of another's sexual Will, is evil.  Theft, as a violation of a person's livelihood and therefore ability to do their Will, is evil.  Murder, the greatest violation of Will imaginable, is evil.  It may be that on some occasions, stars collide when following the course of their Wills, but in general the evils of the world arise from people not doing their Will.  It is no one's Will to walk into a classroom and murder innocent children.  It is no one's Will to force themselves on someone.  We must do our Wills and leave others to do theirs.

Connected to this concept of individual sovereignty and individual Will is that of individual deity.  This brings up the debate whether or not Thelema can be called a "religion."

The three chief divinities of The Book of the Law are not properly objects of worship in the way that Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu are understood to be.  Nor do they answer prayer.  Indeed they are not even objective entities so much as personifications of concepts.  Hadit is the spark of consciousness and individuality within us, and Nuit is the manifest universe around us.  They are "divided for love's sake," for the joy of reunion.  We are meant to intact with each other and the world as we might with a lover.  The "worship" of Nuit then, is to live joyously, and Hadit is in reality the "worshiper."  Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the product of the interaction between the self and the world, is the embodiment of Thelema.  He embodies how we are to live, and is not to be worshipped, just followed.  

But the notion of a personal god is not entirely absent from Thelema.  In fact, Thelema takes the word "personal" quite literally.  Rather than the individual forming a "personal relationship" with a single divine being, as worshipers do with Christ or Krishna, the Thelemite has his very own "personal god," a link between the self and the ultimate level of reality.  This is not unique to Thelema; it is an extremely ancient and widespread concept.  The Greeks believed everyone had their own god, or daemon.  The Romans called it the genius.  Thelema includes this type of being in its cosmology as well, calling it the "Holy Guardian Angel." There is no clear consensus on what exactly its nature is, however, and even Crowley went back and forth when trying to pin it down.  He would at one time call it the "Higher Self," only later to insist that it was not that, but a being in its own right.  For example, he came to think that Aiwass, the intelligence that dictated The Book of the Law to him, was his own Angel, and possessed intellect and awareness far beyond his own capacities.  Fortunately, the Thelemite is not required to have any preconceptions concerning the nature of this being, he or she is only required to seek it out and form a union with it.  This is perhaps the closest Thelema drifts towards religion in the conventional sense, but there are so many other facets of the system at odds with religious conventions it is hard to feel comfortable using that word.

Aside from the absence of communal prayer or a shared deity, it is forbidden for any Thelemite to attempt to interpret The Book of the Law for anyone else.  One must read the book and interpret it for oneself, period. This makes any sort of church or congregation, wherein uniformity is encouraged, problematic.  Further, nothing is to be taken on "faith;" Thelema insists on a policy of scientific illuminism wherein the "method of science" is put towards "the aim of religion."  If there is any truth to mystical experience, it is argued, then it must respond to the application of the scientific method.  Mystical states must be reproducible by anyone using the correct formulae, regardless of ideology or "belief."  Crowley wrote in his kind to students, Liber O;

"In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them."

This system of scientific illuminism, which Crowley termed "Magick," is closely intertwined with the philosophy of Thelema in a way religion is not.  The Book of the Law refers to magical rites, but refrains from using the word "religion" at all.  So while Thelema does indeed occupy the psychology space in my being that religion might occupy for others, I am more comfortable referring to it as a "path" or "system" than a religion. "...our system is a religion," wrote Crowley;

"...just so far as religion means an enthusiastic putting together of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick...call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty, but I confess I fail to see what you will have gained in so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief."    

The question, ultimately, resides with the story back in Cairo.  If you think Aiwass was an objective being, if you think Ra Hoor Khuit really has taken his seat on the throne of the gods, if you think Crowley really was chosen to deliver a divine mandate to mankind, you are very likely to look at Thelema as a religion.  Indeed, I have known many Thelemites who do.  If you tend to think as I do, that the elementals, gods, demons, and angels conjured by Magick all dwell as disparate facets of our own psyches, one is less inclined to regard it as religion and more as a system for psychological development and a guide for living.  In a way it all depends on the question of Aiwass.  As psychologist, occultist, and former secretary to Crowley Israel Regardie wrote in The Eye in the Triangle;

“If Aiwass was his own Higher Self, then the inference is none other than that Aleister Crowley was the author of the Book, and that he was the external mask for a variety of different hierarchical personalities… The man Crowley was the lowest rung of the hierarchical ladder, the outer shell of a God, even as we all are, the persona of a Star… He is the author of The Book of the Law even as he is the author of The Book of the Heart Girt with a Serpent and Liber Lapidis Lazuli, and so forth. …these latter books reveal a dialogue between the component parts of Crowley. It seems to me that basically this Liber Legis is no different.”

I am inclined to side with Regardie for several reasons.  The first and chiefest is my own thirty years of dealings with Magick and twenty with The Book of the Law.  I know full well how real these entities all can be, and frequently they do demonstrate knowledge and power that I would consider beyond my own capacity.  Indeed, the summer I retired from the world to perform the Abramelin Ritual (the operation to achieve the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel) very nearly tipped me the other way into believing full on that I was dealing with discarnate entities independent of my own mental processes.  This experience was intimately connected with The Book of the Law, and like Crowley I teetered on that line between skepticism and belief.  I have been struggling the subsequent eight years to put that summer into words, but suffice to say it was Crowley--and Liber AL vel Legis--that talked me off the ledge.  The first was the quote from Liber O I mentioned above, the second was Crowley's commentary on one of The Book of the Law's most inspiring verses; "Every man and every woman is a star.  Every number is infinite; there is no difference."  Crowley wrote of this in The Law is for All;

"This is a great and holy mystery.  Although each star has its own number, each number is equal and supreme.  Every man and every woman is not only a part of God, but the Ultimate God.  'The Centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.'  The old definition of God takes new meaning for us.  Each one of us is the One God."

If we are stars, then, all the spirits would seem to be the planets and moons and comets that compose our systems.  They are independent to a degree, but dependent on our gravitation and light.  This is not to say that our common, daily consciousness is the "star" either.  In fact I think it is probably our Higher Self that is the true center, and that the idea of ourself we have constructed from experience and cultural inheritance is just more debris in orbit around that center.  Magick, and Thelema, is about shifting the seat of your consciousness from those moons to the actually sun.

For this reason, I hold the view that in that Cairo hotel suite Crowley did indeed experience a revelation from the deepest center of himself, not a religion, but a liberation from religion.  "It is our Work to overthrow the slave-gods," as Crowley wrote.  

But does this make Liber AL vel Legis more or less remarkable?  Obviously I side with "more."  If Crowley's New Aeon was not, in fact, yet another dictate from yet another god, it was something all the more amazing: the deepest parts of a young man in 1904 who somehow saw the entire 2oth century spread before him.  For the Book accurately predicts wars on a scale never seen before as the old ways of kings and gods and faiths clash with the new way of freedom, personal responsibility, and independence.  It predicts the rising equality of the sexes and the acceptance of personal sexual preferences.  It sees a massive redefining of what religion means.  And it calls for a spirituality that in no way clashes with reason or science.  If Crowley was not the message bearer for yet another god, he was a visionary.  And in that there is the promise that we can be too.  So I close with a quote from his Confessions;

"I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle."

Thursday, February 28, 2013

THE ANGEL MOST HIGH, PART 3, The Fifth Article on the work of Andrew Chumbley

...again we come face to face with the magical theme of the mask and the mirror; if you look into the face of the Devil and see only wickedness and sin, that is because you are seeing your own wickedness and sin reflected...

The Yezidi people of Iraq's Nineveh province have long been accused of being "Devil worshipers."  In a sense they are.  The Yezidi religion, which is neither an off-shoot of Christianity nor of Islam but a parallel tradition in its own right, teaches that God left the task of creation--and governing the universe--to seven angels, emanations of Himself (a very Qabalistic concept).  The leader of these angels, the Angel Most High, is Tawuse Melek, the "Peacock Angel."  He rules creation on God's behalf.  What gets the Yezidi into trouble with their Muslim neighbors are the parallels between Tawuse Melek and the Islamic Shaytan (aka Iblis).  Both are the highest of God's angels, and both--in nearly identical stories--are brought before Adam after his creation and told to bow before him by God.  In the version told in the Quran, Shaytan refuses to kneel and asks why a creature of air and fire should bow before one formed of water and clay.  For that, he is condemned by Allah, and falls.  But in the Yezidi telling, Tawuse Melek refuses because it is lawful to bow before only one being; God himself, and for this he is praised rather than condemned.  The Yezidi acknowledge that Iblis and Tawuse Melek are one in the same, but they no not call him "Shaytan" and deny that he is evil.  He is Lucifer Unfallen.  And here again we come face to face with the magical theme of the mask and the mirror; if you look into the face of the Devil and see only wickedness and sin, that is because you are seeing your own wickedness and sin reflected.  As the Buddhists point out, one who is enlightened can find the Buddha nature in anything.  The Yezidi understanding of the Angel Most High embraces this.  And so, apparently, does the work of Andrew Chumbley, who refers to the Peacock Angel throughout Qutub, and for whom the Angel Most High represents something other than temptation.

We have spent nearly three essays now on Chumbley's own version of why the Angel Most High refused to bow, and it should be clear that his Crooked Path is taking us in a direction different from either the Islamic or Yezidi stories. In all three versions, God orders the Highest Angel to bow before Adam, signifying of course that mankind is his second-in-command, the divine vice-regent of God.  The Muslim Angel refuses out of wounded pride, the Yezidi Angel refuses out of love for God. Chumbley's Angel refuses because he knows a secret even the One God doesn't; Man has the capacity to rise higher than the One himself.  He is not God's subordinate...God is man's subordinate.

And now the final veil is lifted from this fable, and reveals the deepest truth of all.

...from the Adept's point of view, these believers have counted down to "One" and forgotten to go all the way to "Zero."  They have forgotten the Buddhist exhortation "if on the road to Enlightenment you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha."  This applies to Allah and Yahweh too...

Nearly all men--one could comfortably say 99%--are mainly atheists.  Even the most pious Christian, Muslim, or Jew disbelieves in far more gods that he believes in.  The Muslim or Christian denies a million gods; the 'total' atheist denies just one more god than them.  But all will agree that mankind has invented countless deities throughout history to satisfy his needs.    The only difference between the believer and the atheist is that the former have convinced themselves that of countless false gods, only the one they believe in is true.  The believer is an atheist 99 times out of a hundred.  From Chumbley's point of view, indeed from the Adept's point of view, these believers have counted down to "One" and forgotten to go all the way to "Zero."  They have forgotten the Buddhist exhortation "if on the road to Enlightenment you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha."  This applies to Allah and Yahweh too.

Now, this is not to say that there isn't a "God," an ultimate reality, out there, but in the words of the Egyptian Sufi saint Dhu'l Nun, "God is the Opposite of anything you can imagine."  The parade of gods marched out by organized religions are all of human manufacture, and any God the priests, imams, or rabbis can tell you about is not really God at all; because the divine is ineffable.  God cannot be communicated by others.  God can only be experienced directly.  And by "God" we don't mean his false anthropomorphic face, "the One that men have named falsely," but the Qabalitsic Zero.

Magical power radiates from the center, and to find it, the Adept must seek the center first. 

Aleister Crowley, in his Eight Lectures on Yoga, asks us to consider what the Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad all had in common.  The answer is surprisingly simple.  All of them went alone into the wilderness for a period of isolation, mediation, fasting, and concentration.  All of them rid themselves of distractions.  All of them became emptied.  All of them reached "Zero."  After their withdrawal from the world they return to it different, changed by their contact with the highest levels of reality.  Because for knowledge to flow in, an empty space must first be made.  Magical power radiates from the center, and to find it, the Adept must seek the center first.  He 'concentrates.'  He reaches the point or Qutub that exists yet has no dimension or form.  The point that is "without form and void."

Which brings us at last to our final destination: Genesis 1:1-2, with a brief detour first through Job.

In the Book of Job, Yahweh unashamedly launches into an extended rant about just how wonderful he is, and produces Leviathan as "Exhibit A" of his ultimate badassness...

Many of the myths in the Old Testament echo even earlier stories from Mesopotamia. The story of the ark and the flood, for example, was well known in Mesopotamia and India before Noah took it over; it is even mentioned in Gilgamesh, which precedes Genesis by many centuries.  Gilgamesh also contains an earlier version of the Garden of Eden, with a man created from the dust and a woman who tempts him.  Once again he accepts food from her, covers up his nakedness, and is exiled.  Gilgamesh even has a snake that cheats mankind of immortality.  But one of the most interesting echoes of older mythology is found in Job, and involves another serpent.  And for this tale, "we are going to need a bigger boat."

We are talking about the titanic sea serpent Leviathan.  In the Book of Job, Yahweh unashamedly launches into an extended rant about just how wonderful he is, and produces Leviathan as "Exhibit A" of his ultimate badassness;

"Can you pull in the Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?  Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?  Will he keep begging you for mercy?  Will he speak to you with gentle words?  Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?  Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?"  (Job 41)

...aside from the comical imagery of God leading his pet dragon around on a leash to impress girls, we might well be asking ourselves why exactly we are expected to be impressed with this feat...

Basically, the Lord God is pleased with himself for having made Leviathan his bitch.  Now aside from the comical imagery of God leading his pet dragon around on a leash to impress girls, we might well be asking ourselves why exactly we are expected to be impressed with this feat.  After all, in Psalm 104 we are told God made all things, including Leviathan.  Are we really supposed to praise God for beating up on something he himself created?  It's a bit like a father swaggering around patting himself on the back for smacking down his five-year-old.  The whole episode is absurd.

Unless you look at it in the light of earlier versions.

In the Babylonian creation epic, for example, the titanic sea serpent is the cosmic dragon goddess Tiamat, the embodiment of the Primordial Chaos that exists before Creation.  Tiamat is before all things, the oldest of all that exists, and gives birth to the other gods.  Another of her forms is the ocean, the ultimate symbol in ancient times for the "negative existence" the universe arose from.  One of Tiamat's children is the warrior chief Marduk, who rises up and defeats her, and from her immense body fashions the universe.  He splits her corpse into two halves to fashion heaven and earth.  Marduk becomes the creator of the universe by defeating his dragon and shaping her Primal Chaos.

Before receiving the ultimate promotion Yahweh was neither the only god nor the first.  It took the Babylonian Captivity, and prolonged exposure to Zoroastrianism, to put that idea into Hebrew-speaking heads.

Yahweh's boast makes a lot more sense if we step back and remind ourselves that monotheism is a late comer to his party.  He wasn't always the One God; he started out as just one god.  He was a very typical Near Eastern "divine warrior chief," like Marduk, Ninurta, or Indra, all of whom conquer dragons to prove their might.  In the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Yahweh was the patron of the royal court and the leader of a pantheon that included El, Baal, and his consort Asherah.  Over time (from about the tenth century BC forward) his cult became increasingly intolerant of rivals, until finally in the sixth century BC the authors of Isaiah proclaimed Yahweh as the sole deity and creator of the universe.  Before receiving the ultimate promotion Yahweh was neither the only god nor the first.  It took the Babylonian Captivity, and prolonged exposure to Zoroastrianism, to put that idea into Hebrew-speaking heads.

If Yahweh did not create Leviathan, if the dragon was there before him like Tiamat and Marduk, his boast suddenly starts to make sense.  Indeed, there is some indication of this right there in the very beginning of Genesis;  "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep."  The Hebrew word for "the deep" in that sentence was tehom, derived from the same source as "Tiamat."  Read with this in mind, Yahweh, like Marduk, becomes the creator when he fashions heaven and earth from her body.  He becomes the Creator by shaping the Primordial Chaos that comes before him.

...in order to do this he needs to ignore the One and go on to Zero; he cannot stop and worship any god invented by man, but push forward into that ineffable silence which exists before all things.  

And if Yahweh can become God by shaping Primal Chaos, surely the being that invented him is capable of the same.

Chumbley very explicitly tells us all this.  "... in the Fullness of Time Man would claim for Himself the substance of his own Creation and Know Himself as the One True-born of the Elder Gods."  But in order to do this he needs to ignore the One and go on to Zero; he cannot stop and worship any god invented by man, but push forward into that ineffable silence which exists before all things.  This is what the Indians called samadhi, and what Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, Mohammad, and others seem to have achieved by becoming empty in the wilderness.  It is what transforms the substance of a man into an Adept.  It is what modern Chaos Magicians refer to as "Gnosis."  Chumbley's Angel Most High is telling us not to make idols and of those who achieve this state, but rather to seek it ourselves.

In this he echoes Aleister Crowley again. In his Confessions he writes;

"I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle."

Crowley was adamant about this.  His Book of the Law, which he conspired a piece of "divinely inspired writing," came with the warning that every reader had to interpret it for themselves.  It was forbidden for anyone to preach about its meaning.  This is because the Adept knows that truth must be won, it can not be echoed and passed down.  Again it is a core way that Magick differs from religion, which claims not only to be able to interpret scriptures for you, but to have the accurate interpretation of their meaning.

Chumbley's Angel Most High is thus a Shadow, a dark reflection that is, in fact, Nothing.  It is the emissary of emptiness.  But it leads us towards emptiness--samadhi--Gnosis with a very specific purpose.  Again, from Chumbley's Commentary on the Qutub;

The aim of the Adept is union with the Absolute; this is the summit of True Mysticism, and yet, for the Adept, this height of attainment has a distinct interpretation. Rather than his own identity dissolving within the Absolute State of Being, merging and unifying like the droplet within the ocean, the Adept realises himself as Absolute: a Perfected Unique Being, and thus as an Active Principle of New Creation. Taking Himself to be the Hand of Fate, the struggle of the Adept is that of Lucifer: a War against That which resists or denies his Will to become the Sole and Unique One, a Singularity of Unique Power, the Polestar of his own Universe: QUTUB.

Or in the words of famed artists and magician Austin Spare; "Demand equality of God--usurp!"

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.