Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto No Longer a Planet

Astronomers just voted to downgrade the status of Pluto on the grounds that there are many similar-sized planetoids beyond the orbit of Neptune. This has some interesting implications regarding mapping the Tree of Life to the major planets.

Pluto has always been difficult to fit onto the Tree of Life and a number of different schemas have been proposed. Aleister Crowley originally wrote in The General Principles of Astrology that Neptune should be mapped to Kether and Uranus should be mapped to Chockmah. I have always preferred those attributions to Crowley's later scheme of mapping Pluto to Kether and Uranus to Da'ath. But then where does Pluto go? I have in the past mapped it to Da'ath on the grounds that the planet named after the Lord of the Underworld is a good choice for guarding the Abyss, but this is also not perfect.

There are some genuine reasons to doubt Pluto's status as a planet for the purpose of magical workings in addition to the political maneuverings of the astronomical community. Pluto is less than half the size of Mercury and has an erratic orbit that is more elliptical than that of the other planets. Its orbit is also tilted, whereas the other planetary orbits fall into the same plane. It is also remarkable that according to this definition there are in fact exactly 10 planets to match to the 10 spheres on the Tree of Life. For magical purposes, the Sun and Moon also count as planets bringing the total up to 10.

My book, Operant Magick, mentions the possibility that Pluto might be downgraded and promotes Neptune = Kether and Uranus = Chockmah. I guess it was ahead of its time, and I should probably update the section discussing Pluto with news of the downgrade for the final manuscript.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Angelic Letter Essences

The Angelic language, often referred to as Enochian, originated with John Dee and Edward Kelly in sixteenth-century England. This language is one of the key components of the Enochian system of magick and has proved very effective in my own magical work. It was communicated to Dee and Kelly as a series of "Calls" or "Keys" - short conjurations supposedly written in the true language of angels accompanied by pronunciation notes and English translations.

The only problem is that these conjurations are not long enough, and one of the frustrations of working with Angelic is the limited vocabulary. There are nineteen Calls, the longest of which is around 150 words. Furthermore, many of the words are repeated throughout the Calls, leaving the magician rather limited in what he or she can write in the language when constructing rituals. For exmple, there are words for Sun and Moon and the Earth but none of the other planets, no literal words for concepts like "invoke" or "banish," and a very limited number of nouns.

According to the Golden Dawn tradition, each letter of the Angelic language can be thought of as a force or energy in its own right, and there are sections of the diaries that agree with this supposition. If a method could be found to relate these forces to the definitions of words, it would be possible to translate just about any English word into Angelic and vice versa. Patricia Shaffer has proposed a system that she refers to as Angelic Letter Essences. She wrote a book entitled Tongue of Angels for Weiser in 1994 that includes the Letter Essence system, but unfortunately Weiser eventually declined to publish the book and it was never made available.

The Letter Essence system attempts to catalog the relationships between the forces corresponding to each letter and how those forces interact in groups of two and three letters and as subsets of words. Looking it over, I'm not sure what I think of it. Some of the associations seem to match the translated words pretty well, while other seem to correspond poorly. If it works or could be made to work effectively it would be a huge breakthrough that could improve Encohian ritual work immensely.

My ritual group is going to be testing the system out at some point by comparing words that we have received in the current series of Enochian rituals with their Letter Essence translations to see if there are any interesting correlations. If anyone else here has worked with this system and would like to post their results, feel free to do so.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Musings on Body, Speech, and Mind

Arcana is finally just about ready to send off to the literary agency. I'll be casting a Mercury evocation over the packet I send to help matters along, of course, so you never know - I might have a novel on the market one of these days.

As I mentioned in the article on Suggestion for Ritual Practice, I practice Tibetan Vajrayana meditation. Generally this consists of the visualization of a deity accompanied by the recitation of a mantra. The mantra is counted out using a mala, so one bead is moved with each recitation. This incorporates the action of body (sliding the bead), speech (the mantra), and mind (the visualization of the deity). In the course of working with the Vajrayana system I've become convinced that the simultaneous integration of these three factors is also very important to the Western ritual magician.

Visualization in Vajrayana is far more complex than in Western ritual magick. Tibetan iconography is complex because the images on thangkas include everything you should be visualizing. As a matter of fact, doing it perfectly is just about impossible, which may be by design. If there is always more for the mind to pay attention to, the risk of boredom or complacency with the visualization in minimized. One of the things that I've noticed from doing a lot of Vajrayana practice is that my ability to visualize Western magical forms has increased substantially. I now do a much better job with the full visualization of even simple rituals such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, and last night I did a ritual in which I used a visualization for the magical link. The visualization itself was excellent, and I could almost see a tiny three-dimensional version of the target of the spell appear in the middle of the Sigillum Dei Aemeth that I use for evocations.

Developing this faculty is not as difficult as it might seem at first. One of the interesting things coming out of modern brain research is that whether you are looking at a picture of something or visualizing it the patterns in the brain are the same. Thus, the Tibetan practice of meditating on images patterns the brain so that those images can eventually be visualized more easily. Aleister Crowley writes in Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae that the images of the gods of Egypt should be committed to memory for use in ritual, and one good way to do this is to meditate on the images themselves to pattern the mind and brain. Once the images are very familiar, you would then move on to visualizing without the images. Doing it that way is much easier than trying to "see" them forming out of the air right away, but in my experience that is how a lot of Western practitioners start out.

Western ritual magick makes use of formulas and words of power that are in many cases similar to mantras, but the main difference in Tibetan practice is that the mantra is repeated many times rather than vibrated a handful of times at crucial points in the ritual. This takes advantage of another brain mechanism called Assimilation. This is the process by which the brain teaches itself to perform complex tasks. When you were a toddler, walking was still difficult and modern robotics research spent years finding out just how difficult it really is to model. What the human brain does is assimilate a complex series of tiny motions into one big motion, so that when you think about walking you just point your mind in the right direction and go rather than being precisely aware of how you move your foot and leg when you take each step. Repeating a mantra thousands of times, especially quickly, assimilates the sound, and I'm still surprised at how quickly I can now say mantras that I know well compared to how quickly I could recite them when I was first learning them.

Coordinating the body with the mantra and the visualization requires sensory integration and increases the amount of concentration required for the practice. It also involves yet another area of the brain, the motor cortex. This increases mindfulness and the entire process conditions the mind to connect the mantra and the visualization of the deity. Malas can be used in Western practice along with mantras, and there are several different Thelemic rosary practices that I have seen online that explain how to do exactly that.

In your own practice, try experimenting with some of these ideas. See if you can integrate the vibration of a word of power with a motion and a visualization, all of which are related. I think you will find that the effect is remarkable.