The Initiated Understanding of Religion

So many people who turn to the occult or to so-called “alternative” belief systems do so out of a sense of necessity.  Maybe the religion in which they were raised harmed them in some way.  Maybe it never spoke to them at all.  Maybe the lives they now lead would result in an eternity in hell.  Or maybe they grew up without any sense of spirituality at all and feel an emptiness.  Whatever the case, having left one of the large established world religions is fairly common among those who travel in the demimonde of the occult. 

It may be overly simplistic, but still useful, to put it like this: if they had found spiritual fulfilment in the beliefs of their parents, they would not have started seeking.  This seems particularly true when we recognize the fact that not all people feel the need to strike out on their own in the search for personal gnosis.  Many—we might even say the vast majority—are perfectly content to continue in the religion (or in the atheist materialism) they were handed as children.  Nevertheless, there are always a few seekers who have been shocked out of tradition and, some would say, complacency.  These are the people who often become initiates of various reconstructionist, new age, occult, or otherwise “exotic” systems.

My intention here is neither to valorize seeking more meaningful spiritual initiation nor vilify that of clinging to spiritual consensus.  Rather, I would like to point out what might seem at first like a radical idea: an adept is an adept no matter the color of his or her robes, no matter the décor of the temple, no matter the words of invocation being spoken, no matter the orthodoxy or dogma required for worship, no matter the given subjective framework for “religious experience.”  A spiritual adept is one who can find value in the Tao Te Ching, in the Dhammapada, in the New Testament, in the Vedas, in the teachings of all prophets and sages—even those who would not normally be taken seriously by established authorities, like satanists, fakirs, sorcerers, mediums, and card readers.

The initiated understanding of religion, then, depends on who one becomes inside, not on outward accoutrements and accessories, ritual items, sacred architecture, religious societies, or the approval of those licensed to be “holy men.”  As an ordained priest of an established mystery religion, I can tell you that the value and power of my ordination depends wholly on my willingness to walk the path of my initiation.  I might always bear the metaphysical mark of having become a priest but, unless I live the path (unless the path lives in me), I will be spiritually empty and my priesthood will be a sham.

If we accept that spiritual initiation is an internal process, we may then see the world’s religions with new eyes.  As long as we don’t get hung up on dogma (i.e. the way a religious group seeks to preserve a cohesive identity by establishing a set of lifestyle requirements), it is possible to absorb what is useful from any spiritual perspective.  We are brought back, again, to the wisdom of the Golden Dawn: “Hold all religions in reverence, for there is none but contain a ray of the Divine Light which you seek.”  In this, we understand “Divine Light” to be that of the highest self-realization, which is the true goal of every adept walking the initiatory path.

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Spirituality is not a question of intellectual property. No one owns it.

The image above was taken from the blog of an occultist I respect.  He didn’t write this, but he’s talking about it quite a bit.  In case you can’t read the text in the image, it is: “Dear NonNatives: Nothing is your spirit animal.  Not a person, place or thing.  Nothing is your spirit animal.  You do not get one.  Spirit animals derive from Anishinaabe and other tribes deeply held religious beliefs.”

This is why I have to wear masks to talk with some people about spirituality.  My appearance doesn’t conform to the “appropriate” stereotypes for the magic I do.  And yet it works for me.  I didn’t have to be “chosen.”  I chose myself and the world agreed.

As soon as you combine spirituality with ANYTHING (politics, race, national identity, sexuality, money, who gets to police whom about what, who gets to speak and what is allowed to be said, what someone says is real and true vs. what we must all believe is delusional and false if we expect to be considered good citizens), you’re taking something away from someone and giving it to yourself.  If you’re doing this as part of a consensual exchange, so be it.  If you’re doing this to someone without their consent, you’re enacting spiritual violence.

Stop that.

Granted, there are good politicalsocial, and economic arguments to be made about cultural appropriation.  Granted, it’s time for certain groups to take power back in political, social, and economic areas.  But please keep those political, social, and economic considerations off my altars.  My spirits don’t care.  They want offerings and interaction.  They want to work.  They don’t ask what color my skin is. 

And you know what?  I don’t care what color your skin is.  I’m open to everybody by default.  I don’t care where you were born or what you look like.  Come over to my house with that same degree of openness and we can sit down over some matcha tea or one of my cups of rocket fuel coffee and talk about philosophy all day long.  I’ll bet we have something to learn from each other that will make us both better people.  But come at me with hate in your heart and you will seriously regret the journey.  I promise you that.

Can a gay black African woman do Golden Dawn magic?  Are you kidding me?  Of course. 

Can a straight white European man do hoodoo?  Yes, indeed, he can.

Can a non-Native person have a spirit animal?  Who are you to say no?  Are you sitting on that non-Native’s altar?  If you are, what are you doing there?  Were you invited?  If you aren’t or you weren’t, please take your political, social, and economic concerns elsewhere and let the non-Native talk to her spirits. 

More non-Natives should be talking to spirit animals (and spirits in general).  I suspect that the more spirituality we have, the better things get.  Think about that.  It might make you a little less angry and a little more motivated to feed your loa.

If you want to do what I do and charge for spiritual work, be my guest.  If you want to express your concerns about post-colonialism and cultural appropriation, that’s a good thing, too.  Have at it.  But never assume you can tell people what kind of spirituality they “get” to have based on some aspect of their identity

In that, all you’re doing is revealing how politically, socially, or economically upset you are.  All you’re doing is trolling.  You’re not bringing more Spirit into the world that way.  Quite the contrary.  You’re burning bridges that should cross cultures and bring people closer. 

And, if that is the case, I feel sad for you.

Everything is Worthless Except for My Own Occult System

Something I’ve been noticing lately in the various internet occult conversations I follow is a certain rigidity.  When someone says, “The Demiurge came down into my bedroom last night and told me how to immanentize the eschaton with DMT” or “I evoked Satan and discovered that Goofy is really Jesus Christ,” we roll our eyes.  Sure, maybe Goofy really is Jesus in that person’s subjective world, his Unverified Personal Gnosis, but that doesn’t make it so for anyone else.  Mistaking UPG for transcendent truth is easy to spot and it’s something magicians are particularly susceptible to when they walk the path of self-transformation.  One hopes they are mentally stable enough to avoid getting lost in a solipsistic world of their own creation.

However, sometimes it’s not as easy when the UPG is threaded into a whole spiritual system.  For example, you might be a member of a Golden Dawn-ish ceremonial lodge and that might really work for you.  Using the Golden Dawn techniques, as an individual on a daily basis and with your brethren, you have called down divine light, experienced higher states of being, worked with the Tree of Life, evoked spirits, balanced the elements, undergone initiation rituals, written articles about the tradition, attained the K&C of your HGA, and learned a lot about Western Esotericism in general and Victorian occult history in particular.  That is excellent and one very rewarding way up the mountain we sometimes call the Great Work.

But let’s say you have limited exposure to other spiritual perspectives and / or what you have learned about other systems has come through the stilted word of mouth of your lodge brothers, occult stereotypes, and irresponsibly researched occult books.  What then?  Then you might start shooting your mouth off about other people’s beliefs, saying, “Yeah, really there’s nothing to the Order of the Shut-Eye.  It was a con game established in 1953 by a disgruntled Mason named Dumblebore Wiggins as a money making scheme.  Everybody knows that.”  Meanwhile, members of the OSE are steadfastly doing the work in their tradition, making it work, and getting a lot out of it.  But because you’re so locked into one way of seeing things and believe you have found the TRUTH (i.e. you’re buying into UPG on an institutional level), you can’t allow yourself to accept that more than one perspective can be true simultaneously.

I know it’s a hard thing to deal with when your pet system—the one that has trained you and brought you into the light of its wisdom—says “Yes, my child, we are the keepers of the sacred flame.  AND ONLY WE HAVE ACCESS TO TRUE WISDOM” and yet the Dalai Lama seems to know a thing or three and some Satanist on the internet has been saying down-to-earth things that really do make sense and the members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary down at the Baptist Church do something suspiciously like hoodoo in their “candle service” and you can feel the power coming out of there on Sunday morning like ripples in the air.

When you notice such things, you have a choice.  You can vehemently deny their reality, saying that those practitioners are either deluded, stupid, charlatans, inept, or all of the above.  Or you can take a step past your institutional UPG into a broader universe.  It’s up to you.  Just don’t be surprised when you wind up spending most of your energy defending your personal gnosis at the expense of being able to learn what other perspectives could teach.