Crisis of the Modern Age

René Guenon had a far-reaching vision. His life covered a critical turning point in history, encompassing great changes. With the book, Crisis of the Modern Age, Guenon was seeing what he called the Kali Yuga, the ending of a Great Aeon or Mahayuga, and the sinking into dissolution of all real knowledge. René Guenon died in 1951 and could not have foreseen exactly how things would turn out half a century later. Yet much of what he wrote concerning the distortion of symbol, language and the meaning of things, the loss of tradition, everywhere prevails.

René Guenon Crisis: Ten of Swords AGMuller

Ten of Swords from pop art Neuzeit Tarot, Walter Wegmüller, AG Muller 1982: The card depicts ten swords, bearing nonsensical motifs and depending from a crazy carousel. The masses look on, enthralled by the illusion or otherwise self-absorbed. Grasping hands vainly reach upwards. Reason has become indistinguishable from the absurd and irrational.

The Kali Yuga, according to Hindu scriptures, is the Age of the Demon. The ‘demon’ is the force that opposes all spiritual knowledge, bringing on a long Dark Age of materiality. With the culmination of Kali Yuga comes the final dissolution, preparing the way for the birth of a new Mahayuga cycle. Lasting for more than 6000 years, Kali Yuga comes as the fourth and final phase in a Great Aeon. The working out of these ages of time by Eastern philosophers seems to have incorporated full knowledge of the astronomical precession of the equinoxes. According to the astronomer and sage, Aryabhatta, writing fifteen centuries ago, Kali Yuga began around 3000 BCE. We have more than a thousand years of Kali Yuga before a new Golden Age dawns; by that time there will be nothing left of our present civilisation.

Guenon vs Crowley

Aleister Crowley’s theory of three Great Aeons is very unsatisfactory, as evidenced by his garbled account of it in The Book of Thoth. Crowley tried, unconvincingly, to equate his aeonic theory with the precession of the equinoxes, though he did note that we are now entering the precessional Age of Aquarius—a mere 2000 years in the great precessional cycle of 26,000 years. The Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, has very little to say about aeons or ages of time; there is no account in the book of any New Aeon. The passage that refers to Crowley as “the prophet”, Liber AL I: 26, was expressing his own thoughts and questions on the book—he gave himself that appointment. In the same verse Crowley appealed to Nuit for “a sign”. That is, he sought a sign or token of his own supreme authority. It becomes clear that while receiving and recording the transmission, Crowley’s meditation was constantly disturbed by his desire to resurrect the fragmented Order of the Golden Dawn with himself as leader. He thus misconstrued the book’s true import.

However, if we study the Egyptian Book of the Law in the light of the precessional ages, of which the last is the apocalyptic Kali Yuga, it becomes clear that, so far as the book is concerned with time at all, it describes the present time as the final phase of the dissolution of a Great Aeon, a Mahayuga. The book then provides the keys for an Initiate to survive the dissolution in spiritual terms. We must exercise careful discernment when studying this book: while the revelation concealed in the text did not spring from the mind of Crowley, there is much other content that did, or that was influenced by his insistent thoughts and demands.

The talisman that unlocked the 93 Thelemic Current, unleashed on Aleister and Rose Crowley in a hotel room in Cairo in 1904, was the Stele of Revealing, discovered in the Museum of Cairo by Rose. It was the funeral stele of an Egyptian high priest that served in the Temple of Karnak in Thebes, around 700 BCE, and named Ankh af-na-khonsu, ‘Life and Soul of Khonsu’.[1] Khonsu is the Egyptian deity or Neter revered at Thebes, and particularly associated with the Moon. The Moon was in turn associated with the counting of time. There is no need to go further into the historical details here. What is important is that the spiritual law encrypted in the funeral stele of Ankh af-na-khonsu came near the end of the long ages of ancient Egyptian civilisation. In another thousand years the language would be completely forgotten. Even by Hellenistic times, the old Gods of Egypt would only be studied academically by Egyptian priests. Crowley’s reception of the Book of the Law in 1904 coincided simultaneously with the death of the Romantic era in Europe and the unmitigated onslaught of a Dark Age more terrible than any other—a time in which countless numbers of human beings on earth would be crushed by mechanised industrial warfare on a vast scale. When nations are not directly concerned with industrial subjugation or mass extermination of their own species the war becomes one where the weapons are either psychological or clandestine. We have arrived at the present time.

One idea unique to the Western Mystery Tradition is that one can live an ordinary life, or a ‘normal existence’, and do ritual and meditation for an hour or so a day over a prolonged period of time. One ought to be able to engage with the world and worldly concerns, work for a living and even maintain a family. One need not become an effete spiritual recluse incapable of taking a bus or managing ordinary things. The methods of training have been in use for about a century, where the person keeps a daily diary Record of their spiritual and magical work. Crowley, writing seventy years ago, said:

There are very few people today who have heard of Plato and Aristotle. Not one in a thousand, perhaps ten thousand, of those few have ever read either of them, even in translations. But there are also very few people whose thinking, such as it is, is not conditioned by the ideas of those two men.[2]

The emphasis, “such as it is”, is ours, not that of the author. Crowley was observing a decline in the ability of people to think coherently. In the twenty-first century there are now very few persons capable of concentrating their minds on one thing to the exclusion of all else. People now spend more time at work in a job, or two or three jobs, than at any other time in history. A few decades ago there was a lot of talk about how things would be in the future. Everyone imagined there would be more leisure time. Machines would take care of mundane tasks, or accelerate tasks so people had more time to themselves.

Guenon and the Future

That future has arrived now, and the opposite has occurred. With the sovereign role now played by Information Technology, many people spend hours a day looking at virtual displays on a phone, tablet or computer. They listen to digital ‘music’ in headphones while they are performing various tasks—a degradation of both music and listener. Their consciousness is buried beneath multiple layers of wallpaper distractions. Whereas at one time a person undergoing Hermetic training had to learn how to control their own thought, the information addict is already the slave of everyone else’s thoughts, however banal. Literature is being replaced by digital images and icons. No matter how high the resolution, a digital image can never be more than dots creating an illusion of form and space. Virtual reality is a lie; the software illusion is not ‘near’ reality, it has nothing to do with it. The same applies to digital music, film and television.

We are told by business professionals that very few people will actually read the present article. Though it might score millions of website ‘hits’, we understand that most people do not actually read the information on websites or other forms of digital media. What they do is scan the information—the person runs their eye quickly down the content, searching for something appealing.

Businesses make large amounts of money from mouse clicks. There is no need to think. No precious time in which to calculate the loss of a thing that cannot be bought or sold, a thing that once lost is lost forever. It is no longer about thought or imagination, which takes far too much effort. It is about comfortable self-identification. Corporations do not make profit from moral and intellectual strength; they make profit from moral and intellectual weakness.

Absorption in the digital delusion kills the intellectual and imaginative faculty that is needed in magical or spiritual practice. Although the pursuit of magick and mysticism was always for a small minority of persons, it has become more difficult in the technological age. However, it has always taken great moral courage to get anywhere with real magick. The courage to stand against the flow of fashion, to resist the mundane world and the pressures it places, the tendency towards the economically driven distraction and diversion in things alternately banal or horrifying. To paraphrase Crowley, one must earn the right to do Yoga by managing one’s time and life to make room for it in the first place.[3]

Guenon and the Present

When René Guenon commented on the modern age he used the term, ‘anti-initiation’. If initiation can be the transmission of knowledge, then there has to be an equal and opposite idea. Guenon observed a powerful movement against initiation in the modern world. He denounced many of the occult traditions from which we have taken influence. That clearing away, the denunciation of all that was not harmonious in his universe, was part of the personal initiation of René Guenon, and yet what he wrote has universal implications. Guenon could have little idea, at that time, of the massive rise of popular culture that took place in the 60s and 70s and that has continued onward to the present day. Pop culture, with all its genres and fashion cults, is a powerful force against initiation, real knowledge and meaningful tradition. Advertising, television and social media are all forces against initiation, whether blindly or no.

Guenon was seeing the emergence of what we may now term as the New Age movement. The New Age is a general term that includes many quasi-spiritual ‘paths’ that lead nowhere but to dispersion of mind and the wasting of the soul. Yet they all claim to confer magical powers, ‘healing’, self-mastery and even spiritual enlightenment.

More insidiously—though it is openly supported by pop culture and New Age spirituality—there is now a very disturbing movement of anti-intellectualism in the West. Anti-intellectualism and totalitarianism have always gone hand in hand. The blinding of words by the confusion of language has always served the authoritarian anti-intellectual movement. That service is done in the name of freedom, in the name of equality and in the name of individualism—even where there is no real individuality, no freedom and no social justice.

The Real is eternally true. Human reason and ego does not touch it, for these have no ground in the Real. Every mystic tradition for thousands of years has told us that. Civilisations rise and fall—history tells us that. The present technological age will certainly come to an end—everything does. None of that makes any difference to the Real, and what is eternally true. One must not fall into despair. That is a false trail, for despair is itself a force of anti-initiation.

There is still plenty of the natural world left, although it is fast declining under the advance of human technological and industrial totalitarianism. If we switch off our digital devices, phones, computers and other gadgets, leave our urban environments and go to the woods, the sea—if we learn to understand the language of birds and wild creatures, come to understand the subtle vibrations of plants and trees, of the sun, the moon and the stars—then we will be closer at least to the Real, to something truly authentic. No man, not even the greatest thinker, philosopher, guru or mage, can prevent the sun from rising and setting or command the moon to change her course. No one can start or stop the revolution of the Great Wheel of the Aeons. What we can do is prepare ourselves spiritually so that, like the Egyptian high priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu, we may “open the doors of Nuit”.


Notes

1. Part of the inscription on the funeral stele of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, reads, “Lord of Thebes, the Opener of the Doors of Nuit in Karnak, Ankh-af-na-khonsu, the Justified.”
2. The Book of Thoth, pp. 33.
3. Aleister Crowley, Eight Lectures on Yoga.
© Oliver St. John 2015, 2018

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Revival of Magick

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Revival of Magick

Magick includes astrology and religious mythology. The term is inclusive of metaphysics, philosophy, theology, theurgy, divination and prophecy.

Magick: ROTA or Rose Cross Mandala with Crux Ansata from the book, Magical TheurgyThere is no such thing as self-initiation. We can try to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps but the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Theurgy is the ‘practice of the divine’—solipsism is therefore a considerable bar to meaningful progress.

It is impossible to convey any sense of what magick is all about to the mind of the person that lacks the ability or the will to perceive it for their self. To explain and rationalise magick in the hope that ‘men of science’ and other worthies might achieve illumination is a mission doomed to failure from the outset. Every idea conceived by the mind of man breaks down completely when subjected to analysis. The fact completely escapes those requiring proof of reality. Most persons today comfortably imagine magick to be no more than superstition and fantasy. ‘Magick’ includes astrology and religious mythology. The term is inclusive of metaphysics, philosophy, theology, theurgy, divination and prophecy. Magick embraces the life of the human soul, which cannot be weighed, measured or otherwise accounted for. One can hardly overstate the fact that a considerable body of traditional knowledge collected over many thousands of years has been lost, forgotten or discarded as useless.

Magick

The revival of magick since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in Britain (1951) owes a great deal to Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) and Violet Firth (better known as Dion Fortune, 1890–1946). Neither of these would have described themselves as witches, even if it had been lawful then to do so. If anything, they thought of themselves as practitioners of a Sacred Science. There is a dry, academic side to the occult, but to those that dare practice it, the romance and glamour surrounding the subject is indispensible to its effective operation. Both Crowley and Firth were aware of this, incorporating it in their writings. The part that romance plays is frequently misunderstood by historians and academics. ‘Factual’ accounts of the Western Magical Tradition are therefore suffused with allegations and counter-allegations of fraud and charlatanism. Crowley provided a rational explanation for magick that has been widely adopted:

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.[1]

Crowley nonetheless insisted that magick should, even at the very outset, be directed towards a mystic goal, defined as the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

It is necessary to deal with, and to dispose of, some myths. Firstly, we must deal with the notion of belief. There is much talk of beliefs and of ‘systems of belief’ whenever the subject of magick is discussed. The way of the magician or occultist is the Way of Knowledge, called Jnanayoga by Hindu philosophers. Belief is the enemy of knowledge, since the noun implies a static state of affairs, an end of the matter. In nature, there is nothing static; there is nothing that can truly be said to have an ending or a beginning. Why then should we have any need for belief? Belief is the weakness of clinging to an illusion in the vain hope that by doing so, an illusion can be turned into reality. To seek the real, we must eschew the folly of belief. Crowley had no intentions of making a religion out of magick or the Law of Thelema—this was done posthumously, in his name. The Egyptians, and other ancient races and cultures predating the introduction of compulsory state monotheism around 500 BCE, had no word in their language for ‘religion’.

Close on the tail of belief is hypnosis and hypnotism. Making oneself the passive subject of any hypnotic experiment was regarded with horror by the adepts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A mighty oath never to allow this was solemnly sworn by aspirants to the Order. It is not uncommon now to hear that hypnotism is not only useful in magick but is also an indispensible requirement. Altered states of consciousness are sometimes referred to as ‘trances’, but the need to discern the difference is not a matter of semantics. The idea that magick works by implanting suggestions in your mind—or worse, the minds of others—to enable something to become true that you previously thought to be false or unlikely is patently absurd. It may obtain ‘results’ for persons obsessed with the objects of their desire but such results are entirely in the realm of illusion. It is the art of the stage conjuror.

We are therefore happy to follow Crowley in adopting the spelling of magick with a ‘k’ so as to distinguish what we do from that which is done to transfer cash from gullible and easily distracted persons to the pockets of the professional con artist.


Notes

1. From the Introduction to Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley.

© Oliver St. John 2015, 2019
This article is from the book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot. The ROTA crux ansata Tarot illustration is from the cover art to the above book. Click on the image to magnify.

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Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism

Surrealism and magick: Throughout the long dark history of humanity there have been magi. While some are known for their works, be it art or literature, there must be countless men and women that have either failed to develop their innate gift or have succeeded in mastering it while keeping silence to the end. Of those that fail to develop the gift (or curse)—whether by refusing it, fleeing from it in horror or becoming insane, there is little to be said. Of those that master it, whether partially or fully, some are known and others will never be known since they did not utter a word.

The word of a magus is irrevocable, as we shall see, though it is said that failure to utter a word is equally irrevocable since it must beget an abortive child. The momentum of the immense forces that first push the soul onward and then draw the soul inexorably inward towards annihilation of ego identity is sufficient to split the atom or, in psychic terms, to fragment the soul until its very name is forgotten and it endures dispersion and ultimate oblivion. The magical child, however, of which it is the object of the art of magical alchemy or of the Great Work to produce, is not the result of any cause. The ancient chestnut of determinism has become a poisoned apple in the hands of modern philosophers and rationalists. The magical child of consciousness—otherwise termed the True Will—grows as a seed in the silence of the womb of the cosmic Matrix. The fruit and the flower, nonetheless, has preexisted the seed. For this reason, the magi have oft been reported as stricken with awe at the sight of a portentous star where no star previously was seen, or plunged into rapture at the sight of a wild orchid blooming in a desert where a single drop of rain would amount to a miracle.

Surrealism and magick: The Magus of Power, Ithell Colquhoun

The Magus of Power, from Ithell Colquhoun TARO

Surrealism and the Occult

Automatism in the arts is frequently confused with mere techniques. True automatism is an inexorable condition of mind and soul that to all intents and purposes is exercised outside and beyond the will of the person, whether they are destined to become a master, a magus, or merely another victim swallowed up by an incomprehensible universe. For ordinary purposes, we may define artistic automatism thus:

The avoidance of conscious intention in producing works of art so that subjectivity forms the primary basis of the work.

Automatism was not an invention of the Surrealists, or of Sigmund Freud, but has always existed in magick and alchemy. Among the finest examples are the sigils or magical signatures of the Qabalistic Intelligences and Spirits of the planets as given by Cornelius Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531) and centuries later copied into The Magus, by Francis Barrett (1801). These beautiful designs, along with other more abstruse signatures that can be found in medieval grimoires, were written on virgin parchment by the hand of the spirit, not that of the scribe. We also have the evidence of the Enochian language received through the invocations and skrying of Elizabethan mage John Dee and his assistant seer, Edward Kelley.

Surrealism and the Arts

Occult artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun—a friend of André Breton, Aleister Crowley and later, Kenneth Grant—was a member of the Surrealist School. Ithell Colquhoun defined her use of automatism as super-automatism, presumably to distinguish the method from the same term that is used in psychiatry and law. We shall from hereon adopt the term as used by Colquhoun, super-automatism, when we are referring to spiritual, magical or artistic method or even natural inclination.

Surrealism and Hermeticism

Within the modern Hermetic magical tradition there are some notable examples of super-automatism. Aleister Crowley claimed that he magically received, through the mediumship of his wife Rose, the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, in Cairo 1904. When the book was first received, Crowley added a note to the manuscript saying:

This is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.

Crowley later insisted the book was dictated by a praeterhuman intelligence named Aiwass, his Holy Guardian Angel. In fact, there need be no essential contradiction between magical super-automatism and contact with a praeterhuman agency. Crowley was very sensitive, however, as to how the book might be viewed by posterity. He did not want what he considered to be his most important work compared with drawing room séances and psychism.

Magical Art: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Magical Surrealism: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956), who was associated with both Crowley and occult writer Kenneth Grant, used super-automatism in drawing, painting, and in the creation of magical scripts and even textual narratives. As super-automatism has been used in magical and Hermetic disciplines since time immemorial it can readily be seen why Surrealist artists shared ideas in common with occultists. Automatism is sometimes compared to free association, a method used by Sigmund Freud to plunder the so-called unconscious mind of his clients. The French poet André Breton, who published the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, became aware of automatism through the work of Freud. Breton here defined Surrealism as follows:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

The method used by Breton and others involved writing down as rapidly as possible anything that comes to mind. Thus modern automatism began as a literary method. Artist Max Ernst supplied the ‘first’ visual automatism by making collages from sections cut out from magazines, catalogues, advertisements or anything else that was available. Other painters enthusiastically took up automatism, from Joan Miro, André Masson and Ithell Colquhoun to Jackson Pollock, noted for his development of abstract expressionism. Although automatism is usually regarded as a separate method from that which Salvador Dali termed paranoiac critical, the end or object is really the same. Paranoiac critical can be defined as:

The artist invoking a paranoid state with the intention of deconstruction of the psychological concept of ego-identity.

Paranoia is taken to mean the fear that one is being manipulated or controlled by others. This may of course include the paranoid manipulation of others. Some of the tricks that Dali liked to play were very much inclusive of the ‘audience’, so the boundaries between who was doing what to whom were blurred, increasing the paranoia for all concerned! The aim of the method, however, is that subjectivity becomes the primary basis of the work. It is to defeat the rational mind, prohibitions and censorship that stem from ego.

Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988) described her work as “mantic”. Mantic means, ‘pertaining to divination or prophecy’, and is derived from the Greek, mantikos, ‘divination’, mantis, ‘prophet’. Unlike other artists, Colquhoun deliberately wished to connect Surrealism with magick, both philosophically and in terms of method or technique. In her own writings she drew comparisons between visual art and the medieval art of alchemy. Colquhoun wanted to achieve a union of natural and spiritual forces as well as a union of the disciplines of art and the occult. The union of subject and object, the I-Self with all that is ‘other’, the Not-Self, is the goal of yoga or union, and is a prerequisite for magick and mysticism at advanced levels.

Surrealism in Literature: Phallus of Cosmic Recollection

Thomas De Quincey employed a type of super-automatism, comparable to Salvador Dali’s paranoiac critical; in so doing, De Quincey may have endured, and attempted to describe in his writing, the equivalent ordeal in a Rosicrucian Hermetic fraternity called the Curse of a Magus. Any attempt to describe the indicible is doomed to failure, hence the “curse”, for as cleverly suggested by Aleister Crowley in his The Book of Lies, there is a certain obligation to speak truth even while knowing full well it will be fatally misconstrued or otherwise perceived as alogia or simple incoherence.

Others will also see the utterer of the truth, the irrevocable word, as a liar, madman or fool. The magus must utter an irrevocable word yet must reverse consciousness to sail a vessel against the flow of time and return to the source of the fountain of all life. To meditate upon Wisdom herself is to behold divinity face to face, the magical power of Chokmah—it is also to court with madness. According to Thomas De Quincey (1856 Revision to Confessions):

If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the Incommunicable. And if another Sphinx should arise to propose another enigma to man—saying, What burden is that which only is insupportable by human fortitude? I should answer at once—It is the burden of the Incommunicable.


Notes

Extracts from the book, The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism.
© Oliver St. John 2016, 2018
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