A sign can be any kind of nonverbal communication from the mundane to the deeply profound. The milk has a sour smell, an obvious sign not to drink it. You can get equally blatant signs regarding your spiritual growth. As you might imagine, most signs regarding the alchemical development of spirit appear much subtler. Learning to read signs develops the perceptive faculties of the higher circuits/higher bodies. For instance, the interpretation of a sign that can go in many different, sometimes opposite, directions requires intuition to aid in making a choice of what direction to take or even if it's a valid (useful) sign at all or just noise on the horizon. Intuition gets stronger with regular and frequent use. Verbal communications also transmit a wealth of signs after the science of Qabalah gets applied to it. We shall get to that momentarily.
An informative look at the art of reading signs can be found in Proust & Signs by Gilles Deleuze. It presents a taxonomy and examination of different kinds of signs within the environment of Marcel Proust's epic opus In Search of Lost Time.
"To be sensitive to signs, to consider the world to be an object to be deciphered, is doubtless a gift. But this gift risks remaining buried in us if we do not make the necessary encounters, and these encounters would remain ineffective if we failed to overcome certain stock notions." (p.26 - 27)
"The persons whom we have loved, have made us suffer, one by one; but the broken chain they form is a joyous spectacle of intelligence. Then, thanks to intelligence, we discover what we could not know at the start: that we were already apprenticed to signs when we supposed we were wasting our time. We realize that our idle life was indissociable from our work: 'My whole life ... a vocation'"
(p. 24 - the quote within the quote comes from Proust).
I bring up Deleuze's observations of signs and communication to suggest approaches to this art rather than as a dogmatic model to be slavishly imitated. That goes for anything written here.
Speaking of Deleuze, it should be stated at the outset that this process of finding a Guide is rhizomatic, not arborescent. In other words, this process operates as a nonlinear multiplicity with no specific beginning or endpoint other than completely vague metaphysical terms like Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, itself a rhizome and a multiplicity.
A rhizome, a term borrowed from botany, describes the growth patterns in this process of connecting with a Higher Intelligence. Deleuze and Guattari's essay on the rhizome, the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus is strongly recommended for revealing the nature of spiritual growth. A rhizome means that you can begin anywhere and go in any direction, we find no specific starting point. However, there are starting points which can be implemented at any time more than once and not necessarily in the very beginning.
We are going to present the method that worked for us. We are a multiplicity too! This method is largely based on our research and experimentation with the set of teachings Aleister Crowley presented. It is sympathetic to, but unconnected and independent of any iteration of the O.T.O. or the A .'. A.'. The philosophical provocations of Gilles Deleuze and the researches of Robert Anton Wilson also play into the mix.
Crowley launched his School with theories, outlines and instructions in the biannual, occult literary journal he published for five years from 1909 until 1914 known as The Equinox Volume I. The two Libers (books) that begin his course are Liber E, Sub Figura IX and Liber O, Sub Figura VI. Liber E gives a series of yogic exercises and instructions for the training of the body and mind. The numerical attribution of that text, 9, refers to Yesod, the first sephiroth on the middle pillar of the Tree of Life going up from Malkuth, the sphere of the material world. Yesod signifies foundation. The discipline of yoga provides a solid foundation for magick practices. One of Crowley's esoteric innovations was combining yoga from the East with the Western Hermetic tradition.
Liber O, Sub Figura VI lays out basic instructions of magick. It begins with a carefully arranged series of ten photographs showing a magician giving various signs; the first six corresponding to the elements and two phases of Spirit with the last four depicting the L. V. X. signs. Further into the text we are given instructions for the basic rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram.
The very first lesson in Sub Figura VI, even before the magick, a lesson also vigorously adapted by Robert Anton Wilson is SKEPTICISM. Doubt, not jumping to conclusions or resorting to dogmatic certainty, appears a crucial prerequisite to both Crowley and Wilson's presentations. The despotic signifier is the term Deleuze uses for what rigidly beholdens one to any particular belief system. The beliefs, whatever they may be, become a Despot that binds you to thinking and perceiving a certain way. Much of the work of Crowley and Wilson and some of their other peers like Gurdjieff, consists of showing students how to free themselves from these despotic signifiers.
Another seminal essay, The Soldier and the Hunchback, published in the first issue of The Equinox takes on the question, "what is skepticism?"
One primary reason for adapting a healthy sense of skepticism regarding these matters: it seems extremely easy to deceive yourself.
Another primary reason: like many other areas with commercial potential where someone can make a buck we see numerous con people, charlatans and radical conspiracy theorists of all ilks who will do their utmost to sell you their line. Some of them even believe their own bs. In common parlance, what is needed is a belief system detector, otherwise known as a bullshit detector, both to guard against self-deception and against other people's unwanted games. "While the rules of the road have been lodged, it's only people's games you've got to dodge, and it's alright Ma, I can make it. (Dylan)
Skepticism as a safeguard against extreme and irrational paranoia: When diving deep into these water, much apparent resistance may be encountered to the point where it can seem like powerful forces are out to mess with you. Your mind can spin off and fabulate any number of tragic scenarios that would induce stress and adversely affect the nerves up to, and including, a breakdown.
Another related condition that likely occurs at some point concerns entering a zone of the bardo that Robert Anton Wilson called Chapel Perilous. This can seem subtle or extreme at different times, but often consists of extended periods (weeks, months or years - do you ever leave or do you learn how to handle it?) of intense disorientation and fear. It can also include uncomfortable hypersensitivity. One purpose of the the basic rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram aims toward reducing that sensitivity.
Wilson's, Cosmic Trigger Volume I portrays a classic textbook example of an excursion through Chapel Perilous. Wilson said that he reached a point where he had to make the choice of either becoming completely paranoid or agnostic about his experiences. He made the choice to view things as an agnostic, meaning that ultimately he couldn't be certain of what was going on. His skepticism saved his sanity. Masks of the Illuminatti (highly valued for its magical instruction), a work of fiction Wilson produced around the same time, also has much good advice and insight on traveling through Chapel Perilous. For instance, he gives an ad hoc, extemporaneous version of the Rosy Cross ritual as a means of instantly attenuating hypersensitivity.
The choice between paranoia and agnosticism, between certainty and doubt, can be very useful in mundane matters, as well. Did that person just give me a dirty look, are they mad with me? I don't know, maybe they're thinking about something else - or any number of other possible explanations.
Both Crowley and Wilson returned to and emphasized the value of doubt and skepticism throughout their careers. Wilson quotes Crowley frequently on the subject. He began his Maybe Logic Academy Crowley 101 course with an examination of The Soldier and the Hunchback. Crowley, Wilson and Deleuze are grounded in the philosophy of skepticism formulated by David Hume.
Most good teachers advise their students to be skeptical to what they are being taught. Gurdjieff reportedly said: " don't believe anything I say, verify everything for yourself." This holds for many like-minded schools. Wilson publicized Aleister's version of this: "Frater Perdurabo (Crowley) is the most honest of all the religious teachers. Others have said, "Believe me!" He says, "Don't believe me!" ( Book 4 Part 1)
Crowley, Wilson and others used a method Wilson would come to call "guerilla ontology" to keep their readers from automatically believing everything they said. This method involves including factually inaccurate and misleading bullshit along with bonafide spiritual gems and insights. A good writer or storyteller can subtly weave in elements of bs along with genuine data so that the recepient has to use their intuition to suss out what is signal and what is noise. Or more plainly put, a bullshit detector needs some bullshit to detect in order to develop.
Holy Guardian Angel
We will return to Liber O, but first it must be clear that Crowley regarded the first major task or ordeal in his School to be the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA). All of the student's initial efforts are to get directed toward that aim. Anything else, he said, can be considered black magic - magic for egotistical purposes.
"... the Single Supreme Ritual is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. It is the raising of the complete man in a vertical straight line.
Any deviation of this line tends to become black magic. Any other operation is black magic.
... if the Magician needs to perform any other operation than this, it is only lawful insofar as it is a necessary preliminary to that one work."
- Magick in Theory and Practice, ch.21
The HGA represents both an extensive and intensive multiplicity; it doesn't appear as one, unchanging, coherent thing. A multiplicity can have several different, sometimes paradoxical external aspects. The HGA also seems the type of multiplicity that changes over time.
This explains why you can read or hear several anecdotes and accounts of the HGA by Crowley and others that differ, sometimes radically, from each other. At one point Crowley says the HGA = the subconscious mind made conscious. At other times, he refers to the HGA as a completely autonomous and independent external entity that can take a human form. Both of these dialectically opposing views can seem accurate in a multiplicity.
Crowley says, perhaps whimsically, that he chose to signify it that way because he thought the term Guardian Angel so absurd that it would preclude any metaphysical debate of what it actually "is." That's what he says, anyway maybe to cover himself from attacks by critics. One of the characteristics of the HGA is protectiveness. In that way it behaves like the Roman Catholic Guardian Angel. I'm not alone in irrationally feeling protected at times by an unseen force of some kind. Crowley gives examples of this kind of protection in his diaries and in the Confessions. Crowley borrowed the term Holy Guardian Angel from Macgregor Mathers' translation of the 15th Century grimoire The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. For the beginning process of this effort, or at any stage in our work, we don't need to know what the HGA "is," only that it functions as a spiritual guide ... among other things.
The HGA often gets described only in its full realization: the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. See chapter 1 in Magick in Theory and Practice for a picture of this ultimate realization. Another expression of the HGA links it to the realization of True Will. The HGA is said to be the epitome of your True Will. That fact alone makes everyone's Angel different.
True Will provides the necessity for overcoming the inertia of organic life and developing a life beyond the organic. If we maintain that the HGA begins by acting as a Guide and eventually becomes the realization of your highest aims, your True Will, then it appears obvious that formulating a True Will becomes critical to finding a Spiritual Guide; your True Will becomes your Guide in the process called the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
To begin formulating an overall aim in life seems as easy as considering what you would like to do if free from any constraints - financial, family or otherwise. What would you really like to do? What is your deepest desire? True Will doesn't have to be stated in an all inclusive, final form, it will inevitable change anyway as it becomes more clearly defined in your mind. It also need not look like a grand, altruistic enterprise like saving the world or holding politicians accountable. A True Will could be as simple and basic as the ferryman I quote below: to bring people and livestock across the river.
In notes to Liber Samekh, a ritual Crowley modified from a more ancient text, the Bornless Ritual, to make contact with the HGA, he writes:
The Adept will be free to concentrate his deepest self, that part of him which unconsciously orders his true Will, upon the realization of his Holy Guardian Angel. The absence of his bodily, mental, and astral consciousness is indeed cardinal to success, for it is their usurption of his attention which has made him deaf to his Soul, and his preoccupation with their affairs that has prevented him from perceiving that Soul.
To activate its function as a Guide we figure out how to arrive at its Knowledge and Conversation in a completely literal sense. This essay aims to show how to begin this dialog or to make aware and recognize that this dialog has already begun - how to fine tune the reception.
We don't know any basic general formula for waking up to this Intelligence. You try things, experiment, and see what works and what doesn't work. As Crowley writes:
"It is impossible to write down precise rules by which a person may attain to the knowledge and conversation of their Holy Guardian Angel; for that is the particular secret of each one of us; a secret not to be told or even divined by any other, whatever their grade. It is the Holy of Holies, whereof each person is their own High Priest, and none knoweth the name of his brother's or sister's God, or the Rite that invokes Him." - One Star in Sight
How do we establish knowledge of the HGA? How do we know it's there? This is where the ability to detect belief systems comes in handy. Having this framework allows us to enter into any belief system and leave at will with no regrets because we can recognize it as a system of beliefs and not a dogmatic or despotic imperative that rigidly binds us. We experiment with entering in to a belief system where we have the ability to make contact with an Intelligence so vastly beyond ours that it seems omniscient. We can make experiments 'as if' this Intelligence is real and see what happens, if anything. Beginning knowledge of this critter seems extremely easy, it then becomes a matter of degree. Just through the act of reading this essay gives knowledge that this system of beliefs exists. Now that you have knowledge of the HGA, lets look at communication.
To establish a dialog with the HGA one has to find out how it communicates. We know it communicates with signs. We have to find out how to recognize these special signs and a method for interpreting them. These signs become like seeds for the growth of the Soul.
The next step in Liber O following the call for skepticism concerns gaining familiarity with and an understanding of Qabalah. This science of inner exploration acts like a vast rhizome of intelligible symbols and images that potentially turns everything into a sign.
Qabalah introduces all kinds of variations into language, symbol systems, and the interpretation of sensory stimuli. This may have the effect of producing multiple levels of sense at an astonishingly exponential rate. This seems like one reason why leading post-modern writers like James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon and Robert Anton Wilson love to play with qabalah in their writings.
"A secret language does not merely have a hidden cipher or code still operating by constants and forming a subsystem; it places the public language's system of variables in a state of variation."
- Deleuze & Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus p. 97
Qabalah can seem a daunting system of linguistics to learn due to its complexity. Crowley recommends memorizing all the Tables of Correspondences in the dictionary he assembled, 777. I have found this not necessary to effectively make use of this system of signs. 777 works very well as a reference book. Eventually parts of it get memorized simply through frequent usage. Qabalah can be learned a little at a time - possibly the only way it can get learned. It helps immensely if one has a necessity of some kind to learn and apply it. Beginning the process of formulating your True Will - answering the question: Why am I here? can provide an aim and purpose that may benefit from qabalistic signs.
How one chooses, selects and interprets a potential sign provides a clear look at the subconscious mind. This gives one indication of Qabalah as a link to the HGA, your spiritual guide. This aspect seems not unlike gazing into a crystal ball to see visions. The crystal ball is a neutral external medium that the psychic aspects of the subconscious mind get projected upon.
This quality of Qabalah, the projection of the subconscious mind onto the external environment for the purposes of learning from it also reminds me of the Ferryman story in Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It's in chapter 9 of that book:
Tenderly, he looked into the rushing water, into the transparent green, into the crystal lines of its drawing, so rich in secrets. Bright pearls he saw rising from the deep, quiet bubbles of air floating on the reflecting surface, the blue of the sky being depicted in it. With a thousand eyes, the river looked at him, with green ones, with white ones, with crystal ones, with sky-blue ones. How did he love this water, how did it delight him, how grateful was he to it! In his heart he heard the voice talking, which was newly awaking, and it told him:
Love this water! Stay near it! Learn from it! Oh yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. He who would understand this water and its secrets, so it seemed to him, would also understand many other things, many secrets, all secrets.
Love this water! Stay near it! Learn from it! Oh yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. He who would understand this water and its secrets, so it seemed to him, would also understand many other things, many secrets, all secrets.
The background and context of this story comes from Buddhism, so this approach may be more suited to the Eastern mind and temperament. Organizing and navigating the filing cabinets of Qabalah, the branches, twigs, leaves and fruit of the Tree of Life may be more suited to the intellect of the Western mind.
A key phrase in the Hesse quote related to the HGA, to the process of creating or discovering a spiritual guide: "In his heart he heard the voice talking, which was newly awaking ..." For it should not be forgotten that the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel signifies an operation that occurs in Tiphareth
Creating A Lexicon
Everyone makes their own unique individual sets of meaningful correspondences and associations based on their life experience, dreams, visions, and intuition. Many people use a common frame of reference, the one Crowley recommends, the qabalistic Tree of Life, to file their relations in. The symbols in this rhizome seem so fluid, variable and interchangeable that radically different lexicons can quite easily co-exist in harmony within the same frame of reference. It's possible to create a functional lexicon, a personalized language with your budding higher consciousness without the Tree of Life, with a completely different frame of reference. The advantage of using the Tree of Life and Crowley's Qabalah dictionary, 777, is that it opens up multiple new levels of communication with anyone else using it.
There are many dimensions to qabalistic thinking beyond transposing letters into numbers (Gematria) or memorizing the Tables of Correspondences in 777. Anyone who knows how to use a reference book or a dictionary can look them up.
A primary point of education for the new lexicon builder concerns developing a skill in seeing and doing things in reverse order, seeing words backwards, etc. Crowley even advises learning how to write backwards among other things. The whole practice and rationale behind it is found in Liber ThIShARB, 913. This liber presents a method for recovering past memories, basically time-traveling in a visionary mode, but there are many other advantages to the practice of seeing things both forward and backward. One advantage being a great expansion of one's lexicon. This instruction from Liber 913 probably inspired The Beatles to experiment with backwards masking in their recordings.
In Leary's qabalah of brain circuits, the first path beyond the terrestrial robot set of lower circuits, stage 13 in his lexicon, is represented by The Hanged Man, a tarot card which depicts a man reversed. The path of the Hanged Man, Mem, corresponds with the element Water. "... it is only natural that one of this path's 'key words' is Reversal. The reason for this becomes obvious when you realize that water is the world's first mirror. It reflects what is projected into it but always in reverse similar in nature to things Above and Below the Abyss." (J. Cornelius, Essays 5).
Cornelius speaks to the doctrine that what we see and experience in the illusory world of appearance (below the Abyss) is the reverse of that perceived in the real world (above the Abyss). We get an example of this with the physics of color. When something appears red to us we commonly say that object is red. Actually, red is the only color it is not. The red looking object absorbs all the colors of the spectrum except red which it reflects. We mistake the reflection for the thing itself.
Closely related to developing the skill to think and see backwards is the ability to comprehend, understand and be ok with paradox. This involves the mental and emotional flexibility of being able to go in two, mutually exclusive and often contradictory directions at once.
I look at how Deleuze uses paradox in this post. A far better look and analysis of paradox in Deleuze's philosophy is Helen Palmer's Deleuze & Futurism - A Manifesto For Nonsense:
The double-headed paradoxical element is unstable because its halves are not equal, which presupposes an indeterminate third term and gives Deleuze's system momentum. He describes it as a perpetuum mobile; its dynamism is at the very heart of Deleuze's philosophy of language.
Palmer speaks generally. For the aspirant looking to develop a spiritual program of growth it means that paradox can become a catalyst and motivator for such growth. Paradox can provoke thought and action by breaking set; by breaking apart (hexagram 23 in the I Ching) habitual belief systems that keep us complacent.with the status quo. Spiritual growth often seems a response to a crisis. Paradox can help provoke that crisis.
Robert Anton Wilson kept Crowley's book of paradoxes, The Book of Lies at his side for years for frequent reference and education. Paradox seems at play when Crowley says his methods can produce Christs (Postcards for Probationers) while simultaneously billing himself as the Anti-Christ. Both appear true.
Thinking of opposites comprises a crucial method Crowley came up with to detach from World Illusion; also to avoid or become free of obsessive, fanatical beliefs. This exercise involves taking an opposite position to any strongly held belief. To use one clearly absurd example: If you believe the government is not working in your best interests, then enter the opposite belief system - the government is concerned for the benefit of all the citizens above its own interests. By entering in the opposite belief as strongly as the favored belief, they may not fully cancel each other for very long, but it will definitely give some, perhaps much needed, detachment and relief from the sometimes passionate idea that the government greatly affects our lives. I call this the phase cancellation game because sound waves, or any kind of waves including quantum, cancel each other when they combine out of phase - when the peaks and troughs occurs at exactly the opposite time to the peaks and troughs of another wave.
Coincidences and Synchronicities
One of the most perniciously puzzling category of signs to afflict the newbie spiritual seeker are (so-called) meaningful coincidences. For interested parties, these coincidences can seem a kind of portal or doorway to communication with Higher Intelligence. A well-known and phenomena occurs to many readers of Robert Anton Wilson of receiving many coincidences with the number 23 when they read Cosmic Trigger I and encounter Wilson's own freaky episodes with it. It can seem like the pages of that book alter or tweak material reality. You can start to see why we make Skepticism one of our foundational building blocks. That book, Cosmic Trigger, is the best one I know of for examining synchronicities in the context of human evolution. It's also where I first learned Qabalah. Strange things along these lines will start to happen when you dive into these pages while simultaneously paying attention to what is going on around you. Caveat Emptor.
Synchronicities depend on acasual connections. Nobody knows what causes these acasual connections, but there are theories. Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli wrote a paper looking for an adequate model in quantum physics. Experiencing, and not denying, profoundly mind-blowing synchronicities, something I suspect a lot of people have encountered, can give the feeling of contact with an Intelligence vastly greater than one's own; vastly greater than any (known to science) human intelligence. When this begins to happen frequently because you made the mistake of going down the rabbit-hole, the suspicion that a nonhuman guiding force communicates to you with signs can grow stronger especially when it reveals practical results.
Jung and Pauli were convinced that synchronistic events reveal an underlying unity of mind and matter, subjective and objective realities. - Charlene Burns.
This is not to say that there isn't noise, sometimes a great deal, along with the signal. Learning to discern and tune into the signal, tune out the noise like a radio receiver is a skill that develops with use.
Speaking of signal and noise, coincidences and synchronicities appear to have degrees of significance ranging from none at all, mildly interesting, that got my attention, wtf?, and all the way up to an obvious piece of data being screamed at you whether you decide to listen or not; whether you decide it's nonsense or real. Some people say there are no "coincidences," meaning that everything has some kind of significance and/or everything is a product of the subconscious mind. The skeptic in me disagrees. I expect that we get co-incidents between events and though some of these may appear odd, curious or interesting, they may ultimately have no significance for us personally as an esoteric communication. However, when odd coincidences happen especially at an increased rate, I pay close attention to see if anything is there. Sometimes there is, sometimes not, sometimes it's filed away for future consideration, sometimes it seems like the trickster spirit of Groucho Marx messing with your mind - breaking set.
A classic example of skepticism relating to receiving esoteric signs can be found in The Equinox of the Gods by Aleister Crowley when he relates what led up to the reception of the Book of the Law. Wilson suspects that Crowley may have been pulling our leg about that. I suspect they are both half-right.
One of the more advanced exercises in Crowley's A .'. A.'. is to consider all phenomena as a particular dealing of God with your soul. That can be easily modified to considering all phenomena as a particular communication of the School with your soul. Obviously, this requires a great deal of common sense and skepticism not to take it too far. Apophenia describes the disease and obsession of taking it too far.
A couple of recent examples of synchronicities communicating: A few weeks ago we looked at The Blues Brothers movie. Jake and Elwood Blues are on a self-described "mission from God" to raise money for the orphanage/school they grew up in. Their vehicle, the Bluesmobile is a 1974 black and white ex-police car, a Dodge Monaco. Among other things, the film illustrates the extreme obstacles and resistance they faced fulfilling their mission. At the end this resistance is caricatured to absurd lengths when tanks and troops from the Army are brought out to stop them. Their determination and perseverance win out in the end. How they deal with all the adversity is educational.
Two days later I drove to Prairie Sun to begin a mix project. Parked right by the studio door was the Bluesmobile, or rather a black and white ex-cop car of the same vintage that looked exactly like it. Although the Army and police weren't brought out to stop us, we did encounter several technical obstacles mixing the album, but we navigated all of them and had a successful outcome.
The second example startled me a bit, it seems a second order synchronicity. I was composing a blog about the Nabokov novel Pale Fire writing about the synchronicity of discovering references to the number 68 in that book just after posting a blog on Deleuze and the occult use of. 68. Driving away after finishing I happened to be behind a slow moving Chevrolet Impala. The license plate read "60EIGHT" It must have been a '68 Chevy on its way to the car show at the Fairgrounds right around the corner.
Any interested party can receive insight and guidance into their spiritual evolution, their expansion of consciousness simply by paying attention to what goes on around them, no specific ideological system necessary. The key and one of the initial steps for tuning into this wisdom involves formulating a True Will, a life aim or goal of some kind. Opening up to and receiving esoteric communication is not without its pitfalls and dangers. A healthy and balanced attitude of flexibility of belief and skepticism is highly advised. The enlightening, self-realized higher conscious appears immanent to where we are at right now. As Wilson quotes Nietzsche in Cosmic Trigger, "we are all greater artists than we think."
"I had a dream, crazy dream,
Any thing I wanted to know,
Any place I need to go ..."
- Led Zeppelin, The Song Remains the Same.