Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Thelema Books and Pynchon

The Angel & the Abyss

by J. Daniel Gunther

This consists of books II and III of the trilogy The Inward Journey.  The first book, Initiation in the Aeon of the Child, came out in 2009.

The Angel & the Abyss immediately grabbed and held my attention from the very first sentence:  "One of the primary goals of the Neophyte of the A.'. A.'. consists in a resurrection from a Death which the world calls Life."  I remember first hearing this idea from E.J.  Gold shortly after moving to California.  The subject and importance of Death in post-Crowley Thelemic literature seems to have been largely overlooked.  Gunther remedies this and then some in the book's first chapter, The Self-Slain.  I thought I knew most of the references to Death in AC's writings and it's relevance on the path of Initiation, but I was wrong.  The first chapter reveals much more than I knew existed and backs it up with a coherent, well-referenced  narrative that inspires and feeds work along these lines, the lines of  using Death as an extremely effective method of initiation.

Gunther appears an extremely knowledgeable scholar in a multiplicity of traditions in the areas of religion, mythology, psychology and philosophy as well as being a foremost Thelemic authority.  He's adept at pulling out obscure references making cogent points that explicate Thelemic theory and practice.  This gives a lot of backbone and strongly establishes the high probability that Thelema presents a new formulation of an ancient tradition.  Gunther's scholarly discourse always engaged me, it never got dry or boring due to the sense conveyed that he lived it, he speaks with the authority of experience.  Not that I always agree, but his thinking always appears original, stimulating and creative.  If anything can make Crowley and Thelema academically respectable it would likely be this trilogy.  Many of the quotes from ancient writings are reproduced in their original languages in the footnotes which include Coptic, Greek, Latin, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, and Sanskrit.  Some might find this pedantic, but I suspect future researchers will delight with the depth and broad scope this brings.

The content of The Angel & the Abyss resembles what the radical post-structuralist philosophers Deleuze and Guttari call a rhizome.  A rhizome is a metaphor borrowed from botany where it describes an underground mass of roots that  mostly grow roots laterally though they can still grow shoots upwards.  In D & G's model, rhizomes represent an aggregate of multiplicities that communicate laterally to other multiplicities.  In other words, there appears no set program or specific goal apart from the broad framework labelled the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  Since this will manifest uniquely different for everyone there endeavors to be a realization of multiplicities both in the sense of many individuals and of the multiplicities of experience in any one individual.  The KCHGA seems more of a dynamic endless becoming than a static being which agrees with the rhizome view.  As mentioned, this book transmits a multiplicity of information: historical footnotes, obscure religious rituals, archetypes, Egyptology, tarot, interesting cross-references in Thelemic writings to name a few.  All of the diagrams included look great communicating useful nonverbal data.

A more comprehensive review of this book is HERE

Gunther not only supplies a strong foundational background and context for Thelema, he not only brings to light much that seemed obscure in Crowley's writings, but he also expands upon Thelema proving that it exists as a living dynamic school open to new creative insight. 

Homemade Magick

The Musings & Mischief of a Do-It-Yourself Magus

by Lon Milo Duquette

This book nicely complements the previous one as it seems as practical, straight-forward and down to earth as the other is theoretical and esoteric.  Duquette shows you how to get  down to business from right where you are sitting now.  Though ostensibly a beginner's guide to practicing magick, and it is an excellent one at that, I find that Homemade Magick can be read on more than one level of interpretation.  To my eye it offers useful information to the experienced practitioner as well as the beginner.  It's always useful to review the basics, but there also appears multiplicities of meaning that transmits advanced knowlege on deeper levels.  Something gets invoked here that goes beyond an experienced Magician instructing students.  Perhaps this is the mischief part?  For instance, the first real page of content starts with a quote:

Intent is the mechanics through which spirit
transforms itself into material reality

Deepak Chopra

This has a footnote which reads:

1. Deepak Chopra, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004) p. 115

Below Chopra's quote is a photo of a collage of inspirational words and phrases with the caption:

"Constances "dream board" placed squarely over the washing machine.

To me this page looks like a deceptively simple yet powerfully effective opening dedication which underscores the homemade aesthetic of the whole book.  Strong magick.

The first sentence of the Prologue and the book reads:

Like my father and brother before me, I was born in Southern California and journeyed to rural Nebraska to find a bride.

As seems obvious already, Duquette is extremely generous with inviting us readers into his life, his family and home revealing many practical details of functioning as a magician in contemporary society.  The book is engaging, easy to read yet has a lot of depth.  It could have easily been subtitled Autobiography of a DIY Magus.  I particularly liked the section on Magical Weapons.  It sparked some new insights.

A more detailed review lives HERE

I recommend Homemade Magick unreservedly.  There appears a lot more to it that will eventually meet the eye.

Progradior & THE BEAST and The Magical Record of Frater Progradior

 both by Keith Richmond

These have both been out since 2004, but are now out of print and often expensive on the used market.  I was fortunate to find these recently at a decent price.  Frater Progradior is Frank Bennett, an Englishman who relocated to Australia spearheading magick and esoteric practice into that continent first with Theosophy then with Thelema.  He spent time with Crowley at the Abbey in Cefalu.  His record of that time reveals what it was like to live and work there, a valuable addition to other accounts by different residents and visitors.  Bennett is the person whom Crowley was discussing the HGA with relative to the subconscious mind when something Crowley said triggered a profound epiphany in him that lasted a few days at its peak intensity.  Crowley then suggested that he go on a magical retirement to consolidate the experience.  It encouraged Crowley to work diligently and furiously at completing Liber Samekh which was his adaptation and expansion of the Bornless Ritual for the purpose of attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  Crowley did finish it in time for Progradior's retirement and dedicated it to him.

Frater Progradior could safely be called one of Crowley's senior students.  Richmond does an excellent job creating a vivid portrait of him without a whole lot to go by.  Much of his personal archives were destroyed by a crazed son who objected to and completely misunderstood his lifestyle.  I find these kinds of accounts helpful for getting a sense of the atmosphere of the Hermetic mileau back in that day; useful history.  Richmond includes a copy of Liber Samekh in The Magical Record.  That kindled my interest in that ritual which I'd never really explored before.  I found a good synergy with reading Liber Samekh while listening to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.  His Cosmic Music also works well.  They seem like twin recordings.  The bass line for A Love Supreme sounds very similar to the bass pattern in Lord, Help Me To Be from Cosmic Music.

Another REVIEW

Mason & Dixon

 by Thomas Pynchon

This is by no means a review.  Mason & Dixon is included here because it appears a powerful magickal text worthy of serious study and application.  Yes, the book certainly seems multi-level, a rhizome of multiplicities, and I'm only focusing on one, rather extensive, strata of the assemblage, but this strata, the layer of magick,  seems rarely touched upon by Pynchon exegesists though it appears blatantly obvious to me; also blatantly obvious that TP writes with as much hierophantic authority as the other authors mentioned here.  If you like first rate literature, superb dry humor, whimsy, history, political opinions, puzzle solving and much else thrown in with subtle and wise magick instruction then you might, as I do, find Mason & Dixon in your library alongside other classics on the subject.

One review I read closed the piece with the statement: "Simplicity and clarity, I presume, would bore him..." implying that Pynchon never writes simply and clearly,  Au contraire, I must respond.  If one recognizes that the strata of magick exists in full force inside this tome then some statements do appear blatantly obvious as when magick first gets explicitly introduced ( it appears implicit from the get go) on p. 67:

Mason makes quick Head-Turns, to the Left and Right, and lowers his Voice.  Whilst you've been out rollicking with your Malays and Pygmies, ... what have you heard of the various sorts of Magick, that they are said to possess?"

This paragraph reflects the range of esoteric communication and reference from the explicit question at the end to the qabalaisticly significant correspondences at the beginning.  This same range even turns up on the front cover with an explicit image in the center and two word fragments above and below that carry qabalistic relevance related to the central sign.  

If the image portrayed by the stylized ampersand still mystifies you can always turn to the top of p.261 for a straightforward explanation of the cover.  

The writing style of novel ostensibly reflects the style of the period it writes about.  In that time, mid 18th Century, it seemed common for all nouns to get capitalized.  Pynchon doesn't do this to them all, but it does afford him license to capitalize much more than normal thus allowing much freedom to place emphasis on different things.  Some reviewers find this an annoying kind of affectation while the alert qabalist correctly recognizes this as another method of communication.  He also apparently uses common spelling and vernacular of the period allowing him to get away with things like adding a "k" to magic.

Notariqon is a branch of Qabala that derives messages from acronyms.  Pynchon seems to make capitalization choices along these lines frequently.  For instance, in the paragraph mentioned above from p.261 that explicitly describes the front cover, one sentence begins: " Even Quakers are out in the Street, ..."  When you add the caps, E+Q+S you get 165 which has one meaning in Crowley's dictionary ( 777 and other Qabalistic Writings) of "to make them know," exactly what this paragraph accomplishes with the front cover.

Three years ago I wrote a blog on Gematria that concluded with a look at the significance of the number 68 in Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy.  I also mentioned that Robert Anton Wilson used the SC notariqon prominently in his fiction oeuvre - Schrodinger's Cat, Sigismundo Celine, Celine's System.  SC = 68.  Both Eric Wagner and RAW had the impression that Pynchon read at least some of Wilson's Historical Illuminatus books before writing Mason & Dixon.  I don't doubt this as I've seen clear references to Wilson in other Pynchon books.  The Historical Illuminatus trilogy also transmits qabala and the strata of magick both explicitly and obliquely.  I mention this now because Mason & Dixon shows the SC combination to what can only get called an excessive degree.

In that blog I wrote:

The most simple interpretation:

68 = 6 and 8

6 = Tiphareth, 8 = Hod, the Sephiroth which relates to communication or transmission. Therefore 68 could mean the communication/transmission of Tiphareth.

68 also relates to the realization Crowley made in  The Paris Working about the identity of Christ and Mercury.  In the Book of Lies chapter 68 he associates this with Manna, divine food.  Within the first sentence of M & D Pynchon takes us into "the great Kitchen"  and describes the tantalizing food cooking there.  In certain Sufi schools the kitchen is considered the heart of the community.

Not that there don't exist other interpretations for the prevalence of the SC combo.  Like any qabalistic motif, it appears a rhizome i.e. multiplicities sending out roots of significance to other multiplicities.  It might be beneficial to study the tarot cards associated with S & C, Art and the Chariot in the Thoth deck, and note how they synergestically relate and create.

On p. 479 a clear description of Gematria is given, a glance at the inner workings of the magick strata in this novel.

The overarching story of two surveyors/astronomers, Mason and Dixon, exploring and scientifically  mapping out unknown territory metaphorically resonates with the practice of Magick.  The archetype of twins turns up prominently.  Mason and Dixon are twins in their vocation.  The context of the novel is that their story is being told by Reverend Cherrycoke to a family gathering.  Two of the children are twins named Pitt and Pliny so that either one could be the Elder or the Younger, in imitation of historical figures, and because no one knows who was born first.  "Twins" is the last word on the first page.  In the Thelemic pantheon, Horus, the guiding force of this aga, is said to be a twin god comprised of an active aspect, Ra Hoor Kuit, and a passive or silent aspect, Hoor Pa Kraat.

By their names, Mason and Dixon suggest a male/female, yin/yang type of binary unit.
Ma-son = yin, Dix-son = yang through common slang.  Charles Mason does appear the more introverted and reserved of the two while Jeremiah Dixon seems far more outgoing.  He likes to party and chase women.  The famous line they charted, the Mason/Dixon line was commissioned to draw a border between the then Provinces of Pennsylvania and Maryland.  The names of those territories also suggest a male/female binary unit by the same logic, in this case one that gets separated and divided.  This seems a very apt metaphor for the internal process of an Aspirant making their way through the desert of the Abyss.

Another yin/yang binary unit presents itself in the first page as he describes a piece of furniture:

"... excepting a sinister and wonderful Card Table which exhibits the cheaper sinusoidal Grain known in  the Trade as Wand'ring Heart, causing an illusion of Depth into which for years children have gazed as into the illustrated Page of Books..."

Wand'ring - wand = yang, ring = yin.

I am just scratching the surface, but I think you get the drift.  A thick volume of commentary could easily be written on the strata of Alchemy and Magick that exists in the Pynchon novels Mason & Dixon, Against the Day, and Bleeding Edge which all connect with each other on that level.

The ending looks very nice and continues the theme of exploration:

"We can get jobs said William, "save enough to go out where you were," said Doc.
"The Stars are so close you won't need a Telescope."
"The Fish jump into your Arms.  The Indians know Magick."
"We'll go there.  We'll live there."
"We'll fish there.  And you too."

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