If you buy only one more book this year make sure it is this one - from Skylight Press.
Letters from old magus W.G.Gray to the young enquirer Alan Richardson back in 1969/70.
If you want a second opinion go see Peregrin Wildoak's review of it on his blog site https://magicoftheordinary.wordpress.com
Words of wisdom for anyone beginning on the occult path - and well worth thinking about for anyone further along the way.
Friday, April 03, 2015
I'm 85 years old today! Time for a little indulging in memories of things past. And what better than the Tarot?
One set of words of wisdom that have paid off for me is “don’t be afraid to take on a job that nobody else wants – for you never know where it may lead!”
This certainly applied back in the early 1960’s when I agreed to take on the job of part time unpaid librarian at the Society of the Inner Light. Not a very onerous task it should be said, consisting of running a postal circulating library that had about half a dozen customers a week. So with wrapping paper, sellotape and string supplied by the management it just needed a couple of hours spare time a week to keep the customers happy.
What nobody had factored in was the prospect of an American publisher writing in out of the blue wanting to reissue a couple of Dion Fortune’s titles – The Secrets of Dr. Taverner and The Esoteric Orders and their Work – and then ask someone in the Society to write an Introduction to each one of them. Nobody in the place was willing to take this on so the job was passed on to the part time unpaid librarian. I duly did my best and to such effect that the request came back for me to have a go at writing a book on the Tree of Life that included coverage of the 22 Paths between the Sephiroth.
This of course required a pretty close study of the Tarot. I was willing to take this on but, unbelievable as it may seem, it was impossible to find a pack of Tarot cards for sale in London at that time. Nobody was interested apart from an outfit called the Insight Institute that used to advertise in Prediction and who produced a version of their own. Not bad but nothing like the real McCoy of the traditional 18th century Marseilles designs, let alone A.E.Waite and Pixie Colman-Smith’s esoteric version produced in 1910.
However I had the run of the Society’s library which had pretty well all the literature on the subject, and on the strength of this I compiled (at quite tedious length) a comparative description of the main decks I knew about. I think this performed something of a public service as A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism after fifty years still sells enough copies to make reprinting it just about worth while, even if without the opportunity to update it apart from a new Introduction I was able to smuggle into the one volume paperback version in 2000 A.D.
During the writing of it I did have the opportunity to get closer to the Crowley-Harris Tarot than anyone else probably has, when I was asked by a publisher thinking about re-issuing it to check upon its state of preservation. My wife and I duly turned up at the Piccadilly branch of Lloyd’s Bank where the quite hefty originals were wheeled up from the vaults in trucks by the distinctly bemused and somewhat resentful porters as we ploughed our way through all 79 designs, (the extra one being the design on back of the cards).
And when it became obvious that there were no esoteric Tarot packs to be had, I had the further challenge cast upon me to design a set for the new book. So for any students of mine who have sweated under the task of designing their own set of Tarot cards I can assure them that I have not asked anyone to do what I have not done myself! The only regret I had about asking students to perform this task was when one senior student, who was very painstaking and artistically gifted, had half a dozen of his designs chewed up by my dog who got to the front doormat before me after the postman called. I still blush at the memory. I am not sure that I – or my dog – were ever truly forgiven!
However, at least for my own set of designs I did not have to rely upon my own very average efforts but could rely on a real artist – so I chose a Dutch astrologer friend of mine, Sander Littel, which meant a trip or two over to Holland, where as a gustatory initiation I was introduced to eating raw fish. Which all goes to show where getting involved with the Tarot might lead you!
More challenges were on the way however. The publisher who had commissioned book and cards ran into some unexpected financial problems (not uncommon in the trade!) and so had to shelve both items indefinitely. So much for literary fame. Book written and typeset but held hostage by a printer, cards all designed and painted but similarly seized pending settlement of outstanding bills.
However, I have a touching faith in destiny, or at any rate the way inner plane powers have of setting things up to turn out all right in the end – even if they keep you chewing your fingernails until the last minute! I managed to get a friend of the Society of the Inner Light to put up the money for me to publish the book myself – which was the start of Helios Books as a publisher – but all depended on the blessing of the current Warden of the Society, who unfortunately did not like the Tarot part of it. It has to be recalled that the Tarot had something of a disreputable reputation in those days and the word “occult” was not one to be readily associated with by any respectable people.
By an irony of fate, in a bid to reach out to the public forty years later, a new Warden issued a pack designed by himself, called the Dion Fortune Tarot, although it has to be said that Dion Fortune had very little to do with it apart from her name on the packet. She showed little interest in the Tarot in her private or public papers and in a rare article on divination seemed to prefer geomancy.
Anyhow in those more straitlaced times the title of my book had to be changed from the all embracing A Practical Guide to Occult Symbolism to the more accurate but limited A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism and it was touch and go whether financial subvention would be forthcoming. However, someone or something must have given a discrete shove on the inner side of things, for in the end the scale of Maat tipped into the right direction at any rate as far as the book was concerned. But full colour printing being hideously expensive in those days, the cards had to be abandoned. Zilch reward for poor old Sander Littel after a year’s hard graft!
However, things can sometimes come right in the end, if only at the end of twenty years, because in 1984, US Games Systems came to the rescue, got the artwork out of hock and finally produced the Gareth Knight Tarot and we got a few royalties. But what might have been a pioneering deck in a world bereft of Tarot cards, after the tremendous explosion of interest in Tarot during the 1970’s, trailed rather ingloriously behind rather like the muck cart after the Lord Mayor’s show.
I look back upon the deck with some affection, not a bad old thing, but my own, and rather regard it as apprentice work – but then one’s ideas about the Tarot evolve over the years – and it could be no bad idea to keep refashioning one’s own, say every ten years. But by then you might not need them. The wisdom and symbolism is all in the mind really – not on the cardboard.
However, if I ever dreamed that my thoughts on the Tarot might be universally welcomed by an astonished world I soon had my illusions shattered by that formidable old occultist William G Gray. As I proudly showed him my new book he took one look and then sighed with heavily charged world weariness bordering on contempt “Oh you’ve used the old Golden Dawn attributions!” and dismissed the work as useless.
Of course one might have expected such a reaction from an occultist of Bill Gray’s calibre who had gone far beyond the Golden Dawn interpretation of things and come up with his own correspondences with the Paths on the Tree of Life. He eventually got round to elucidating his views in a book called The Talking Tree, recently reissued by Skylight Press, but had some difficulty getting it published in the early days because his views were considered too idiosyncratic by timid and semi-ignorant commissioning editors. However they have since been taken up and used highly effectively by the likes of Alan Richardson and R.J.Stewart, and I have used them on occasion myself. Although I still prefer the old Golden Dawn attributions for my personal use, with a few nips and tucks here and there.
We need to keep in mind that there is no “one and only true” system of Tarot/Path correspondences. In the first instance no such Qabalistic tie up was ever thought of until the French occultist Eliphas Levi came up with the idea in the 1850’s. And his system of correspondences, which was taken up by his admirer Dr Gerard Encausse (“Papus”) in 1893 in “The Tarot of the Bohemians” differs radically yet again from the Golden Dawn attributions because Levi placed Trump 0 – the Fool – towards the end of the sequence of Trumps rather that at the beginning.
The difference between accepted correspondences between Francophile and Anglophile students of the Tarot bothered me a little when I was invited to lecture to the Martinist Order in Paris but I need not have worried. My hosts were very open minded and it was interesting to see how they had put their own take on symbolic matters, as for example by regarding Trump I, the Juggler, (which in French is le Bateleur) as representing the neophyte first starting out on the path by hearing the hour of realisation strike, because the name can be read as Le Bat á l’Heure! Which is not far different from William Gray’s positioning of the image on the 30th Path, between Yesod and Hod, where as the Magician, he is seen to represent the condition of subconscious imagination being converted into intellectual ideas. Which is not so different from the capabilities of a Juggler (of ideas or balls) if you think about it.
Anyway by a happy coincidence my first trip to France coincided with a magnificent exhibition of Tarot cards at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Everything from the fabulously fashioned gold encrusted early Florentine cards such as the Visconti-Sforza to the many versions issued by playing card manufacturers who catered for the popular game (of which the Marseilles Tarot is but one among many) and on to high art dabbling by the likes of the surrealist Salvador Dali.
I had the good fortune to meet one of the organisers of this event some years later, Professor Michael Dummett, who after a massive tome on the Tarot as a game The Game of Tarot found himself embroiled with esoteric enthusiasts whom he had never heard of, and bookshops that insisted on putting his book on the occult shelves. As a celebrated philosopher and Professor of Logic at Oxford University he did not much care for his newfound associates. However, it spurred him and his academic colleagues to go on to have a shot at the origins of the occult Tarot in A Wicked Pack of Cards in 1996 and then onto a more detailed A History of the Occult Tarot in 2002. Far from being a fire breathing old dragon I found him an old boy of much charm when he treated me to lunch at the Charing Cross Hotel to thresh out some ideas, in which I think I improved his original impression of occultists, as did his meetings with a few others in the esoteric backwoods, and I found myself quite kindly treated in his latter book, even with a chapter to myself, but which only went up to 1970 because, after that, the popular Tarot explosion grew to mammoth proportions quite impossible to cover in the pages of any book of less than encyclopaedic pretentions. Though one has indeed been produced by Stuart Kaplan of U.S.Games Systems, which stretches to three volumes.
This is to anticipate events a bit, after the high jinks of getting my book published in 1964 came a gap of some twenty years between the next serious flirtation with the Tarot, when in 1984 the Gareth Knight Tarot made the light of day thanks to Stuart Kaplan. Not that that it was necessarily a red letter day in the history of the universe but it seemed to trigger off a new phase of Tarot involvement, starting with a workshop at Hawkwood College which resulted in turn to the publication of Tarot & Magic in which I took on board some of the issues mentioned above, and showed different ways in which the Tarot could be used, in ritual circumstances, or as a connected series of directed visualisations, following the course of the Serpent of Wisdom up the Tree of Life from Malkuth to Kether .
I recently revisited this book to double its length in a Skylight edition taking in a number of other ways to juggle this great panoply of symbolic wisdom. Although the Tarot book closest to my heart remains my treatment of the Tarot as a children’s story To the Heart of the Rainbow when I fancied my chances of getting one up on C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Fat chance! But still one of my favourite ways of playing with the Tarot and one I recommend. Let your fancy run free! There is only one ideal Tarot, and that is the one you fashion within your own heart.
As I have grown older, and possibly wiser, I have come to regard the Tarot more as a free standing system of wisdom without having to be tied to any other – be it Tree of Life or whatever. In pursuit of this idea I launched a correspondence course back in the 1990’s called The Magical World of the Tarot. It purported to be a course on how to read the Tarot but which had an ulterior purpose to encourage enquirers new to the subject to develop their creative imagination. I no longer run the course, there are other attractions in my life, but the book chunters on in the United States, and I was most touched by a letter from an American sergeant of marines who wrote to say he found it of great help to him in life. So that is one satisfied reader – satisfying to me, that is! And a considerable difference from some esoteric workshop clientel I have tried to please in the esoteric stews of Lower Manhattan and elsewhere.
Obviously I am happier these days sat behind a keyboard. But an equally fulfilling practice is to sit with a set of Tarot cards, try to make contact with the inner intelligence beyond, either Magician or Fool, and have a little chat. One up on telling fortunes – other people’s or one’s own.
Posted by Gareth Knight at 3:17 p.m.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
The first review of my new translation of Paul Sedir’s important and fascinating book has just dropped onto my desk – courtesy of the Inner Light Journal. Here it is:
This is the distillation of a work 25 years in the making, written by Yvon le Loup who was born in 1871, and who adopted the pen-name “Paul Sedir”. As a young man he worked under the patronage of the famous occultist “Papus” and rose through the ranks of various esoteric fraternities in Paris. He lived in Montmartre during the fin de siècle period in Paris, interesting times, and was well known for his “exceptional knowledge and powerful presence.”
This is an exceptional book, and we are grateful to Gareth Knight for reintroducing it to a modern audience. Mr Knight is well known for his translations of French esoteric texts, and he has helped to bring to life that particular sensibility that is uniquely French. Paris is brought to life, the Paris of gas lighting and horse-drawn carriages, a city undergoing great changes during the time the book was written.
It is seemingly a simple enough tale, the tale of a doctor and his group of close friends, of meetings, discussions and conversations; much of what occurs is factual, although that is hard to believe at times. However, “Initiations” has hidden depths, and much may be revealed if time is allowed for concepts to germinate in the mind of the reader. As Gareth Knight says in his excellent introduction, the book can have a powerful impact on the reader, “Initiations” creeps up and lodges itself in the heart, with echoes that last long after the final page is closed. It is a book that richly rewards re-reading and we would recommend it highly as a classic of its kind.
Skylight Press ISBN 978 1 908011 99 2 210 pages £12.99 $19.99
“Initiations” by Paul Sedir, translated and introduced by Gareth Knight
I only came upon Paul Sedir comparatively recently and the effect upon me was as great as that which I experienced when first coming upon the works of Dion Fortune back in 1953. Still it is never too late to make amends and I am now working on a couple of books to bring this remarkable and neglected occultist and mystic to an English speaking audience. Sedir deserves a much wider readership and why should the French have all the goodies? Titles not fixed upon yet (usually the last thing in a book to be decided!) but one is a translation of another of his books and the other my evocation of Paul Sedir and his friends in that incredibly rich period of occultism in Paris at much the same time as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was getting under way in England.
For more details – watch this space and the web site of Skylight Press. www.skylightpress.co.uk
Posted by Gareth Knight at 9:48 a.m.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
A “great generating elemental” was how Arthur Chichester, the Warden of the Society of the Inner Light from 1946 to 1979, liked to describe the Planetary Being, and it was he who was responsible for drawing special attention to it, although it made its original appearance in a remarkable work by Dion Fortune back in 1922/4 called The Cosmic Doctrine, in which however, it was called the ‘Planetary Spirit’.
There had been long debate within the Fraternity, in the secretive atmosphere of 1930’s occultism, as to whether The Cosmic Doctrine should be reserved for the private study of advanced initiates or released to the world. Not that the world, or any commercial publisher at the time, was particularly ready to receive it, for it is not a particularly easy read. However, Arthur Chichester made it his business to see that it was published, in 1949, in a semi-private edition, funded by the Society.
Then as a result of his close study of the text in editing it for publication, he came realise that the term Planetary Spirit was something of a misnomer, for it is not so much a Spirit as an Etheric vehicle. In fact it says as much at certain places. Along with the point that it is reliant for its cosmic evolution on the practice and example of those forms of life in its sphere that have consciousness above the etheric level – which means US!
At one of the Wednesday evening discussion groups held by the Society during the 1950’s the Warden raised these points, also seeking suggestions for a more appropriate name. After an awkward few minutes of desperate brain scratching, Miss G.P.Lathbury, (otherwise known as ‘Dragon’, a stalwart from very early days of the group), came up with the suggestion “Planetary Being” – which was greeted with general relief and accord.
Henceforth, this was what it was called in the subsequent editions of The Cosmic Doctrine issued by Aquarian Press in 1957 and Helios Books in 1966. But then, in 1995, after a period of being out of print, the Society issued its own edition, making a virtue of reverting to the original text, which meant retaining the old term “Planetary Spirit”. This same text and terminology were also used for the American edition published by Weisers in 2000.
Both these later editions had the attraction of providing explanatory diagrams drawn by C.T.Loveday, Dion Fortune’s close associate who had probably been the scribe who took down the original dictation from the entranced Dion Fortune. They also restored material that had been edited out of former editions on potentially hot topics such as the Law of Impactation and Law of Polarity, although they were of a formidable technicality and so unlikely to be abused by the casual unrighteous.
The American edition also reinstated a Part II, called Afterthoughts. This had been added to the 1957 and 1966 editions but was dropped in the 1995 one. This section was largely the work of Margaret Lumley Brown in the 1950’s, and had been regarded as having the same authority as the main body of the work. It contains valuable further material on the Planetary Being, referring to it by that name, despite the old ‘Planetary Spirit’ usage still appearing in the main body of the text. An anomaly perhaps missed by the copy editors of the time – but a happy accident.
This section brought the book to a close with some practical advice on working with the Planetary Being, describing it as “a vast Elemental composed of the consciousness (using the word in a wide sense) of each one of its children – the children being all the lives upon the Earth, humans, beasts, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, etc....There is no thing on earth, no thought brought through to earth which does not concern the Planetary Being – however great or lofty, however (unfortunately) mean or base...
“Be aware of the Planetary Being as a being of immense age in which each one of you is as it were embedded and through which you draw your earth-life; it could be compared to an enormous bee-hive with millions of sections each of which holds a small bee making honey. Be aware, too, of the Archangelic Intelligence (traditionally Sandalphon, its guide) as having tremendous protection, love and devotion for each and every creature on the earth because each creature is part of earth, and as being able to guide each one of you, either indirectly through the Planetary Being, or directly if you have the right approach to him and have earned and maintained the right of direct contact with him.”
This was certainly put into practice by the Society which in its ceremonial work from thereon always included an officer charged with the duty of mediating the spiritual forces of the Lodge to the Planetary Being.
Although this esoteric practice might seem of small moment to any outsider, there is reason to suppose that this sustained spiritual work began to have an effect upon the group soul, or at least to have demonstrated some intuition of what was to come, if it is true that initiates form the antennae of the human race.
In part, this came about by what has come to be called the Gaia hypothesis. Formulated by the chemist James Lovelock around 1965 and co-developed during the 70’s with the microbiologist Lynn Margulis, it has since been a subject of continuous debate in scientific circles, with international conferences in 1985, 1988, 2000 and 2006 and battle lines drawn up in accustomed academic fashion. The minutiae of this need not concern us, as consciousness of the importance of the Earth has come up in other ways, including popular culture, and is a stirring of deep and ancient roots.
The name Gaia, suggested by the novelist William Golding as being appropriate to the idea of the Earth being an integrated whole, or a living being, has its origins in the primal Greek goddess personifying the Earth. (The name is variously spelt, and she figures as “Ge” in Dion Fortune’s Rite of Isis and her novels The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic.)
In Hesiod’s Theogony she appears as “wide bosomed Gaia, the ever sure foundation of all...and Gaia first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, to be the ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-nymphs who dwell among the glens of the hills. She bore also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love (i.e parthogenetically) but afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theira and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethis...” and so it goes on in a great list of gods and titans and giants and great beings. She was also believed by some to be the original deity behind the Delphic Oracle.
It is therefore small wonder that she has been taken up by the neo-pagan movement, in various perspectives ranging from the Earth itself to its spiritual embodiment as Earth Goddess. In this role some antique depictions of her show her as a matron half risen from the earth, sometimes in the act of holding forth a baby, an early Athenian king, to the goddess Pallas Athene, or else reclining on the earth surrounded by a host of infant gods of the fruits of the earth.
In 1968 an awareness of the Earth received a powerful stimulus with the stunning image of the planet in space, photographed by the astronaut William Anders on the Apollo 8 mission – as great a shock as when Drake and other 16th century navigators demonstrated the world to be round!
There has also been growing concern (and dispute) on the subject of planetary warming and the effects our technological age may have upon the balance of nature. These are matters for leaders of the human race to sort out, hopefully with more success than traditionally occurred in Atlantis! With possibly equally dire consequences if the forces of misrule and “contending heads” win the day.
Hence the importance of esoteric work of due responsibility and vision.
The Cosmic Doctrine, with its abstract concepts and analogies (along with some inconsistencies and lacunae it has to be said) is not everybody’s cup of tea. Abstruse as it may seem, it can have the effect of training the mind as well as informing it, developing an intuitive faculty that can reach up to planes beyond the usual level of personality consciousness, and possibly to contact with those who were originally involved in the project.
In a dual Introduction to the 1995 and 2000 editions Dion Fortune and one of the original communicators give a very clear account of how they approached the task. What is not mentioned is that it was the work of a team of about half a dozen communicators on the inner side, working at various levels, between 30th July 1923 and 25th February 1925, in about thirty different sessions. And as Dion Fortune admits, having received it unconsciously, she later had to work as hard as anyone else in trying to understand it.
But even if we should find it difficult going to the text for ourselves, we can still gain from what others have realised from working with it, particularly as regards our responsibilities toward the Planetary Being. This is a matter that concerns all of us. All we have to do is get on with it!
Posted by Gareth Knight at 11:48 a.m.
Saturday, November 01, 2014
It seems very strange that a year ago I had not even heard of Paul Sédir, despite my involvement in things esoteric, including the French, for more than sixty years. My Amazon account tells me that I bought a copy of a translation of his book Initiations in October 2013 and here we are in October 2014, with Skylight Press about to publish my own translation of this remarkable work. Which shows how impressed I was by it.
I decided to embark on my own translation because although I would not claim my own version to be faultless, the ones by Mouni Sadhu and by Mme Zadah-Guerin of some years ago have the kind of errors that are likely to beset someone not translating into their native tongue (for example anyone following a spiritual vocation being called a ‘spiritualist’) along with a certain stiltedness and some idiomatic misunderstanding. Nonetheless one remains very grateful for their pioneering efforts and I salute them for it. In the search for gold, they got there first!
Something of the importance of Sédir’s book is reflected in reviews of the previous translations. Thus:
I read this book first when I was 20. I have waited and looked on old sites for it for years. Finally I have the opportunity to re-read the book that I learned most from ever. As I re-read it, my heart expands with each word I read. It is profound, human and heart warming. It is a classic for anyone studying the yogic ways. [L.S. 9/2010]
God, this book really gets your head around what it takes you to find your Master. It takes you a lot of sacrifices into preparing yourself to earn that rare occurrence of grace. Every truth seeker is looking for “Theophane”, and only those who really deserve the honour – the Master will find. This book is so mystical in nature and it opens a lot of possibilities in your mind, confirming how much ignorance there is in the world, and what’s really going on in the spiritual world. [A.H.K. 10/2009]
In short, this is one of the greatest books on Western occultism and spiritual practice ever penned. It is tragic that this is the only one of Sédir’s books to have made it into English after more than a century. [P.S. 8/2012]
Although it may appear to be a work of fiction, there is (believe it or not!) more fact than fiction in it, as well as the four main characters portraying elements of the human psyche. The Doctor who is seeking occult knowledge and practice represents ordinary consciousness, Andreas is the higher self, Stella the intuition, and Theophane the divine spark at the centre of the human being. Yet it is by no means just an allegory. These are real and remarkable characters, and are based on real life characters. Each of whom, along with some of the astounding esoteric theories and practices described, can have a powerful impact upon the reader. Anyway, you have been warned. Don’t expect to come out of reading it completely unchanged!!
Posted by Gareth Knight at 12:41 p.m.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
In an anonymous work called The Compass of the Wise, published in
in 1779, there is a diagram known as the Berlin . Temple of Pansophia
Upon a squared pavement two Pillars support the Royal Arch of the heavens. The right hand pillar, Boaz, carries the elemental symbols of Water and Earth and has the Moon at its top. The left hand pillar, Jachin, carries the elemental symbols of Fire and Air and is crowned with the Sun. The Superior World of the stars is above, the Inferior World of Primal Chaos is below, and in between is a circular temple of seven pillars.
Each pillar represents one of the seven traditional planets: Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and by extension the seven traditional metals: gold, silver, quicksilver, copper, iron, tin and lead. Above the flat circular roof of the temple, rays from their sigils converge in the conjoined symbols of alchemical mercury and alchemical sulphur, of which a fourteenth century alchemical manuscript attributed to Roger Bacon declares: "All metalls and minerals, whereof there be sundrie and diverse kinds, are begotten of these two." And seven descending rays also converge into this mediating symbol of the foundation of all metals.
To the intellectual eye this Temple of Pansophia, which features on the front of the Skylight Press edition of my History of White Magic, may seem just one more diagram from a plethora of similar glyphs depicting various outmoded pre-scientific theories. However, diagrams of this kind were not meant merely as allegories for intellectual speculation. Some of them are powerful magical images which invite us to walk within them; and in my experience this is certainly one of them. Indeed, I found that the diagram was actively seeking me out, rather than me going looking for it!
This occurred in the first instance when I was conducting a series of workshops in 1991 at a very powerful site in the city of Bath in southern England close to the hot springs. Bath is a spa town to which people have gone for the healing waters, certainly since Roman times (when its name was Aquae Sulis) and probably long before that.
With a small group I commenced a spontaneous visualisation exercise based upon the site as it might originally have been, a marshy stream through a gorge, full of beech trees, where an ancient swine herd took his pigs to feed off their favourite food, the beech masts. No ordinary swine, I should say, for these creatures are sacred to the goddess, just as the swine herd is a figure for her priest, sometimes seen as Merlin, but in this location particularly associated with the ancient King Bladud, legendary guardian of the site, who had some reputation as a magician.
However, to my surprise, no sooner had this ancient symbolism been evoked, than it kept on being overlaid with a more recent construct. This was a circular temple containing seven free standing pillars, each one dedicated to one of the Roman gods. So as this seemed to be the way the powers concerned wished to play, I went along with it.
The site of this temple seemed to be centrally placed where a spring came up out of the ground, from whence it ran out of the doorway to form a stream. The gods, a sculptured head of whom was placed upon each pillar, were the conventional Roman ones associated with the seven traditional planets, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. There was also an overall awareness of the goddess of the Earth, whose priestess tended a fire upon a stand over the spring in the centre. The roof of the temple curved over in a dome but was open at the top, and within the open circle a number of doves disported. The experience for the group at this time was of approaching each pillar in turn whereupon the god or goddess in question would come alive and provide a very living contact.
This was not too far distant from the intention of this particular workshop, which was upon dynamics of the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, but a totally unexpected "earthing" of this intention came about. In the first instance this was the literal falling into my hands, from an overloaded shelf, of a newly published book by R.J.Stewart, The Way of Merlin. And in particular a chapter on "Spring and Tree" caught my eye. This claimed that trees, springs and caves are power points that tap into the energies of the land, and then into other dimensions altogether. In practical pursuit of this, advice was given on how to find a personal sacred tree and sacred spring.
However, much as I respect the works of my friend Stewart, I had no immediate need of such advice, for the group synchronously came up with finds of their own. One was a massive chestnut tree that completely dominated a nearby urban square, and about which they all linked hands, somewhat to the intrigued amusement of the foreign tourists. The other was a local well, a seventeenth century public bath, that after being closed for some years, had just been temporarily re-opened, and was watched over by a self appointed guardian, who had swum there as a child, and was protesting against plans for its destruction. By mutual acclaim we went as a party to visit it.
To my surprise the well turned out to be a circular pool, surrounded by a circular wall, open at the top, with bases for pillars around its edge, reminiscent of the temple that had just been impinging upon my consciousness.
It had a plaque on the outside saying it had been constructed to commemorate the birth of a son to Queen Mary in 1688. Later research revealed this to be the queen of King James II, who within months was ousted from the throne in what is still referred to as the Glorious Revolution. The child in question, James Francis Edward, became the Old Pretender, and father of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Roman Catholic claimants to the Protestant throne and figureheads for the Jacobite cause.
It is called the Cross Bath and is still standing, having been re-opened as part of a smart new spa. The current building is Georgian but it directly replaced an earlier building which had been built in 1688 to commemorate Queen Mary, since she gave birth exactly nine months after bathing there.
During the 20th century it was used as a public swimming pool until somebody died from water-borne meningitis in 1970 and the place was shut down. It then stood derelict and fell into disrepair, along with much of the surrounding area, and was so dilapidated it was under threat of complete redevelopment. Thus our meeting someone protesting against its demise. Anyhow, the building was rescued and restored and has since been refurbished on the inside with a new pool, but still with the open roof.
It is no wonder it has a buzz to it though, because it has a remarkable history. It takes its waters from one of the hot springs and has been in use from ancient times in one form or another. It was a fashionable place for socialites in Bath's heyday but in earlier times it belonged to the medieval St John's Hospital and was used as a healing spa, and the body of St Aldhelm is said to have rested there in 709 on its way to burial in Malmesbury.
Posted by Gareth Knight at 7:31 p.m.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
We hear a lot about faery queens and in a number of popular illustrated books and meditational cards scantily clad maidens with wings feature widely. And I have to say that my own experience of the faery worlds has largely been dominated by the female of the species, witness my recent work The Book of the Faery Melusine of Lusignan in Legend, History and Romance (Skylight Press 2013). There seems on the other hand to have been little attention paid to gentlemen faeries, of whom the most prominent is likely to be Oberon, the faery king, who features in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, creating quite a bit of mayhem amongst the human and faery lovers. However, William Shakespeare is a bit of a “Johnny come lately” in terms of Oberon as we find lore about the faery king featuring some three hundred years before in a 13th century romance in Old French, Huon de Bordeaux and its prologue Le Roman d’Auberon.
Huon of Bordeaux was a very engaging adventurous knight who got the wrong side of the Emperor Charlemagne and was sent off on an almost impossible quest to the Saracen world in which he would almost certainly have come to grief had it not been for the intervention of Oberon and his magical powers. These powers were connected to a number of magical objects that the faery king possessed that included a horn, a hanap (a kind of large goblet with handles), and a hauberk (a suit of chain mail).
The magic horn, of ivory bound with strips of gold, made by some mysterious faeries who lived on an island, had previously been the property of Morgan le Fay. Its main power was that it could be heard all round the world by followers of its owner, who could thus summon them instantly to his aid. But it also had other powers such as restoring to health or to grace any sick or sinful who heard it; bringing food or drink to its owner if he was in dire need of them, and could sound so joyful that it compelled those who heard it to sing or dance. On the other hand, by touching it with his finger Oberon could call up an almighty storm.
The hanap or goblet, which had belonged to Brunehaut, Oberon’s faery grandmother, was the source of an infinite supply of wine. It was thus very handy at feasts, as a source of entertainment as well as drink, but also had the power to reveal whether whoever drank from it was in a state of innocence or guilt – a power that one or two of Morgan le Fay’s artefacts also had.
The marvellous hauberk or suit of chain mail, was pure white in colour, extremely light, would fit perfectly whoever wore it, and was impervious to blows or to fire. Thus it made its wearer virtually invincible, very useful for fighting giants and which also had the power to frighten off a particularly venomous serpent that dwelt in a fountain.
These objects and powers feature appropriately in the adventures of Huon of Bordeaux but it is also possible to see hints within them that point to more than magical weapons for errant knights. They share mystical elements that are not far off association with the Grail legends. All of which leads to interesting speculation about the faery element in these as suggested by Wendy Berg in Red Tree, White Tree (Skylight Press, 2010). It is also implied by the high moral tone of the faery king in his dealings with Huon of Bordeaux, and the severity with which he meets any falling short by his rather blundering human friend. Indeed he threatens, and later actually does, withdraw help and contact from him when Huon disobeys his instructions.
The first instance is when Huon, having been lent the horn with instructions only to use it in time of great need, blows it to find out if it works. Oberon, who instantly responds to the call with a mighty army of faery warriors is not best pleased to find that he has been called in vain.
And later, when Huon has made off with the fair Saracen maiden Esclarmond in order to marry her, Oberon forbids carnal intercourse before the ceremony. Needless to say Huon anticipates the event and as a result the couple are shipwrecked and parted in quite distressing circumstances, and although all comes right in the end, it is a salutary lesson that when faeries lay down conditions they really mean them, and can be particularly unforgiving when it comes to human duplicity.
However, forgiveness for human errors is not beyond the faery king, and in a final scene where Huon is beset by traitors and about to be hanged Oberon intervenes and sets everything to rights at the last minute.
So much for the romance of Huon of Bordeaux. We learn more about Oberon in its prequel Le Roman d’Auberon that seems to have been written soon after by a trouvère who sought to give more information about what had proved to be a very popular character in the main tale.
Here we need to make a necessary adjustment in terms of what is to be taken literally and what is to be taken symbolically – for in giving details of Oberon’s family, historical characters and events are introduced that are widely anachronistic. The first being that Oberon’s father was Julius Caesar and his mother Morgan le Fay, and that he had a twin brother known to us as St. George!
It should be obvious that what the trouvère is trying to tell us is that the character of Oberon is based upon the combination of the most successful of Roman warriors and statesmen, and the most magically powerful of characters in Arthurian legend, and is on a par with a most popular warrior saint in the Christian and indeed Muslim calendar.
With this in mind we are taken back yet further into faery mythology which sees Oberon’s great grandfather as the late Old Testament hero Judas Maccabeus. In an event that is not recorded in the Bible Judas Maccabeus is forced to defend himself against a rival king, Bandifort, whom he defeats, slays and whose daughter he marries, from which union a daughter is born, called Brunehaut. As was the custom, to be found in much folk lore, the cradle of the new born child was attended by faeries who bestowed gifts or sometimes curses on the child, (parallels of the three Norns or Fates of ancient
who ruled over human
On this occasion one of the faeries predicted that at seven years of age Brunehaut would be taken to live in the
. And so it
happens that on Christmas Day seven years later, when the court is at table, a
great deer enters, seizes Brunehaut and carries her off. And Brunehaut rules in Faeryland until such
time as the Roman emperor Césaire, (obviously fictional at a time when Rome was
still a republic – but intended to represent the most powerful man in the
world), comes to Faeryland to seek the hand of Brunehaut. From their marriage Julius
Caesar is born, who when he grows up (having been trained and educated by his
grandfather Judas Maccabeus) is given the marvellous hauberk by Brunehaut to
help him fight a giant that is devastating middle Europe. Julius Caesar wins
and at a great ceremony in the faery stronghold of Dunostre, to which the court
of King Arthur is invited, Julius is married to Morgan le Fay. And in turn from
this marriage, the twins George, the future Christian saint, and Oberon, the
future faery king, are born. kingdom
This farrago of miscellaneous fact, fiction and legend may well tempt us to dismiss the whole thing as the ramblings of an overheated imagination on the part of some medieval story teller. However, as we have said before, these are but images upon a painted curtain that, going beyond, may reveal a very potent inner reality, particularly if we think in terms of forces rather than forms. In a way it might well be compared with modern approaches to and speculations about “the Masters”. Are the forms they assume to be taken at face value – or are they channels for inner (be it mystical or magical) centres of power and intelligence?
If the latter, then may we take the figure of Oberon, the King of Faery, as a form constructed for our convenience and understanding to act as a channel for much needed understanding of some of the inner dynamics of the world in which we live? This seems to be the case with a number of faery figures, and a number of others that seem to cross the boundary between the human and faery worlds. Such as Lancelot, Guenevere, Morgan, Melusine, Fiona Macleod, Tam Lin, Robert Kirk, and so on and so forth. The boundaries between the worlds are not short of guides or suggested pathways.
Posted by Gareth Knight at 4:40 p.m.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
If Joseph of Arimathea set his sights on Glastonbury Tor to identify the final goal of his long journey from Jerusalem, for Dion Fortune it was above all a focus of elemental power and inspiration. Upon its slopes she built her home, a guest house, and a sanctuary.
As she saw it, it was a Hill of Vision for anyone whose eyes have the least inclination to open upon another world. And she describes, in Glastonbury, Avalon of the Heart, how, on many occasions, the tower is reported to have been seen rimmed in light. And she tells how a warm glow, as of a furnace, may beat up from the ground on wild winter knights; or the sound of chanting be heard from the depths of the hill; or towering forms of shadow and light seen to be moving among the ancient thorn-trees that clothe the lower slopes.
But wonderful though the view from the Tor might be by day for the many pilgrims and tourists who climb it, far more wonderful, she says, is the sight by night for those who dare to climb it in the dark. Or most wonderful of all, perhaps, to climb the Tor at sunset and watch the sun go down over the far Atlantic, when from the Tor one may see two sunsets – the sun himself in its glory in the west, and its reflection upon the clouds in the eastern sky.
Whilst to see the moon rising through the rose-pink glow of low clouds over the darkening marshes is a thing she found never to be forgotten. As the lights came on in the town at the foot of the hill, at any rate in her day, they were seen to form a five-pointed star, for there are five roads out of Avalon – to Wells, Meare, Street, Butleigh, and Shepton Mallet – and the houses, following along these roads form a perfect star of light about the Tor with its tower.
But there is one time above all others when it is well to ascend the Tor at nightfall, and that is at the full moon of the autumnal equinox, round about the Mass of St Michael. The nights are coming cold then, but the days are still warm with the afterglow of summer, and the cold of the darkness, chilling the warm breath of the meadows, causes a thick but shallow mist to form over the levels.
Through this the cattle wade knee-deep as in water, and trees cast shadows in the moonlight, black upon silver. As the night closes in, the mist deepens. Like a rising tide in an estuary it fills the hollows. Trees and barns slowly drown. Only the few scattered knolls like St Bride`s Beckary remain as islands in the white gloom. Gradually they too fade as the mist thickens, and Avalon is an island again.
Local folk call this shallow mist that lies upon the levels “the Lake of Wonder”. And then perhaps to the eyes of vision may be seen coming slowly, a black barge, rowed by a dumb man, bearing the three weeping queens who bring Arthur, wounded unto death at Lyonesse, that he may heal him of his grievous wound in the green coombs among the apple trees.
flung the magic
sword Excalibur, graven with strange runes in an unknown tongue. And the white
arm of a Lady of the Lake of Wonder Sir Bedivere Lake, rising from the
rushes, seized it to draw it under. And we may recall that Excalibur, was a
gift to the human Arthur from the world of Faery, and to the world of Faery it
was in due time returned.
But what of the other hallows of the Graal, the spear, the cup, the stone, or the cruets of white and red? Great mystery surrounds their origin as well as their fate. If we read the earliest Graal stories, we find there is much to suggest that the Graal itself had a faery origin. Was the rich Fisher King in his boat upon the waters, who directed Percival to the mysterious castle that was at first invisible to the eye, one of the Faery kind?
In later legend the Graal winners took a strange boat, called the Ship of Solomon, in which they took the Graal to Sarras, which seems an inner aspect of the
Holy Land just as Logres is an inner level of Albion. What was the mission of Joseph of Arimathea in
all of this? Is the belief that he was bringing back the Graal to Avalon, a
realisation that the Hallows were about to be returned to their faery origins? (cf.
Red Tree, White Tree by Wendy Berg.)
All these speculations, and many more, may come to us when, in Dion Fortune`s words, the Lake of Wonder rises from its faery springs under the Hunter`s Moon.
But, there are also visions of a different kind that can be seen from the height of the Tor by day; one of which Dion Fortune had witnessed twice and says is a sight never to be forgotten.
In the ordinary heat of day, she recalls, there are times when there falls upon the Glastonbury levels what is known locally as “the Blight”. A strange heaviness that will not turn to thunder is in the summer air. The sun glows dully like a copper disk through the low lying clouds, and in the oppressive dimness and heat, nerves are on edge with restlessness and uneasiness.
On one such occasion, driven desperate by the oppressiveness of the levels, she and her companions set out to climb the Tor. Up and up through densest mist they climbed, moving in a sphere some ten feet in diameter, shut in by a white wall impenetrable as stone – until they reached the very summit. And there, from a white blindness, they came out of the mist as suddenly as a train runs out of a tunnel. For the crest of the Tor was above the cloud line.
The sky was of that deep indigo blue often seen at Avalon – a blue that should be seen through the boughs of an apple tree in blossom. From marge to marge no cloud flecked its depths, but below their feet there stretched to the very horizon a rolling, billowing sea of purest white, with purple in the hollows. While above their heads was the tower, its shadow flung far out over the cloudy floor. It was as if the world had sunk in the sea and they were the last of mankind. No sound rose through the mist, no bird circled above. There was nothing but blue sky, grey tower, billowing mist and blazing sun.
Physical though this vision might have been, and possibly because of this, I think this simple image is as important as any of the visions of the legendary tales. It is an image of the elemental powers as they exist at their most direct and most obvious way. Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Air of the inverted bowl of the blue sky above. The Earth of the stone of the tower below, its foundations in the earth. The Water heaving and billowing within the mist all about. And the Fire of the great Day Star shining on all from above.
It provides the foundation for a fundamentally important symbolic structure to link between the Powers of the Above and with the Powers of the Below. The Power within the Heavens and the Power within the Land. The Heavenly Light with the Earth Light. The Overworld with the Underworld.
If you are familiar with the structure of the Tree of Life, you may like to experiment with it.
As you stand in vision upon the summit of the Tor realise that you are standing on the sphere of the
, Malkuth. The Sun that shines above you is a source of
life and light from Tiphareth. About it in the inner airs are the planetary
powers, and far beyond, although rendered invisible in the effulgence of light,
you know there is the Kingdom
of Earth of the Stars. In
which at the Kether point we might envisage Polaris, encircled by Arthur`s
Wain, or the Great Bear, itself within the constellation of the Little Bear,
which in another form of reckoning is also part of Draco, forming a wing of the
Dragon – and hence the link of King Arthur and the Pendragonship. Supernal
But this is only half the picture. For beneath our feet is another Tree of Life, a reflection of that which rises above. It goes down into the sacred Earth. The
that extends immediately below and around us is a form of Yesod, the
Foundation. And in the levels of the inner Earth beyond is the radiant glow of
the Volcanic Fire of the very heart of Gaea,
counterpart to the Sun in Tiphareth above. The planetary powers that
surround that interior Sun being the alchemical powers of the metals and sacred
elements. Sea of Mist
And if we extend our vision beyond these powers we may become aware of what have been called the Stars within the Earth. And I suggest that their configuration may not be too far different from those of the southern celestial sky, in which is contained the wondrous ship of the Argonauts in their quest of the Golden Fleece, of Ara the great light house dedicated to Isis, and the constellation of the Centaur, the great teacher and healer, whose brightest star is Alpha Centauri, one of the closest to Earth, and which, esoterically speaking, has been said, in Dion Fortune`s Cosmic Doctrine to indicate the way to the Central Stillness of the Cosmos. That place where all began, and to which all will in, or out of time, return.
So much for these visions of the above and the below and this great vertical polarity. But there is also a horizontal polarity that must not be forgotten. That is to say, of a great network of power and light that goes, not only round, but through the globe of the Earth itself.
It links up with many other centres, but one in particular it seems to me should predominantly concern us. Dion Fortune has called Glastonbury “England`s Jerusalem”, and William Blake was not far off this realisation too. Which inevitably calls to mind another great Avalonian of our times, Ronald Heaver, who made his home near Glastonbury. And who, in the 1930`s, was instrumental in preserving the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea in Jerusalem, about the site of the Holy Sepulchre. (cf. The Hidden Adept & the Inward Vision, by R.J.Stewart). He regarded this as a key location not merely for religious belief, but of planetary energies that would play a major role in the future.
In the early 1970`s he was advising that the spiritual energies of Jerusalem could be harmonised only through re-connection to other sites in other parts of the world. We have become familiar with the physical existence of tectonic plates, which cause stresses within the planetary surface. Much the same would appear to be the case on the inner side of Earth.
That is to say, sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, and traditionally regarded by the ancient world as the centre of the Earth, Jerusalem lies on a confluence of major fault lines in the spiritual body of the planet, which has often been cited as the underlying cause of the many centuries of conflict in that area. These conflicting telluric or Underworld forces manifest through human strife. This is something we need, it seems, to bear in mind, in our sacromagical work. For by working with the spiritual forces of the UnderWorld and OverWorld conjoined, we may transform the elements, and ease the pressures of the interior fault lines, first within ourselves and then beyond. This seems to me true Alchemy as it should be expressed in the 21st century.
Posted by Gareth Knight at 4:44 p.m.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Although, over the past fifty years, I may have built up something of a reputation as a writer and teacher in the Western Esoteric Tradition I feel as proud of my record as a publisher and talent spotter. On this side of things a prominent jewel in my crown must, I think, go to my discovery of W.G.Gray back in the 1960’s and scrounging the money to publish his first important books The Ladder of Lights and Magical Ritual Methods. Each in their way beacons and milestones in teaching basic principles that are often taken for granted these days, not realising how much is owed to the pioneering insights of W.G.Gray.
He went on to write many more books, their hallmark being a combination of deep roots in tradition and insistence on going back to first principles. One of the most important and outstanding examples of this combination is to be found in The Talking Tree which is a detailed survey of the Tree of Life and the experience and significance of the 22 Paths that connect the 10 Sephiroth in all Four Worlds of the Qabalists, now just re-issued by Skylight Press.
He had some difficulty in getting this published at first owing to the fact that it appeared too original. Actually it is deeply traditional but what scared the commissioning editors and their accountants was the fact that he was not using ‘traditional’ allocations of Tarot Trumps or Hebrew letters to the Paths. By which they meant those favoured by the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn back in 1888.
The savants of the Golden Dawn chose to deal out the Trumps to the Paths pretty well in direct numerical sequence although as later scholarship has revealed, the original Trumps were not numbered, and when they were, sequences differed. The sequence we use today is simply that chosen by the backroom boys of a commercially successful Tarot card manufacturer in 18th century Marseilles. I have glossed all this in the first chapter of my book Tarot & Magic for those who might care to follow it up.
The Tarot happens to be an excellent mystery system in itself that is quite capable of interpretation without recourse to the Tree of Life, even though it can act as a very useful adjunct to the Tree. And this is what the Golden Dawn teachers sought to do, but they simply presented neophytes with their idea of what should go where, “take it or leave it!”, without very much, if any, attempt to say why. And most of us did take it and it never did us any harm. In fact I have used and continue to use the Golden Dawn system and found it satisfactory and illuminating in every way. But that does not mean that it is the “one and only true”.
Yet, as one serious student rather nervously put it to me, on being confronted with W.G.Gray’s correspondences in The Talking Tree – “Will it work?”. To which the confidant answer can be made “Yes, it will!” I can say that with full confidence on account of having tried it myself, and also upon the evidence of the work of R J Stewart, who like myself was a student of W.G.Gray for a time, and whose books Living Magical Arts, The Merlin Tarot, and The Dreampower Tarot and The Miracle Tree use the same allocations as Gray with impressive verve and originality. In fact this last is in my view one of the best introductions to the Qabalah ever – brief, to the point, and eminently practical.
But we would be very wrong indeed if we regarded Gray’s Tree of Life correspondences to be just some maverick version lumped upon the student, in accustomed “take it or leave it” way. Where William Gray is important in esoteric literature is that he goes back to first principles and tells you how and why he arrives at his allocations. Nor does he claim that they are the “one and only true”. As he specifically states early on: “Anyone is of course entitled to place Tarot Cards anywhere on the Tree of Life he likes - providing there are as good or better reasons than these for doing so.”
So there is a challenge my hearties! For whatever system they may come up with, anyone who undertakes training in these fundamental tenets will indeed have a good chance of coming up with “the one and only true” for themselves. Not only that, they are likely to be far better versed in the principles of the Tree of Life than any who came up through the less challenging way of consuming a pre-packaged product.
I am reminded of a recent Skylight Press title, Garden Alchemy: The Lost Art of Potato Breeding. Time was when our ancestors created their own vegetable varieties in their gardens to suit themselves and took it for granted as a completely normal thing to do. Until the supermarket age reduced all this diversity down to a handful of bland varieties convenient for retailing. Much the same applies to the Garden of the Mysteries.
Whether we are beginners or old hands, there is an immense amount to be learned from W.G.Gray’s approach, not only to the Tarot but the other elements in Tree of Life correspondences, be they angelic, alphabetical or elemental. But let him speak for himself about that:
There are two principal ways of reaching Wisdom. One is presenting it in ready-made form to the uninstructed and unprepared, then expecting them to adapt themselves to it by whatever means are available. This works, but not without considerable trouble and difficulty. The other way is not to reveal Wisdom directly, but to offer a practicable means for individuals to find it by their own efforts in their own time. Such is really the difference between Outer and Inner Schools of thought.
With Exoteric systems, prepared information is pushed at the pupils in a definite pattern rather like programming a computer. Their education consists of their individual and collective reactions to those stimuli. With Esoteric Systems, no empiric teaching is thrust upon the students at all, but their natural abilities for intuitive learning and experience are fostered by every possible means, and they are provided with self-instructional devices for arriving at the required ultimates by exercising their own Wills in those directions.
This is the Qabalistic Way. It obviously applies only to those souls willing to proceed along its Paths of their own accord. Others automatically rule themselves out.
So we have been warned. Let us not rule ourselves out. It is never too early or too late to take up the truly esoteric way!
Posted by Gareth Knight at 2:59 p.m.