Sunday, July 01, 2012

In Order to Serve

Having revealed the story of my occult life – or much of it – in I Called It Magic the time comes, as I said in the book, “to take stock of it – not so much in self justification – but in order to dust it off, look it up and down, and make some kind of appraisal of what it was all about.”

Such an appraisal is quite a challenge. It is one thing to write such a book – simply a matter of scribbling a kind of life long equivalent of the “Evening Review” – but another to take in the implications – things that one took for granted and so hardly noticed them. One of these things – and it seems the key one – is the question of “service”.

I never thought very much about it at the time – even though it is a condition for admission into the Society of the Inner Light: “I desire to know in order to serve.” But it is only in reading some reviews of my book that I realise just how important and fundamental the service part was. And also how important and fundamental it was (and is) to the work and ideals of the Society of the Inner Light.

This was succinctly pointed out by the esoteric blogger Peregrin Wildoak on “Throughout the book again and again the magic described is transpersonal – affecting the soul or mind of a nation or a people…This is the type of magic the Inner Light tradition excels at, and is often what distinguishes it from the Golden Dawn tradition which has a tendency to be more self transformational based.”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Peregrin hastily adds, with an eye on his Golden Dawn readers, some of whose adepti can be somewhat tetchy if not downright abusive. But let it be said that Peregrin is no mean Golden Dawner himself, as his Skylight Press book By Names and Images, Bringing the Golden Dawn to Life will reveal.

But in this matter he puts his finger on a crucial point. It is one that concerns the aims and assumptions of all groups within the Western Esoteric Tradition. What do we mean by “service”? And what do we mean by “self transformation”? The answers to these questions are by no means as obvious as might at first appear.

As regards “self transformation”, our old friend the Tree of Life (“a blueprint of the Soul of Man and of the Universe”) should provide us with a yardstick by which we can measure our degree of psychic and magical abilities.

By reference to its various spheres and patterns, going up the Tree denotes various levels of consciousness in ourselves, which correspond to various planes of consciousness in the inner worlds of the objective Universe. Thus, starting with the physical body, etheric vehicle, mind and emotions of the Incarnationary Personality, (Malkuth, Yesod, Hod, Netzach), we endeavour to rise to increasing awareness and conscious identification with the Higher Self or Evolutionary Personality (Tiphareth, Geburah and Chesed), with ultimate hopes of breaking through to spiritual consciousness in the Supernal Triad (Binah, Chokmah, Kether).

Those whom we may meet at these inner levels of awareness include the Inner Plane Adepti, and the one known as David Carstairs in communication with Dion Fortune back in 1922, spoke of himself operating generally on the 4th Plane, Dion Fortune being a 4th plane medium, and senior inner plane adepti, such as the Chancellor, being on the 5th or even 6th but able to come down on occasion to make contact with her. [cf. Dion Fortune’s Spiritualism and Occultism (Thoth 1999), page 150.]

This implies that we place the 4th plane on Tiphareth, the 5th plane on the Geburah/Chesed level, and 6th with Binah/Chokmah. Most mediums, Carstairs said, operate at the 3rd plane level which we may regard as the Incarnationary Personality level of Hod/Netzach which is typical of Spiritualist demonstrations of clairvoyance and contact with the recently departed.

There does not seem a lot wrong with this measure of expanding consciousness – although it is open to some abuse and self deception. No one, to my mind who makes claims to being an adept is likely to be one, let alone able to confer “astral initiations” for a fee. And apart from some distressing exhibitions of hubris in the history of 20th century occultism one has only to look at some effusions on the internet to realise that high claims do not necessarily equate with high performance. Indeed it might be argued that it is not higher consciousness or self transformation that is being demonstrated, but hyper-inflation of the ego.

So is the concept and commitment to “service” a fail safe against this tendency?

In the Mystery tradition there is emphasis upon personal responsibility. This can be expressed in three ways, Power, Love, and Wisdom, which is what the initiate should seek, and endeavour to express. And that expression is in the way of Service. But the details of that service are left for us to find out, which is the nature of what we call the Quest.

Some might say that this Quest is the Quest for God. (“In whom do you put your trust?” “In God” is another required response at the door of the Mysteries). Not that we have to climb all the way up to Kether in order to discover God. This is because the Tree of Life, and that is to say ourselves and also the whole created universe, are all IN GOD. In Qabalistic doctrine this is know as the tsim-tsum. Diagrammatically speaking, this means we could extend the so-called Veils of the Ain Soph Aur, the Limitless Light, all round the Tree, not just up there as a fringe beyond Kether. We can contact the Limitless Light from any Sephirah – including Malkuth – which is no doubt what Arthur Chichester realised in the early 1960’s when he hacked back all Greater and Lesser Mystery Degrees to one uniform base.

Not that the Society was emasculated by this action. What happened was that it reverted for a time to the pattern of the old Guild of the Master Jesus or Church of the Grail in all but name, and thus became in effect a religious group rather than an initiatory magical system. And no doubt it did sterling work in the performance of rituals that concentrated upon the welfare of the Planetary Being under the blessing of the Mother of God, the archetypal paragon of service in the Christian dynamic.

By the same token however, any idea of self transformation was slanted away from psychic or magical technique and focussed on moral and ethical integrity. The Power, Love and Wisdom of magical aspiration virtually replaced by the traditional monastic equivalents of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

At this some of us felt the call to move on when it became apparent that this regime was going to be permanent. Not an easy decision I have to say but it seemed that the old ways needed to be preserved in some fashion or another. For the egalitarian system we left was not without its problems. If you have any one member of a group who is credited with being the sole channel of communication from authoritative levels, you may have substituted a more pernicious grade system than the one you thought you had got rid of. And without the creative questing of the psychic and magical disciplines (the equivalent of the research and development department in a commercial company) in course of time the whole thing is liable to run down like ancient clockwork, with no means to restore the tension on its main spring. Which is arguably what happened twenty to thirty years later in the 1980’s, after the death of its Spiritual Director.

And so I found myself ploughing a lone furrow, developing into that form of service that Peregrin Wildoak describes as being of a transpersonal nature – “affecting the soul or mind of a nation or a people.” – or as it seemed to me, “unfinished business in the group soul of the nation, or at worst some festering psychic sores that need attention.”

Not that this involved reading the newspapers to decide what needed to be improved in the world and then composing rituals to right it. I would not have the wisdom, courage or presumption to try. In working with archetypal forces it is tried and trusted inner guides who call the shots. The ones you have contacted by your psychic and magical self-transformation along the time honoured traditional lines.

Peregrine Wildoak obviously considers this kind of work typical of the Inner Light, and this is arguably what much of Dion Fortune’s life work was about through the 1920’s and 30’s – not least in her novels – and also revealed in the legacy of her war letters.

Although in the latter we find some popular misunderstanding about what magical work of this type is all about. When, in 1993, with the title of Dion Fortune’s Magical Battle of Britain, the Society funded publication of the gist of these letters, the book did not raise a great deal of interest at first. But since then, having been unavailable for one reason and another for nearly twenty years, and possibly exacerbated by the somewhat sensational title, a great vortex of glamorised speculation has formed. Dion Fortune is alleged to have been a mastermind who oversaw the occult forces of Great Britain marshalled against the 3rd Reich. Indeed I was recently approached to advise in production of a film that featured a James Bond character fighting the black magic of Himmler and the S.S., instructed in occultism by the secret adepti of the Society of the Inner Light.

Needless to say I rejected the opportunity and tried to instil a little sense and sensibility into the situation, as I had earlier had to do in response to a similar approach from BBC radio. The fact is that many other little esoteric groups meditated on ways to help the war effort back in 1940. It was all part of a spontaneous popular turning to spiritual resources when the nation was in danger – and included National Days of Prayer supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury – who was not necessarily taking secret instruction from Dion Fortune!

In order to stem this tide of heated conjecture Skylight Press is re-issuing the title – after which some sense of proportion will hopefully be restored. And those who wish to read Dion Fortune’s meditations of 1940 will not have to pay an astronomical price for them on the second hand market.

But all this relates to what I had to say and possibly demonstrate in my autobiography, about the deeper strata of occult work being involved with the group soul of the nation. It has nothing to do with MI5 or MI6 or CIA political skulduggery, but with the cure of souls. And a better demonstration of the kind of thing involved lies in the Chapels of Remembrance work, which was commenced in the Gareth Knight (now Avalon) Group, and taken up and supported by the Society of the Inner Light. The detail of which can be found in a few places, including An Introduction to Ritual Magic by Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight (Thoth 1997), The Abbey Papers (2nd edition) by Gareth Knight and Rebecca Wilby (Skylight 2011), the play This Wretched Splendour and novel In Different Skies by Rebecca Wilby (both Skylight 2010).

And it should also be said that much of this might not have got off the ground had it not been for the intuitive generosity of David Williams, the Warden of the Society of the Inner Light, releasing some early SIL papers by Carstairs for study by Rebecca, and later some 1st World War maps of the Western Front to me when we went to pace out the territory. A true melding of inner and outer plane work, and cooperation between groups within and without the Lodge.

Has there been a noticeable effect upon the group soul of the nation? Possibly so, insofar that the November Remembrance ceremonies were on the point of extinction just a few years ago, as surviving veterans became fewer, but since then there has been a remarkable resurgence. Although the main thrust of the magical work of the Chapels of Remembrance is for individual victims on the inner levels.

And this is how I think a Mystery group should operate in the future. With two parallel sections – not necessarily regarded as Lesser and Greater for they are equally important. The latter doing the research and development, encouraging creative individuality, and feeding into the former when called upon to do so. The former providing basic training for initiates, and the established routine ceremonial workings that provide a flywheel and gyro of stability for the whole enterprise. As for grades, they have their place, but are best regarded as marks of demonstrable ability rather than badges of rank. (The acid test being – if you want to know if a man is a great adept or magus of light – ask his wife and kids!)

And in these times, when the world is much more aware of the rudiments of the Mysteries than at any time in the past, admission to a life of skilled and dedicated service could well be made more of an attraction and less of an obstacle course. For without new blood even the healthiest body corporate will die, or at best, as has happened in the past, become dangerously anaemic.

But with these principles in action as well as in mind, it seems to me that the Society of the Inner Light can remain an exemplar of service as envisaged and pioneered by its founders.

[from the Inner Light Journal, Vernal Equinox 2012]