Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 0, Vernal Equinox 2001
Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
This word conjures up a number of images in the minds of various people. For some, it represents stage magicianship, David Copperfield, David Blaine even. For others, it represents a fertile source of plot development in fantasy literature - but remains strictly fictional. For yet others, it represents sinister occult practices: Satanism, black magic, insane cultists doing diabolical things at the dead of night.
The Occult (literally meaning "hidden" or "secret") has indeed had a sinister reputation throughout history. Throughout the ages, the actions of occultists have attracted opprobrium from society at large who have looked upon their "hidden" activities with suspicion at best, and downright fear and hatred at worst. Although in Renaissance times it was just about acceptable to study Hermetic Philosophy, to actually do any practical magical work rendered one liable to arrest, detention without trial, torture and even execution. Unless an Occultist enjoyed the patronage of a wealthy or powerful nobleman or member of the court of his country's monarch, he was liable to be victimised mercilessly.
For example, John Dee, the 16th century intellectual, astrologer and discoverer of Enochian Magic, was arrested in 1555 and charged with conjuring, witchcraft and using a malevolent familiar spirit. In fact, all Dee had done was some astrological work for Princess Elizabeth. This, and the fact that his previous patrons had been associated with Lady Jane Grey, did not endear him to the supporters of Queen Mary who was then on the throne. Luckily for Dee, common sense seems to have prevailed and he was released after several months.
Among some of the accusations levelled at Occultists have been:
This attitude still continues to this day. I remember just last year, I went to a talk given by the author Andrew Collins, who works with psychics and writes about the adventures that he has often had whilst investigating the leads that their remarkable powers have provided. The subject of this talk was the Qabalah - a system of Jewish Mysticism that has been adopted by occult groups.
Just a few minutes into the meeting, a man got up and shouted "Antichrist!" and stormed out, trying his best to disrupt the event. He did not succeed, as it happened, but I later learnt that Collins has throughout his career been victimised by people trying to disrupt the various talks he gives, whether it be complaining to whoever owns the venue he has hired, to attacking that venue with stones.
Thus, the Occultist was painted as a bogeyman, and the occult not the normal topic of conversation among polite society. However, all was not black-and-white with this viewpoint. History has also thrown up a number of individuals who have claimed to be occultists, but have demonstrated through the testimony of their lives that the Occult may not be as sinister as most people thought.
For example, Nicholas Flamel and Raymond Lull were two alchemists who both claimed to have discovered the Philosopher's Stone. They both claimed that it was a precious gift from God, and that its power was not to be used for selfish ends, such as avariciously hoarding gold and artificially prolonging life. Both these men refused to recant their beliefs, yet neither were they prepared to reveal their secrets to the public. Hence, not only did they fuel their own legends, but also their notoriety.
Jakob Boehme, although a shoemaker by profession, was also a mystic, who wrote The Supersensual Life, and The Way to Christ. These books are wholly Christian in nature, and describe how one may become united with God through prayer and meditation. Boehme himself, if his own writings are to be believed, appears to have attained the Beatific Vision whilst still alive - that is to say, the experience of meeting God in Heaven, which Christians would encounter only upon their death. And yet, Boehme also wrote "Mysterium Pansophicum", in which he describes the mystical process in Alchemical terms, and even calls this mystic process "Magic". How on earth could he justify such a metaphor, or debase something so holy with the language of the Occult?
Again, in 1618, Theophilus Schweighardt (a nom de plume for Daniel Mogling), wrote "The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosicrucians" in which he promised to reveal the great secret of that Fraternity. The Rosicrucians were believed to be a secret society of Alchemists: masters of Invisibility, who had succeeded in creating gold from base metals. So what was this great secret, according to Schweighardt? To read, absorb and practice On the Imitation of Christ, by St. Thomas à Kempis, the Dutch monk, a book which has been described by orthodox Christians without any irony whatsoever as one of the best loved books in Christendom.
How could it be possible that such people could talk about Christian Mysticism and Alchemy so unashamedly, without any discernible hypocrisy? We must remember that not all Alchemists had had as much integrity as Lull or Flamel. For example, one of the most notorious cases was Gilles de Rais, who gave up trying to seek the Philosopher's Stone from Divine sources, and seems to have made a pact with the devil - the terms of which were that he would become a child murderer and necrophiliac, who dispatched hundreds of victims often in ways that beggar belief. Therefore, any one claiming to be an alchemist was inevitably tainted by de Rais' monstrous reputation.
In the nineteenth century, a number of events occurred which began to change the popular perception of the Occult. When Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species, his theory of Evolution seriously shook the belief of many in the Bible as literal fact. If the Bible was not necessarily true, could there also be an alternative explanation for life's great mysteries?
Moreover, global travel was happening on a significant scale for the first time, and in the vanguard were adventurers and explorers who exposed Western culture to the literature, philosophy, and religion from a great number of distant countries. These new viewpoints were sufficiently different from those of Westerners to expand their ideas, particularly in the field of metaphysics and spirituality.
One of these adventurers was Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, whose writings of Eastern Mysticism in fact filled the hole created by Darwin. Her conclusion was that man is evolving not just physically, but also spiritually - and the way to take part in the spiritual evolution was to embrace mysticism.
Her ideas, which she called "Theosophy", caused great interest in the public at large, who bought wholesale into her notions of hidden masters and reincarnation. But she also appealed to scholars of the occult - people such as Samuel L. Macgregor Mathers. Mathers took a second look at the works of occult literature, Rosicrucian manuscripts, and mediaeval grimoires, and reached a startling conclusion-throughout the history of Western Civilisation, these Alchemists, Rosicrucians, purported occultists, and so forth were not practising Black Magic at all; they were in fact carrying on a valid system of Spirituality and Mysticism.
In other words, Flamel and Lull had been sincere all along, Schweighardt had told the exact truth, and Boehme had written with more genius than anyone had appreciated.
What, then, was the reality of the Occult? Although there certainly were diabolists, Mathers and his friends postulated that there had also always been true practitioners of magic, working purely for moral and spiritual ends, who nevertheless had kept their activities secret because their beliefs were not entirely in accord with the orthodoxy laid down by the established churches.
Moreover, it appeared that the practices of these Initiates were directly inspired not only by ancient beliefs (such as the Greek and Egyptian Mysteries, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and the Qabalah) but also by a freer reading of the Holy Bible than would be admitted by the Churches. These occult practices generally had the similar goal of introducing the individual to fantastic metaphysical concepts - Mysteries - from which a true mystical revelation could be gained if the individual had the necessary insight.
Therefore, Mathers, his associates, and others who were sympathetic to his way of thinking, referred to this aspect of the Occult in the history of Europe and the near Middle East as the Western Mystery Tradition. The Western Mystery Tradition was conceived of as being similar to Theosophy in purpose, but based on Western, not Eastern, magic and mysticism.
This being the case, the modern inheritors of this Tradition explored all facets of magic from past centuries as potentially valid methods and techniques worth incorporating into the Western Mystery Tradition. Astrology and Alchemy provided the language that described experiences common to almost all magi. Divination was used, not for mere fortune-telling, but to emulate the theurgic quest for knowledge of the Neoplatonists:
"…[T]hou imaginest something like this of the art of prognosticating: as that it is generated, and some thing existing in the realm of nature. But it is not … a human accomplishment at all, but divine, and beyond the realm of nature; and having been sent down from the heaven above, unbegotten and eternal, it naturally takes the first place."
Ceremonial magic, the evocation of spirits, the charging of talismans, and similar operations were explored, and Mathers and his associates observed that the preparations demanded by the ancient grimoires to conduct these rituals often amounted to feats of asceticism which were comparable to those of yoga (e.g. The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage).
The religion and mythology of ancient civilisations, such as Greek, Egyptian, Chaldæan, Celtic, and Norse, were all used, in addition to the rites and rituals of a number of more obscure cults that existed across Europe. Ancient philosophies, such as Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism, were used as inspiration for the newly identified Western Mystery Tradition. Even the exoteric Christian Bible was referred to, albeit in a "mystical" fashion.
The Western Mystery Tradition of the late 19th century onward did borrow some ideas from Theosophy (for example, clairvoyance, astral projection, and psychism). By so doing it also satisfied the concerns of Western occultists such as Eliphas Levi in the earlier part of the century: that magic was not so much a matter of saying the right incantation, or doing the right ritual, but of identifying and tapping into the power behind all of these things.
But one of the most enduring leit-motifs running through the Western Mystery Tradition was the Qabalah. This form of Jewish mysticism proved to be a convenient medium with which to synthesise the magical arts of previous centuries. Today, in the post-Theosophy era, Qabalah still effectively provides occidental metaphors for Blavatsky's spiritual theories.
However, by the 1900s, the notion of a Western Mystery Tradition might have remained a mere footnote to the last decades of the 19th century but for the efforts of two men, who, in their own separate ways, helped bring it into the modern era.
The first of these men was Aleister Crowley. Crowley was an adventurer, explorer and playboy (at least until a crooked accountant disappeared with the last remains of his fortune in 1918). Moreover, not only was he a man of great erudition in the Western Mystery Tradition, but he was also a student of Yoga, Taoism and Buddhism. He wrote voluminously, and by adopting a literary style that was simultaneously modern, highbrow, witty, and bombastically full of his own importance, he managed to become (and remains today) one of the few writers on the Occult who is in any way interesting to read.
Yet Crowley did not earn his fame by literary merit, but rather by the salacious details of his private life reported in the press. The popular outrage that resulted from the newspaper reports was fanned by a casual examination of his books, which made people think his brand of the occult was really Satanism in the thinnest of disguises, and that he himself was a libertine-pervert-drug addicted-antichrist. In fact, these accusations had more than just a glimmer of truth, but they served to obscure the genius to be extracted from a careful reading of his output. A very hackneyed saying today sums up Crowley's reputation in the occult: "Like him or Loathe him, you can't ignore him".
Yet if Crowley was trying to debase civilisation with his revolutionary and outrageous vision of the occult, he has almost been confounded in the attempt by the second of the men who have proved such a great influence on Western Mystery Tradition in the 20th Century: Carl Gustav Jung. The founder of Analytical Psychology, Jung was not (so far as is known) an occultist but a scientist. Nevertheless, he examined the occult and came to the conclusion that there was a psychological basis for most of the mystical and magical phenomenon which were purported to happen. He used Alchemy as a metaphor for the process of psychological healing, which he called "individuation". His analytical technique of the Active Imagination is strikingly similar to the methods used by occultists to induce clairvoyance. Whilst never explicitly admitting that there might be a paranormal explanation for them, Jung wrote sympathetically about divination and Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Yoga.
As a result of the esteem held for Jung and his apparent sympathy for these matters, the occult has taken on an air of respectability. It is now possible to argue with a sceptic saying, "There are valid psychological reasons which might justify the occult," assuming, of course, that your listener is reasonable enough to listen to argument. I myself have seen lectures set up by fully-communicating Catholic priests on Jung's theories on individuation. I also have in my library a book written by a High Priestess of Wicca (i.e. Witchcraft) extolling Jung's work.
Therefore, there are two main reasons why it is important to study the Western Mystery Tradition - and these reasons are embodied in the personalities and achievements of Crowley and Jung themselves. On the one hand, it is both fascinating and controversial. It is of western civilisation, but for long it has been outside it, sitting uncomfortably with orthodox thinking and received morality. It is titillating, yes, but also capable of great profundities of insight. Moreover, it cannot be merely dismissed as irrelevant or superstitious claptrap due to the great amount of testimony from its participants and practitioners that it works.
On the other hand, in complete contrast to the claims of "black magic" which are often levelled at the occult, there is increasing evidence that the Western Mystery Tradition can be of positive benefit to those who take part in it. Healers and therapists make use of its techniques, following the example of Jung who described the arcana as part of his work. People are drawn to the Western Mystery Tradition by a deep yearning, which Jung would have said was a psychological craving for individuation, but his antecedents would have called a Spiritual hunger to share in the blissful states described by the seers and mystics of old.
The man whom I saw trying to disrupt Andrew Collins' meeting would no doubt be infuriated to learn that THE JOURNAL OF THE WESTERN MYSTERY TRADITION is dedicated to the study of magic and mysticism in a way that is unashamedly sympathetic. It is a scholarly resource for those who are interested in the subject - particularly those who are already practising magicians, and want to know more about the art to which they have dedicated themselves.
THE JOURNAL OF THE WESTERN MYSTERY TRADITION is written by a number of contributors, all of whom have practical experience in the subjects we write about. Moreover, the Western Mystery Tradition does not rely on faith, but on the experience of those who take part in it. Therefore, we have assumed that our readership themselves are practitioners. We do not just provide history, but practical and useful advice to indicate how it may be possible to share in our experiences.
THE JOURNAL OF THE WESTERN MYSTERY TRADITION's ambit is huge, covering a wide number of separate subjects, and many thousands of years' worth of history. For the sake of practicality, each issue will focus on only one aspect of the Tradition. For example, this first issue is dedicated to "Introducing the Western Mystery Tradition". Planned future topics include the Egyptian Mysteries, Divination, etc.
The Articles that make up this First Issue include:
A History of the Western Mystery Tradition to the Twentieth Century: The Mythology of Magic (J. S. Kupperman). This article discusses not only the exoteric history of the Western Mystery Tradition, from what amounts to the dawn of recorded history to the giving of the Word "Thelema", but creates a cohesive mythology of the Western Mystery Tradition, from the moment of creation to the giving of that same Word. Of secondary importance to this mythology are what is being termed Paths of Return; those ways which humanity has generated, either through their own device or through divine inspiration, to return to the source of it all, which is sometimes called God.
A Glossary of Commonly Used terms in the Western Mystery Tradition (Alex Sumner). Inevitably, the Western Mystery Tradition has acquired a large jargon of its own, reflecting the diverse areas of study with which an initiate is expected to be familiar. This Glossary introduces the reader to the most important ones, and gives an indication of the various issues and controversies that exist in the subject.
Getting Started in the Western Mystery Tradition (Michael Rondeau). If a person was tired of just reading about the Western Mystery Tradition, and wanted to start doing actual practical work, how would one go about it? This article is packed full of useful advice and information.
Famous Figures in the Western Mystery Tradition, Part One: Aleister Crowley: His Life and Contribution to Western Mysteries Tradition (Laurette Rockwitz). "Famous Figures in the Western Mystery Tradition" is an ongoing series - in every issue of the journal we intend to present biographical articles of the most important people in the history of western occultism.
This article examines Crowley's (1875 - 1947) impact from Thelema to the current face of the Golden Dawn tradition. This article also includes a look at influences that shaped Aleister Crowley's life, biographical information, and Crowley's controversial reputation. It will look at his writings and magical workings.
Ultimately this exposition will probe his relationship with the Golden Dawn, and illustrate his expansion and elaboration of the doctrines of transcendental magic.
The Pentagram Ritual (St. J.O.N. 93). In which the author expounds not only the whys and wherefores of this piece of esoterica, he reveals the meaning of that mysterious and most ineffable abbreviation often found in occult writings: "LBRP".
Art and Literature of the Occult (edited by AeonAurora). The Western Mystery Tradition has inspired artists, poets and authors throughout the ages - and continues to do so today. Here we present a selection of the best examples.
The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune (Alex Sumner). Dion Fortune (1890 - 1946) wrote a number of novels which all feature the occult. She was in a unique position when it came to research, for she had experienced most of the phenomena herself, in her capacity as a ritual magician.
Review: "Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentary, Vols I-III" by Patrick Zalewski (J. S. Kupperman). A short piece looking at the latest work from the author of Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn, Golden Dawn Enochian Magic, etc.
THE JOURNAL OF THE WESTERN MYSTERY TRADITION is a biennial publication, coming out on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Its web presence is at http://www.jwmt.org. This is also the URL at which the archives will be kept.
In order to be informed of the details of forthcoming publications, readers may like to subscribe to our "Announce List", here: http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/JWMTannounce.
We invite readers to send us their letters and emails: we undertake to print a selection in future issues. The address for emails is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also on the look out for talented individuals who are prepared to contribute articles to future issues. Those interested in doing so should visit the following web-site for details: http://www.egroups.com/groups/western_mysteries.
Finally, it remains for me to say that we hope that you will enjoy this journal, and that it will provide not only intellectual but spiritual benefit as well. To quote Macgregor Mathers:
"In conclusion I will only say that I have written this explanatory Introduction purely and solely as a help to genuine Occult students; and that for the opinion of the ordinary literary critic who neither understands not believes in Occultism, I care nothing."
Alex Sumner - March 2001.
Biographical Data on this issue's contributors:
AeonAurora is a High Priestess of Wicca and a ritualist of many years standing. She is also a member of the Illinois Law Enforcement Department, and in 1997 was honoured by President Clinton for outstanding bravery in the line of duty.
Jeffrey S. Kupperman, MA has studied hermetics and the Western Mystery Tradition for the last decade. He has degrees in psychology and religious studies, where his emphasis was in Western mythology as well as mystical and occult practices. Jeffrey is a graphic and Web designer currently living in the Chicagoland area with is wife and two guinea pigs.
Laurette Rockwitz is a member of the Hermetic Order of the Tree of Life, and has been psychic all her life.
Michael Rondeau, was drawn to magic from an early age, having an early aptitude for psychism. He was first drawn to Wicca, and more recently is a student of Crowley, the Golden Dawn, and the Builders of the Adyptum.
St. J.O.N. 93 is a member of the Typhonian OTO.
Alex Sumner is an adept in the Golden Dawn style of magic. He is the author of Lucid Dreaming - the Complete Guide, and maintains his own website, dedicated to Enochian Magic and various other occult topics.