Thursday, April 13, 2006

'Naked in your rites'?


I travelled up to Cumbria to visit some wiccan friends. They had a house full of people for a second degree initiation on the saturday night. We watched the rather excellent 1960s film 'Legend of the Witches', just released on DVD. It prompted a discussion on the whole topic of 'sky clad' rituals. I should say that our hosts have always been keen on that particular aspects of wicca. But as some of us get older and less 'body beautiful', it become more and more tempting to consider other options.

Why do some magical people think this issue is so important? There are, in my opinion, two main issues here: Firstly there is an implicit eroticism in many wiccan rites. Secondly there is a strong believe in nakedness as a sign of deconditioning, as a visible sign of freedom from societal norms, and this includes an attempt to see the person beneath the clothes, even beneath the bodily shell. Fat or thin, beautiful or not so, it's not supposed to matter.

Mainstream culture is dominated by quite normative views of the body. What was once called 'body fascism' is back with a vengence. So whatever people say, there an awful lot of looking and judging of how others look. The magical community is as much prone to that as everyone else. Perhaps more so, given the current dominance of the commercial form of wicca as evidenced in several mainstream magazines such as 'Witches & Wicca', 'Spirit & Destiny' etc.

For these and many other reasons people's views are changing. Witchcraft & Magick is being eroticised. Nakedness will always retain its role in initiation - but could it be that the sight of older initiates, joyously obese, will become less common? There are many, 'performers' and 'audience', who would prefer it so : ) Eroticism in a rite is a lot more complex than nakedness. Nakedness per se is not erotic. Eroticism necessitates the selective exposure of flesh - the form in which it is concealed being almost as important as what is exposed. Consider the way the ancient Egyptians dressed. None but the gods were ever totally naked, although much flesh was on display, from the kilted, but bare chested men, to the topless women in their sleeve dresses.

On reflection I think eroticism is the way to go, and maybe for the time being forget all the 1960s stuff about 'the real you' which doesn't seem to apply anymore. The naked body is still a surface and can be as much of a mask as clothes. Perhaps our focus can shift to the adopting of a magical persona, which can also include being naked. It's a question of what works for you.

For many years the Sexual Freedom Coalition* has been working with these kind of issues. The magical world can learn something from their experiences. In their social events they are trying to creat a theatre of individual freedom - a pleasure dome if you like, in which a kind of gentle 'flirting' and 'posing' is the norm. Some people are just too sexually predatory or consumerist to really enter this environment without infringing another's space. The obvious example is the platoons of desperate heterosexuals in dinner jackets who are determined to get their money's worth. They often carry with them the same kinds of consumerist and judgemental attitudes that the majority of people in the pleasure dome are trying to avoid. The organisers of such happenings should and in fact do try to restrict their number to a manageable few or exclude them altogether. Perhaps that is one lesson we can learn from the social experiments of the 1960s - you have to learn to be free - it requires training and work - and some people maybe to just too damaged to ever make it to the pleasure dome?

[some of these thoughts sprang from a discussion of these issues at the recent Oxford Talking Stick. The Sexual Freedom Coalition has a conference on 6 May with guest speaker Alison Lapper. See for details]

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Egypt & The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The GD grade signs may have something in common with genuine Egyptian techniques such as what's been called the Heptagramme rite of PGM XIII 824-841 and the Mithras Liturgy , the most widely read of all the PGM. If I remember rightly this also has grade signs used in the initiation of a female adept (That the initiate in this ancient rite was female was omitted from previous translations).

Skrying, astral contact and other freeform ritual work is indeed another important but often neglected aspect of GD. Again, new research is revealing that dream and vision questing was also a feature of the late antique Egyptian magical religion. Some contemporary practitioners tend to write off this feature of Victorian GD type work, thus it is often hidden or edited out in favour of a more masonic interpretations. Same goes for much Crowley ritual work. Doing so restricts your magick to one 'channel' and robs it of the valuble use of music, dance and trance induction. The same goes for ancient Egyptian magic, which for a long time was interpreted through the lens of the (supposed) Victorian GD techniques - which few people find very effective. It's worth thinking about this issue of multi-channel magick (I've borrowed the term from educational psychology.)

A useful corrective to mono-channel type magick come IMO from Chaos Magick and works by Jan Fries, especially Visual Magick. Incidentally it's been quite hard to get this message across - one recent encyclopedia on nature magick refused a piece on Crowley, because their 'crowley expert' said there was no need for him to be in - presumably because they felt he didn't practice nature magic - so the circle of misinformation continues!!

More information on the Heptagramme Rite is available in the modern reconstructed version in Steven Flower's interesting book
'Hermetic Magick: the postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris'
Its also recommended in my own book
'Tankhem: Seth and Egyptian Magick'
and elsewhere.

Because of the sevenfold nature of the rite - it is currently in use by several 'sethian' and 'sabbatic' groups as an alternative to the LBR. The whole business about the symbolism of the number seven, the starry plough etc., is something whose significance is spreading to many other practitioners.

Which leads on the the question of how many of the barbarous names of the occult tradition are based on Egyptian godnames, rubriks and stereotypical formulae? Many of the later were 'mistaken' for god names or voce magicae during the Roman revival. The best example off the top of my head is 'Ouphor' - which is not a god name but the name of the ritual for the opening of the mouth. In the PGM, only the name survives. The rite alluded to is extremely ancient and important in the animation of mummies and other fetish objects.

Thaphthartharath occurs in one such medieval grimoire as an invocation of Thoth.
Chris Lehrich goes through the whole QBL analysis of the name - which is interesting although I would have thought the first place to look would be in the Egyptian language itself - then Greek then Hebrew - I was thinking about it yesterday in my own 'house of life' and it could be something like:

Thaph thar tharath

Which is very close to the name Thoth, 3 times by reduplication -
which is a very egyptian thing - hence Thrice Great Thoth!
Incidentally a new edition (text and translation) of the egyptian 'Book of Thoth'
was published last year - the mss thought to be the work of eqyptian hermeticists.