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Posts Tagged ‘mahayana’

Lent began on Wednesday the 22d. I said the Daily Office but did not attend any services. (I was amused and appalled that a local Episcopal church, my own denomination, described their service as “Ashing & Holy Communion”. I thought the heirs of Cranmer and Hooker could do better than that.) Will I engage in acts of fasting and self-denial? Probably not, although I may say the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross privately. Years ago I read in a Roman Catholic publication that the Lenten fast grew out of the conditions of pre-industrial living: Before factory farming and refrigeration, the winter stores of food that made the Yuletide so jolly were nearly exhausted by February, and new foods were not yet available. Beginning in early February (Imbolc/Candlemas), milk, butter, and cheese became available thanks to the birth of lambs; as the days got longer, chickens began to lay again. (Perhaps that’s why eggs are associated with the Spring Equinox–chickens would be laying reliably by then, if not sooner.)

Am I a Christian? I don’t know. I believe that Jesus was an incarnation of divinity and a great teacher, perhaps the most important teacher of the Western traditions. I don’t think he was the sole embodiment of divinity, but rather a model for what all human persons are capable of. I could say I believe in him, but I don’t really have much of a relationship with him. I have much more of a relationship with Julian of Norwich, whose writings I have studied in more depth and with more devotion than I have given any book of the Christian Scriptures.

Am I a Pagan, then? Again, I don’t know. I think many gods exist; I think many spirits or wights, beings neither human nor divine, angel nor devil, exist. I think some of them are benevolently interested in humankind, a few are actively hostile to us, and many are basically indifferent. But I don’t have much of a relationship with any non-Christian deity, either. I have gained strength and benefit from the practice of Tara and Medicine Buddha in Tibetan Buddhist contexts. I definitely have a relationship with birds, all birds, not just my own companions; anywhere I go, birds seem to recognize me, to know that I am a safe human, to come near to me. On the other hand, I have actually tried to cultivate relationships with some Celtic deities who seemed interested in me, and that situation seems to have resulted in FAIL all round.

Am I a Buddhist? No, as much as I admire Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, as much as I have learned from studying and practicing it. Perhaps Dion Fortune and her successors were right in saying Eastern methods are not for Western methods. Perhaps I just had too many years of Western religion and magic behind me, too many patterns formed, before I discovered Buddhism; I might be a thorough-going Buddhist if I’d made contact with it in my early twenties.

Am I a Druid, even? Probably not. I’m feeling like I’ve made repeated efforts, alone and as part of a group, to connect with Druidry, with the traditions of Arthur and Merlin and Taliesin, with faery lore, with bardic lore, with the Druid Revival and with more Reconstructionist systems, all to no avail. I’ve been banging my head against a wall, or possibly knocking at a door that just won’t open, and I’m exhausted by it. I want a holiday from all things Druidic and Celtic and Arthurian, except possibly Celtic music and episodes of the BBC’s Merlin.

What am I? I’m a married woman; a writer; a library paraprofessional; a singer, or former singer, specifically a chorister; and… a magician? a mage? an Adept of the New Hermetics? I trained with Jason Augustus Newcomb in the original New Hermetics course, in 2005-2006, and have completed all levels through Advanced Adept (equivalent to the Golden Dawn’s Adeptus Major). I have the certificates and the Rose Cross lamen to prove it. And for the last year, I’ve been trying to get my act together and undertake Jason’s revised version of the course.

I think about saying, “I’m a Hermeticist… I’m a Hermetic magician…” and the words just don’t want to come out of my mouth. I think about saying, “I’m a magician–” and my brain adds, “–not a priestess!” and follows it up with Bones McCoy growling, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” (I believe that episode, “Devil in the Dark“, was the first appearance of the Great McCoy Disclaimer, which has since been echoed by every other Starfleet doctor.)

Here are a few things I’m certain of:

  • I’m interested in religious and magical traditions and what I can learn from them, even if I never identify with or practice them. This has been true of me since I was a child and read the grown-up books on comparative religion.
  • The New Hermetics has worked better for me as a spiritual practice than pretty much anything else I’ve ever tried.
  • I am convinced of the rightness of the Mahayana Buddhist approach: To seek the fullest possible personal freedom and self-development in order to help other beings achieve the same thing. I cannot be genuinely free and genuinely happy while others are trapped and miserable; helping others is an essential part of my own fulfillment. Helping others may not look like anything more than doing my library job, keeping this blog, and helping individuals as opportunity arises, but it is still part of the Great Work.

So I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to reflect… whatever I’ve changed into.

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A couple of weeks ago, I found myself interested in the Gnostics again. Like the sinking of the Titanic, the early Christian Gnostics are a topic I get interested in and read about fairly intensely every once in a while.

This time I ordered a couple of books from Amazon and started reading The Gospel of Philip: Annotated and Explained by Andrew Philip Smith. I also Kindled Voices of Gnosticism, an anthology of interviews with prominent scholars of Gnosticism and early Christianity.

I haven’t finished either of those books yet. They’re good, well worth reading if you’re interested in Gnosticism and/or early Christianity. The problem is that I got bored with the Gnostics themselves, not with the books I was reading. The Gospel of Philip is a fascinating text, full of vibrant imagery, perhaps almost as important in the big picture of early Christianity as the Gospel of Thomas. At times I am certain that it came out of a community that used sexual intercourse in a Tantric way, as a shortcut method to holiness, just as some (but not all) forms of Hindu and Buddhist Tantra use sex as a shortcut to enlightenment. At times I am certain that the Gnostics were the Vajrayana adepts of the early Church, the magicians who possessed the shortened way, and it was a terrible shame that they and their teachings were wiped out.

At other times, like lately, I think the Gnostics were a bunch of stuck-up snobs. Because there really is an Us and Them mentality in their writings, far sooner than the orthodox or catholic Christians (i.e., the winning team) began to think that way. The general thrust of the winning church’s teaching and missionizing and so forth was that the message of Jesus was for everyone, the grace of God was for everyone, there was no more division of Chosen Jews and unchosen Gentiles (or of slave and free, male and female–it’s right there in St. Paul), but *everybody* had been given a fresh chance through the saving action of Jesus.

With the Gnostics, though, there’s still an Us and a Them. It’s no longer the Usness of chosen Israel and their tangled history of relationship with YHVH vs. the ignorance of the nations (goyim); now it’s the Usness of the Gnostics, the Knowers, the Spiritual People (pneumatics, as the Greek texts call them) vs. the unwashed Them of the non-knowers, the unspiritual, the people the Gnostics called “psychics” (meaning “of the soul”) or “hylic” (meaning just material–Muggles, cowans, mundanes).

Obviously the human urge to create an Us and a Them is strong. It’s present in politics and fandom and sports and all areas of life, not just religion. That fans have words for non-fans, pagans have words for non-pagans, descriptive words like “liberal” have become derogatory epithets, and the Left Behind books have sold big all stands as evidence of this truth. But there’s also always this counter-thrust to include everybody. That’s why the more structured, less elitist, politically successful Christians called themselves Catholic, kata holos, for everybody. That’s why the early monastic traditions of Buddhism (possibly in contact with early Christianity) developed the concept of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, all aboard–a practitioner’s efforts toward enlightenment are not just for the isolated self, but for all sentient beings. Only when you have the Mahayana, the concept of working for the benefit of all, can you safely develop the Vajrayana, the secret special shortcut teachings that make possible enlightenment in! this! lifetime! so that you can benefit all sentient beings even more.

We may never be sure, really, if the Gnostics were adepts like the Tibetan lamas or just prigs with their noses in the air. There may not be enough of their literary remains to be sure. Scholars are already certain that, contrary to what their orthodox opponents said, they didn’t just make up heresies so they could seduce gullible women or have fancy bishop hats of their own; they had genuine religious motivations. But ultimately, I’m not interested in a system that doesn’t potentially include everybody. That includes types of Christianity or Paganism that reserve salvation or enlightenment or apotheosis for a chosen few. I don’t know if we’ll all Get There, but I believe we all have a chance.

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Well, apparently I am not a druid.  Again.

My attempts back in November to fulfill the requirements for NaBloPoMo and to make Druid spirituality my primary path both failed.  Since then I have wrestled repeatedly with the angelic conundrum of being attracted to a number of religious paths that I simply can not practice, or can not practice simply.

I’ve been attracted to Druidry since the early 1990s.  Back then I longed to join OBOD, but the cost was prohibitive; while my income has increased since those days, so has the cost of OBOD’s famous correspondence course.  Whatever the exchange rates between the pound and the U.S. dollar might be, the Atlantic has not gotten any smaller, and packets from OBOD will always have to cross it to get to prospective druids in the States.

I discovered the Ancient Order of Druids in America at the end of 2004, and I managed to achieve the first degree, Apprentice Druid, within a couple of years.  I’ve tried repeatedly to advance to second degree, but no matter my intentions, I repeatedly found myself not doing the work.  I am still a First Degree member in good standing, but the work for further degrees is not, I think, going to get done.

I learned today that there has been a big blow-up in another pagan tradition to which I’ve been attracted for years, the Feri or Faery tradition stemming from Victor and Cora Anderson.  Like many people, I think, I first heard of it through Starhawk’s mentions in The Spiral Dance, which I first read when I was thirteen and the book was brand new.  I was thrilled to discover that people actually worshipped the old gods whose stories I’d read throughout my childhood, and practiced a kind of magic, another topic I’d read about precociously.  I was enchanted, and I use the word in the fullest sense, with her descriptions of Victor’s Faery teachings, though that enchantment translated into lots of bad poetry rather than into trying the magical exercises or even performing rituals.

I still rather miss being an Anglican, particularly around Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  The Incarnation was and is far more important to me as a doctrine than the Atonement; the Atonement, for me, makes little sense without a stress on the Incarnation and has everything to do with Divine Love revealing itself in extremity and nothing to do with a wrathful Deity being bought off somehow by the torture of his Son.

Buddhism, especially the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet, is the thing that has been the most helpful and illuminating for me over the past five years or so.  Its philosophy explained so much of Western magic and religion in a newly coherent way, and the practices and community I found helped me deal with stress, train my mind, look at the big picture.  But I don’t live in circumstances where I have regular access to a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, and I’m not willing to make huge changes in my life–such as relocating to another city or learning to drive and buying a car for the first time–in order to do so.  I can’t help but feel that makes me a bad Buddhist, a half-assed practitioner, but I’m insistent that my spiritual practice reduce chaos and stress in my life (give or take a few necessary crises) rather than increase it, and moving or buying a car would definitely count as an increase in stress.  I can’t even switch tracks and practice with a Zen lineage, which might not be a bad thing; again, there’s no sangha with a teacher that’s accessible to me in time and place.

There’s a saying that is often useful even though it sounds ditzy: “Bloom where you’re planted.”  I prefer metaphors like, “Go through the door that’s open, or out the window if the door is locked.”  Or, “Deal with what lands in your lap.”  Recently two things have opened up for me or landed in my lap: The chance to take yoga classes and develop a practice, and the chance to study further with Jason Augustus Newcomb in the New Hermetics system.

I’ve been interested in yoga since I was a teenager (hm, along with Witchcraft and Druidry and what not else), and right before Christmas I discovered I was living a few blocks away from a thriving yoga studio.  I registered for their five-class beginners’ workshop, which started anew on December 23rd, and started attending regular beginner-level classes alongside my equally interested husband. The improvement we have both felt in strength, flexibility, pain relief, and overall well-being has been enormous, in a relatively short time. I can do things with my body that six weeks ago I would have sworn were impossible for me, and that’s after little more than a month of classes.  Those really terrifying postures you see on yoga calendars now look to me like a difference of quality, not of kind–like the difference between my own fiction and [insert Great Novel here] rather than like the difference between my body and an invertebrate’s.  Even now I’m looking forward to sweating through tomorrow night’s class and hoping that the mix of snow, sleet, and rain we’re predicted to get won’t cause a cancellation or make walking too treacherous.

Back in 2005, I was one of the first students to take the course that Jason based on his then-new book, The New Hermetics, and one of a few to make it through the whole program and go on to take the Advanced work two years later.  Jason’s system of mental and magical training worked better for me, in terms of both daily life management and of working big changes in my life, than any other spiritual practice had worked before.  It also led me to the Mahayana ideals of bodhichitta and dedicating the merit of one’s practice to the benefit of all beings, and thus to investigating Buddhism afresh and finding new answers and inspiration there.  When Jason recently announced that he was going to teach a beta version of a revised course, available to previous students at a hefty discount, I was right there like all the bad metaphors for being right there that you can think of–white on rice, ugly date, cheap suit, the works.

Actual work with the new program is starting in February, at Imbolc.  I’ll be lighting some candles for the Star Goddess again and asking for a blessing on the work.  My overriding goal for this re-training is to bring everything that I’ve learned, from Feri, Druidry, the Church, Buddhism, and wherever, and use the New Hermetics to contain it.  To put it another way, my goal is to cross-fertilize the New Hermetics, which comes out of a specific tradition of Western magic, with everything else that has worked for me.  I have, after all, spent over twenty years seeking, studying, learning, in a variety of traditions; perhaps it’s time for me to stop envying people who have spent as many years identifying by one name, one tradition (whilst no doubt studying many things), and start taking seriously what I’ve learned and bringing it to bear on the practice that I know I can work, and that will work for me.

To that end, I would like to stop posting here and renew posting at A Comfortable Oxymoron, to give myself a wider context in which to talk about walking the Path and undertaking the Great Work.  I will likely be cross-posting a version of this entry to that blog.  See you at the new URL, I hope.

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I feel that I’m standing right now in the midst of overlapping circles, as if at the center of a Venn diagram.  The circles are paths, traditions, influences, resources, interests.  Thelema, the New Hermetics, the Golden Dawn, Feri, witchcraft, Druidry, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, paganism, Anglican Christianity–they all overlap and touch and jostle.  And what links them is me: my perspective; my agency.

And who am I?  I am a magician.  I have taken responsibility for my own life.  I have affirmed my own agency.  I have trained and continue to train in ways to change the world by changing myself.  The root of the words “magician” and “magic” means power, ability, and is also at the root of “might” and “may”; I have the might to act, and I may do as I will.  And I have vowed to use that ability to perfect myself so that I may help others to do the same, as effectively as possible; that vow is at the root of Mahayana Buddhism and in the neophyte’s affirmation in Western ritual magic, “I seek to know in order to serve”.

The Lotus of the East and the Rose of the West grow out of the same soil and reach to the same sun.  Dharma is Dharma; truth is truth.  Today’s Tarot card is The Aeon of the Thoth Deck, Trump XX, the beginning of a new age.  Welcome to this blog.

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…Although your achievement of the omniscient state may not be beneficial to all living beings, it will definitely bring a lot of practical benefit to certain living beings. Therefore, it is very important that you work for your own achievement of the completely enlightened state. Because there might be living beings who depend very much upon your guidance on the spiritual path, it is important that you take upon yourself the responsibility to work for the benefit of others.

–from The Path to Bliss, by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, shared by the Snow Lion Publications weekly D.L. quote email

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The vault of an English chapterhouse.

I consider myself a fairly sophisticated if amateur thinker on theological/religious issues. My gentle readers all know that I have tried and practiced multiple paths of the spirit, sometimes more than one at a time. But I *just* figured out something so obvious that once it hit me, it was like Homer Simpson suddenly attaining a normal IQ enlightenment.

I finished my meditation session for the night (accompanied, as it so often is, by the peaceful beak-grinding of my parrot boys) with the usual prayer dedicating the merit. Dedication of merit is part of the Mahayana path: Any positive potential, karmic benefit, spiritual mojo, or call it what you will from a Dharma practice or indeed any worthwhile act is given away, by a verbal intention, to all sentient beings. It’s a way of saying, “What’s good for me is good for everyone, and I only want what’s best for me when it’s best for everyone else, too. I’m in this boat with everyone else throughout time and space.”

I read the now-familiar prayer and thought that as I was giving away my merit and benefiting someone somewhere that I don’t know about, someone who perhaps needed the “oomph” right at that moment, someone else I don’t know was dedicating his or her merit to all sentient beings and that benefit was coming directly to *me*. And then it occurred to me that this is very very close to what Charles Williams called “exchange”–that each of us benefits others by our spiritual work, that our prayers and our right actions may affect people will never know until we meet them in the presence of Christ, and that we cannot, in fact, do good for ourselves, only for others, who in turn do good for us. The golden ball of good intention and intercession and virtue gets tossed around the circle.

Exchange. Dedication of merit. Pretty much the same thing. Well, *duh*.

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If I should become pregnant, I would have an abortion. I had my share of parenthood helping to raise my stepdaughter; that’s as much motherhood as I need, want, and can handle. I don’t think abortion is ever a Good Thing, but sometimes it is the Only Right Thing, and therefore it should be legal, a decision to be made by a woman and, with her consent, the man involved, not by a government.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, best known by his Japanese name of Jizo, is the helper of beings who suffer in the hell realms and of children who die before their parents, including those who are stillborn, miscarried, or aborted. For the past day I have been thinking that Jizo will protect Dr. Tiller, who did his best for the unborn whom Jizo helps to good rebirths. As I was reading about him this morning, I realized that Jizo will help the doctor’s murderer, too, if he wants to get out of the hell he’s in.

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