To Keep On Keeping On

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at or used CuriousCat (remember all those posts and tweets from back in the day?), but that doesn’t mean I stopped replying to questions generally.  Whether it’s on Discord or over email or on Facebook or whatever, I still try to keep myself open to discussion, explanation, and sharing ideas or notions when people ask.  And, recently, two people pinged me on two different platforms separately with basically the same question: how do I deal with doubt and disbelief in my spiritual life?

Phrased one way (on Discord):

A question about faith: a lot of what I have read is about awakening to the understanding of the Truth, but do you ever struggle with faith itself?  Like, do you ever have days where you wake up and doubt everything you’ve read, and wonder if it isn’t all just a comfort to soothe the human condition?  And what helps you in those moments?

Phrased another way (over email):

How do you deal with doubt and belief?  I’ve been an on-and-off practitioner of the Hermetic path, but I have always had doubt and lack of belief that any of this is real, whether I’m wasting my time studying this or whether I’m a fool for believing in magic. How do I deal with these doubts?

When multiple people ask me separately the same question all at once, I think that’s a good thing to discuss publicly, because chances are they’re not the only ones with such questions.

As I read it, the questions I were asked above got the same answer, which I’ll share below:

The easy and short answer is that I don’t do anything to deal with these issues, and that nothing really helps with concerns about doubt or lack of faith—nothing, at least, beyond just carrying on.  For me, these moments of doubt or struggles I might have with faith (and I do absolutely have them from time to time) are little more than passing moods; nothing renders me unshakably confident in these things beyond just going back to the texts and reminding myself of why I’m doing this at all, and what got me here to begin with.

Like, the whole point of me doing all of this <waves vaguely> is because, ultimately, I’m not convinced. I’m here to find out and experience all this stuff for myself, to show to myself that this stuff is experientially real. Hermēs Trismegistos doesn’t preach “believe or perish”, after all; he teaches “believe and find out” (a similar notion to the saying “trust but verify”). And so far, so much of what I’ve seen, read, and done in a Hermetic context has worked and shown itself to be basically as Hermēs discusses it that I have good reason to believe the rest (for the most part) is good, too. I just need to keep going to see for myself.

When it comes to magic specifically, sure, I occasionally doubt the efficacy and meaning of what it is I’m doing. And then I go back to the stories I’ve heard from others about their successful workings, and I go back to my own experiences that have shown me incontrovertibly that this stuff works and that I’m not just making it up. (I mean, everything is made up to one degree or another. What matters isn’t whether something is made up and real, but rather whether something is made up and works.)

While it’d be great to have an unshakeable faith in this stuff with a level of confidence that flatly doesn’t permit doubt, I don’t think I’m at that level yet (though I am working towards it). Much like my own sensitivity to what other people think of me, over time, concerns of that nature just diminish and eventually go away. I don’t have to do anything about it, so long as it doesn’t keep me from actively doing what I need to do along my own spiritual path and journey; doubts and fears like this only become a problem if they actively get in my way from practicing. And, really, “practice” is what all this is really about: we don’t call it the Great Work for nothing! We’re constantly working at it, and we’re constantly practicing it to get better at it. So long as we keep that up, we’re doing just what we need to do.

I know it can get hard at times, but let’s be honest: we wouldn’t be doing it if it were easy.  This isn’t to say that we should be suffering all the time, but this is just part of the challenge we have to work through and work past.  The only thing to do is to keep doing it.  The Work is easy in good times, to be sure, but it actually becomes work in the hard times, and that’s what matters.  We labor and toil, and eventually we reap and we feast, but if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the rewards.  It can feel hopeless at times, but even though hope is what often gets us through the day, having hope isn’t the point; the point is to just do the work, come what may.

Heavenly Thoughts

I don’t recall which grade it was, probably late elementary school or sometime in middle school, but I recall one time riding the bus with the rest of my classmates from some field trip or another.  Middle of the day, clear bright weather.  There I am, my usual introverted child self, maybe some age between like 9 and 12, sitting by the window starting outside watching the landscape go past—and there I am, thinking my thoughts as I was, and it struck me:

Gosh, the sky is big.

Which, like…duh.  I asked the kid next to me (I’ve long since forgotten who) if they ever thought about how big the sky was, to which they give a (in hindsight utterly predictable) answer of pure confusion and dismissal, a combined “no” and “duh”.  I shrugged off their reply and went back at staring out the window.  I don’t remember anything else about that trip, or even what grade it was, but I remember the sudden childlike awe that struck me when it dawned on me how immeasurably huge the sky is.

Which is weird, right?  I mean, there hasn’t been a single day in my life that I haven’t seen the sky.  Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s cloudy; sometimes I see the Sun, other times the Moon, other times only stars (and even then, maybe more or fewer depending on light pollution).  Somedays I go outside with the sky directly overhead, other days I stay inside and see it from my window, but there has never been a single day I can recall where I haven’t seen the sky once.  It’s always there, it’s always been there, and it always will be there.  It stretches from east to west and from north to south, a complete 360° circle, forming the illusion of a complete and total dome around the boundary of the horizon.  And yet, for some reason, in this one bizarre moment, I only realized just then how big the sky actually is.

And yet, every now and then, in the intervening years, it’ll dawn on me all over again, with almost the same impact as it did the first time.  As it did earlier today while I was taking an afternoon walk around my neighborhood.

Thinking back on it, and all the times I remember that instance and all the times I get hit with it, I realize now what actually triggered it.  Sometimes I’ll be lying on my back on the ground staring up at the sky, but that isn’t what trigger it (although, if you trick your brain, you can kinda make it feel like you’re stuck to some sort of ceiling facing a bottomless pit, which is neat, too).  What triggered this realization was, sitting on that older kind of school bus with the plain seats and cheap industrial interior, the fact that I was staring at the sky from a window—and realizing that the sky exceeded the frame of the window itself.

Intellectually, of course, I knew that the sky would go past the boundaries of a single small window (it literally exceeds all boundaries!), but I think what I realized in that moment was that the sky could not be bounded, could not be contained, and just staring out the window with a bit of tired-relaxed-eye vision to see both the sky and the window through which I saw it helped me come to that realization.  Whether or not the window is just one of a series and you’re just looking through a single pane, or whether it’s a single window in a wall, the sky will always fill the window, and just keep going past it.  Heck, you could look up outside at the sky between the tops of trees on a street, or the sky between tall buildings in an alleyway, and you’ll see the same thing: there is nothing that could ever actually limit the sky.  It just keeps going, well past the point where you yourself can see it.

It’s like…consider your own eyesight.  You have your field of view, and while some people have better peripheral vision (things outside the direct center of your sight) than others, everyone has limits to their field of view.  Now, dear reader, if you’ll indulge me in a bit of an exercise: consider your own field of view.  Become aware of the limits of your sight, how far you’re able to look from left to right and top to bottom, with one or both eyes.  You don’t need to move your eyes or anything, just relax your eyes slightly and just…become aware of your whole field of vision.

Now try to look past that, say, further to your right than your right eye actually can see.  Don’t try to move your eyes to the right, but just try to look further to the right than what you’re actually seeing in your field of view.  Look to the right into the space where you can’t look anymore.

Feels weird, right?  Almost like a paradox; your eyes aren’t designed for that, even from at the level of your own skin right down to the level of your optical nerves.  How can you see anything when you literally don’t have the field of vision to see?  How can you look  in a direction when there’s nothing there to look?  How can you get input from a source that you are literally unequipped to receive input from?

Try it again.  Don’t move your eyes, don’t try to strain them or give yourself a headache.  Just as you became aware of your field of vision as it is, try to become aware of what is outside your field of vision.  Perhaps just start with the area to the right outside your field of vision like before, or (if you’re bold) the whole area outside your entire field of vision, as if you were looking backwards while facing forwards.

Your brain is probably racing at this point, trying to figure out what sort of image to supply there for something that literally has no image.  For most people, it’ll be whirling around in a confusion, since you’re trying to tell it to do something that it naturally knows what to do normally but it’s operating in an undefined area here.  Should you just perceive an inky blackness, a void devoid of any image at all?  Should you perceive static, like a TV disconnected from any input cable?  Should you perceive what you know is actually outside your field of view, mentally constructing it from memory rather than from sense of sight?  Should you perceive the inside of your own flesh and skull, veins and tendons and all?

That feeling you get from trying to look past your own field of view is the same kind of feeling I get about the sky in general.  Just as with the limitations on your field of view, where you can just turn to see a bit more to the left or right or up or down depending on how you turn, you can just look out the window a bit more from a different angle, or poke your head out and crane your neck to get a bigger view of the sky to see more of it.  But there will always be parts you can’t see, parts you know are there, but the perception of which—the mere feeling of the perception of which—simply exceed your capacity to perceive.

And, again, that makes sense; of course the sky would do that, because it’s the sky.  But I think what stuck with me then, and what continues to stick with me now, is the sheer feeling of Unlimitedness that this is all so intimately bound up with.  Interminability, infinity, immeasurability, boundlessness, endlessness—these are all things that the sky is perhaps one of the best, most physical, and most immediately accessible representations of these notions that we have.  Unlike any building we might inhabit, any land we might tread, any sea we might sail, any road we might walk, any depth we might plumb, there is nothing on this planet that is as unlimited as the sky itself is.  And, when you think about it, that’s just the 2D spatial qualities of it; when you consider that there is nothing on this planet that has lasted as long as the sky has, or will have lasted as long as the sky will, taking any temporal bounds as a “windowframe” of time as it were, then the sky becomes even more daunting.  And, going back to the spatial qualities of it, even if you were to just consider the sky as some sort of 2D dome above the Earth based on its appearance to us, it’s technically just “the whole of the rest of space”, so if you consider it as a 3D domain, then it’s also extends infinitely above you in every direction, too.

There is nothing that can bound, limit, frame, or contain the sky.  Try as you might, you will fail—because the sky is what bounds, limits, frames, and contains all things.

When we talk about things associated with the sky, there are several terms we can use, each of which has a fascinating etymological origin:

  • “sky”, from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kewH- “to cover, to conceal” (cognate with Latin obscurus)
  • “heaven”, from Proto-Germanic *hibin-, perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *kem- “to cover” or from *h₂éḱmō “stone” to refer to the celestial vault generally
  • “celestial”, from Latin caelum “heaven, sky”, with unclear etymological origin, but perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *kaid-slo “bright, clear” or *keh₂i-lom “whole”
  • “天” (the Chinese character for the sky, heaven, or celestial things, including weather or divine entities associated with such realms), is considered as a person with outstretched arms (大) with a level over the head (一), originally representing the round sky (囗) above a person but in addition/alternative to this as an anthropomorphic depiction of heaven as a person with a large head

In three of the examples above, there’s a notion of the sky being something covering us, like a tarp over a pile or a lid on a pot.  The sky is the “lid” of the world we’re familiar with; from our perspective, the sky is what conceals the things above it from us, but by that same token, when seen from above, the sky is what keeps us down here below separated.  In a sense, the sky is the limit of the world, that which contains us and covers us, like a tunic does a body.

But the word “celestial” above is not quite like the other.  It has a different connotation, if you consider the PIE root *keh₂i-lom “whole”, and which would render the word “celestial” indeed related to our word “whole” and thus “holy”.  While the connotations of the English words may well have existed in an earlier time in a different language (emphasis on the word “may”), it’s especially interesting when you consider the Latin word caelum as the opposite of templum “a part” (itself from PIE *temh₁ “to cut”, related to Greek τέμενος).  Sure, this word is generally used to refer to any space dedicated to a deity or to their worship (hence our modern English derivative “temple”), but when it came to the ancient Roman practice of augury, it refers to a demarcated space that an augur would mark out in the sky—a “cut-out part” as it were—in which the augur would observe any omens for interpretation.  The whole sky was not observed, but just a part of it, presumably because the observation of the whole sky was not something possible or feasible to do, especially considering the relatively limited and limiting concerns humans have about things down here.  As a parallel, consider: in ancient Greek thought, one went to a legitimate oracle of the gods for prophecy, but otherwise would piously refrain from trying to determine the events of the future (though one might still seek out advice or guidance regarding it), because only the gods were permitted to know the mind of Zeus and the inner workings of Fate, and even then, such a mind could not be known in full, but only particular thoughts.

There, again, we see a notion of limits—and that makes sense for us as human beings, doesn’t it?  By our very nature, we are finite creatures, and we can’t really deal well with infinity all that well.  I’m reminded of the distinction in Islamic conceptions of infinite time (courtesy of Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub) between azal and abad.  In this context, azal is defined as “eternity a parte ante” or “eternity without a beginning”, and abad as its counterpart of “eternity a parte post” or “eternity without an end”.  As human beings, we naturally have only our own frame of reference to understand abstract concepts, and the most immediate frame of reference for discussing matters of time is the present moment.  In this light, azal is the whole infinity of the past up until this moment, while abad is the whole infinity of time from this moment into the future.  We can look in either direction well enough, but trying to look at both at the same time to consider one infinity unbounded in both directions at once is…challenging.  Sure, we might be able to accept the existence of time as something without beginning and without end, both agenēton and ateleuton, but trying to actually comprehend that is a different matter.  In astrological terms, it’d be like trying to join together the North and South Nodes of the Moon together to see what their conjunction would be like; they are, by definition, opposites of each other.  It’s just the same with azal and abad—and perhaps fittingly so, as they both have conjectured Persian origins meaning “without head (start)” and “without foot (end)”, respectively, just how the North Node is the “head of the dragon” (but without a body, as in Rahu) and how the South Node is the “tail of the dragon” (but without a head, as in Ketu).  It’s only through limitation, because we’re ourselves finite, that we can’t easily approach unlimitedness.

And yet, that very notion of unlimitedness is what so many of us in this mystical stuff seek.  I mean, from the Corpus Hermeticum, consider Hermēs’ vision of Poimandrēs revelation of the “the archetypal form, the preprinciple that exists before a beginning without end” in CH I.7:

After he said this, he looked me in the face for such a long time that I trembled at his appearance. But when he raised his head, I saw in my mind the light of powers beyond number and a boundless cosmos that had come to be. The fire, encompassed by great power and subdued, kept its place fixed. In the vision I had because of the discourse of Poimandrēs, these were my thoughts.

Or again when Nous tells Hermēs how to understand God in CH XI.20:

Thus, unless you make yourself equal to God, you cannot understand God; like is understood by like. Make yourself grow to immeasurable immensity, outleap all body, outstrip all time, become eternity and you will understand God. Having conceived that nothing is impossible to you, consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything, all art, all learning, the temper of every living thing. Go higher than every height and lower than every depth. Collect in yourself all the sensations of what has been made, of fire and water, dry and wet; be everywhere at once, on land, in the sea, in heaven; be not yet born, be in the womb, be young, old, dead, beyond death. And when you have understood all these at once—times, places, things, qualities, quantities—then you can understand God.

In these examples, we have Hermēs confronting (or being told to confront) the very notion of divinity in all its unlimitedness, in all its boundlessness.  In the former example, this is the revelation of Divinity itself; in the latter example, this is the way to be understand it.  It is so unlike anything else we might understand, given how we’re so finite—or, rather, are accustomed to finitude and limits, even if our limits are all within this grand infinity.  After all, the sky stops being a sky once you’re no longer on Earth; then it just becomes space, same as everywhere here.  Once you no longer have sky, you no longer have a separation between world and not-world, inner space and outer space.  It all just becomes…well, it doesn’t become anything, doesn’t it?  It’s rather that the barrier just falls down: it’s a revelation, an uncovering, and in this case, the sky itself is the covering.  At that point, you’re no longer gawking at the limitations that unlimitedness breaks, because there’s no limits there to gauge “limit” or “limitless” anymore.  You just…are, as something with and in and of the totality of everything.

I know this post is a little weird and rambly, but as I said earlier, I occasionally turn to that childlike thought in my childhood of being in awe at how big the sky was.  In considering what it meant and exploring that line of thinking a bit, it reminded me of an important aspect of this mystical stuff that I’ve been exploring more as part of my Hermeticism.  Maybe I haven’t been particularly adept at expressing it, but realizing how used we are to limits in general and realizing how limitlessness can be an aspect of Divinity—and, moreover, how easily it is to behold that limitlessness, and how weird it is to actually experience it—is something I think is a crucial reminder of what it is we’re in this for.  After all, as Nous told Hermēs, we need to get on God’s level in order to understand God.

Remember that little experiment from above, about trying to see outside your field of vision?  Maybe I could make up for the rambling of this post with leaving you a little meditative exercise that builds on that, and which also relates to the imagery of the sky.  As with most meditative exercises, get yourself into a good posture, relax yourself, and regulate your breathing however you normally do so.  Once you’re ready, consider: see yourself sitting as I was, on a school bus seat, looking out the window at the sky.  Take a good look out the window—what do you see?  Trees, cars, people walking their dogs, construction crews?  Always find the sky behind and covering them all, and fix your focus on the sky.  Contemplate how it covers, surrounds, and exceeds anything else you see, wherever else you see it.  Mentally extend how big the sky must be in your mind, not just in one direction but in all directions.  Dwell in that feeling of Bigness, letting it wash away and drown out all else that you saw before.

But, later on, once you’re ready after giving the above a few attempts, consider this instead: see yourself as a single point on Earth, wherever you fancy yourself, and look up at the sky above you.  See the limits of your own perception of the sky: is it a window, or the horizon, or the clouds, or your glasses-frames, or the limits of your field of vision?  Slowly take away each limit you come across to behold more and more of the sky, even unto the whole Earth itself if you have to, even your own body if you have to, so that all you observe is a clear sky in a perfect sphere all around you.  Once you get to that, start removing the very sky itself outwards, removing each layer of the atmosphere from your central vantage point, going outwards and outwards and ever outwards, all to see what continues to lie beyond.  Once you get to the point where you’re observing the entire observable universe all as one thing—well, what then?  Work on your own mental “field of vision”; what are you not perceiving yet, what lies outside your field of imagination (just like how you were trying to look to the right of your own field of vision above)?  Strip away your own perceptive and imaginative limits, strip away the thing even doing the perceiving itself, strip away the very thing stripping the notions of limits—and then dwell therein.

No, Evola is not a good source to learn about Hermeticism. Or anything. Stop asking.

It’s annoyingly how often he comes up in the circles I run in, but let’s just cut to the chase: by Julius Evola‘s own admission in his introduction to La tradizione ermetica (The Hermetic Tradition), the book has nothing to do with Hermeticism as it actually is. When he uses the term “Hermetic tradition”, he refers to his own take on medieval and Renaissance alchemical symbolism informed by Theosophically-influenced Vedic and Hindu spirituality.  From his own preface (in English translation):

In the present work we shall use the expression “hermetic tradition” in a special sense that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance gave it.  It will not refer to the ancient Greco-Egyptian cult of Hermes, nor will it refer solely to the teachings comprising the Alexandrian texts of the Corpus Hermeticum.  In the particular sense that we shall use it, hermetism is directly concerned with the alchemical tradition, and it is the hermetico-alchemical tradition that will be the object of our study.

If you want to learn about Hermeticism proper, Evola ain’t it.  To be sure, the term “Hermeticism” has a very twisted, twisting, twisty history, but Evola does the equivalent of appropriating it and detaching it from any sense beyond a strictly post-classical alchemical tradition.

But, to be fair, Evola is someone to completely avoid regardless. On top of his fascism—he literally described himself as superfascista and thought the Nazis didn’t go far enough because they only focused on physical race and neglected spiritual race as well—the practical thing about Evola that modern occultists really need to know is that he founded a magic society (the UR Group) based on a series of solar rituals that were grossly unbalanced, turning all its members into egotistical megalomaniacs who couldn’t get along or organize for a common purpose. They all became convinced that they were, each of them, the Only True Source of Light, and so the organization exploded. Naturally, having completely failed at designing effective magic, they turned to politics that gave them permission to murder anyone who disagreed with them.

As a result, there is nothing (nothing!) that meaningful or worthwhile that you can learn from Evola’s (or the Ur Group’s) texts that you can’t learn from some other, less obnoxious, less odious, less overweening, and overall better source in the century since or the many centuries before.  I mean, heck, even John Michael Greer talked once upon a time about how bad Evola was, not just politically but also magically, especially in “Introduction to Magic” but also touching on how short-lived and paltry Evola’s magical career was:

The fact of the matter is that Evola’s UR Group was a wretched flop, and the inadequacy of its system of training is a very large part of the reason why. The Group was founded in early 1927 and blew itself apart in late 1929, having achieved none of the goals Evola so confidently set out for it; the cause of death was a series of internal crises that will be wearily familiar to those who know their way around the more dysfunctional ends of today’s Neopagan scene.  Furthermore, according to the useful preface contributed to the book by Renato del Ponte, two later groups of occultists who attempted to revive the UR Group’s teachings crashed and burned in exactly the same way. Part of that is a phenomenon occultists call the “tainted sphere,” which we’ll discuss in a later post, but there’s another factor at work: the practical instructions for training given in Introduction to Magic are mediocre at their best moments and seriously problematic at their worst.

[…] Turn the pages of Introduction to Magic and it’s not hard to see why. Setting aside the philosophical and symbolic essays—which again are generally of high quality—and the turgid rhetoric that seems to have been de rigueur for occult authors in that era, what you get, in terms of practical work, consists of: (a) standard advice on developing consciousness and will in everyday life, mostly cribbed from Eliphas Lévi; (b) an assortment of exercises in meditation and visualization, not well integrated with one another; (c) a few exercises with a magical mirror, for one or two persons; and (d) a simple ritual centering on Pietro d’Abano’s invocation of the archangel of the Sun, without any of the preliminary training needed to make rituals work.  As a set of basic practices, that has serious problems: it leaves out a number of things essential to the novice in operative magic, and it’s imbalanced in ways that will produce (and in fact did produce) predictable problems.

[…] Evola, for his part, responded to the parallel failure of the UR Group by turning from magic to politics. His entire involvement with magic began and ended in the three years the UR Group functioned, and these were very early in his life—when the UR Group was founded, he was only twenty-six years old. His decision to turn to political action, and from there to cultural politics, was a sensible one. Since he was not the sort of person who could submit to another’s guidance and instruction, he was never going to get the kind of systematic education in magic he needed to accomplish his goals—and the lack of a systematic education in magic lay at the heart of his failure as a teacher of that art.

As noted above, JMG’s article also points out something really neat: Evola was literally just involved in magic for, like, three years. That’s it. In those few years, magic failed him because he failed at magic.  Sure, he kept writing about it from time to time, as in La tradizione ermetica or Maschera e volto dello spiritualismo contemporaneo, but (as Gianfranco de Turris’ Julius Evola: The Philosopher and Magician in War: 1943—1945 notes) he did so only to continue further his repulsive views without actually doing anything more than writing what amounts to bad fanfiction of esotericism:

The issue of esotericism was also relevant in the context of Evola’s collaboration with the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) and Abwehr (Military Intelligence Service) because his relationship with the German military secret services took place in view of the preparation of a model of man and society that was not intended for everyone but rather only for the “initiates” who were capable of demonstrating an inner equilibrium and knowledge superior to others. Evola’s logic in this regard was also clearly antimodern, since all the principles and values that were born of the French Revolution concerning equality and the rights of man were totally alien to him and his thinking. Esotericism represented a way to stress an inequality of men and, consequently, a different valuation of rights. Moreover, the historicist notion that the modern “surpasses” the ancient and thereby constitutes an advancement of progress was foreign to the philosopher.

[…] In reality, all of Evola’s projects during this time period—which ranged from those conceived in the final years of the war to those intended for the young militants of the Italian postwar radical Right—were not so much political as they were cultural and existential projects to develop aspects of resistance, especially on a personal level, against that modernity, which for Evola represented the source for all the evils of contemporary society.

And against modernity, sure, Evola has plenty to say, notably in his Rivolta contro il mondo moderno (Revolt Against the Modern World)Wouter J. Hanegraaff put out an excellent article about this text with his own sharp critique noting that what Evola has to say about modernity and about tradition is worth less than used single-ply toilet paper:

Let me begin on the positive side. Impressive about Evola’s book is the remarkable degree of internal logic and consistency of vision with which he deconstructs every imaginable belief or assumption that modern people tend to take for granted, exposing the whole of it as one long series of errors and perversions of the universal metaphysical truth on which all Traditional societies were based. He manages to strike a tone of “academic” authority that gives the impression that he knows what he is talking about, and it is not so hard to understand that a book like this can make a deep impression on readers who feel alienated from contemporary global consumer culture and would like to see it destroyed. With a radicalism reminiscent of contemporary Islamic Jihadists, Evola tells his readers that modernity is the very negation of everything valid and true.

So what is his alternative? This is where it quickly gets problematic. First of all, while Evola’s modern Right-wing admirers like to claim “historical consciousness” for themselves while blaming their “Liberal” enemies for having no sense of history, Evola himself makes perfectly clear that any attempt to find evidence for his historical narrative will be an utter waste of time. He claims that “Traditional man” had a “supratemporal” sense of time, and therefore the reality in which he lived cannot be grasped by modern historical methods at all. […] any critical objection, any disagreement, any reference to historical evidence that might possible undermine Evola’s narrative, and indeed any reference to historical sources at all, will have no impact whatsoever. And this fits perfectly with the extreme authoritarianism that is typical of Evola’s attitude: the reader is given to understand that it is not really Julius Evola who is speaking to us in these pages – no, he is speaking on behalf of the supreme source of superhuman metaphysical truth itself (the nature of which, by the way, remains very vague). Disagreement is therefore synonymous with spiritual ignorance: one is not supposed to ask questions but to listen and accept.

[…] So are we simply dealing here with the typical naïvety of an amateur historian? I don’t think so. I am convinced that Evola’s highhanded statements about the total irrelevance of historical scholarship reflect an acute awareness on his part that these methods and technical tools had the power to undermine and destroy everything he wanted to say. If he dismisses textual criticism or philological analysis ex cathedra, describing them as the feeble props of deluded ignorants, this is because he knows that in reality they are deadly weapons against which his claims would be utterly helpless. Better discredit your critics in advance so that your readers will not even bother taking their arguments seriously. Better make use of the popular and populist resentment of “academics” in their ivory tower, of all those “specialists” who are making everything so difficult instead of telling a clear and simple story that normal people can understand. We find a similar strategy in the current conservative and rightwing campaigns of denying climate change (Trump: “just look out the window!”), undermining the credibility of science and academic research, attempting to defund Humanities programs, and spreading the trope of “alternative facts”. Science and scholarship are inconvenient to these antimodernists because they hinder them in saying what they want to say and doing what they want to do. Never let evidence stand in the way of a good story. We find the same approach in Evola. In sum, I do not think he doesn’t take historians seriously, on the contrary: he is afraid of them. He knows that his weapons are no match for theirs, and so he seeks to avoid a direct confrontation.

Also, I note as a historical point of interest, he apparently had a habit of walking around Vienna during bombing raids during World War II to “ponder his destiny”, and during one such raid in 1945, was hit by shrapnel that damaged his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down for the rest of his life.  He was, to put it plainly, an astounding idiot with little sense of self-preservation on top of his horrific and banal “philosophy”.

Why, then, do people consider this rubbish to be some sort of grand luminary? I mean, I can guess: the man was an egotistical, hyperfascist, woman-hating, violent abuser of not just other human beings but of human dignity itself.  He was barely even an armchair magician (who literally failed at becoming anything more) and was more interested in romanticizing his own ahistorical, easily-wrecked notion of “tradition” that acclaimed the superiority of white men more than anything and anyone else, and such a view is replete throughout all his writings.  As a result of that and his sick self-aggrandizing desire to get people riled up in the usual ways bigotry likes to do, his influence continues to dominate in neo-fascist occult circles and in modern far-right political circles as well.  The sooner everyone drops his shit and leaves him to be swallowed by the sands of time in favor of literally anyone better (and it’s genuinely easy to find anyone better, and I do mean anyone), the better off we’ll all be.

To impress how severe my stance on him is: Evola and his ilk is one of the extremely few blights I take upon Hermetic studies/spirituality (and humanity in general) more seriously and more vitriolically than the Kybalion.  Remember that the only thing fascists deserve is immolation and drowning, not any sort of space or platform within our communities.  (This is not a call to violence, I should note, but merely a call to defense against those whose ideologies promise nothing but violence already.  The cure for this is simple: don’t be fascist.)

The above was posted in a shorter form on the /r/Hermeticism subreddit, which itself was a comment in reply to a now-deleted thread, which itself was an adaptation from an earlier Twitter thread of mine, which was yet earlier a series of comments from an older discussion in the Hermetic House of Life Discord server. Still, given how often it crops up in any number Hermetic communities, I wanted to share this more widely and publicly for other people to see as well. In my own Hermetic community on Discord, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between those who stan or otherwise unflaggingly support Evola and those who show their whole ass with rancidly fascist takes in short order. It’s not a good look, and such people tend to not last long in the communities I run in.  To that end, I am powerfully disinterested in debating the merit of Evola’s writings at any length.

EDIT: I couldn’t not share this on my blog from a good friend:

 

So, I watched “The Kybalion” last night.

Sometimes I don’t know when to stop.  Sometimes I let others talk me into horrible ideas.  Last night was a case where both came into play.

Based on some back-and-forth banter from the Hermetic House of Life Discord server, I ended up participating in an online watch-party with some of my friends for Mitch Horowitz’s “The Kybalion”.  Yes, the author of Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation is a loud and proud proponent of the New Thought book The Kybalion (about which I’ve said so much before and about which many others have, too), and just a few weeks ago (on January 11, 2022) released his 1hr15min movie about the book.  According to the movie’s IMDB page:

This film is an adaptation of the 1908 occult manuscript, The Kybalion – and explores the 7 principles of Hermetics. It is a surreal documentation of the supernatural world around us.

Although one attempt to get me to watch the movie got a polite decline from me (I had an appointment to get stuck in the blood pressure testing machine at the local quasi-fancy grocery store), I eventually succumbed to the wiles and hopes for cheerful banter over such a movie in a MST3K-like setting.  A few days later, me and a number of my compatriots got together and…

Well, I made a livetweet thread about it, detailing my and my friends’ reactions to the movie.  Such an odyssey can be found to start here (just check out the replies):

Now, by all accounts, Horowitz has done some pretty good stuff before, and it’s not like he’s some newbie occultist freshly entranced by woo.  However, after going to bed in something of a fugue state and waking up in a state of anger that I let myself get swindled into such a horrible way to spend an otherwise pleasant Saturday night, I can only take the creation of this movie as more evidence that taking The Kybalion seriously as being some font of mystical knowledge rots your goddamned brain. Unless Howoritz is making some sort of ironic cash-grab at the expense of gullible people, I can think of no other way one could undertake such an endeavor in so poor a manner unless one were so bereft and bereaved of their critical thinking skills.

A variety of things I have said since last night but before writing this post regarding this movie:

Mitch Horowitz’s “The Kybalion” was an assault on the senses and I feel personally victimized by it. I can unironically say the book was better. The movie has as much to do with the Kybalion as the Kybalion with Hermeticism. Save yourself; don’t watch it.

if you or a loved one suffers from “The Kybalion” or Mitch Horowitz’s soi-disant adaptation of “The Kybalion”, you may be entitled to compensation

I demand retribution for the violence inflicted upon me this night, this violation that “The Kybalion” movie committed against the supreme commandment of the Orange Catholic Bible: “thou shalt not disfigure the soul”

The other night, I (somehow) failed to make instant pudding. Yes, just a standard packet from a box of Jello sugar-free pudding mix, that’s all. (I’m still working through my pudding cache, yes, thank you for asking.)  I was trying to be sly and spread the pudding powder evenly over the bottom of the bowl first and slowly add milk while mixing to get it to come together nicer, but that approach had the exact opposite effect, resulting in vaguely banana crème-flavored milk with a thick, crumbly, half-gelatinous uneven layer of gunk stuck to the bottom of the bowl that I couldn’t get whisked into the rest of the milk again.  I drank what I could of the milk and threw out the rest because I wasn’t gonna chew through half-jellied half-congealed half-flavored blancmange.  That gastronomic misstep came together more coherently than, and was altogether a more pleasurable experience than, Mitch Horowitz’s “The Kybalion” movie.

After opening up with a several-minute-long sequence of iPhone-quality trippy visuals with Horowitz reading every ur-Kybalion quote from The Kybalion in order, the movie breaks down into a sort of cycle:

  1. The relevant quote from The Kybalion introducing one of the seven Hermetic principles
  2. A psychedelic ritual enactment (ostensibly some sort of “Alchemical Wedding”) featuring a naked man and woman presided over by some sort of masked mysterious shaman-esque figure
  3. Horowitz talks at the audience introducing the principle and summarizes at an extremely high, terse level what The Kybalion says about it, interspersed with modern takes involving string theory or quantum physics
  4. A monologue by someone in the sense of it being a one-sided interview

It’s clear that the ritual enactment sequences were meant to metaphorically describe the principle immediately stated before each skit, and each interview (with a psychic, an alchemist, a medium, an NDE expert, a hypnotist, a Tarot reader, and an astrologer) was somehow supposed to explain, elaborate, or touch on its associated principle.  Except in perhaps the most tenuous or tangential of ways (and that really only for the latter two interviews, if I squint hard enough), neither the ritual enactment sequence nor the interviews had anything to do with The Kybalion or its principles.  After the seventh interview is wrapped up, Horowitz talks for a few more moments, and then the movie abruptly ends.

Hand to God, that’s literally the whole movie.

But that summary of the content of the movie doesn’t touch on the cinematographic quality of the movie.  According to the movie’s own website (emphasis in bold mine):

What if there was great wisdom and boundless power available to us, but hidden in plain sight? The Kybalion is a documentary film adaptation of the widely popular but underground occult text of the same name, which explores the “Seven Principles” that govern the universe. Occult historian Mitch Horowitz takes us on a metaphysical journey of how we can apply these principles and unravel their mystery. Mitch argues that the ancient philosophy of the occult may hold exactly the keys modern people are seeking to a universalistic faith of inner development, karmic values, and personal power. Along the way we meet alchemists, artists, mediums, and scientists working within the parameters of these principles. The film, presented as a dark and mysterious enigma, sheds new light on ancient wisdom and gives viewers who wish to expand their consciousness valuable tools to do so. Director Ronni Thomas, (themidnightarchive.com) makes the film an otherworldly and cinematic journey spanning the monuments of Ancient Egypt to a surreal and uncanny other world. The Kybalion will be available January 2022.

Consider, dear reader, how Twitter has afflicted so many nowadays with a shortened attention span: get used to the rapid flow of 280-characters-max statements in brief that usually can only scratch the most superficial of surfaces, and you have a hard time sustaining focus and attention on anything longer or of substance.  Horowitz’s movie is much like that but in a graphic format: outside of the ritual enactment sequences, the whole movie is a series of three- or four-second long clips, spanning everything from Egyptian ruins to Everytown USA to CGI-in-space to timelapses of flowers blooming or withering, spliced together with talking heads (whether Horowitz or his interviewees).  And even then, half the shots are in the middle of focusing, go out of focus, or remain out of focus for as long as they’re on the screen, not in the sense of using bad filming equipment but as a deliberate stylistic choice.  Even the interviews themselves are filmed in a deeply unflattering way, using almost entirely a series of head-on or profile-only angles that, instead of complimenting their subjects, make them feel like they are either an Orwellian authority instructing the audience or a piteous subject to be analyzed by the audience.  Watching the movie is a violation of the sense of sight, and deserves several kinds of warnings that the movie can induce epileptic seizures—but even for those without epilepsy, the constant stream of a variety of visual media is a confusing, disorienting affront to the dignity of the mind.  The movie is only “an otherworldly and cinematic journey” in the sense that drunkenly flipping through a TGI Friday’s menu is a culinary review of cooking techniques and food presentation.  Even from an amateur filmmaker or documentary enthusiast standpoint, this movie fails even the most basic of cinematographic standards.

For an estimated budget of $100k, I have to wonder: where the hell did it all go?  At least some of it must have been spent on flying to Egypt to take some wobbly, blurry shots of a few Egyptian temples, but it seems like most of it was spent on an overstylized, overprocessed mystical skit that can only be described as sophomoric, a stupid person’s idea of a smart presentation of occult content.  And that’s what this movie turns out to be: content.  Despite its aims and claims, it’s not a documentary about The Kybalion (though it does lip service to classical Hermetic literature and the authorship of The Kybalion by William Walker Atkinson), because the movie doesn’t document anything about The Kybalion except for Horowitz reading a few lines from it and offering his superficial take on it.  It doesn’t appear that it was meant to entertain an audience, but if it was meant to educate one, I honestly cannot see how, seeing how there was nothing in these interviews that substantially illustrates the origins, methods, effects, or uses of The Kybalion‘s seven principles.  I and my friends were left in a bewildered anguish, left wondering what the purpose of this movie is even supposed to be.  The movie seems less to be a documentary adaptation of The Kybalion and more Horowitz getting together with a few of his friends, shooting the shit about misc woo, and then trying to make a movie about it by ostensibly tying it to something Horowitz really likes.

As I said earlier: as with so many film adaptations of books, the book was better.  To be clear about my feelings here: the movie is not so bad as to make me feel bad for the original book (because I claim the book would still deserve to be burnt or thrown into the ocean if I didn’t feel so bad about pollution), but I’m still upset and indignant that someone so invested in The Kybalion had a bar set so low and still couldn’t cross it.  Over the past century, The Kybalion has had an outsized influence on a huge number of Western esoteric studies and occult organizations, with so many books and teachers incorporating the principles and teachings (such as they are) of The Kybalion, to the point where so many people in the Anglophone West get into occulture or mysticism (or Hermeticism) citing The Kybalion as their gateway book for it, to the point where some claim that “Kybalion hate is ivory tower wizard elitism” or “any occultist who dismisses The Kybalion is faking everything” (actual things people have said to me when I contest The Kybalion‘s use or Hermetic pedigree).  Hell, for as much as I find The Kybalion to not even be worth the recycled pulp paper its printed on, I could do a better job coming up with interviews, documentation, and edutainment illustrating its teachings, as bullshit as I find them to be.  The fact that what Horowitz gave us, despite the promises of the movie and what it claims itself to be, is a movie that is less a documentary and more a disjointed, disorienting, incoherent mess is not just a disappointment, it is an insult.

As I mentioned above, I’m pretty sure The Kybalion (the book itself) just gives people brainworms at this point.  If such an otherwise eloquent, acclaimed occultist and historian as Mitch Horowitz put out such a dumpster-fire as this about a book he has gone on about publicly in lectures and lessons as being fundamental to good living and Western esotericism, then I have to seriously wonder not what he was thinking when he put this movie together but whether he was thinking at all.  This movie is not a documentary about The Kybalion, it isn’t a who’s-who of Western esoteric experts, it isn’t a substantial exploration of these oft-vaunted “seven Hermetic principles”—it is a random assortment of New Age feel-good half-woo whose expiry date was several decades ago, presented to the viewer as shiny baubles being jingled in front of a baby.  This movie is less mysterious and more mystifying, less mind-expanding and more mind-boggling.  Even the original book this movie purports to be about actually had a pretense of substance and made an attempt towards having some; this movie lacks even that, confusing “content” in the place of “substance”.  I cannot fathom anyone actually understanding anything about The Kybalion from merely watching this movie (whether the book or the movie itself), but if this was meant to be an illustrative guide to spirituality for the benefit of the masses, then I weep for the work cut out for honest teachers, students, and seekers who have to trudge through such a mire of banal vacuity in our day and age to get to anything approaching spiritual.

I’m sure a good number of my readers are familiar with the horrifically notorious 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, or at least the XKCD comic about it:

Mitch Horowitz’s movie The Kybalion falls solidly on the far side of that hump, being both bad and unenjoyable, and has as much to do with the original book it’s based on as the book itself has to do with Hermeticism.  Heck, don’t just take my word for it, consider also this review that one of my colleagues and friends just put up on Letterboxd about it.  The only high point of my night was that I got to see my friends’ faces online as we turned our cameras on to commiserate with each other, but even that was ruined by how much we were burying our heads in our hands.  Even as a joke, I do not recommend anyone to watch this movie, not while sober or intoxicated, not for the purposes of entertainment or education, because you will be disappointed regardless.