Unlocking the Observatory: Dramatis Personae and the Great Cabala

Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT).  Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination.  Last time, we talked about  why ZT gets attributed to the French erotica writer André-Robert Andréa de Nerciat. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

※ For those following along with their own copy of ZT (get yours here!), this post does not touch on any specific chapter of the text.

In the last post, I mentioned that there’s no explicit authorship of ZT to anyone; the closest we get is an obscure signature of “Baron de N……” at the end of the introductory Epistle.  While an attribution of ZT to Nerciat does make sense (at least to an extent), the text itself still remains anonymous on its own terms.  Putting aside the historical identity (if any) of such a Baron, let’s take a step back and consider the dramatis personae of ZT as a whole.  Because FZT provides the most complete version of the text as a whole, we’ll use that as the basis for this and all subsequent discussions unless a particular example from another version is necessary.

  • The Epilogue (properly titled “Epilogue from the Editors”) suggests that the publisher of the book is not the author.
  • The Epilogue mentions that the editors were in contact with the Redactor, who provided the actual text of ZT for the Editors to publish.
  • In some of the footnotes and paragraphs in the Supplement chapters (especially the First and Second Supplements), the Redactor notes that he was taught by other initiates and teachers, who entrusted him with the primary sources in manuscript form.  Notably, such a text was:

    …a confused collection of orations, invocations, and quotations from pagan philosophers or Fathers of the Church, as well as a series of descriptive reports of operations, where such-and-such a state of the Great Mirror had announced events which had been verified in such-and-such a manner. We would have been given permission to copy this cabalistic journal in vain, for we would never have taken care of it like that. If ever this Key should become public, we would be ungrateful for having given it away in the hodgepodge from which we had great difficulty in extracting it.

  • The Epistle, on the other hand, is written by the “Baron de N……” and addressed to “One Privileged to be Placed at the Highest Rank in the Social Order”, an anonymous (presumably French) nobleman addressed as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship” (Seigneur, which, properly speaking, was a title of respect for a landlord but not always a sure indication of being a noble in the formal sense). Abbé Barruel’s Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du Jacobinisme (part I, chapter XI “New Proofs of the System and Mysteries of the Occult Masons”) says that ZT (according to the English translation, and which the 2008 Alexandre de Danánn book goes on at length about):

    …was adopted by certain Lodges of Rosicrucians in France a few years before the Revolution, and particularly at Bordeaux.  To prevent, however, all possibility of being mistaken, whatever we shall say on this subject shall be grounded on the Cabalistic lectures lately printed under the title of Telescope de Zoroastre.  They are dedicated to one of those Princes whom the author does not name, but whose zealous pursuits in these mysteries are sufficiently known by public report.

  • A handful of oblique references to unnamed “cabalistic initiates” who were also practitioners of ZT who used it for various purposes in various ways.
  • A mythic origin story, particularly established in the Epistle but also touched upon in the Third Step and Fifth Step, that establishes the origin of ZT with the eponymous Iranian prophet Zoroaster and the caste of the Magi (i.e. priests in Zoroastrianism and related earlier religions in ancient Iran).
  • A small cast of divinities, spirits, and angels (that we’ll get around to covering later on).
  • The Candidate or Aspirant, i.e. anyone who would study ZT, including the reader themselves who is addressed repeatedly throughout the book.

Based on the above, with the mythic exception of Zoroaster and the Magi and the possible exception of the Baron, it is not clear who, if anyone in particular, many of these personae are supposed to be or represent. As with countless other occult texts, it may well be that all these characters are just fictions made as character in the writing of a play (which may well be in line with an attribution of FZT to Nerciat), and thus meant to evoke a romantic notion of ancient wisdom passed down in secret, forming secret societies and arcane brotherhoods meant to preserve long-lost techniques of divinity and divinization—in other words, omitting the sinister connotations of the word, a cabal, the word itself being tied to the related notion of “cabala”.

On that note, let’s talk about ZT’s repeated use of the phrase “the Great Cabala” and how it teaches ZT as a “cabalistic art”, because we see this phrase all the dang time throughout ZT.  Here are just a few disconnected examples plucked from throughout (my translation of) FZT:

The Great Cabala, from which I shall lift one of its veils, has nothing in common with the spirituality of the relationships which may exist between the celestial intelligences and humanity. Nothing has been able to define these relationships or prove them, but, on the assumption that it would be possible for God to permit them, nothing could demonstrate it any more than believing in it would be a chimera.

On these grounds, the Cabala indicates a formula (traced back at least to Zoroaster) by means of which it is in the power of the privileged either to seek out superhuman intelligences when one needs to consult them or to easily understand their language when, of themselves, they have the kindness to apprise the vow of confidence placed in them.

But let us return to what concerns the Great Cabala more particularly as a method and vehicle for arriving at the result of divination. By means of the booklet through which I dare to pay you respectful homage, my Lord, we shall know how one might establish for oneself, so to speak, a place of rendezvous, where the advocate enjoys the favor of being in the presence with superhuman beings and can there receive their benefit.

…before taking the first step in the path of a science infinitely more intellectual than rhetoric or music, one must learn the language of the immense land which one sets out to travel. The Great Cabala, which we are setting out to treat upon, is this science; the country where we set out to travel is the future. The Great Cabala, so as to make itself understood, has an equivalent of an alphabet, exclusively its own. From the combination of what here takes the place of letters also result words, periods, speeches, and ultimately precise fragments by which, in taking all they can from it, one can take what they can from the immeasurable record of the future. At first one will find it quite easy to read and trace our cabalistic characters, but one would still not be able to hear the language; even upon hearing it, one would still not yet possess it. Even after much reading and much writing, one might still remain ignorant of the Great Cabala for a long time, perhaps even forever.

The Great Cabala only gives us to hold what is human within it, i.e. its physical forms or conventions, more narrowly restricted than those of the most futile forms of divination and much less doubtful, for example, than the practical principles of judicial astrology. As to what is superhuman (which does not mean “supernatural”) in the Cabala, the mere idea contained in the word “superhuman” establishes in proof that we cannot lay hold onto what it expresses, and therefore we cannot give it away. It is a definition that can make its own existence felt.

Of the two Principles, Sisamoro is infinitely good, while Senamira is infinitely wicked. These names prove that our Cabala comes to us from the Persians: “Sisamoro” is the reverse of “Oromasis” and “Senamira” of “Arimanes”, both so powerful against each other according to the religion of this ancient race. All doubts about the origin and antiquity of our divinatory masterpiece are dispelled by this respectful tradition which transmits to us, under a fine veil, names so authentically indicative of its origin, although so many sects have since applied themselves to the same notions, which we Christians call “God” and “Satan”.

Judicial astrology, at first, took part in a great deal of the Great Cabala. It was the astrologers who, imperceptibly but inevitably, disfigured an ingenious convention and stole a source of pure truth in all the abuses that charlatanry needed to successfully cast mystifying nets. This is the same use that profane people would try to make of our Great Cabala, those who would try to seize an inanimate doll without being in good shape, without even worrying about looking for the spark that gives life to such an immense automaton. Some would seek in its alleged arithmetic patterns a way to fall upon the lucky chances of a lottery; others would want to know use the same uselessness that card-shooters know so well of teasing out magical emblems from a game of spades. Others would have the good sense to see in our Cabala only a formless (or deformed) supplement to mathematical recreations. Some especially (who affect a profound admiration for the Great Cabala) will employ it to flatter the passions of their patrons, to distill into a credulous and naïve sex the poison of licentiousness, to instill fear into a few weak souls, and ultimately to make dupes of them all. Good God! Let not this Key fall into the hands of such cheats!

And on and on and on and on.  (And yes, ZT has some hilariously caustic language against Tarot/cartomancy, geomancy, palmistry, and all other forms of divination, but it saves its sharpest barbs for “judicial/divinatory astrology”, even saying that “modern astronomy” is more useful and true, which I find deliciously ironic.)

So, the Hebrew word ‫—קבלח‬transliterated as qabālā, kabbalah, cabala, qabalah, or any other number of variations thereof—literally means “reception” or “tradition”, in the sense of something handed down from one generation to the next generation, received by one generation from the one preceding it. Of course, to most people even slightly aware of religion or spirituality in the West, this word refers more specifically to a set of esoteric methods, disciplines, and schools of thought in Jewish mysticism. Although various strains of mysticism and mystic practices have come and gone throughout the millennia in the long history of Judaism such as those evinced by hekhalot or merkabah literature from the classical to early medieval periods, it can be argued that kabbalah as such arose only starting in the medieval period properly with the development of texts like the Zohar. Although plenty can be said regarding the development and reception of such a tradition, this would easily dominate and sidetrack any discussion I’d want to have currently, and is way outside the scope of a discussion on ZT. Suffice it to say that the development of Jewish kabbalah was a watershed moment that permanently changed Western esoteric traditions through the present day, and will likely continue to be a permanent fixture in the future for a long time to come.

Although so much can be said regarding the similarities and differences between Jewish kabbalah, Christian cabala, and Hermetic qabalah, as well as who might or might not have the right to study or engage with any such disciplines of mysticism and how such a thing should be done, none of that would adequately explain the “Great Cabala of the Magi”, “Great Divinatory Cabala” or (most commonly) just “Great Cabala” as ZT talks about it.  I mean, beyond a few scant superficial similarities involving a general astrological flair and some sort of importance attached to numerology, anyone’d be hard-pressed to detect in ZT’s “Great Cabala” anything that would instead be found more commonly found in the aforementioned historical traditions. In that light, what exactly does ZT refer to by “Great Cabala”, and how does it conceive of such a thing?

To answer the first question, let’s consider the history of the term “Hermeticism” (some of you can already see where this is going, I’m sure). Since its inception in classical Egypt some 2000 years ago (give or take a century or two), this word has been used to refer to a vast assortment of esoteric phenomena, disciplines, practices, and studies. In the strictest sense of the word, “Hermeticism” refers to the classical quasi-movement of Greco-Egyptian mysticism whose teachings on philosophy, theology, theosophy, and the ascent of the soul are attributed to Hermēs Trismegistos, a sort of heroified syncretism of the Hellenic Hermēs and Egyptian Thōth, and even today, many still use this term in this sense (myself especially, though I find “Hermetism” to be a nice alternative at times). However, over the ages, especially after the classical period when the philosophical Hermetic texts were no longer being produced but other texts (more alchemical, magical, and technical in nature) were being more commonly associated with Hermēs Trismegistos, “Hermeticism” began to be broadened and reoriented to the point where it referred to most aspects of Western esotericism that focus on attaining some measure of divinity or divinization, and then after that to most Western esoteric stuff in general whether or not it had anything to do with divinity or divinization. However, as more and more such texts began to be produced, another usage was coming into play: that of calling things “Hermetic” in the sense of it being not simply esoteric knowledge but specifically knowledge claimed to be passed down from one initiate to another in a quasi-secret manner; in other words (as Dan Attrell over at The Modern Hermeticist has pointed out), “Hermetic” is a descriptor less of what is said and more of how it is said. In this lattermost light, the Kybalion can claim to be Hermetic, despite its utter lack of anything resembling Hermeticism proper, as it states in its own first chapter:

Even to this day, we use the term “hermetic” in the sense of “secret”; “sealed so that nothing can escape”; etc., and this by reason of the fact that the followers of Hermes always observed the principle of secrecy in their teachings. They did not believe in “casting pearls before swine, but rather held to the teaching “milk for babes; meat for strong men,” both of which maxims are familiar to readers of the Christian scriptures, but both of which had been used by the Egyptians for centuries before the Christian era.

In much the same way, the term “kabbalah” does refer specifically to a particular brand and systematization of Jewish mysticism, but as time went on and it became more popular and influenced other aspects of mysticism and esotericism, the term became broadened in use. Over the course of its development, kabbalah was at times divested or appropriated from its original Jewish context and reapplied in Christian contexts or in even more broadly Western esoteric (i.e. “Hermetic”) ones, at some times as a means to use the same models of mysticism for the same goal without having to undergo conversion to Judaism, at other times as means to apply the same framework of mystification to one’s own non-Jewish religion. Over time, the notion of what kabbalah was became even more broad, leading to terms like “cabal” in the sense of “a secret group meeting privately”. As with “Hermeticism”, the term was at times used to refer not to the what, but the how.

It’s in this light that ZT uses the term kabbalah, spelled in a Latinate manner as “cabala”, to refer to an ancient system of mystic wisdom passed down from one generation to the next, availing itself of the word’s literal definition in the process as referring to its popular conception apart from any meaningful content. ZT never actually defines clearly what its Great Cabala actually is or consists of except in broad strokes and vague references, and that it has something to do with the divinatory method of ZT as well as some cosmological content dealing with celestial intelligences and anthroposophical musings on life and living. Except for what’s strictly necessary to impart as instructions to learn the divinatory method of ZT, ZT never gives us the fundamental tenets of the system of the Great Cabala, nor meaningful advice on living a spiritual life so as to better approach God except through means of practicing this divinatory method (and, as part of that, learning to restrict one’s diet and sex drive). Considering how the text often refers to this same thing as (specifically) the “Great Divinatory Cabala”, it may well be that the divinatory method is the sum total of the whole thing, or at least its crowning achievement and its fundamental groundwork. At any rate, it’s clear that ZT’s Great Cabala has nothing substantial in common with kabbalah as the latter is generally understood and considered; we’re dealing with something else entirely, and should not think that ZT seeks to engage with or support such a tradition on its own terms.  This is where a lot of modern occultists go wrong, I think, when they begin to get into ZT and see all these references to “Cabala”—it is talking about a cabala, just not the one people assume it would be.

Despite the idiosyncrasies of ZT, both in how it considers its astrological content as well as its own divinatory method that sets it apart from nearly all other esoteric works of its genre and context, ZT still participates in a blend of perennialism and orientalism common to many such texts all the same, which combine together to form the “Great Cabala”, the teachings of which are what ZT claims for itself (and, for that matter, so many other esoteric practices and mystical systems) to derive from. Although these claims are delightfully quaint to a modern reader, especially given how many assertions of antiquity are no more than a tired cliché that’re as old as the asserted antiquity itself, we do have to wonder how compelling such a system might have been to someone several centuries ago. It’s true that ZT never seems to have caught on particularly popularly, perhaps justifying its own warnings regarding how few people there are to properly receive its Great Cabala or how many there are who would rather stick to the childish games of reading cards or points or palms. Then again, what better way to preserve the esoteric quality of something esoteric than to remain obscure, a single gold thread hidden amongst all the many fibers of jute in a sheet of burlap?

So, in that light, where exactly does this “Great Cabala” come from?  ZT itself speaks very little regarding the origin of the Great Cabala and its accompanying systems and practices, only claiming its unsurpassed antiquity, that it is somehow tied to ancient Persia by means of some nominal references to a small handful of Zoroastrian religious concepts and figures, and that it is the source of so much else of esotericism (however debased such esoteric practices may have become in the process of their falling away from the Great Cabala). In order to go beyond this, however, we can turn to the Epistle, which gives a brief history of the origins of the Great Cabala:

  1. In times long past, there existed in ancient Persia the Magi, holy priests devoted to spiritual pursuits and the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom, and one of these number (if not their leader) was the famous Zoroaster himself.
  2. Over time, the association of Magi and their temples became assailed with disaster and collapse, leading to their destruction and the pillaging of whatever secrets they had.
  3. Those who were able to steal and plunder (or scavenge and preserve) such secrets were able to engage in similar work, albeit with less purity and perfection than their Magian forebears.
  4. Over generations, such secrets continued to be debased and corrupted even further, leading to the present-day illusory and false practices that misused and abused the true teachings of the ancient Magi.

Against this trend, however, the author of the Epistle falls back on the spiritual equivalent of the law of conservation of mass: because nothing can ever be truly lost, then neither have the mysteries of the Magi been lost, and therefore they can be reclaimed in all their glory, if only one knows where to seek and how to make use of it, as inspired by the “Pure Spirit” and guided by celestial and spiritual intelligences so far as is proper for such a person engaged in such restoration. One need not have a direct tie or lineage to the Magi in order to participate in their Great Cabala, though what ZT presents would be a sure way of attaining such a thing by means of a spiritual reconnection, at least for those who are able to engage with it. This can hardly be said to be a tradition (a word itself derived from the Latin word for “to give over”, representative of the core of kabbalah itself); even ZT’s own introduction says, because the Great Cabala deals with things that are beyond humanity, “we cannot lay hold onto what it expresses, and therefore we cannot give it away”. Rather, while ZT could be described as a discovery or even recovery of the Great Cabala, were it merely a system of human invention, ZT would be more inclined to describe it as a spiritual blessing, grace, or even a charism.

Of course, it goes without saying that there’s nothing historical regarding the origins of this system; the story above can only be understood as occurring in mythic terms, given the glaring lack of evidence that any such system as ZT existed prior to the French Revolution (much less in any stage of antiquity), that the Magi were given to such practices as described in ZT, or even the strangeness of incorporating the primary deity and their enemy of a whole religion as little more than game pieces in a process of sortilege. Then again, as the author of the Epistle writes, a fable is “only a history of ancient truth diluted in an allegorical mess, the primitive meaning of which is unfortunately lost to us”—perhaps (but only perhaps) the divinatory method of ZT is not just the creation of a single person or small cabal at the end of the 18th century after all. Even then, even if the specific method of arranging tiles into compositions and determining futures by them is unique to the development ZT in early modern France, ZT still relies on a long tradition of astrology and numerology that ties it into the broader tradition (however defined) of Western esotericism.

Although it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to make a historical foundation out of ZT’s own orientalizing pseudohistory, we should definitely remember that ZT itself recalls a variety of biblical events and stories as being “cabalistic symbols”, worthy of contemplation and philosophical consideration. In that light, understanding the myth for what it implies and suggests rather than what it states and declares, we can start to grasp the grander religious and spiritual goals that ZT impels the reader towards. It’s not that we should think of there being literal ancient temples in Persia dedicated to the Great Cabala, pillaged and looted by later invaders, the loot and booty of which was degraded and debased by unscrupulous charlatans—rather, ZT encourages us to look towards the pristine knowledge of a purer and simpler state of humanity before our present fallen state, to gather together the scraps of esoteric knowledge and wisdom that can still be salvaged from low-grade pop-occult texts and streetside “teachers”, and to cultivate what we can into a system of accessing truth facilitated by the guidance of helpful and directing spirits. This is the legacy of Zoroaster that is promised by ZT: not a philosopher’s stone by which one can attain to physical immortality or worldly wealth, not a ring to command the many demons and spirits of the world, but a telescope by which one may pierce the most profound heavenly mysteries, the heart of which is a mirror that itself provides the visions we seek.

Lovecraft and I Don’t Get Along

I’m going to make a terrible, terrible admission to you all that may ruin my oh-so-high and noble standing in occulture: I don’t like H.P. Lovecraft or his universes, and it’s not for a lack of trying, either.  At least half of my friends online and offline love the dude and his works, and all the works and worlds that he’s inspired, many of which actually working with the gods and entities from the Lovecraftian universe in an occult setting or dedicating some of their art and crafts to his world.  I’ve even taken a Vacation Necronomicon School a few years ago, a structured introduction to Lovecraft and his universe and how to write Lovecraftian horror and fiction.  I see Chthulhu this and Nyarlathotep that and Azazoth that other thing frequently and often.  And despite all that, I cannot stand the dude and his works.  I’ve known this for years now, but as my own spiritual life and practices have developed, I have a more solid understanding why.

The basic gist of his cosmos, as I understand it, is that the world is full of things.  Especially people, and especially white people.  And we as the logical, rational, material human race is responsible enough to abandon all but the most scientific of approaches to understanding the cosmos, especially white people.  But there are also other things in the cosmos that are bigger, stronger, and older than people, and especially white people.  And these things operate in a way that people cannot understand, especially white people.  This is obviously grounds for going insane or causing mass chaos and hysteria, because people are supposed to be the best, especially white people.

Please tell me you see where I’m going with this.

Now, I credit the fact to Lovecraft that he grew up in a late Victorian/early modern society and was enamored of what we nowadays call “hard science”, disregarding anything superstitious or religious as BS.  His family had a history of mental and psychosomatic illnesses.  He was brought up sheltered and lived as a recluse.  He held views that we’d consider racist in modern times, holding highest the Anglo-Norman people (from which he was descended), wanting to keep races distinct for the purpose of preserving cultural identity.  He was a man of his times, and especially the nighttime, and I understand that.

But the whole premise of his universe and drama just clashes so directly and fundamentally that I derive no enjoyment nor satisfaction from his works.  The way I see it, Lovecraft starts with the premise of a material cosmos and throws in the supernatural (magic, deities, etc.) almost as an afterthought, as if the metaphysical came from the physical and not the other way around.  In this light, the “gods” of Lovecraft’s universe are no more than beings that have had longer and more resources to evolve than humanity has, with abilities and knowledge that they’ve had more time and practice to develop than we have.  This makes them terrible, frightful, and deserving of crude and vulgar cults set up by the superstitious and unrespectable outcasts of the world.  Just as the poor become sycophants to the rich to eke out an existence by using some of the rich’s power, these low and vulnerable people turn to entities of cosmic power and fright against the more civilized and structured world of civilization.  But, because these mega-entities are so powerful, they stand to destroy all that civilization has made through the progress fueled by scientific advancement and industrialism.  We can’t have that, now, can we?

Basically, Lovecraft started with the basic ideas of social Darwinism and human (especially white human) supremacy over the world and showed how vulnerable we are.  This I agree with: there are things older than us and bigger than us and stronger than us in the cosmos.  I call them theoi, angels, gods, ancestors, totems, whatever; he calls them the Old Ones and Outer Gods and Elder Gods.  Where we split ways is that he finds the existence of these mega-entities incompatible with human understanding and outside our capacity to understand, inducing insanity, madness, and destruction.  I basically read his works as saying “But we’re humans! We’re supposed to be the best! HOW CAN SOMETHING BE BETTER THAN US I CANNOT HANDLE THIS KNOWLEDGE AAAAAAH.”  Note that this is what happens to the more civilized people, often scientists, while the lower classes of people tend to devolve and debase themselves into crude worship of these entities because they just don’t know any better.  But then, they not only don’t know better, but if they knew any better they’d go crazy, so they’re surviving where the civilized scientists can’t and becoming more powerful than civilization, which makes them a constant threat to the existence of humanity’s progress and civilized future.

Lovecraft, in spite of the cultural, scientific, philosophical, and spiritual heritage of humanity that actually exists, disregards all that we’ve actually done and posits it all as worthless in the long run.  Every story we’ve told, every building we’ve built, every discovery we’ve made, everything we’ve done and everything we’ve become is pointless and worthless in the cosmos, imprisoned as we are to this tiny rock in space, bound by our own limitations both physical and intellectual.  This is especially in contrast to beings who transcend spacial limitations (physical or metaphysical), whose power and knowledge vastly exceeds our own, who have their own aims and ends that either don’t take humanity into account at all or uses us for their own ends without regard for our well-being or survival.  All this boils down to, when we really think about it, everything we know and do is basically meaningless and there’s no point to anything.  The man himself even admits that his works are all about the futility and nihilistic pseudo-existence of humanity in the grand scheme of things:

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.

If your worldview puts the material, physical world first and the spiritual, metaphysical world as second, or that the spiritual developed from the material, then you’re assuming that there’s nothing really distinct from the physical, since all things ultimately come from it, and all spiritual stuff is just a physical process we haven’t understood yet.  Everything that lives, going by Darwin’s theory of evolution, is merely accident and happenstance, and nothing is in control of anything except by sheer power alone.  One human may control thousands with enough power, but no power of humanity can ever dominate the world we find ourselves locked into and trapped upon, especially the existence of other and more powerful (though by no means “higher”) entities whom we can only cravenly worship in the hope of having other powers not being used over us.  The only thing that differentiates humanity from the Old/Outer/Elder Gods is the shitty and inexorable luck that we weren’t here first and weren’t strong enough to evolve fast enough.

But if your worldview puts the spiritual, metaphysical world first and the material, physical world second, or that the material developed from the spiritual, everything changes.  Instead of humanity happening at the same time or by the same processes of other mega-entities, we developed after them or by their involvement.  If the spiritual comes before the material, then no material process can begin to describe how the spiritual works, since it cannot apply; science is useless there, but only because science (as Lovecraft would have thought of it) operates only on the physical.  In that case, we need other tools of humanity: religion, superstition, spirituality, the occult.  These things, reserved for the poor and uncivilized in Lovecraft’s works, become the true tools of power and knowledge that can not only preserve our minds but expand them.  Yes, we can go crazy, too (too much knowledge does that to anyone in any field), but it’s not because we’re incapable of knowing these things, only because we get too used to operating on a spiritual level and not on a material one.  Insanity caused by knowledge isn’t a fundamental breaking down of comprehension, it’s expansion in a way that doesn’t mesh well with human custom and civilization.  Even if there are other and bigger entities in the cosmos, and even if humanity is stuck on this little blue speck in the infinite black, we still hold the keys to our own gates to infinity and aether and power that can put us on the level of any Old One, if not far higher.  Am I saying that spiritual entities always love and care for us?  Nope; demons, angry spirits, hell-beings, and the like from any number of cultures would love nothing more than to see us burn.  Am I saying that happenstance and accident didn’t create the cosmos, both spiritual and material?  It’s impossible to know without being God, and even then, when you’re God, there’s really nothing you can do that can be completely understood by a lower being because of God’s infinite nature.  And even if everything were an accident of creation, this doesn’t mean that a purely Epicurean, atomic-materialist cosmos is the only possible result where everything is random and nothing is ordered.  The possibility of order, however temporary, and to reflect on the nature of order and chaos is an indication that, if the universe isn’t strictly ordered, then order (and, therefore, meaning) is an essential component of it.

Humans, even in my worldview and spiritual learning, are not the top of the foodchain.  We may be powerful, but of course there are more powerful entities than us.  We may be smart, but of course there are smarter entities than us.  We don’t know everything, nor can we do everything.  The only course of action we have available to us is to learn and do as much as we can and then more, growing in our own power and wisdom.  We don’t need to get off this rock for that, nor do we need to understand the entirety of the physical cosmos, especially when power and origins lie in the metaphysical that physical laws cannot begin to describe.  Not all spiritual entities may care for us, but we must have come from some of them, and some of them are by no means indifferent to us.  Everything I describe is what Lovecraft refuted, and everything I believe is what Lovecraft denied.  While I won’t go so far as to say he’s wrong in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter to him either way if I did; his universe and worldview is less than helpful and more of an impediment to anything I do and study.

Nihilism and meaninglessness may make for an entertaining read, but it’s no more than the flip side of the “catch-penny romanticism” Lovecraft himself decries.

Fictional Magic

I’ve sometimes remarked on this blog that I feel like I live in a video game or role playing game of some sort, what with my magic rings and enchanted swords and whatnot.  Largely, this is due to my having been exposed to a lot more gaming than I have magic, and it’s no secret that lots of games like Dungeons and Dragons or other RPGs borrow liberally from occulture and magic literature, though it may not be by the book or realistic in any sense I’m aware of (though if anyone has a fireball spell they’d be willing to share, hit me up).  That said, magic is also guilty of borrowing from literature and gaming as well.  For instance, take the infamous Necronomicon from the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft; although this was just a fictional book from a fictional story, many authors have taken it upon themselves to write their own kind of Necronomicon that fits in with the Cthulhu mythos and related entities.  This kind of magic, fictional though it may be, works all the same, to the point where it even begins to freak me out.

Consider it this way: the more people that believe in a certain idea, the more “real” that idea becomes.  Many people across history have heard of and believe in Christ as the Son of God; as such, the idea of Christ is immensely powerful.  A smaller version of this includes any story, myth, fable, or creature whose tale is told time and time again.  If some number of people have read a particular book, have thought about its characters, spoken their names aloud, dreamed or daydreamed about the things those characters did, then all that happens in that book becomes real to an extent.  The more exposure an idea gains, the more powerful that idea becomes; hell, the more belief an idea gains, the more powerful it becomes.  If even one person believes in an idea, that suffices to accomplish work.  Thus, it follows that stories that are popular can be used, and since magic often makes use of “real” entities such as spirits, angels, gods, and goddesses with their own myths, the characters, magic, and the like from within those stories can be used in magic.  After all, I’ve often heard that the Bible is the greatest story ever told [citation needed], and what’s to distinguish the storiness of the Bible from any other book, or for that matter a game, movie, or anime?

One of my friends is familiar with the SNES game Chrono Trigger to no small degree, to the point of being able to recite all of the game’s lines, whether in the Japanese or English versions.  However, being a magic user himself, he’s also adept at working with the entities and magic system from the game.  He’s mentioned astrally travelling some of the halls of Zeal and the other castles from the game, as well as spiritually hanging out from the realms depicted, learning and gaining much from those places.  In addition, he’s also good with working with the spirits, entities, and magic from the anime series Slayers, to the point where I’ve been able to witness some of the neat effects from his working with fire and water.  Being a chef, he makes use of this magic to no small degree in the kitchen, and his food readily attests to that.  (He still owes me a guest post here eventually on the unique elemental system of Chrono Trigger, which I would greatly appreciate before the next apocalypse deadline.)

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is increasingly working with the magic and spirits of the PS2 game Final Fantasy X.  In that game, there are a group of specially-gifted people known as summoners who are able to work with an ambient magico-spiritual force that appear as floating balls of light, called “pyreflies”.  These pyreflies can coalesce into entities, such as physical apparitions of the dead known as “unsent” or as fiendish monsters.  However, certain holy shrines contain ensouled statues called fayth, and if the fayth deem a summoner worthy of working with them, the summoner can call upon the fayth to summon an aeon.  These aeons are used to protect the people in the world of Spira from a titanic, evil mega-aeon known as Sin.  Leaving much of the plot aside, my boyfriend is beginning to astrally travel to the world of Spira, talk with one of the protagonists of the game (High Summoner Yuna herself), and work with the fayth themselves.  It’s interesting work, especially since the mythology of Spira and Final Fantasy X is rich as far as video games go, but still incomplete enough to leave theory and philosophy wanting.  Seeing how much of the in-game Yevonese religion is based on Shintoism, Buddhism, and Catholic Christianity, it’s not terribly hard to see how much of this can work or put into practice.

As for myself?  Beyond being peripherally involved with my friends’ ventures above, I’ve been dabbling in some fictional magic myself.  Specifically, I’m getting started with the magic from the Wraeththu series of books, also called dehara (literally meaning or homonomous with the word for “gods”).  To briefly review the background, Wraeththu is a race of “mutant humans” who are both androgynous and hermaphroditic, able to reproduce among themselves as well as “incept” young human males (transform via ritual blood infusion).  In addition to being uniformly beautiful, lean, and fit, Wraeththu also possess strong innate magical, psychokinetic, and telepathic powers.  The dehara system of magic utilizes an ambient life force called agmara, out of which the deities and thoughtforms as well as magical actions are created.  There are to be a total of three books total on dehara magic (right now, only Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana is released), each associated with one of the three castes of Wraeththu society.  The dehara magic system is a kind of blend between chaos magic principles, Wraeththu mythology, and neopagan rituals (complete with a Wraeththu variation on the Wheel of the Year).  Refreshingly, it requires very little in the way of physical tools and supplies, with much of the magic done through meditation and projection into an astral temple called a nayati.

Admittedly, working with these kinds of magics can be awkward with my other magical projects, but it does offer interesting modes of working that still augment each other nicely.  It’s a lot like learning different languages: two languages can still arguably say the same thing, but how they say it can be radically different.  The theory behind each system of magic can offer new ideas for exploration when compared against other theories, or help provide explanations and approaches to solving a problem when other theories may fail.  As a result, it’s hard for me to seriously claim that any one system of magic is innately “better” than any other, though I may be biased towards more devotional and Hermetic ceremonial stuff all the same.  Fictional or not, may as well explore magic like any other adventurer.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about using magic known explicitly to be fictional, or have you tried it?  Are there any games, movies, anime, or books you find interesting enough with enough magical content to make use of?  For more talk on this topic, Jason Miller just wrote a post about it yesterday.