Greetings. I’m back.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Raven, you said you’d write more regularly. It’s been nine months“
Well, I don’t have much to say. I have no excuses. Without going into too many details, my country was undergoing…economic turmoil. I was not in the best state of mind to write about spiritual matters, and sometimes it’s better to stay silent than say thing you don’t mean because of anger or frustration. I get a lot of emails from people who put a great deal of faith in what I say, and I don’t plan to give anyone bad or misleading information. By the way, I read all your messages and emails, although I cannot reply to all, and I’m thankful to everyone who writes in.
But anyway, here we are again.
Western, Eastern and Modern Ideas of Enlightenment
When I say the word “Enlightenment”, there’s one of three ideas that comes to your mind. First, the most common concept of ‘Nirvana’ that comes primarily from Buddhism, though it has merged to some degree with Hindu and Sikh asceticism. You may think of the myraid of ‘gurus’ parading around with long beards, decked out in orange or white clothing, and teaching really generic “spirituality” to the masses. Many of these dudes either run shady cults or international bodies that primarily attempt to hold political power (especially in the East). I’m not saying there’s nothing to be gained from them, but it’s simple spiritual practices that is packaged for mass consumption, without deviating too much from the standard norms for thinking.
There are of course, authentic mystics that are said to be enlightened, but they don’t normally have a public presence. Real ascetics, like the ones who live in Varanasi, are following a specific spiritual traditions, much like the rest of us. Many of them are also just weed smoking hippies.
Secondly, you may think of the Western televangelists. Generally, they are part of megachurches and to them “enlightenment” means some kind of experience with God, Christ, or an advanced knowledge of the Scripture. Unlike the ‘gurus’, these preachers make no attempt to sell “spirituality”. To them, ‘spirituality’ and ‘enlightenment’ fall entirely within the dogma of their specific sect. Here, we see “enlightenment” presented as a by-product of institutional power. This has lately been extended to Islamic clerics and certain Rabbis as well.
The Pope and Dalai Llama fall into this category. While I have nothing against them, you must realise that they are basically political leaders of different religions, and are said to be “enlightened” because of this authority, not because of anything they’ve done outside of the religion. According to them, to know scripture is to know God. This applies to Buddhism as much as it does to the Abrahamic religions. I would not call these people spiritual or ‘enlightened’, though maybe people find a sense of comfort in listening to them.
Finally, you may think of the word “enlightenment” in the context of the historical era we call the “Enlightenment”, which followed close at the heels of the French revolution, and was the result of the printing press and democratic attitudes spreading across Western Europe, North America and Japan. The spread of the scientific method, coupled with the liberalization of culture, the introduction of the Parliaments, the Age of Exploration and finally, the Industrial revolution and the subsequent end of Feudalism and Religious authority thrust us into what we now call “modernity”.
On one hand, this “Enlightenment” refers to “classical liberal” values, such as Secularism, Democracy, Equality, Liberty etc. Today we take these for granted, but just 150 years ago people would have told you that only “Enlightened” parts of the world followed this.
On the other hand, people who use this term today refer to scientific, materialistic determinism, often coupled with atheism or at least a rejection of traditional religion, with the statement that “subjective” cultural values like beauty, morality, virtue etc. do not really exist. Ironically, while it has improved our quality of life substantially, it has also made people nihilistic, and given rise to the belief that there is no purpose to life, good or justice in the world and a reason for living. After all, if everything is a man made creation that can be deconstructed, what is the point of anything at all? In the past few years there has been a resurgence of traditional dogma.
I’m not going to give an opinion on how “Enlightened” our current time is, because throughout all of history people have always considered their time to be “enlightened” and the past to be “dark”. 500 years from now, we’ll be the ones with crazy dogmas and “unenlightened” beliefs. And, if you’re even reading this blog, I think it’s safe to assume that you aren’t satisfied with being told you’re an insignificant speck of dust on a ball of rust, spiraling around a failing nuclear reactor that’s hurtling through a pointless abyss.
The Dual “Enlightenment”
Within the Occult, the term “enlightenment” often applies to two things.
First, the act of “being Initiated” is and has always been considered important in the Occult. In fact, various occult schools use the terms “Initiated” and “Uninitiated” to distinguish between magickains and non magickians. Some groups like the O9A took it rather far with the term “kindred” and “mundane”, even encouraging violence, deception and manipulation against the “mundane”. But, although I don’t condone treating anyone as lesser, I can see where the anger and frustration stems from.
Over the years, you’ve heard various terms like the “masses”, “NPCs”, “normies” or just “average people” thrown around, and not just by Occultists. This highlights an important point that this type of Enlightenment isn’t just about belonging to a specific magickal tradition or even being an occultist. But who exactly uses these terms? The Elite? Intellectuals? ‘Smart’ people? These are equally vague terms.
You might say perhaps this difference doesn’t even exist, but it does. And trust me, this isn’t an elitist statement, because I despise elitism.
In my opinion, the first thing that can be attained is “Initiation” or “Adepthood”, and is said to be accompanied by the religious experience. Organised religions try to replicate this through various initiation rituals that members are meant to go through either at birth, or adolescence, or whenever they join. Unfortunately, this means anyone who has undergone a certain ritual or been given a position by a tradition, claims superiority due to being an “Adept”.
Next, comes the state of Niravana or Salvation. In Hermetic Kabbalah, this is reached after an experience called ‘Crossing the Abyss’. People who reach this are often called by various names within religions, like Boddhissatvas, Rishis, Ascended Masters, Saints etc. Such people are often regarded with a near God like status. Many, many pretenders claim to be divine as well.
“Anyone who must say ‘I am King!’ is no true King”
~Tywin Lannister, Game of Thrones
The True Meaning of Initiation
From the point of view of any specific tradition, being Initiated, in my opinion, means that you can now teach that system without guidance.
So when a specific School of Magick insists on going through the process of Initiation, they say it primarily to help you understand and internalize the teachings of that system. You may already be an Adept, but you still need to learn the system.
For example, if reached Adepthood through pagan Witchcraft, you may be great magickian. But if you were to decide to learn ceremonial Magick, you can’t just start from it’s Adept rituals. After all, you need to understand the theory and symbols, and work with them so they actually mean something to you. In the most mundane sense, that it why Initiations exist.
People think becoming an Adept involves having special powers, being more knowledgeable than others, having had some kind of psychic vision, or even a Kundalini awakening. ALL of these may accompany Adepthood, but they aren’t what define it. After all, some people are simply psychically gifted since birth. Some people have early Kundalini awakenings. Some people simply are smarter or more creative than others.
Adepthood comes with independent and original thinking.
I know, sounds cliched, but hear me out. The fundamental difference that people see between Initiated and Uninitiated people is the lack of independent thinking. No one is born with this. In fact, each and every one of us is born into a culture and society that restrains and controls our thoughts and beliefs. Even if you ‘rebel’, as many do, you’re usually just abiding by an alternative and often ‘counter’ culture, which itself is most likely the norm for another culture.
Yes, it’s possible that certain social norms, belief systems and systems work better than others on a cultural level. But there is debate over this and people often become foot soldiers in this culture war, slowly giving over their agency either to their own culture or the new one they’ve adopted. It’s also possible that certain modes of thinking are better for an individual than others. For a highly artistic person, altruistic and liberal beliefs probably help him. For a soldier in the military, traditional notions of hierarchy and duty may be better. My point, it doesn’t matter what is better or worse, but your ability to think for yourself and decide this.
What are the ‘masses’. Put simply, people who do not think for themselves. This is most of the human population. Practically everyone sticks with inherited beliefs and social norms. People have a morality and values that are circumstantial, hence one moment you have people talking about unity and empathy, and the next they’re viciously attacking those who don’t think or look like them. I’ve personally seen people’s beliefs change based on what they saw on the News (but this post isn’t about that)
People repeat the ideas of others without ever challenging them. You may think you don’t, but at some point in your life you definitely have. It’s human nature to be tribal.
“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers”
(Funnily, I’m sure people who opposed him thought the exact same thing)
Dr. Jordan Peterson once remarked that most people, were they living in Germany in 1933, would most likely be Nazis. Although many think they would fight against their own society and save the Jews, this is highly unlikely, even in brave and moral people. Like I said, this isn’t about having superior or inferior qualities, but the agency of thought.
Even when a truly transgressive movement emerges, over time it too develops a “group think” that it’s new members simply abide by. Think about Christianity. Think about Communism or Democracy. Each of these were highly radical for their time. Even the very philosophy of Individualism comes with a baggage.
I would like to go in details, but perhaps in a future post. This isn’t the place.
Thinking independently is not something that one is born with or gets by virtue of intellect, knowledge or maturity. It is something you strive for, and in my opinion this is the true meaning of spiritual growth. Everyone, as far as I’m concerned, is moving towards this over the course of their existence. Through the practice spirituality, you slowly begin to care less about what other people think or say, and become more content with yourself. This becomes most evident when you realise that you don’t care about debating with or correcting others, unless it has some real implication. Generally, all that will be achieved is sour the relationship or push the person further into their dogma.
aren’t we all
Ever heard of the axiom “Speech if silver, Silence is Gold” ? The reason magickians don’t go red in the face trying to explain to the others what magick is or convince them that it works, is because they don’t feel the need to tell everyone. Put simply, it doesn’t really matter. This is not apathy, but acceptance of the way things are. It would be far better to improve the world through action, than by arguing with others and endlessly worrying about what the world thinks.
Interestingly, this ties into the values of the Enlightenment era. The scientific method states that nothing should simply be accepted, unless it has been tested and proven effective. Classical liberalism encourages us to live and let live. If you look at history, you’ll see these values didn’t come about in the Enlightenment for the first time, and have existed and evolved since the birth of Civilisation, and often spoken within spiritual and Occult traditions.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn used to insist that the Adept must have three key qualities. Not intellect, nor magick powers. Simply: Persistence, Determination and Humility.
People who are intelligent, or gifted, or rich, or well educated can fail. These things aid people in succeeding, but they do not guarantee success and fulfillment in life. Nor is it that the poor, illiterate, or those who have gone through a lot of hardship always succeed. The only quality common across those who are Adept is their persistence, determination and humility.
When you look at truly great people, you always see that they had a goal that they pursued no matter what, and a strong moral code they lived by. The pursuit of this goal led to failure after failure. But it doesn’t matter how many times they failed, but rather that they continued until success was found.
When you practice magick, you may find that you very quickly start transforming yourself and gaining an edge over others. But we have to constantly remember that we are not superior, or ‘higher’ than others. You have to treat even “lowly” people with respect.
I’m not making a case for pacifism, meekness or servility. Certainly, if someone crosses you, you have to deal with them firmly. Never turn yourself into an unwitting martyr. It’s okay to want things, it’s okay to have desires and ambition, and it’s okay to be aggressive. The Gods favor these qualities. But petty elitism, entitlement, and cruelty toward those who are weak are signs of an inflated Ego. That usually leads to the fall of the Magickian.
The Meaning of Godhood
We have established that the Initiation or Adepthood means the ability to think independently. The key qualities that are sought for in an Adept are humility, persistence and determination.
Most Occult traditions bring about this process through a system of “grades”. Usually, each grade involves rituals, meditations, learning, real world tasks and self analysis. These days, most people self initiate, especially in Western traditions. In Eastern traditions it is still more common to find a teacher.
Every system is different, and it’s not necessary that every person who has achieved a ‘rank’ is actually Enlightened or Spiritual, nor that Initiation can only be attained through this method. The aim is to bring about self transformation.
Every great magickian has only one trait in common, that they truly think for themselves, and would not compromise their principles and values due to social pressure.
The second “enlightenment”, was summed up simply by the Oracle of Delphi:
Buddhism is the only religion that is the most blunt about how Buddhahood is achieved. It is done through the acquisition of Self Knowledge.
Each person has their own path to this, because each person is unique. The Western traditions call a person’s life path as his “True Will”, and the performance of your True Will is doing the “Great Work”. Hinduism calls it “Dharma” or Duty (in the Bhagavat Gita sense, not Hindu orthodox sense)
These are all simply fancy ways of saying “know thyself”. A person who understands himself, also learns to see himself in others. Each of us will have some degree of insight, and we do various things to increase this. I mean, it is often said that everyone is just looking for love and happiness. Perhaps a better way to put it, would be that everyone is looking for fulfillment.
They want to know what their life means, what they enjoy, whom they are meant to be with, what their profession is supposed to be. “God’s plan” as the Christians put it.
Obscurantism in the Occult has made it seem like ‘Enlightenment’ is some distant, magical privilege afforded only to holy men living in the mountains, or monks living in isolation with nothing but a devotion to God. This is why people allow so called “Enlightened” men and women to take control of their lives, and dictate social norms. This is why people would rather rely completely upon ‘divinely’ inspired scriptures of various political ideologies that promise Utopia, instead of their own intuition and wisdom. Simply put, people do no know themselves, and you cannot trust what you do not know. And so, people seek Divinity in everything but themselves.
Unlike Initiation, there is no specific structure to ‘attain’ Enlightenment’ The simplest way to put it would be to discoverer and follow your unique path. I do not know if everyone’s purpose is Divinely ordained, although I believe this. Even if it isn’t, self knowledge leads the the perception that one is doing what one was meant for, and this brings fulfillment.
As far as I am concerned, Enlightenment means coming to terms with the suffering of life, and then finding something that makes it all worthwhile. If, when my time comes to die, I am not filled with regrets and feel I lived as I was meant to, I think that’s Enlightenment. Sometimes, this means standing against the status quo, and challenging it.
Generally, the Golden Dawn and other such groups stated that integrating the Jungian Shadow and developing a strong moral code, and finally being able to rely completely on your own wisdom, to the point where you do not even need the the symbols of various Occult traditions, is how Enlightenment is achieved. But the point is, it’ll be different for each person, and only each person can know what it means.
It has been described by Western occultists as “the moment where the Individual realises that the entire Universe is speaking to him personally”. The Zen Buddhists speak of ‘spontaneous enlightenment’. In other words, not an elaborate process, but a sudden realisation of Self. Becoming who you are.
For someone, it might mean creating a great scientific invention and for another it may just mean running a bakery in their village. Some enlightened people may develop spiritual powers or take part in the destiny of nations, while others may find fulfillment in gardening or a simple service job. People are different, but, in my opinion, it comes down to Independent Thinking, which then leads to Self Knowledge.
If you can think for yourself, you can act for yourself and do what’s right for you. Over time, you can understand what it is you should do with your life. You can figure this out at 18, or you can figure it out at 50, and then spend the rest of your life pursuing it. This is my interpretation of Dharma.
How to Get On Your Path
First off, I think one should become depolarised. I’ve linked a great video on this topic by Frater Xavier, who explains depolarisation better than I ever could. You don’t have to do “magick” for it, but rituals and meditation certainly helps. Namely, a daily performance of the Middle Pillar Ritual.
A big part of this, as Frater will explain, is learning not to react.
Secondly, learn to be self reliant. During this lockdown, I made an interesting observation. A huge number of people, of all ages, do not know how to perform simple tasks: like cooking, cleaning, and saving money. I suppose I should thank my mother for teaching me everything under the sun. When the lockdown started, and we ran out of Gin, I started brewing alchohol at home using baker’s yeast, burnt bread and a pressure cooker (a Russian drink called Kvass). On the other hand, there were people who are so reliant on immigrant maids cleaning and cooking for them, they can’t even figure out how to make rice.
I’m not trying to pass judgements, but this lockdown brought one thing to everyone’s attention: we simply aren’t self reliant enough: as nations, as communities and as people. We’ve come to rely completely on this interconnected social web that without it, everything starts collapsing. Countries are starting to be forced to open up, even though the virus is still around, because of the very nature of our economy.
I’m not going to say what’s right or wrong, instead I’ll tell you this: this isn’t the first or last time something like this has or will happened. The enormous comfort, peace and prosperity that the world has enjoyed since 1950 is extremely unusual in terms of human history. And let me remind you that everytime things go wrong, people first come after those like us. People like us who are somewhat unusual, do not conform to social norms, have unorthodox beliefs and practices etc. Yeah, we are in an “enlightened time”, but then again, there ARE still countries where ‘witch hunts’ happen. History shows us that things can change radically in just over a decade.
As magickians, we need to learn to rely on ourselves. Learn all basic skills that are needed to live independently. I’m not saying to be detached from society (although some may prefer that), but learn to take care of yourself, so that you aren’t dependent on others. Self reliance is the first Step to Self Knowledge.
Finally, learn. You are part of a vast and complex social network that you were born into. It is not important that you go out and start challenging it, but at least start learning about it. Learn about your religion, your country’s real history, about the political parties you support, what you believe and why. Learn these things without passing judgement, and expose yourself to opposing ideas without engaging it debate or mental justification/retorts. Open your mind, and then open your heart. This is what it means to think for yourself.
And there we go, Enlightenment. It means different things for different people, but the most important thing to remember that it was always supposed to be something the Individual himself can attain, not something rewarded to a few special people.
Until next time.