Getting Burnt by the Stars, part 3: Causes, Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Gnosis
January 16, 2013 9 Comments
Getting burnt by the stars, or by magic in general, is an inherent risk in working with magic. That doesn’t mean nobody should do it; it’s risky like a gamble is risky, or construction is risky, or cooking is risky. Magic is a profession, something one has to constantly apply themselves to and gain expertise in, making their work their Great Work. It’s tricky, though, and there’s always more ground to cover; one’s life’s work lasts as long as their life does, after all, and no matter how thoroughly one may think they know something, there’s always something more.
One of the things I mentioned last time was that, once you have your foot in the gate of magic, you leave enough room for yourself to slip into the world of magic and for magic to slip into your own world. Magic isn’t always a benevolent, cheerful, happy, peaceful thing; there are demons, malevolent forces, sociopathic trickster spirits, and powers inimical to the survival of humanity out there. There are things that would love nothing more than to see everyone and everything you come in contact to burn, shrivel, rot, and crumble just for the hell of it. That shit’s bad, and you need to watch yourself when you get anywhere near them or connected to them. You need to erect defenses to keep that stuff out and keep yourself safe. But even that’s not enough, because even the good forces out there can suck, too. If only the universe were convenient enough to have such a plain dichotomy as to simply be “good stuff helps, bad stuff hurts” without any further nuance, then I wouldn’t be writing this post. Then again, I’m writing this post, so there’s more to it.
There’s this notion that anything terrestrial or chthonic is bad and anything celestial or heavenly is good. Since this series of posts is about getting burnt by the stars, let’s focus on and refute the latter idea. The more astral dirt you accrue by tracking it in from the higher spheres, or the more dust you bring in from inviting higher ups down into your house, the more confused and imbalanced things get down here and up there alike. When you work in any plane higher (or lower) from our current one, we track in critters and particles of stardust that, frankly, don’t belong down here and cause more harm than help. It’s like wandering around the world and returning home: the further out you go, the stranger dust you accrue back when you’re home again, the more potential you have to bring in bedbugs, unusual toxins or pollen, or contraband that could easily get you arrested. These innocuous things, belonging properly to their home areas, don’t belong in your home. You may get good use out of what you went abroad for, and may have learned a lot besides, but sometimes you don’t just leave tracks and take pictures.
In a similar manner, when you work among the stars, you’re working with the raw forces of creation itself, along with their attendant gods, angels, spirits, and armies. While generally beneficial, their notion of celestial benefice is not often correlated with humane benefice. They have their own concerns, cares, needs, and tasks to carry out that can just as easily correlate with human needs and concerns as it can cross them. Going to those spheres, getting the forces you need, and learning about yourself from those spheres is good, but the more you work in a certain sphere or with a certain kind of spirit, the more like that sphere and the more like those spirits you and your own sphere become. In moderation, as in everything else, this is a good thing, but no more. And while you may think you know exactly what you’re taking, you may not exactly be careful with what you wish for, and get just a little more than you bargained for. In small doses, the stardust and astral grime you accrue will wash off on its own, usually, but over time the dust accrues more and more and starts causing serious issues.
Say I want to work with the forces of Mercury more, so I do weekly invocations of the god Hermes, weekly conjurations of Raphael, wear orange, meditate on the symbols of Hod, and so forth. Sure, I end up becoming more Mercurial, but there can be a point where it gets too much. Sure, I think faster, but I end up thinking too much and become wrapped up in possibilities and what ifs more than practical considerations. Sure, I’m more conversational with people, but I end up getting too inquisitive, talkative, and debate-oriented for people to comfortably deal with. Sure, I can pick out more details and issues in things to better them, but I also become more hypercritical, micromanaging, and obnoxiously nearsighted with every plan I come across. Sure, I can do more tricks of the hand and can start playing tricks on others, but I end up trying my hand at playful theft and get in major trouble for it at work. Without a proper balance of forces, or without clearing out all the Mercurial dust that’s been accrued from overdoing the work, I end up becoming too Mercurial to a degree that I was never meant to be.
Another issue that comes from working amongst the stars is that they’re not always good. There’s a notion in qabbalah of the qlippoth, the empty “shells” or “husks” of the sepiroth that show the negative polarities of their respective sepirah’s qualities, or conceal the true holiness of that sephirah as a distraction to lead people astray from their true paths. It’s easy to flip from the Tree of Life to the Tree of Death, especially in Geburah (“Strength”) where strength without being tempered by mercy, justice, or magnanimity becomes mere destruction for its own sake. Without balancing oneself on that fine ledge between too much of the good and falling over into the bad, one working amongst the stars will find themselves either burnt by falling into too much light or getting lost in the sphere without any light at all.
Going back to the metaphor of working with the forces of Mercury, whose associated sephirah is Hod or “Splendor”, the qlippah or husk of Mercury is “Desolation”, as in fallen or failed creations in opposition to splendorous, complete ones. Creations require complex, logical, and interdependent plans in order to succeed; plans that insist on independence from others, untested and bad theories, or without the proper planning or foresight are doomed to fail, no matter the amount of thinking that goes into it. Splendor without effort becomes desolation, and the desolation of things that failed in the past hide the possibility of splendor of things as yet untried in the future. Then again, dwelling too much in splendor keeps us at too high a level to deal with the day-to-day unsplendorous reality we actually live in.
Yet another cause of getting burnt by the stars is, well, they’re stars. Stars are big, old, and powerful; they’re gods, or so close to gods that the distinction is superficial. Stars and gods both are blindingly bright, scaldingly hot, and wholly dangerous. Coming face-to-face with gods is a dangerous thing, because they don’t have or deal with human needs, frailty, or faults. They’re gods, and they do what they want. That said, they care for humanity, but being higher than us and immortal, they operate in completely different ways that, frankly, humanity doesn’t and can’t . Bearing in mind that the whole point of the Great Work is to wholly rejoin the Divine as wholly divine ourselves, we’re still human with flesh and souls that can be burnt. Coming face-to-face with a god is seen effectively as a death sentence, driving people mad in Lovecraftian stories or outright burning them up in the ancient Greek myths (cf. Zeus and Semele). Gods revealing themselves in mundane form to mundane humans is okay, but when we go up to their level and see their true forms, we risk getting burnt due to the sheer power that we’re facing. The more divine we become, the more of their real face we can stand to look at without burning, but until we reach that point, it’ll be a slow and gradual process of revelation. Trying to skip ahead is deadly, like trying to bust into a mystery cult without going through the proper initiations.
Coming to know ourselves through magic, gnosis of the self, is our real goal here, but it turns out that the way to and through the stars is fraught with dangers. There are four ways we can primarily get burnt: inadvertently tracking in excess effects from the star, intentionally overworking with a star, working misguidedly with a star, and coming too close to the star without the proper apotheosis. Burning is essential to our growth, but it helps to learn how to triage the pain and deal with healing from it. How do we deal with these problems? Respectively,
- Banish and cleanse. When you go to work for something intensive, you go home and take a shower to refresh and keep yourself clean. Just so, when you work with the stars, keep up a regular banishing practice for yourself, your working area, and your home. You don’t have to banish immediately after every ritual, depending on the force in question, but you want to make sure you have all the forces and power you need and know about and no more.
- Moderate and ground. Don’t overwork yourself, and don’t become addicted to any one force. Throttle how much you work with a given force, and be sure to balance it out with other forces that work with it and direct that raw force elsewhere in your life. Don’t forget to keep yourself grounded, because humans are meant to live in the sphere of Earth and not wholly in the sphere of something else. Without grounding, we try to live like we’re part of another sphere down here, which hardly ever works well unless you really know how to handle the juice.
- Reflect and practice. Once you bring your lessons and newfound power back to earth, be sure to figure out the best use for the things you’ve gained. Going crazy over something just because you have the ability to do it doesn’t mean you should; just because people own guns doesn’t mean they should be using them to solve sales disputes in stores. Recall why you needed that power and teaching in the first place, figure out the best uses for it, the ethics behind using it and when it’s proper and improper to do so. Practice using the lessons and power you gained to prepare yourself for more, making sure you’re capable and responsible enough to use them before you attempt anything more dangerous to yourself or others.
- Pray and grow. The only way to become divine enough to handle divinity in its pure, pristine, distilled form is to become divine ourselves. That requires doing the entire rest of the Work, and aspiring to become divine ourselves through prayer, meditation, growing up as humans, and growing Up as gods. Getting the help of the gods to bring us up to their level is something they’re often willing to do, but we need to have them allow us to do so first and go through the practice of actually building ourselves up first.
Working with the stars is a dangerous thing. Still, it shouldn’t deter us from doing it, because the payoff is worth the risk. The dangers inherent in working with the stars require a certain kind of fortitude, reflection, and maturity that grow with us over time, which help us deal with even more later on. It’s often said that God doesn’t try us with what we can’t handle, but sometimes the price we pay for making a mistake is high just to teach us a lesson we won’t forget. Being careful about what we step in, ensuring our steps are slow enough, watching our step in dangerous places, and being powerful enough to step up to Power Itself are things we need to be constantly vigilant of as magicians; messing up will result in getting burnt in one way or another, and triaging the burn afterwards is more painful than making sure we’re never burnt in the first place. Magic is esoteric for a reason: it takes lots of practice to be competent enough to chat with the Divine Source itself, but it can be done. It just takes Work, is all.