The Nature of Trust of a Tool

One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, “Elissa” by the Crüxshadows, has a particularly poignant bridge towards the end:

Everyone has a purpose
Hidden within our lives
Something we were meant to do
Or feel before we die

It’s not particularly hard to interpret this in a Hermetic or other occult sense, if you know anything about True Will or, said another way, divine destiny.  Everyone is, in some sense, a tool of the Divine or of the Almighty.  Everyone has something that we Chose and Want to accomplish in this world we find ourselves born in, something that only we can properly accomplish.  It’s not just anything, but a particular something that is the only Thing, the only Point or Cause, of our being incarnated here.  Everything we do in our lives is either essential development and build-up to attaining and maintaining that Thing, or nonessential window-dressing that can add flavor (either sweetness or bitterness) to that goal.  So long as we Work towards that Thing, no matter how roundabout or directly, we’re doing what we need to do; we might make it easier or harder for ourselves in the process, and we may very well get waylaid or misled on our paths, but the point still stands that there is a Thing that we must Do, and all that we Work towards is in service of that Thing.

I’ve brought up the idea before that, if we envision the whole grand scheme of things, the Cosmos, as a giant machine, then everyone is a gear in that machine.  So long as we keep on doing what we need to do, every part works in harmony with every other part, and the machine works well.  If even one part, however, gets out of sync or decides to revolt, then much of the rest of the system we find ourselves in can malfunction or break down, and other parts have to accommodate the malfunction until things get into proper working order again.  (This is why life isn’t perfect, I suppose.)  Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick once described this to me (in a discussion on True Will) as how a solar system works: the planets don’t need to think or plan or consciously strive towards orbiting the Sun, they just do it naturally as an expression of their selves and their purpose.  But imagine, dear reader, if a rogue planet suddenly whipped itself into our solar system, or worse, imagine if one of our own planets suddenly got a wild hare up its axis of rotation and jumped out of its orbit.  What happens?  The other planets get knocked out of their own orbits, potentially colliding with other planets or celestial bodies, and the whole system gets out of whack until it finds a new equilibrium to settle down in.  There’s no guarantee that this equilibrium will be equivalent to the previous one, or that the solar system as a whole will survive such an accident, but hey, shit happens.  The Cosmos will do what it needs to do in order to work out its own problems, and its our job to make sure that we do our own Work accordingly to handle our Will, regardless of what the vicissitudes of fate throw at us.

Rather than just thinking of ourselves as gears in a machine, however, consider this from another perspective: that we are tools in the hands of God.  Same idea, just a slightly different expression, but now we pick up other and different concerns.  Every tool is built so as to fix a particular problem: a hammer pushes things in, a crowbar gets things out, tape holds things together quickly but temporarily, glue holds things together over time but more permanently, and so forth.  Every tool has one particular job that it does well; it’s rare to find a true multipurpose tool, since a tool that tries to do many things equally well doesn’t do any particularly thing exceptionally well, especially when compared to a true single-purpose tool.  We each have a particular purpose, and we are the tool built to Work towards that purpose.  Finding what that purpose is (specifically or generally) can not only tell us what we need to do, but also tell us more about ourselves, what we were meant to do, and why we came into the world to do it.  A sword does not hammer in nails, and trying to use a sword as a hammer can result in chipped blades, bent nails, and an overall terrible job of doing something that probably was meant for someone else.

But there’s more to this metaphor of us being made as cosmic tools.  Tools must be properly maintained in order to do their job, either well or even passably.  Consider the sword (and for this, I suggest taking a short detour and reading Meti’s Sword Manual, a text written in service of my new favorite webcomic, Kill Six Billion Demons, which I think every occultist today should read and follow because it’s wonderful).  A sword must be kept oiled so as to prevent rust, out of extreme heat so that it does not warp, and sharpened so that it can actually cut; a sword is made for cutting, and so everything the sword does must be in service of that purpose, and the sword must be kept in a good condition so as to be able to accomplish that purpose.  Further, even when a sword is used to cut, it must be used in a proper way: trying to cut a hardwood tree or a stone will often yield a nicked, chipped, or broken blade, leaving it in a worse condition than it was before due to improper use; another tool for cutting of that specific type, such as an axe or a chisel, would be better, even though they all “cut” in some sense.  It is a combination of knowing both how to maintain a tool before it is used and when to use a tool that preserves the tool for when it is truly needed to do its job well.

Moreover, all a sword does is cut; it is a tool for cutting, and it does so without thought, leaving thought to the wielder of the sword.  A sword does not second-guess itself, and a sword does not make half-cuts or mock-cuts.  A sword cuts, just as its wielder intends for it to.  In the hands of a skilled swordsman, a sword can cut God; in the hands of an untrained one, a sword will cut everything except the intended target, usually the wielder himself.  The sword does not particularly care, because the sword’s purpose is not to plan how to cut, just to cut.  Happily, when we talk about Divinity, we can generally assume that God and the gods are Platonically capital-G Good, and therefore know what is Good and True, and therefore, as tools in their hands, we can have faith that they will not use us when we are not meant to be used.  It’s when we try to act on our own that we need to either have trust in ourselves to do what is right when it is right, or to abandon the situation entirely and avoid what should be avoided.  It’s when we take matters into our own hands, or leave ourselves to be put into the hands of anything less than Divinity, that we risk putting ourselves in harm’s way more than is absolutely necessary, and risk coming out all the worse for it.

How much trust do you put in yourself to know what is proper for you to do?  How can you trust yourself to do what is right and proper for you when the moment is called for?

I’ve been mulling over these problems over the past few days, and…well, it hasn’t been the most pleasant of self-conversations.  I admit that I enjoy dealing in absolutes as much as the next ceremonial magician (or, for that matter, human being with a finite consciousness that likes using rubrics and models of reality qua reality), and I would like to say that I trust myself to do what is right in all circumstances, that I am trustworthy to all.  To do so, however, would be a lie, and I can feel it singeing my heart whenever I even try to complete the thought of saying it.  I, myself, have done a number of regrettable, unfortunate, downright shitty things that I would like to say that I’ve put behind me, that I’ve learned from, that I’ve become better than.  And…the truth is, I haven’t.  I still beat myself up for some of the things I’ve done and said, as much as I try to forgive myself.  I still worry about slipping up again, about making the same mistakes, about committing the same crimes in the future and hurting those whom I hold dear, or myself, or my opportunities and chances for making myself better.  I fear that I’m going to be no better than I always have been, making the same excuses for the same bullshit that I would pull over and over again even given half a chance at it, even though I know better from my own experience that I should never have done them even once.

So, no, I can’t say that I trust myself as a rule, or that I trust myself in all situations to do what’s right in all cases where it’s called for.  I don’t see myself as trustworthy, and honestly, considering why others might consider me trustworthy makes me feel like an awful liar who’s mislead anyone and everyone who’s even cast an eye towards me.  And yet, I know that I have no immediate reason or way to betray these people, nor do I want to.  With even a little introspection, I know what can mislead me into a bad course of action, and what my triggers and temptations are, and I know that within a certain set of parameters, there’s neither any reason nor way to betray them, so I can be trusted, at least a little bit.  I’ve come to appreciate the saying “I trust them as far as I can throw them” in a more nuanced light; within a certain range of expectations and situations, I can be trustworthy, and I can claim to properly and rightfully hold trust, even for myself without that heart-singe, up to a point.  It’s beyond that point that I worry, because I know that if I were to go beyond such a point where it’s not just possible but probable for me to slip up, it’d be more difficult (not impossible!) to come out the other end without erring.

I can’t say that I absolutely trust myself, but I can say that I trust myself up to a point.  For most people, with whom my interactions are limited to a particular sphere of life or action, the points at which I can’t be trusted fall so far out of that sphere that there’s no need to consider me to be anything but trustworthy.  For others, though, the story changes.  I can be trusted with qualifications, and though I’d like to say I’m trustworthy without them, I can’t honestly say that.

While I accept that—mostly, and without the burn of telling a lie to myself—I’m not satisfied with it.  Far from it; while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I hate myself for not being trustworthy across all cases and situations, I’m certainly not pleased with myself for it, and I want to make myself better.  I want to be able to do my Work without the distractions of regret, fear, worry, self-loathing, and that calls for either papering over the root cause and hoping it never rears its ugly head again (hah!), or actually doing the Work to improve myself to make my overall Work better without such distraction, as much as I am able.  As a sword, I must make sure that I am in the right condition to do my Work, and only limit myself to the range of Work that I am able to do in the form and condition I’m in; more than that, I must hone, tune, and strengthen myself to be able to push my limits, within which I am comfortable enough to work without distraction, and understand the areas into which I push my boundaries and limits.  If I am trustworthy only up to a point, by my own estimation, I need to push that point further so that I can become more trustworthy, and strive to not simply strut past it without care and end up wrecking myself or, worse, those around me.

Self-knowledge, either given to one by oracle or discovered through one’s own life, can hurt in the process of obtaining it.  But they who know more about themselves know how to live differently and better than if they had no such knowledge.  I know the situations in which I risk my own well-being, happiness, and success, and I stride into them at my own peril.  Dealing in absolutes as I do, the nebulous and unpredictable “being at risk of erring and not knowing how I would act” is tantamount to the definite “I will err”, and it’s safer to simply stay out of situations that I’ve been warned away from.  Should the case arise that I find myself in such a situation, it’d behoove me to find my way back out at my earliest convenience while keeping up my guard.  Still, I don’t want to be limited to this; even if the nature of my being is always to be temped by a particular set of things, there’s nothing saying I can’t strengthen myself to resist them all the more while also building myself up to avoid them at the same time.

A tool, in order to accomplish its purpose, must be in the right condition for it to be used; it must be built, maintained, and strengthened well, and having done so, it will serve a lifetime (or more) of wonders.  But a tool is only as useful as the skill of the one who wields it.  When we take ourselves into our own hands, regardless of whether that’s proper and right for us to do so, we must be sure to know how to condition the tool of our Selves as well as the limitations of use thereof, while always striving to increase our skill and reach of using the tool.  There may be upper limits to what we can accomplish, both as tool and wielder, but so long as we always strive to reach them, we’re doing all the Work we can in service of our Will.

The Holy Guardian Angel in Religion and Magic

As you might have guessed, dear reader, working with the Holy Guardian Angel is, in fact, a thing.  A pretty big thing, at that.  There’ve been rituals written for thousands of years now on how to come in contact with this spirit, along with plenty of kinda-similar-kinda-dissimilar descriptions on the nature of this spirit.  And, judging by the pan-blogosophere/occulture debates on the nature of the HGA, chances are this topic will continue on for quite a lot longer.  In fact, some magicians go so far as to say that coming in contact with the HGA, also known as Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (KCHGA) is the sum and whole of the Great Work itself.  This isn’t a wrong view, but it’s a little misleading if you don’t inspect all the ramifications of such a statement.

No, I’m not going to talk about how to attain KCHGA, or how to find your HGA’s name, or which ritual is best to come in contact with your HGA.  Yes, I have contact with my own HGA, and I’ve been working with him and involving him at nearly every step of my occult path since I first met him.  What I want to talk about is something that I don’t see often discussed: the relationship and differences in view of the HGA between practitioners of magic and devotees of religion.  The two feed into each other, clearly, and the notion of the HGA itself can easily be attributed to either source or a mixture of both.  It’s the relationship and lack of correctness I’ve noted between what the HGA is claimed to do and how one is supposed to work with the HGA, at least in my own experience, and what the HGA actually does and how one should really work with the HGA.

The term “Holy Guardian Angel” itself can be attributed quite clearly to the Book of Abramelin, but the term was already in use by the Catholic Church, the culture of which helped form and develop the spiritual context for the Abramelin (along with other Solomonic, goetic, and qabbalistic traditions interwoven together).  It’s been canon in the Catholic Church for each human being to have a guardian angel for quite a long while now; there are scriptural hints that this has been a longstanding notion (Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:13-15) since before the development of the proper Church, but it was really codified when Saint Basil in the 4th century wrote that “beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life” (Adversus Eunomium III, Catechism of the Catholic Church #336).  Okay, cool; we know that it’s actually a belief that guardian angels exist in Catholicism and, moreover, that its believers are actively encouraged to work with and ask for help from one’s guardian angel.  This is further indicated by the prevalence of medallions, litanies, candles, novenas, and the like dedicated to this divine figure.

However, the perceived goal of the HGA is different between Abramelin and Saint Basil.  In the Abramelin, the text states that “[e]very learned and prudent man may fall if he be not defended and guided by the angel of the Lord, who aided me, and prevented me from falling into such a state of wretchedness, and who led me undeserving from the mire of darkness unto the light of the truth” and later that “[y]e shall also supplicate [God] that in the time to come he may be willing and pleased to regard you with pity and grant you his grace and goodness to send unto you his holy angel, who shall serve unto you as a guide, and lead you ever in his holy way and will; so that ye fall not into sin through inadvertence, through ignorance, or through human frailty”.  Magically, however, Abramelin states that “my holy angel, whom God the most merciful had destined from my creation for my guardian, spake unto me with the greatest goodness and affection; who not only manifested unto me the Veritable Magic, but even made easier for me the means of obtaining it”.  Mathers writes in his own introduction more succinctly that “thereby and thereafter [obtaining knowledge of and conversation with one’s guardian angel] we may obtain the right of using the evil spirits for our servants in all material matters”.  Of course, even the Abramelin alludes to the difficulty in describing the nature of the HGA, perhaps foreshadowing decades of internet-based flame wars: “their angel being by its nature Amphiteron [inaccessible, double?], because the angelic nature differeth to so great an extent from that of men, that no understanding nor science could express or describe it, as regardeth that great purity wherewith [the angels] be invested”.

The thing is that the Abramelin is, above anything else, a work on magic.  The whole 6-month (or 18-month, if you’re reading Dehn’s translation) period of prayer and asceticism is meant to put you in contact with your HGA, after which you work with the HGA to accomplish any and every other type of magic.  In other words, the HGA becomes the only familiar or supernatural assistant one would ever need, able to bind or loosen any other spirit, achieve any task, or obtain any objective.  In this light, Abramelin shares strong similarities with several PGM texts (I.1, I.42, IV.154, VII.505, inter alia).  The general gist is that the magical view of the HGA is to assist you in getting what you want.

This is counter to the standard religious view that the HGA is to lead you to virtue.  After all, probably the two biggest drives for people studying magic are to (a) get paid and (b) get laid, and texts like the PGM, Grand Grimoire, and the like are pretty blatant in saying so, with books like Abramelin and the Keys of Solomon being a little more subtle about it.  What we want to accomplish is not always in line with virtue, if not directly opposed to it.  From this, it might be said that the magical HGA isn’t an angel at all, but a familiar spirit of a lower rank than an angel.  I disagree; after all, it’s a staple in Stoicism, Christianity, and Thelema that you shouldn’t judge what others do, and what might be terrible vice for you can just as easily be blessed virtue for another.  The Abramelin approach to this is to strike a balance between the two: the HGA is to help you achieve what you want, but also to lead you to virtue, so what you want will eventually coincide with what God wants.

From this, it’s easily understandable how Thelema linked True Will with the HGA.  If True Will is what we’re meant to accomplish according to the Divine, then our True Will is the will of God.  Thus, by aligning our will with our True Will, we align our will with God’s will.  It’s still free will and freely chosen, but it’s that alignment that produces true power and true Work.  However, the vessel for knowing and keeping on our path of True Will most easily lies with the HGA compared to other paths, since the HGA is most in tune with our lives specifically and knows our specific needs and wants, and since the HGA leads us to God, he can lead us in a way most effective for ourselves to God.  If I recall correctly, this is likewise why many Golden Dawn lodges have no formal initiations above Adeptus Minor (5=6, corresponding with Thiphareth/Sun), which is associated with KCHGA, since the KCHGA becomes one’s real teacher after that point and the Work they indicate to do becomes proof of one’s real grade.  The HGA will still accomplish nearly anything you ask for, but rather than the HGA changing their nature through your working, the HGA is the catalyst for you changing your own nature through your Work.

This is an element that appears to be lacking to me in religious-devotional methods of working with the HGA, like through novenas or simple prayer.  Without truly needing and aspiring to know and converse with the HGA, it’s extraordinarily rare for one to contact and accomplish anything with them, and the methods involve at a minimum powerful and wholly-concentrated prayer to the point of fanaticism and faith so extreme things become more magical than theological.  Sure, you can obtain the favor and a few helpful nudges after repeated novenas or litanies to the HGA, and they’ll probably throw a sign to you once in a while that you may or may not miss, but for concentrated work and learning, I haven’t found the Catholic prayer stuff nearly as useful to work with the HGA as I have magical methods and involved ritual.  (Then again, Catholic rituals as I would reckon a “ritual” to work with the HGA are few and far between, and I don’t know of anything that powerful besides Mass itself, and I’m not qualified to perform that.)

Despite that I’ve worked with plenty of other angels, the HGA seems to be an angel of a wholly different type than the planetary angels/intelligences/spirits/choirs, and is distinct still from the seven archangels themselves.  I can’t yet discern whether this is a function of him being so close and connected to me, lower than the rest, higher than the rest, an outgrowth of God itself into my life in a discrete form I’d recognize as an angel, or something else entirely; I sense my HGA smirking and snickering as I write this, which I take as a recognition of the futility of this sort of pondering.  What I do know is that the HGA is definitely worked with in a way distinct from any other spirit.  He doesn’t require or feel the need for formal conjurations, nor does he care for chaplets and novenas and candles burned in his honor.  He instructs me to pray, but with a special prayer he helped me write to align myself to the Almighty and not to his specific presence.  He directs and smooths out my work, but has no specific ritual for himself (beyond the Headless Rite, which is how I came to contact him in the first place, but which he’s somewhat distanced himself from since).  He’s distinctly Other, but in a way that makes him not-Other at all.

Personally, I take the HGA, as the Golden Dawn does, as one’s true teacher, but in a farther and in a more ecumenical way.  I claim that once one has true and certain contact with one’s HGA (which is a complicated and hard-to-accomplish thing to begin with), they need no more dogmas or religions or texts beyond that which their HGA directs them to study.  If the HGA is one’s connection to God and one’s true path, then that path becomes their true religion; no other path will do for them, since any other path would divert from their True Will.  In that sense, the HGA can act as one’s personal Christ, or personal God who talks to them, or another emanation of the Divine suited just for them that only they hear, that they need to hear, and that only they need to hear.  As one of my Golden Dawn friends has said in the past, the HGA is a kind of divine sockpuppet, throttling back the infinity of the Almighty into a finite and “easily” understandable form for our finite minds to process and comprehend.  It’s a kind of hilarious metaphor, but it definitely works, and probably works best and most succinctly of any blog post I’ve read or written on the subject.

In that light, I suppose I should reevaluate my earlier evaluation that strictly devotional methods are sub-par compared to magical methods to contact the HGA.  After all, not everyone is suited to magical practice (though I’d like to think they are), and some people should probably stick to the devotional methods and get the most out of them than they would of any set of spiritual practices.  After all, my own HGA would rather me work in more active ways than simple prayer, but that wouldn’t go for everybody’s HGA.  Regardless of whichever path one should be taking to contact their HGA, it’s definitely something everyone should work on, since knowing one’s HGA is equivalent to knowing one’s True Will, which is equivalent to knowing one’s place in the cosmos and in the plan of the Divine; KCHGA in any form is “know thyself”.

Book Review: “The Holy Guardian Angel”, ed. Michael Cecchetelli

As you may already have heard elsewhere on the blogosphere, dear reader, there’s a new book out on one of the most central and confusing parts of modern Western Hermetic magic: the Holy Guardian Angel.  Michael Cecchetelli of The Lion’s Den, author of Crossed Keys and The Book of Abrasax, recently approved the final proof of his most recent book “Holy Guardian Angel: On the Practice and Experience of the Holy Guardian Angel” and it’s on its way to the printer with Nephilim Press.  With 10 authors contributing, including amongst others Jason Miller, Conjureman Ali, Scott Michael Stenwick, Aaron Leitch, Frater Ashen Chassan, and my own mentor Frater Rufus Opus, the book is one I’ve personally been waiting for for some time now. Happily, Fr. MC himself posted a call for reviewers, and after sending the good man an email, he sent me a copy of the text for my own review!  To say that I’m honored is an understatement.

I personally made contact with my HGA back in the summer of 2012, about the time when I was consecrating my Solomonic Ring and was undergoing a large amount of time doing solar work in addition to the Headless Rite at least once daily.  I made some allusions to it before, but never formally talked about making contact with my HGA or talked at length about my HGA’s nature.  Partially, that’s because I’ve been busy with other parts of my ritual work done or finishing up other projects, and in my life that’s already pretty busy to begin with, this is no trivial matter.  I haven’t done as much introspection and inspection of my HGA that I probably should have by now, and I admit that the feeling I get between us may be strong but is also somewhat distant.  That said, since having made contact with my HGA, he has never ignored me or abandoned me; that connection, though it may be distant and small, has never been weak or forsaken.  I’ve spoken with other magicians in my circle of friends about the nature of the HGA, with one of the best/most comical ideas being that the HGA is akin to a “divine sockpuppet”, throttling back the incomprehensible majesty of the Source into a single comprehensible figure for our individual selves, something like a personal Christ figure, but this might be more properly be considered akin to an agathodaimon or similar tutelary god.  It’s tricky, and during previous blogosphere debates on the HGA, I’ve never thought myself capable of getting enmeshed in them since I don’t really know what to say.  The connection with the HGA is something intensely personal and is truly a revealed mystery, and there’s really so little that can be said about the HGA to begin with.  Those who have contact with the HGA know what it’s like and have little need to talk about it; those without contact have no means to understand what can be said.  Still, even among those who do have contact with the HGA, there’s a lot that can be said about the development, use, and work with the HGA, and that’s what Fr. MC’s new book aims to accomplish.

"Walking With the Angel" Banner

The text itself is 216 pages long, beautifully typeset and well-edited, making the reading of it a pleasure all on its own.  The book is broken down into four parts: the nature of the HGA, what comes after contact and how to work with the HGA, different schools of thought about the HGA, and a whole section devoted to some of the important blog posts made during the 2011 pan-blogosphere debates on the HGA.  Of course, MC himself is only one contributing author to the book, and that only in the final section; as he says in the introduction, he “realized no author had set about producing such a volume [on achieving K&CHGA], wherein are presented a diverse and varying cross-section of the beliefs on the subject, was because no single author could”.  It’s a complicated subject with layers upon layers of interpretation, use, and philosophy, making writing such a book on such a spirit more daunting than any other series of tomes on almost any other part of magic.

One theme that’s developed throughout the work is that K&CHGA is not just part of the Great Work, but is in fact the whole of the Great Work itself.  Taken at face-value, that’s kinda a silly statement, and doesn’t make much sense, but on deeper inspection, it becomes abundantly clear.  Many people in the Golden Dawn associate contact with the HGA to start at the grade corresponding to Tiphareth on the Tree of Life (Adeptus Minor); it’s no coincidence that (as far as I’ve heard) there are no formal grades beyond this point beyond what’s directed by one’s HGA alone, though the structure exists for them.  The entire work from this point onward is directed by one’s HGA, who really is our true teacher to understand our True Will.  After a certain point, however, even the HGA disappears when it becomes no longer useful for us, like how a raft is left behind after a journey across a river.  This is why I almost always say that I’ve made “contact” with my HGA instead of “knowledge and conversation”; I have at least partial knowledge of my HGA, sure, but developing the deep connection between us to where there is nothing external to me, becoming one with, within, and as God, the true “conversation” of the HGA, is something I’ll forever be working on.  The HGA, indeed, is a fundamental part of the Great Work, and though Crowley states that “the single supreme ritual is the attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”, this is a ritual that takes a lifetime to complete.

This theme is developed through the book, that attaining contact with the HGA isn’t a one-time thing.  Even for myself, where I already have contact with my HGA, Fr. MC’s book is packed with good advice from people who have done the Work beyond what they’ve generously written about, and it inspires me with new things I’m eager to try out.  While I don’t see the need at this point to go through the Abramelin operation or redo a six-month stint of daily Headless Rites, that doesn’t mean I completely understand and can do anything with my HGA that I want to do.  You don’t just do the rituals and be done with it, receiving a full spirit guide at your beck and call; it’s the opening to a relationship where you two must work together to understand the Work to be done.  Just as the Sun rising once for one day doesn’t give all the light and energy necessary for the Earth to do everything it needs to do for its predicted 3.7 billion years, it has to rise continuously over and over again, each time going through the nocturnal underworld in order for the Earth and all its life to continue developing, building, and lasting.  Speaking from experience, I can definitely attest to this being the case, but happily this book provides means and new ideas for me to continue working with my own HGA in a big way that I wouldn’t’ve thought of.

Something that I’m totally okay with and agree with as a matter of scope is that the book does not offer much in the way of ritual.  Several authors offer some ritual rubrics and ideas to actually work with the HGA, but these are still rubrics with mostly experiences of use with them and not detailed ritual instructions themselves.  Rather, the book focuses more on “what the HGA can do for you”, and points out that there are so many ways to approach the HGA and many ways to come in contact with it, not just via the Headless Rite or the Abramelin operation.  That’s one of the goals of this book and the overall work of the HGA, too: it really doesn’t matter how you do the work here, so long as you do something.  Fr. MC himself says as much in his final entry: “there is no substitute for experiential knowledge…what is most crucial is to DO”.  The rituals offered within the book are references to those from the PGM, Abramelin, Solomonic-inspired shamanic acts, or Gnostic Ogdoatic methods to work with the HGA, which is saying quite a lot about the background the book offers that it combines all of them near seamlessly into a cohesive text.  What this book is good for is that offers the reader a glance into the experience of those few practicing magicians with actual experience with the HGA, as well as their (wildly divergent but critically useful) thoughts on the spirit.

It’s the combination of authors within “The Holy Guardian Angel” that really gives authority and authenticity to the book.  There’s a lot written about the HGA out there, but very little of it can be trusted (even more than most stuff on magic out there).  Even Fr. MC himself says as much in one of his old blog posts (reproduced in the book as a part of the section on the blogosphere debates):

…of all those who claim they have established “Knowledge and Conversation….”, 70% are lying, 15% have interpreted the aforementioned S.A. or another helpful spirit AS the HGA when in fact it is not and therefore truly believe they HAVE Knowledge and Conversation… etc…, 10% have no contact with any spirit and are under the new age proliferated misconception that contact with spirits evoked comes in the form of “clear messages, like really reeeaallly clear messages in my head” or another such abominable lie.

5%, then, are those who genuinely have made conscious, true contact and have attained what Abramelin and Abraham von Worms call “Knowledge and Conversation of The Holy Guardian Angel”. And thats a liberal number. In the majority of cases, those who are among this 5% and have ascended to this level, will know recognize one another in conversation or when reading each others writing on the subject. This is because the experience of meeting this transcendent being is absofuckinglutely changing, and there are no circumstances under which one having done so could not be utterly, permanently changed.

While I may not agree with the literal percentages of these counts, it hits home when Crowley himself says that “until the Magician has attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel he is liable to endless deceptions”.  Attaining contact with the HGA is no easy thing, and while it’s no advanced thing either, it takes work and, like any real spiritual endeavor, it changes the entire game of one’s life.  It’s one of the closest parallels the modern Western mystery tradition has to a life-death-rebirth ritual seen in many other spiritual paths, and if you ask anyone who’s undergone that type of ritual, if it was done right then you and everyone around you knows for a goddamn fact it was done right.  Anything else is a lie and there is no substitute for it, either to get others to think you have the contact with this spirit or to get yourself to have contact with this spirit.  That we have such a collection of esteemed magicians who have the experience and scars to show they have the real deal with their corresponding HGAs is a treat for magicians in the modern day, especially since more and more is being written about the HGA by people who may not be anywhere as qualified to talk about it.

Whether you’ve already had contact with your HGA, or even already reached the grade of Ipsissimus in the Golden Dawn, or even are a newcomer to Hermetic magic generally, Fr. MC’s book “The Holy Guardian Angel” is going to be a wealth of information and practice for you.  It’ll give you things to look forward to if you don’t yet have contact with your HGA, and it’ll give you plenty to chew on if you already do (or think you do).  The book is one of the closest things we have to a textbook on working with the HGA especially when paired with things like the Book of Abramelin or Liber Samekh, but it’s also definitely one of the most approachable texts out there.  To see the words and minds of these magicians put together in a single volume on a complicated subject is a treat, both intellectually and spiritually, and definitely a must-have for ceremonial magicians.  Stop by Nephilim Press and place your orders soon!

49 Days of Definitions: Part VII, Definition 4

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the twenty-seventh definition, part VII, number 4 of 5:

Soul enters the body by necessity, Nous (enters) soul by judgment.  While being outside the body, soul (has) neither quality nor quantity; (once it is) in the body it receives, as an accident, quality and quantity as well as good and evil: for matter brings about such (things).

We know from before that “soul is a necessary movement adjusted to every kind of body” (II.1), although not all bodies have souls (IV.2).  Of those that do, however, they are animated, both in the classical sense of being “ensouled” as well as in the modern sense of having motion and movement.  Plants and stones, for instance, do not move beyond their natural tendencies to increase or decrease, and so have no souls; animals, humans, and heavenly beings move in addition to their tendencies to increase and decrease, and so have souls.  Thus, “soul enters the body by necessity”, especially the bodies of Man, since it is there that soul can develop into perfection.

However, it is only the souls with Nous that do this, and why?  Because Nous wants to: “Nous enters soul by judgment”.  This, to me, has a double meaning, because other parts of the definitions don’t seem to make complete sense.  All souls come from Nous, and are given a touch of Nous that give it impetus for motion within the body (VII.3).  However, not all creatures have Nous, since this is a gift from the Nous itself and only visits to those who serve Nous through Logos (V.3, V.1).  Trying to reconcile this gap between “all souls in bodies have Nous within” to “not all bodies have Nous” requires a bit of a reach here, at least at this point in our understanding:

  1. Nous enters soul because it wants to.  While the Nous is God and God is in all things, not all things are consciously aware of being part of God.  Nous wants us all to be aware of that, since Nous is all about knowing and awareness.  Nous gives life through soul that it inhabits because it wants the life to be made fully part of God and aware that it is God.  In other words, there’s a much bigger party going on in the intelligible world than in the sensible world, and God wants us to join it by enabling ourselves to be aware of it and how to get in.  We can call this type of Nous within the soul the “seed Nous” or “heart Nous”; it’s not much different than what other definition say about God being part of all things: since the soul is a thing, God must be part of it.
  2. Nous enters soul because the soul is ready for it.  While the Nous within the soul may be the heart of the soul, it is not the same thing as the soul, and the soul may not be in full command or contact with the Nous.  It’s like how humanity has their conscious minds as well as their subconscious, and while the subconscious can drive or influence the conscious, we’re not aware of the subconscious desires doing this to us.  By bringing the subconscious to the conscious level, we become more fully aware of ourselves and our whole being.  Likewise, the Nous is buried so deep within ourselves that we are effectively cut off consciously from it, though we still retain that divine spark within ourselves.  By coming to know Nous through Logos, we bring the Nous closer and closer to the surface in ourselves, enabling perfection of ourselves.  This is only something that is done when we are ready for it, and requires active work on our part.

Thus, what this definition is saying is basically that wherever there is a body, there must be a soul, but souls on their own may not have Nous since they may not be necessary to a body, and so may not exist if Nous does not judge there to be a need for it.  God makes things happen and gives things life, and without God nothing could happen; thus, the soul exists only as God has allowed it to exist, but even so it must continue developing.  Just as a seed takes time to grow into a full tree, a soul takes time to grow into a full perfected soul.  This is done by helping it develop within the body across the four parts of the world (VII.2)  Only when the soul is properly developed can it receive Nous into itself wholly and fully; instead, we might say that the soul returns to and is fully connected to the Nous again, regardless of whether it is contained within a body.

The soul entering into the body has more effects than simply dimming the connection between Nous and itself, too.  The soul is an invisible and insensible thing that supports the body, and “while being outside the body, soul has neither quality nor quantity”.  In other words, there are no characteristics or details about the soul that we can know while it is outside a body.  It is only ever intelligible, and so is part of God in the intelligible world.  However, when a soul enters a body, “it receives, as an accident, quality and quantity”.  The soul, by entering into a body, picks up sensible qualities, but it does not enter into the body so as to do this.  This happens “as an accident”, or a side-effect of the animation of a body.  This is because “matter brings about such things”, and all matter is based on the element of earth (II.3), without which nothing sensible could exist.

Consider any arbitrary measurement or metric you might conceive of.  Length is a property of how much matter can be arrayed in a given distance.  Volume is several lengths in different directions.  Weight is how much mass can be packed into a particular object.  Density is the proportion of weight to volume.  These are all quantities, numbers that are all based in the physical realm.  Any measurement based on these or similar metrics is also a quantity, and therefore based in the physical, material realm.  What about qualities?  As opposed to an objective measurement, a quality is a subjective measurement.  Does something feel good or bad?  Do sour foods taste better than bitter foods?  How strongly do you like a particular object?  Does a certain action cause pride or shame in the actor?  These and more are all qualities, which although not directly based on material measurements, use the body and spirit to interpret them for us, and since these things are based on the material body, qualities too become material accidents.

The soul, much like God, has none of these to start with.   We cannot describe any quality or quantity of the soul without a body; it is, in a sense, ineffable, much as God is (I.4).  Moreover, the soul has no notion of these things either until it gains a body, since the soul is separated from the body, and as we puzzled out before in VI.2, without having a body we cannot sense the sensible or visible things, which are measured and interpreted according to their quantity and quality.  With a body, however, the soul can suddenly discern these things, as well as become these things by means of the body.  I don’t mean to say that God cannot sense things, since God senses and sees all things (V.1), but rather that God, who is Nous, who is both Mind as well as the faculties and exercise of Mind, is these things.  The soul, however, is not God, though it is a part of God, and so until it obtains Nous as given by God, it cannot similarly see, sense, or witness things in the same way as God does.  On its own, the soul cannot do much; in a body, it can act as and work as the body.

In addition to quantity and quality, however, by entering into the body the soul also picks up “good and evil”.  We know of things that are good, which we can associate with both light (II.6) and God (I.4).  Whatever evil is, we are not yet certain, but we have a few clues.  These are things that only exist where bodies exist; good and evil are not things that exist outside of the world or as part of God, but exist only as sensible things.  Hermes Trismegistus goes on about good and evil in the Corpus Hermeticum (chapter XIV, part 7):

And do not thou be chary of things made because of their variety, from fear of attribution of a low estate and lack of glory unto God.  For that His Glory’s one,—to make all things; and this is as it were God’s Body, the making [of them].  But by the Maker’s self naught is there thought or bad or base.

These things are passions which accompany the making process, as rust doth brass and filth doth body; but neither doth the brass-smith make the rust, nor the begetters of the body filth, nor God [make] evil.  It is continuance in the state of being made that makes them lose, as though it were, their bloom; and ’tis because of this God hath made change, as though it were the making clean of genesis.

Basically, good and evil exist as a special set of qualities in the sensible world, and are related to the process of increase and decrease, which only exists because of the element of earth.  Water helps to increase (“fecund essence”, II.4); fire helps to decrease (“destruction of the mortal”, II.5); air helps to join together (“heavens and earth are united with each other by the air”, II.2).  Death is a result of decrease without increase; creatures that are not heavenly and made of fire are therefore earthy and mortal (IV.1, IV.2); death prevents the soul from obtaining perfection when the soul is not yet ready (VI.3); bodies serving their own end without care for the soul serves only death (V.2).  Therefore, death, decay, and decrease that prevent the soul from fulfilling its perfection and Nous can be considered evil, and this can only be done in the material world that bodies live in.  These things on their own are not bad at all, and are necessary in the world, but when they interfere with ourselves, they become a harmful influence.  However, we must choose to let them interfere with ourselves, even if we choose inaction against them.

This is a crucial difference between the material world and the immaterial world: good and evil only exist where a chance to turn away from God exists.  Outside the material world, one is only ever part of God, and thus cannot turn away from God.  In the sensible world, it’s harder to be aware of God, and thus easier to turn away from God.  Turning towards God and rejoining with him, coming into the perfect “knowledge of the beings” and light of Nous, is therefore good; turning away from God and ignoring the impetus of Nous and the directions that would lead us to God is therefore evil.  This sort of thing is not possible outside the sensible world, where Nous can be absent from speech or action due to our own actions or speech.  Outside the sensible world, there is nothing (so far said, at least) that can distinguish us from God, therefore having us become God and God becoming us wholly, so that whatever God wills, we ourselves will, and whatever we do, God does.

This ties in tightly to notions of True Will and divine providence, too, and the ideas are similar.  When we do what God wants us to do, carrying out and serving our divine purpose, that’s our True Will, the will we are meant to fulfill which we ourselves can know once we can see ourselves clearly enough.  To do that, however, we have to carry out the Great Work, which helps us prepare ourselves across the four parts of the world and begin to hear and use Logos.  This allows our sensible, material bodies to better heed and serve our souls, which can then develop properly into a fully-knowledgeable and divine soul with Nous.  With Nous being known to ourselves, we then can carry out what it is we’re supposed to do; at that point, any distinction between what we want and what God wants is meaningless, because our wills have become God’s will and vice versa.