Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Use and Abuse of Talismans

The care and use of talismans is a topic that's been chewing on me for a while. Almost everyone in the self-identified esoteric community understands what one is and how to use it. The national scandal sheets found at checkout stands run ads for them every issue. "Buy this trinket, that bottle of water, this sacred cloth!" the ads implore us. And we, the willing public, consume these in mass quantities, put them aside, and repeatedly purchase new ones without using those we already have.

Dana Corby, as usual, identified the problem some years ago. The difficulty isn't that our talismans don't work, it is that we don''t understand how to use them. The etymology of the word is telling here-

Talisman derives via Arabic from the Greek word "telesma", meaning a religious rite. This term derives from "telos", which means result or end.

This is a clue to the use of a talisman. It is the result or (ritual) end that is desired. In other words it is a symbol for the end result of a magical process to which we have made a commitment. As is true of almost everything in life, the focus needs to be on the follow-through steps needed to get to the results.

Here's an example from my own life-

I own eight books and more than a few magazines on strand-pulling, also known as cable/strand/band exercise. The manuals I have date from the early 20th century to the early 21st century. Among these are two handbooks for official contest pulls in England. I own two different sorts of these tools, an official steel competition strand calibrated to my height and arm/torso length, two Lifeline cables and one Theraband cable. These have been on shelves or in boxes in front of me for the past three years, and I didn't touch these to exercise even once. Why was this so? Largely due to joint pain and depression, but the inner reason I found was-

I didn't have the right talisman. If I kept looking, the right book, manual or graphic that would unlock the secrets of using bands/strands/cables would materialize and THEN I could, exercise.

In May of this year I looked at these exercise tools again, and realized that all of the answers I needed were right in front of me. All I had to do was pick up one of my strands, close my eyes, and start working out then and there. Does this mean that I'll stop reading or thinking about band/strand exercises and how to derive more benefits from them? No, it does not, but I have realized that the endless search for the right thing to do is futile without the application of the tools I have right here, right now.

I've noted before that there is an endless circulation of esoteric and magical materials from East to West and back again, our very own "Kula Ring" of trinkets traded back and forth. The only way to break the endless cycle of redaction, repetition and uninformed use of magical techniques is to actually participate in the ecologies of spirits within the "Body Esoteric"and THEN compare your results with those of others. At the point of attainment it is possible to honestly evaluate the efficacy of a talisman and your techniques, but not before making the journey.

Let me take this opportunity to recommend the website as the motherlode for physical culture books and instruction. This isn't just a trip to the past, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people using these methods and machines quite productively today, right now, and if interested I would encourage you to participate in classical Physical Culture and its philosophies, which share an awful lot in common with magic. The results might surprise you.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Art of Memory for Some Of The Rest of Us

Some of my good readers have no doubt wandered over to the AODA website and found this page:

and the articles

Ars Memorativa I and II

Which details the use of one of the Western traditions of the Art of Memory, used to enhance memory, comprehension and the ability (IMHO) to free-associate information and derive new relationships from existing data.

I truly admire John Michael Greer for writing this article, offering this classic technique to a new generation. The imagery used in Ars Memorative is beautiful, as rich and decadent as a three layer pastry in a party from the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. It brings to mind classical writings by Plato, Livy and hosts of other authors, in addition to Dante's Inferno.

Sadly, some of us can't wrap our brains around anything that visually complex. So what do we do?

Here's one option: When I was attending college I didn't have the money to register for classes and purchase textbooks. So my marital arts instructor pulled a different memory training technique out of his Tibetan and Chinese bag of tricks. Here it is, just slightly modernized to reflect the difference in technology over the past 20 years:

After or just prior to attending a lecture or class discussion, do as follows: Find a comfortable position, preferably in dim lighting. Get comfortable. Using the Spiritualist and New Thought technique of "Entering the Silence" is almost always good as preparation for a bit of meditative work.

Ahead of you is a short hallway. At the end of the hallway is a large rug with a broom sitting to one side. PIck up the broom, and sweep the rug clean. Replace the broom.

Open the door, listen to the hinges creak, and you are in an audio studio, however you characterize it.

Sit down. Before you is a cd recorder (or LP master cutter, if you are a vinyl enthusiast.). Taking a gleaming cd from a new package and place it into the recorder. Close the lid, breathe, and let all tension drop from yourself.

Focus your breath through your ears, and listen to the voice of your lecturer or professor. Pay attention to the pacing, timing, and accent of the speaker. Keep a focus on listening to them, even if your attention drifts away from time to time. (It will)

Once the lecture is over, carefully remove the cd/lp from the machine, put it in a case that speaks the name of the lecture and lecturer as you place it in position on a shelf.

Repeat as needed.

Does it work? I didn't have the money for textbooks for 3 years of college and I held a 4.0 average. It works well.

Bonus Self-Improvement Section

Once you are comfortable with remembering lectures and other information from a single instructor with this technique, here's a way to extend its utility into psychic realms:

Pick up a book on a topic within that speaker's field of expertise. As you read the book, concentrate on their voice, and listen for comments they may offer in the course of your reading.

Check this data as far as possible with the speaker, without of course telling them what you were doing. Correct any errors in your understanding and repeat as needed.

This technique can be used for the study of esotericism as well as, say, French cooking or Basque stone lifting techniques. When applied to information from an egregore, this is a form of controlled but passive trance speaking. This will take a while---the white noise inside and outside of yourself has to be recognized for what it is, noise and not information. Once mastered, this simple practice can open many doors that would otherwise remain closed.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nebular, Lunar and Stellar Adorations

I am certain that those of you who have tried the Solar Adoration have noticed something important about it----

The sun is visible at best, half of a day. What can you do those other times?

Here's a review of the Solar Adoration, Delsarte Style:

Attaining the Silence

The first step in the process is to find the small silent places within yourself. While some can find the Silence in a rave with flashing lights and sirens blaring, most of us need quieter settings to let go of the distractions that we encounter much of the time. It is something of a misstatement to suggest that the Silence can be hold continuously. My experience is that it is an intermittant state that we drift in and out of as our consciousness shifts towards--and away from this as a focus. Find a comfortable position in a safe place with suitable lighting. You don't need any specific seated, kneeling or standing pose. Choose something that is suitable and unique to this procedure.

1. Solar Adoration

Esoteric activities are generally divided into active and passive exercises. This is certainly one of the more powerful, if passive forms. A solar adoration is basically an opportunity to think like a plant in the eye of light, the sun. You'll need to determine the times for greatest intensity of light--generally 10 am to noon. Find a place where you can stand out in the sun.

Begin with your arms at your sides, head bowed slightly. Barefoot, if safe, is preferred for this exercise, and full or partial nudity (if appropriate and legal!) can enhance the experience.

Allow the arms and head to hang down towards Earth, our mother. Ennervate the arms and torso as follows:

i. Straighten your back slowly, taking care to not thrust the hips too far forward. The head will rise with this motion without any undue effort on your part. Begin to shallowly and slowly inhale. Allow all tension to fade from the neck, cheeks and jaw. Simultaneously with straightening the back, take a shallow gliding step forward with your dominant foot. The foot glides across the ground, it does not stomp.

ii. Simultaneously with your slow, insistent breath, ennervate the arms, beginning at the shoulder sockets. Both elbows follow the natural arc created as the upper arm moves forward from the torso. Once the elbow is slightly below shoulder level, extend breath, bone and movement to the lower part of the arm. Feel the arm coming alive, responding to the warm glow of the sun, opening to receive it.

iii. Ennervate the wrists, which will rotate outwards as they slowly rise, still finishing your step. As the wrist rises higher than the shoulder, feel the fingers extend upwards, palms cupped to receive the Solar Blessing. As your non-dominant foot completes its forward glide, the final portion of your inhalation should coincide with this action.

iv. If possible, wear loose clothing or nothing at all. Feel the warmth of the light as it plays on your skin and through your half-lidded eyes--but not for too long, as the strength of the sun is also its sword. Simply breathe, and feel the light and warmth fill you. How long should this take? As long as you need.

Note----as it is hard for a number of folks to inhale and chant at the same time, I suggest finding an appropriate word or sound for each adoration, something that reminds you of the sunlight. Let the chant fill your insides from memory, the sunlight extending this inner sound entirely through your body and down into the waiting earth.

#2--The Nebular Adoration

(This was actually the first one of the series that was written, c. 1997)

IN a foggy or misty day, face the mists, look and listen for the potentialities in mist. In lots of Celtic stories the mists are the unknown, the source of all manifestations. Breathe, but inhale more than the cool air around you. Raise your arms and feel the coolness of the mists flowing into you, filling you with the potential for manifestation. The gift of the mists is the power to create, to shape matter and energy into being out of potentials that lies hidden.

#3--The Lunar Adoration

Pick a time when the light of the moon is visible to you. Traditionally the moon is full seven or nine days, so there is a range of times that you can perform this.

Face the moon, letting its light fall on you. This is the power of the sun, the most active principle, wrought into a more subtle form. It is power, yes, but the energy is that of subtle workings and mechanisms. Raise your arms to it, and feel the song of the moonlight filling you, calling to the places in you where there are things that so far are undone or unfinished. The power of the Lunar Adoration is that of subtlety--a glance, a nod or the indirect application of force. Just as in Tai Chi Chuan a force of five ounces can move a thousand pounds, so can the lunar influence manifest while folks stand around and wonder how something happened.

The Full Series of Adorations as a Day Long Ritual

Taken together, the Solar, Nebular and Lunar Adorations comprise a ritual. You can choose almost any time to start the sequence, though dawn or dusk might be preferred. Pick a day close to the full of the moon. If needed, you could split the ritual into three sections for ease of experience, should your work or other daily schedule make a single 24 hour ritual impossible.

You've already laid out the simple foods and liquids for this ritual, turned off the phones, the computer, the lights and anything else that might prove to be a distraction. Sunscreen and sunglasses are essential to this ritual as well.

Provide yourself with a cleared ritual and practical space suitable for reading, writing and meditation. Ahead of this ritual, select appropriate poetry, passages from liturgies you like, pictures, objects, or anything else that can use words, music or other associations to link you to your day(s) for the Adorations. Keep notebooks, pen, pencils and crayons to hand, should you feel inspired.

One more thing--if at all possible, don't use a clock. Hide it, cover it, whatever. The goal here is to participate as fully as possible in the timeflow of the world as you experience it. The Goddess lives everywhere, even in the heart of Manhattan or Tyler, Texas.

You don't have to perform each adoration only once--they can be repeated throughout the time their energies are manifest. Try to hold a sound, thought or feeling for each adoration as often and as long as possible throughout this day. Write down your impressions, no matter how trivial or erratic they may seem.

Let's assume you choose to begin a bit before dusk, the beginning of the Celt's "day":

Feel the force of the waning sunlight play across the landscape and your body, the light turning into a dusty red color before disappearing entirely. Listen to the differences between day and night, the evening chorus of insects, the scents of night blooming plants, the skittering of raccoons, possums and the other hunters and foragers of the night. Salute it by performing the Solar Adoration backwards--near or at the moment of local sunset, feel the last of its direct power wane and withdraw your body, contracting into beginning position as discussed in the Delsarte Lecture in my main blog.

If near full, the moon assumes prominence in the night sky, softly illuminating the tops of clouds, should any be present. In autumn the moon sometimes assumes a golden color, a "harvest moon". Tides and the length of the day are a product of the moon's influence over earth. Its subtle presence influences thousands of organisms. This is the gift of natural time with its ebb and flow regulating conceptions and life on sea and land.

Let its soft light fill you with the energy of subtle action, energies that flow as gently as rainwaters or as irresistable as the pounding of tides. The gift of the lunar adoration is the power to effect change through subtle means.

The Nebular Adoration -- just as applicable to the interstellar medium as terrestrial clouds: after all, nebulae (clouds) are the places made by the death of some stars, and worlds like our own are born from these clouds. (And what gave birth to the first cloud that birthed the first star?)

As the appearance of the stars of the night fade in the growing light of morning, the Celtic night, the direct power of the sun is too great to look upon safely without protection. While the Solar Adoration fills us with the energy that supports surface terrestrial life, in and of itself the energy is sterile and can come as easily as destroyer as provender.

Solar Adoration ---refer to Section I in its entirety for these instructions.

NB--The Adorations do not derive directly from any extant tradition: they are my creations, though it is fair to say that they have been easily synthesized and developed from the writings of Genevieve Stebbins, Elizabeth Towne, George Hackenschmidt, Ruth St. Denis, William Walker Atkinson and Joseph Greenstein. Further clarification on many points was provided by the opening of a flower, and the morning stretch of an African Grey parrot that graces my life from time to time.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Tuning the Sacred Harp: Voice Lesson #2

Those of you who have been practicing that bit from The Bard are probably quite tired of it by now. Good, we can move on to applications.

Our voices, like our visages, are the most intimate parts of ourself. People are oftentimes skittish about being photographed or taped. Many of us don't recognize our own voices on tape. Ventriloquism is closely tied to magic and medicine in lots of cultures: A voice originating out of nowhere is downright spooky. Mediums around the world, Western, Chinese and other could throw their voices with the same skill Edgar Bergen had in carrying on a "conversation" with Charlie McCarthy.

Should you find your own voice unpleasant, there are steps you can take to corrrect this. Some years ago I worked as a TDD (telecommunications for the deaf) relay operator for Washington State. To put it mildly, my voice was unlistenable after an hour or so. I fell into a strategy that worked then that's applicable to self-culture in esotericism:

I selected three or four other TDD relay operators who had voices that people liked. I would find a vacant work station near enough to them to listen during times I was not on a call. One operator, Miss Fricke, radiated what I can only describe as "Grandmother" energy. Listening to her speak, even reading off a mailing address made one think of fresh oatmeal cookies, pies gently cooling in the kitchen window, parties and low key vacations. What amazed me was how well this worked over the phone. The TDD relay service was quite new to the public at that time (1991), and Miss Fricke's voice put suspicious voice callers at ease almost instantly. Gosh, who would be rude enough to interrupt a Grandmother? Not me, and certainly not very many of the recipients of her relay calls either. Her voice was disarming, gentle, and interesting.

Another relay operator, Jim, was from Arkansas. His voice was an exemplar of the best speakers of that particular dialect: His tones were slow, measured, and relaxed. He didn't sound like a salesman, which got the attention of the voice callers who might have otherwise concluded that a relayed call was some sort of sales pitch.

A third operator, April, had almost perfect timing when reading text and typing to calling parties. It didn't sound like she was straining to breathe amidst all that speaking.

After a period of study and application, I improved my own voice. Did I sound like any of my three role models? No, not really. What I got was my voice, improved.

Here's how this applies to esotericism: Lots and lots of folks in Hermetic groups try to memorize passages for use in ritual, spitting the words out from between their teeth with a single breath. What almost all of them need to do is s l o w down and listen for the rhythmn of the passage.

You will need a written or typed copy of your chosen passage, printed large enough to read without straining. You will also need the glass marbles so you can practice with them in your mouth.

Here's one way to start:

1.Find the corner of a room where you can be undisturbed for twenty or thirty minutes a day.

2. Place a rock or shiny object in the corner opposite the one you are standing in.

3. Find a prayer, poem or bit of dialog that you find meaningful.

4. Declaim this passage to the rock or shiny thing. Think of your words as waves on the sea, rising and falling against the object. Remember that in Delsarte Voice culture, the words spoken are inferior to the power that animates them. Think of your words as an expression of a state of consciousness or thought that you hold.

Lots of voice instructors would encourage you to video tape or record your exercises. Not here! People are sufficiently self-conscious. The learning process should not produce anxiety in the student. Once you have some confidence with this one passage, prayer or speech, find someone you trust, and recite it to them.

Projection should NOT be confused with volume. Clarity and listenability are not the same thing as a loud, irritating voice. Enunciate, pause, think. Voice originates from the breath, which begins inside your torso at your diaphragm. In 19th century esotericism and high occultism this region, the solar plexus, was considered the energy center of an organism, so in effect, your speech comes from the heart.

Here's an example of one prayer you might find useful for this:


Make me an instrument of Thy Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Wtere there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkenss, light;
Whtere there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

St Francis of Assisi

Here's a speech that I consider vital for Hermeticists and other ritualists: It is in effect, a "get out of jail free" speech that is good to preface and/or end a ceremony with.

Original language first, close kin to early, Republican Roman Latin:

Dei Grabouie

orer ose persei ocre fisie pir

orto est

toteme Iouine arsmor dersecor

subator sent

pusei neip heritu.

Dei Grabouie

persei tuer perscler uaseto est
pesetomest peretomest
frosetomest daetomest
tuer perscler uirseto auirseto

uas est. . .

This is from the Iguvine Tablets, an early and important source on Roman ritual.

And here's the English--you can remove Jupiter Grabovius and add whoever might be appropriate for your circumstances:

"Jupiter Grabovius, if on the Fisian mount fire has arisen, or if in the nation of Iguvium the owed preparations have been omitted, let it be as if they had been made."

"Jupiter Grabovius, if in your sacrifice there has been any flaw, any defect, any ritual violation, any fraud, any error, if in your sacrifice there is a flaw, either seen or unseen. . . "

For the next voice lesson we'll get into some classical Delsarte acting exercises and then apply them to floor work in a lodge. Until then, practice, practice,practice!