16.2.11

In response to Jason, who was responding to RO, who responded to Frater AIT


I can't leave this one alone.

Quick recap: Frater AIT waxes lyrical about the pivotal nature of energy work. Rufus Opus makes a very, very good case that energy work is load of crock tacked on later by Victorian busy-bodies. Jason, appropriately, tries to find an inclusive middle ground free from extremes.

Unfortunately Jason's rhetorical position is so terminally post-modern that it becomes as myopic as those he accuses of adhering slavishly to the "narrow context of tradition". A breath before this remark he says:

I am a member of several ancient and not so ancient traditions. All of them have a lot of tech in them that can be exported to other systems.


And this attitude is exactly what is wrong with Jason's position. Don't get me wrong, I think Jason is a super spiritual guy and an innovative magician with a balanced perspective usually but with regards to this he is dead wrong. Even the way he chooses phrase this statement reveals a sense of entitlement as thoroughly dangerous as it is ignorant.

And, unfortunately, it's a sense of entitlement as westerners we all share - and is ultimately the result of the driving philosophy of the colonial powers that put us in the top 5% in terms of wealth, health and resources comparable to the rest if those on the entire planet. It's an attitude that turns the spiritual dimension, and the various spiritual traditions that interface with it into a super market where we can happily free-wheel around with our shopping cart and fill it with as much goodies as we want. You know, "as long as it works".

Chogyam Trungpa called it spiritual materialism.

Jason then goes onto compare the sharing and cross-fertilisation that happened culturally over many generations - hundreds or thousands of years - between various living magical traditions to the grab and mix appropriation of small groups self-entitled westerners inventing their own stuff. Putting aside the perils of do-it-yourself spirituality, you simply can't compare these two things because they are not the same thing in the slightest.

It's not happening in a similar way, or scale (either temporal or geographical) and it not happening even for vaguely similar reasons. And it's the conflation of these two ideas that has been getting an awful lot of traction for the last hundred and fifty years or so leading to a huge amount of confusion, dilution and exploitation of traditions, including the Western Tradition.

You may call it "exporting tech", but what it is, is in fact cultural appropriation and its destructive and disrespectful to the traditions in question. Worse, it does none of the techniques in question any justice because it's all being mashed together in a half-assed way by people who have no concept of their original meaning, or true mastery thereof.

Look at Crowley who proclaimed himself a yogic master after spending all of 15 minutes practising second hand  yogic techniques which he then sweepingly incorporated into his magical system. I think it is safe to say that he was no true yogic master, or that he even really grasped the basics of that tradition. Yet, there we have it ensconced in that legacy - which continues to percolate down into western magical perspectives influenced by it.

The primary reason those Victorian magicians mashed together everything they could lay their hands on  was because their new magical system reflected the zeitgeist of their time, which included the political climate that they functioned in - which let us not be mistaken - was imperialist. Vast quantities of cultural wealth was being plundered and "exported" physically and symbolically from Egypt, India, the 'Orient' or anywhere else that the British empire stretched to.

The influx of all that cool exotic bling, along with the rise literary romanticism dazzled and fuelled the imaginations of the well-to-do bourgeoisie involved in that magical revival - leading to the faux Egyptian pageantry, yogic visualisations and breathing combined with theatrical masonic style grimoire magic. It wasn't because energy-work and visualisations worked so darn well and was missing from their own system, but rather that they had a bunch of old grimoires and a lot of new ideas flying at them from all over the planet and they grafted a system together using all the new loot over a masonic framework.

And for better or worse this is the true legacy behind much of that system of magic and its post-modern western magical decedents such as chaos magic and its newer NLP  based spin-offs today. Additionally, its a legacy that continues to inform and distort the way far too many western magical aspirants approach foreign magical traditions they find interesting to this very day.

Once again Jason - I have great deal of respect for you bro, but this is an area that you need to look at, and probably rethink more seriously.

10 comments:

  1. I want to tackle this more in depth tonight in a response post, but real quick bullet points:

    *The kind of Magical cross-fertalization did NOT usually happen over hundreds and thousands of years. I know this argument well because I used to make it myself. It is however not true. Most cross-fertalization and sharing that gives rise to new streams happens in bursts of dozens of years, sometimes shorter. Hellenic Greece was such a period of almost manic cross-fertalization. Seventh Century Tibet another. Second century Greece and Rome saw so many Gnostic texts and sects that people joked about a new gospel being written every day. American Hoodoo is the result of a fairly quick cross fertalization and for that matter so are most Afro-Caribbean traditions.

    As for energy work being foreign to the ATR's, I am not as expert in the field as you are, but I do know a Houngan in Asbury Park that taught me to feel Ashe running through me when I pray. He was off the boat Haitian, but we both know that doesnt mean anything so perhaps he was untraditional as well. He got results though.

    * This is not in any way the definition of spiritual materialism in the way that Chogyam Trungpa used it. It is in fact the opposite. Using what works on the basis of what works is exactly what he did. Spiritual materialism is when people use a tradition to "dress the walls of their cage rather than open it". Many spiritual materualists cling so strongly to the tradition that they are exploiting that they cannot see validity anywhere else. No one here falls into that trap as far as I can see.

    * The wild experimentation with tech from various traditions does NOTHING to harm the tradition it comes from as long as the person experimenting does not claim Titles from that tradition. See my post on Title vs Ability for more on this. I may re-post it since it is relevant. Crowley was an ass for claiming to be a Yogic master BUT the yoga and meditation he brought into his system is one of the things that people in that system regularly benefit from. For those that actually do the work, it pays off.

    * The invention of air travel and mass-publishing has way more to do with the attitude of cross-fertalization that western sense of imperialism. That old saw is old.

    * I gladly accept being post modern. I would like to think I am post-post-modern but there isnt a name for it yet.

    * I leave you with a scenario. A student takes Cats class and learns what is more or less traditional Hoodoo (sometimes less than she lets on). The same student is also a martial artists and knows Chi-Gung. He notices that when he pumps up with chi and lets it flow into the Candle as he prays he get stronger results than when he doesnt. Should he abandon this line of work simply because it is not in accord with tradition?

    Yes, sometimes it is appropriation for appropriations sake. Sometimes it is spiritual materualism with no respect for where any of it comes from. Sometimes however it is smart and effective work that is based on what works and what works better.

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  2. @ Good Dhr.Balthazar

    Very interesting post Frater! I think what we are dealing with here is less "cultural appropriation" and more shared ideas. Especially in this day and age. My own cultural tradition's (most well-known) magic is Hoodoo, and it simply does not get more syncretic than that. In conjure we do what works, and that's that. (I of course don't need to tell you in particular that!)Much of the stuff that is considered "Traditional" in Hoodoo now is entirely lifted from cultures that aren't Black, like the candle-work and work with the Saints. That's old-school Catholic magic, and as European as it gets. Now it's Hoodoo as well, but that wasn't always the case. This is magic based on Need--no one could care less about where they acquired their technique until very recently, when folk where concerned about "authenticity" and with White folks practicing the art (as if they hadn't done since nearly the beginning). There's little of Africa in the grimoires and old Jewish spells and charms, and root doctors of African-American descent had no issues using them. And why should they? They found something that worked and they used it, as they should have. Are we to be less practical than our forebears? There are very few traditions around (and absolutely ZERO Western Ones) that aren't the result of syncretic exchange of ideas between cultures. This isn't a bad thing.

    And what am I to make of cultural appropriation? I'm a Black american man, descended of Africans, with a primarily Western European-based culture. I have European, Native american and African blood in my veins, and in significant amount.This is the case for most American Black folk. Is it OK for me to delve into the arts of all my ancestors, or just the ones I most closely resemble? If my culture has changed from what theirs was (and it has!), am I guilty of cultural appropriation for using the Art that they've left me? Even if I'm different from them now? The broadening of the Conjure umbrella through shared ideas by different people has resulted in a Rennaisance of sorts for conjure-magic. There are methods that could have been lost to time that are now preserved thanks to folks like Cat and the skilled conjurers her class creates. I just don't see how this is a bad thing.

    I could of course be misunderstanding; heavens knows that has happened before. I completely respect your concern for the integrity of the Tradition! That comes through loud and clear, and speaks to your solid character. I just think that the lines aren't black and white, and that the level of communication we have now between cultures is huge and unavoidable. Anyway, thanks for the great post Fra-AIT

    Also, energy work is NOT foreign to ATR's at all. There's not a one that doesn't involve getting the spirit enflamed through worship, which is Energy work. You've sat in prayer before one of your beautiful Lamps and felt your blood and spirit quicken! This is energy work. The phrase "energy work" is tricky, it seems. Everyone has a different definition for what it means; there doesn't seem to be any actual common understanding of it between traditions. Speaking of "Virtue" or "enflaming with Prayer" doesn't work as an umbrella either....going to have to come up with something different.

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  3. I agree with most of your post, but I have to disagree with you when you state that the whole breathing/visualization thing stemmed from cultural looting. I believe that this evolved from the post-Mesmeric occult movements first, which of course is quite European although modern relatively (post 1700). The Lodges of various fraternities used Egyptian pageantry, because it was "HOT" in the pop-culture thanks to rampant archeological findings. I don't think it was malicious nor arrogance on behalf of the Europeans.
    Annie Besant and her gang in my opinion were the real perpetrators in my opinion, but she was a product of an already thriving belief in "energy-occultism" stemming from Mesmeric occultism already live and well in Europe. She saw some kind of "similarity" with eastern practice when she was in the Eas, so she sought to combine them. Ha, I suspect there was a bit of competitiveness between Crowley and Besant. Both sought to combine the eastern systems with their western systems of occultism with little grasp of it completely.

    I also agree with RO, as far as I can tell there are no instructions in the grimoires, greco-magic-papyri, nor the alchemical texts that describe anything like: "visualizing a body of light around oneself the color of your intent, now see a symbol in the air, and blast it with your imagined energy as if lightning."
    That is just post-mesmeric and very very modern occultism, if we can call it that at all.

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  4. A most though-provoking post, brother! I, like you, have issues with appropriation. We see this in various traditions taking and ripping out of hoodoo today.

    Yet I think we need to mark a difference between appropriation and a syncretic approach. I was moved to blog about this and find that such a discussion is immensely important in today's milieu of self-entitlement.

    In my opinion the difference is seen in the way they each approach other tradition and in what results from the act.

    @Frater AIT, loved your post too. Just for clarification candle work was actually adopted into hoodoo via the Spiritualist Church, not Catholicism. The Spiritualist Church got it from Catholicism. I know this may seem semantics, but the distinction is important because of the flavor of the work itself.

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  5. Jason, the times scales in question are substantially different to what is being discussed in our contemporaneous world. There is simply no way you can compare. More importantly those were living traditions interacting with other living traditions. Entire cultures meeting and exchanging. Big, big difference.

    In the case of hoodoo, vodou, ocha, palo etc the syncretism was not the whim of fanciful middle-class dilettantes. It was a survival strategy employed by people who were captured and enslaved. They blended their spirits with saints to hide them in the case of ocha. In the case of hoodoo, only the most practical and mobile of the techniques survived because people were not able to practice their religion, talk their language or even stay together as families. They mixed what they found together with what they had left as a way to empower themselves in the face of that ordeal, make no mistake.

    As for your off-the-boat Haitian houngan - it sounds like he was little confused because the concept of ashe is of yoruban origin and is of application to afro-cuban cults mainly. Vodou does not make use of that concept at all. And if he taught you to 'channel' ashe then he was doing something pretty unusual because the concept of ashe is not applied in that way even within ocha.

    As for the definition of spiritual materialism - little known fact - something I normally don't advertise round these parts; I ran and coordinated the spiritual programme of a dharma centre for nearly four years. I have sat through enough Shambhala Training weekends to know the correct use of that term and I am using it correctly my friend.

    What's more is the vidyadhara was a chronic stickler for minimalist discipline. His innovation was built on absolute mastery and realisation it was never an eclectic grab-bag affair of 'use whatever works'. To the contrary. And he very much had the guru-crazed hippies of the 60s and 70s, wandering from one practice to the next in mind, when he wrote that book and coined that phrase.

    Appropriation does nothing whatsoever? Tell that to Native American people who have had their traditions raided and cheapened whole-sale by the new age circuit. Or the Native peoples in brazil who are having their ayahuasca sacrament turned into a circus by white middle class hippies. Do you think the old time conjure workers feel any different? I have been speaking to a few and they are sick to death, already, at the rate this is all going to New Age mish-mash land.

    Denying the impact of imperialism, and playing down the rewards of its spoils, both material and spiritual in the west; and the effect that has had on the colonised - should be taken about as seriously as denial of the holocaust. Seriously, go read it up.

    If a conjure student needs to channel Chi raised with chi-gung into a candle working to get 'better' results it means he didn't learn how to fix and work a candle properly. Plenty of people were getting fantastic results with their candles using a little olive oil and a bible. And if he couldn't get good results using what has been used before in the tradition it means he doesn't know what the hell he is doing yet, and certainly shouldn't be mashing up kung-fu with his candle work just yet.

    And this is the problem - we want to improve what we haven't even got a basic working knowledge of yet.

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  6. @Dr.Raven,

    I didn't know that about the Spiritualist church, thank you for enlightening me! I come from a black Catholic family (rooted in Alabama), and setting lights for different things was common practice...my kin took the Catholic practice and integrated it with the rest of their conjure. Should have known better and looked outside of my own little world before making that comment.

    @Dhr.Balthazar Brother, I think you're definition of "energy work" is a bit strict.

    The conjure student needn't use Chi-Gung to power a candle energetically because he has his own methods of spiritually charging it, using Prayer and the god-given virtue inherent to the Materia involved in dressing the thing. This, also is "energy work". It isn't just the conscious manipulation of LVX and the like, it is working with the Spirit to empower things, be they persons, candles, talismans....

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  7. Balthazar,

    You keep saying that these are living traditions meeting. What makes you think that when modern people do it we are not? I just don't get it.

    And they were not entire cultures always. Very often it was one traveler or a small group bringing word.

    Yes things can move faster now, but every age is different. Point out the difference does not invalidate the process.

    I am well aware of the dire circumstances that Hoodoo and most Afro-caribbean trads developed under. It is not the only example of such. Whatever the motivation though, the process is the similar.

    I am not suggesting that Trungpa used a grab bag of tricks (though you gotta admit the whole Japanese Naval Fixation was weird) in fact he broke cleared away a lot of what he considered dross from a straight Kagyu training. However, I maintain that the emphasis was on examination of what was working and what was not. Sometimes that will cause you to incorporate things, and sometime it will cause you to jetison things. Point being that when you are dealing with reality itself, you are not being a slave to the tradition.

    Native American spirituality is hurt primarily by systematic genocide. New Agers are one of the few cash cows that these people have. They can bitch about it all they want, but what they are doing is not robbing them of something authentic. They have to give that away. Similar situation in brazil. It has the ring of locals bitching about a tourist economy. They hate them when they come and spend money and time, and yes many act like complete asshats, but when they are gone, a few months later the money is missed and the invites go out again...

    And don't get me started on the whole forced "Old Timyness" of modern pop Hoodoo, which you and I both interact with my friend. Wanna talk Spiritual Materialism?

    If people want to maintain their traditiobn all they have to do is do the work. Thats it. Never mind what other people do. Time marches on. Deal with it.

    In the next paragraph you seem to claim I am denying the effect of imperialism. I am not and dont appreciate the comparison to a Holocaust denier. However to equate sincere practitioners who are, quite naturally given the state of the world, interacting with more than one tradition, to being the same as invading armies of Conquistadors is just not right.

    Your assumption that because the worker gets a better result at his candle work right after doing a chigung set must mean that the worker is inept at one or the other is just way off base. I did not say he couldnt get a good result. It is that he gets a noticably different result. In this case, and it is an actual person, faster and more stable result.

    Its magic. Its a living ever changing world and magic changes with it. Some people will feel the call to stick within a tradition like glue. Some will want to freese the traditions in place and keep them like a museum piece (the Amish, the Hasidim, the Sakya). Some will feel the call to experiment. As long as you do what you do with intelligence and respect, both are authentic and both deserve respect.

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  8. It amazes me that those who are so against colonialism are also rabid supporters of multiculturalism which eventually boils down to the same thing in the end...cultural genocide and demographic displacement.

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  9. @ Beneath the Firmament: ummm yeah thinking that it makes sense to engage multiple cultures that are being thrust together is definately the same as genocide and forced displacement of people.

    Don't know how I missed that before....

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  10. Golden Dawn and Crowley corrupted Western Magic almost to death, until traditionalist movement emerged in late 20th century. I think the reason of failure of magical modernism was rationalism, so fashionable in their times. It led to rejection of classical thinking of magic, producing absurd, impotent and dangerous system. Especially its approach towards evocation is outrageous, because this are is exclusive to middle age/reinessance magic and adding eastern elements to it is insane. That is another problem with magician modernist, they prefer to modify old techniques without even checking how they worked. That produced weak school of magical thought that defined new, low level of magical results.

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