It’s been said by a number of people, especially within the herbalist community, that mugwort (various plants within the genus Artemisia are called mugwort, but usually the term refers to Artemisia vulgaris) improves or changes the quality of dreams, improves dream recall, and can even possibly induce lucid dreams. I’ve been told, and I have read, that certain Native American tribes once used mugwort for the purpose of enhancing dreams.
Lucid dreaming is often said to be a potential pre-requisite—sometimes, though not always, necessary—to gaining the ability to astrally project: in more scientific terms, to willfully induce an out-of-body experience and explore the out-of-body state utilizing the imagination, or a substratum of the imagination. (That’s my best way of putting it for now, and my understanding of the concept may change in the future.)
Therefore I became interested in the use of oneirogens, or dream potentiators, substances that enhance or change the quality of dreams in some way.
Astral projection, and the mastery of traveling on the so-called astral plane (to the skeptic a space generated by the mind during out-of-body experiences), is a necessity for the neophyte (1°=10□) grade in the A∴A∴. I am currently two steps away from this grade, and although that may sound like it’s close, it’s not at all: the journey from student to neophyte takes a lot of time and energy and work. As a student who is still going through the reading material necessary to pass the examination required to become a probationer (0°=0□), I can tell you this is a real struggle even at the outset.
Anyway, I thought I might try and get a head start on astral projection, given that it is indeed a requirement for the neophyte, and if lucid dreaming aids in opening the door to astral projection, why not pursue that?
I decided to conduct experiments using ground mugwort leaf that I procured online, in order to see if I could induce a lucid dream state.
This experiment of mine was unfortunately inconclusive. I made mugwort tea with a large amount of the ground leaf of the plant (Artemisia vulgaris, known as common mugwort, riverside wormwood, wild wormwood, and sailor’s tobacco, among other names) and drank it before bed, went to sleep, and noticed no change in the quality of my dreams or my dream recall. I certainly didn’t enter a lucid state.
A second experiment involved me smoking the plant: it has a decent taste when smoked, which can’t be said of the tea, which is more bitter. I smoked it before bed, went to sleep, and again noticed no change in the quality of my dreams or dream recall.
Mugwort is claimed to be mildly psychoactive, potentially causing mild sedation and euphoria, but in my experience none of that has occurred with the use of this herb.
It may be that a higher dose is needed, though I’m guessing that a tincture or extract may work better, and if not, that this herb’s ability to affect dreams is simply overblown and I should move on to other substances.
I have, in fact, used other dream potentiators in an attempt to change or enhance the quality of my dreams, and ultimately to reach the lucid state.
Once or twice I used a nicotine patch: this is said by many that, if worn at night, during sleep, to induce vivid dreams. In my experience a four milligram patch did nothing to enhance or alter my dreams in any noticeable way. However, I blame this on myself: my nicotine tolerance is extremely high—I vape 30 milligrams – 50 milligrams of nicotine salts all day, every day (I admit I’m terribly addicted), so the idea that nicotine would affect me in any substantial way that I wouldn’t expect is, in a way, absurd, unless the dose were very high. That is why, like with mugwort, I believe I should try again, but with a more substantial dosage: perhaps next time I will use two or three patches. We’ll have to see.
Choline bitartrate is an essential nutrient for the production of acetylcholine in the brain. It has been said to affect dreams and be a mainstay for lucid dreamers. I took 1 gram of this supplement before bed and noticed no change in my dreams or dream recall. Again, dose may be a factor.
Lastly, valerian: I have both smoked valerian and drank it as a tea. I noticed no effect when smoking it, but after drinking two teabags worth of it on several occasions I have always become tired. It is certainly good at making one fall asleep. But once one is asleep I haven’t noticed that it changes much of anything. Again, perhaps this is related to dose, but I’m not holding my breath.
I should mention that I am on a few psychiatric medications at the moment: Latuda, Cymbalta, and Wellbutrin. These may be altering or suppressing the ability of the substances I’m using to change the quality of my dreams from doing so, as these are either antidepressants (Wellbutrin and Cymbalta) or antipsychotics (Latuda).
The only oneirogen that I have had success with is melatonin, and that was a number of years ago. Unfortunately the success resulted in a very negative experience. It wasn’t quite a lucid dream, but it remains the most vivid dream I’ve ever had, and one of the most, if not the most, horrifying.
I took nine milligrams of melatonin before bed and went to sleep. I dreamed I was in the foyer of a white marble palace. There was a long staircase against the right wall that lead up to a balcony, and on the stairs stood a number of people, most of whom I didn’t know, including a boy who seemed of South Asian descent. He wore a turban and cream-colored tunic. My cousin was standing on the stairs and invited me to go up them. I did. I went through a door along the balcony into a bedroom and there was a girl there, naked on the bed. My cousin watched as I fucked this random woman, then a man in a top hat and tuxedo entered the room, bowed, and told me I had to leave. I was transported to a long, tall hallway of the same white marble as the foyer. I stared down the hallway and saw that lead off into total blackness. Along one wall was a massive painting of psychedelically-colored arms of a squid or octopus, shifting colors with blinking, multi-colored lights on its suckers. Then Jimi Hendrix jumped out of the painting, thrashing at his guitar and yelling as he landed on his feet. Then something inexplicably awful happened: from the blackness down the hallway came a flying specter with a hideous face so awful that I can’t describe it, and it grabbed me and kept flying down the hallway with me in its arms, screaming in my face, the whole time me looking at its horrific visage. Then I woke up in a total panic. I didn’t know if anything was real for a good minute or so after I woke, thinking I was still dreaming, but after maybe 10 minutes I calmed down. Still, I was shaken and had trouble getting back to sleep that night.
I have yet to experience a dream so vivid, realistic, and terrifying.
In any case, I will continue to explore oneirogens and techniques to induce lucid dreams, improve dream recall and vividness, and eventually induce astral projection if possible. And, of course, stay tuned for posts about that.
Let’s just hope these future dreams, powerful as they may become, don’t turn into nightmares.
Life is full of pitfalls. It’s riddled with traps and terrors. This world is a dangerous place, where bad things can happen at any moment.
But that’s just the external: the perils presented to us by the world outside.
What of the traps we set for ourselves? Those are often just as bad, if not worse, than whatever the universe has wrought.
I am keenly aware of these inner problems: the failures caused by a lack of willpower and self-discipline. Also the fact that we can take the negativities dwelling within us and project them onto and into the outside world, like placing a garden rake in front of oneself for one to step on.
Many of us engage in a spiritual practice of some sort, what one might call a sadhana. Many of us also fail to fully engage in that sadhana on a regular basis.
I am one of those people (deeply, deeply so), and—believe me—I curse myself for being that way.
I began attempting a daily practice sometime around 2012 or 2013. At the time I was dorming for a semester in college, and was first becoming intimately attracted to Buddhism.
On the floor, next to the bed in my dorm, I set up a small altar of sorts, with a number of implements placed on the top of an ottoman.
These implements included a statuette of the Buddha, a prism, a small mirror, and, if I remember correctly, a singing bowl. There or may not have been several other items included as well.
My intention was to meditate daily in front of this altar, as well as to chant. At the time, as I said, I was becoming deeply interested in Buddhism, to the point that I effectively considered myself a Buddhist, and so my chants consisted of Buddhist mantras.
As far as the meditation went, I tried to pull off zazen on a daily basis. Zazen, to clarify, is a type of sitting meditation practiced by Zen Buddhists, consisting of a basic posture akin to asana (yogic posture) and mindfulness of natural breathing. (Anapanasati.)
Well, ultimately, there was little to no regularity to my meditation and ritual schedule: I tried to force myself into committing to a daily spiritual regimen, but fell flat on my face.
Fast-forward a number of years and not much has changed: I’m still trying to meditate and perform various rituals on a daily basis, and have had no success.
My magical diary, one which I started a few months ago, has very long breaks and days upon days with entries of “Nothing” jotted down. (A magical diary is a diary used to document one’s magical practices, although more broadly it can include any spiritual work and general self-development. It, along with the magick it’s meant to document, was greatly advocated by Aleister Crowley, and I’m a fan of his work, to say the least.)
Where does one find the fire, the passion necessary to form a daily practice? It’s as if the fortitude, self-discipline, and sheer willpower necessary to forge ahead with daily meditation and ritual is always just out of reach.
I don’t want to make excuses, but I will say that, knowing myself pretty well after living with this super-distractable mind for nearly 30 years now, I think I have somewhat of a sense of why, at least in large part, I am this way:
The truth is that my inability to form a regular spiritual practice is really symptomatic of my inability to form routines at all. I’ve never been able to stick to anything, and this is mainly because I have dealt with severe ADHD for most of my life.
If you want evidence of my inability to commit to even my self-professed “passions,” those things I supposedly enjoy, just take a look at the vast spaces of time between the posts on my blogs/sites The Grand Tangent, The Drunken Llama (there I last posted six months ago), and this one. It feels as if it takes a mountain of willpower to even accomplish small tasks when I become so easily distracted.
People ask me, “Do you have any hobbies?” And the truth is, not really. Even things I think I’m sort of passionate about I can’t bring myself to focus on and related tasks are very difficult to bring to completion.
It’s been this way for essentially as long as I can remember, and I’m nearly 30 now.
I get random little bursts of zeal for various projects, but they’re just that: bursts. I can’t sustain interest in anything for long, before my mind goes wandering off. Hence why, when I first became interested in Thelema and magick, I was performing banishing rituals nearly every day for a week straight before my enthusiasm finally broke. (A week might not sound like a lot, but for me it absolutely is.)
Now I haven’t practiced any magick in several months.
I once had a regimen planned, full of magical material to practice throughout the day: rising in the morning and making an affirmation before performing a solar adoration known as Liber Resh, then meditating, later another round of Resh and meditation, performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram followed by the Middle Pillar Ritual, more meditation with perhaps a particular asana, then two more rounds of Resh and meditation, interspersed with saying Will (similar to the Christian practice of saying grace) before meals.
Granted that may seem like a lot, and I have been accused of trying to run before I can walk before, but even when I try to slow things down it’s to no avail: I can’t seem to even get myself to meditate for 10 minutes in a day!
Depression certainly also takes a toll. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), or dysthymia, when I was 12 or 13, later than when I was given the diagnosis of ADHD. And that has also been a struggle, alongside—I’ll admit—generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
I’m medicated, for sure, but that doesn’t help much. I’ve been on dozens of different psychiatric medications since the age of 12, and few if any have helped with my two primary problems: my anxiety and my inability to concentrate.
My failure to find any spiritual completion, aggravated by distractability and anxiety, inevitably aggravates my depression. And then I fall into using drugs to counteract that depression, as well as the anxiety.
I’ve never been one to go hard on anything “hard,” but kratom, tianeptine, and alcohol have been allies for a while now.
Unfortunately my attachment to these substances landed me twice in a DDIOP (dual-diagnosis intensive outpatient program), both of which I flunked out of because I was unable to stop drinking or taking kratom. The truth is, without any spiritual fulfillment, the only thing worth looking forward to each day has been those substances…
And to make matters worse, right before I flunked out the second time, the psychiatrist seeing me for my DDIOP suggested he would put me on a stimulant I hadn’t tried in many years to see if that would help with my inability to concentrate, which he said may have been the source of much of my anxiety.
Yet I blew the option of seeing him on my scheduled appointment when I was kicked out of the program.
Now, the only option to get back to that psychiatrist is to go to rehab, which, if I do it, would be after Christmas this year.
I sleep poorly all the time. My room is a constant mess. I can’t concentrate on anything. I’m tossed around by anxiety and depression. And yet I continue to act as if I can reasonably pursue the A∴A∴, a spiritual organization to which I applied and in which I am in the student or preliminary phase [of one of its current incarnations].
“Good luck,” I say to myself all the time. Yet realistically I don’t see much changing if I’m simply unable to concentrate on anything. My life will probably just continue to go on as it largely has, with no discernible whim or reason or routine to speak of.
That all being said, I still manage to find a little light to look towards. I’m not about to give up all hope of at least some form of attainment. Not now, not when I can still live and act. I have the rest of life before me, and many twists and turns can be taken. The unexpected can happen, and with that being a reality, I know for a fact that I can craft certain situations to best fit my will, should my wit and strength prove powerful enough.
That’s the job of a magician anyway, right?
I.N.R.I. Igne Natura Renovatur Integra. “By fire nature is restored whole,” as an esoteric interpretation of this abbreviation goes. This can be interpreted in the sense that by the “fire” of truth and love humankind is revived in a spiritual sense, but in another sense it may mean that by the difficulty of passing through fire a thing is restored to or given a certain glory. I am reminded of the forging of a sword by iron and flame, taking a base metal and turning it into something tangibly stronger, sharper, more useful for a certain purpose, something bettered.
I’m not one to rely on the works of self-proclaimed “world teacher” or supposed next Thelemic prophet J. Daniel Gunther, as I disagree with him in certain serious matters—though of course I’m sure he, being an exempt adept (I assume, based on the imprimatur of his 2009 work Initiation in the Aeon of the Child) of the A∴A∴, would question where I, a drug-addled dilettante and mere half-assed student of the order, get the information necessary to dispute someone at his “level”—but I do like, and find pertinent, something he wrote in the aforementioned Initiation in the Aeon of the Child: The Inward Journey:
“Should you remain a Neophyte for the rest of your life, it must make no difference. Work without lust for result. If the practice drives you mad, then you will just have to go mad, but the practice will continue in the asylum. If the Devil himself tells you that God wants to speak to you face to face, you must shrug it off and tell him you’re not interested, you have a practice to do. And if that damns you to hell for eternity, then you must be willing to go to hell without giving a damn yourself. This cannot be a feigned indifference, for that would only be putting a top hat on a pig. It must be real indifference, and only continued effort will achieve it. Then, when the veil does finally lift, the dark cloud is seen to have been an illusion all the while; Kephra will have borne you through Midnight to the Dawn.”
I’m still two steps away from being a neophyte, and yet this makes sense enough, no matter where you stand in life.
Should I remain absolutely no-one my whole life, chained to a couch or bed by my lack of willpower, my lack of motivation and focus, my anxiety and trepidation, my sadness and grief, it must make no difference. I will continue to try, in my own little way, even if that means having the strength to meditate only once a goddamn year. Even that will mean something, and I will remember that fact with joy and ardor before I am cast into Hell.
The following is a re-publishing of my article “Learning the Joy of Existence in Thelema,” originally titled “Learning the Joy of Existence,” (renamed by the admin of Thelemic Union), as originally published by Thelemic Union:
I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”
“Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”
Liber AL vel Legis
I’ve done enough suffering in my life. I often think I just can’t do this anymore, that after nearly three decades of bullshit I just want to lay down and never get up again. Yet I know I still have a long way to go: I’m only 28, so this is by no means close to being over, I’m afraid.
I mean, we all do suffer in one way or another. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but if we had to make a bet I think it would be safe to assume we’ve both had our fair share of crap to wade through. That’s simply the nature of being human. But sometimes it’s difficult to look your abysmal luck square in the face and say, “Sure, I’ll keep putting up with this.”
Granted, I guess I should count my lucky stars. I’m in a much better place emotionally than where I was, say, eight months ago. I was just a mess back then. I won’t lie: my track record for mental stability isn’t the best, and too many nights booze and pills had comforted me and rocked me to sleep. These days I can actually lay off those vices a little more, and I don’t feel too too bad on a daily basis.
Yet the joy of life continues to escape me nonetheless. Sure, I’m calm and cozy enough in my own skin, but things just feel drab and dull. The real pleasantries of existence feel somehow out of reach.
“Is this just the latent effect of the way my mind works?” I ask myself. “Or, even if I truly conquer my problems, will I always be this way?”
I just feel stuck.
As a fledgling Thelemite I look to Thelemic texts and Crowley’s works to offer me some kind of insight into the joy of life, and I find great wisdom, albeit a kind I find difficult to actually implement into my life. (These ideas are so abstract and metaphysical: how to go about making them concrete and experiential?)
In Magick Without Tears (published 1954), Crowley describes three schools of magick: the black, yellow, and white. The black school sees the conditions of life as best fled from, and includes such traditions as Buddhism (with its notion of Samsara) and Christianity (with its doctrine of sin). The yellow school sees the conditions of life as generally neutral, and includes Taoism. The white school sees the conditions of life as inherently joyful and positive, and includes Thelema.
But can one experience this seemingly transcendent and spiritual joy and positivity on a consistent, or even continual, basis?
Crowley speaks of different trances—different states of mind that we are capable of tapping into, given the right conditions. He explains these various trances in detail in his work Little Essays Toward Truth. (1938.) One such trance is the Trance of Love.
In that work Crowley explains love thusly:
“Its essence is this: any two things unite, with a double effect; firstly, the destruction of both, accompanied by the ecstasy due to the relief of the strain of separateness; secondly, the creation of a third thing, accompanied by the ecstasy of the realisation of existence, which is Joy until with development it becomes aware of its imperfection, and loves.”
Elsewhere he explains that the universe itself, being a series of such encounters—think of hydrogen nuclei in stars fusing into helium, or matter and antimatter meeting and annihilating into energy, or a mother and father reproducing to form a child, but losing sperm and an egg as a result—is itself filled with love, and thus the joy that springs from it.
Hence we read in The Book of the Law, “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.” (AL 2:9.)
Of course, it feels difficult, and oftentimes outright impossible, to actually experience things in such a way. I do not simply wake up in the morning and feel my heart jump with joy. I do not see a dog turd on the sidewalk and, strange though it may be to most, feel a deep, transcendental love for it. (Though, I wonder, does the true mystic, or magus?) And I certainly don’t experience joy in my suffering: I can’t imagine that I could be getting my hand sawed off and think to myself, well, this is just joyful! (Though does the adept, or the master of the temple—at least in their own way, or at least in part?)
In his commentary on Liber AL, Crowley explains the previously quoted passage in an interesting way:
“The Universe is a Puppet-Play for the amusement of Nuit and Hadit in their Nuptials; a very Midsummer Night’s Dream. So then we laugh at the mock woes of Pyramus and Thisbe, the clumsy gambols of Bottom; for we understand the Truth of Things, how all is a Dance of Ecstasy. “Were the world understood, Ye would know it was good, a Dance to a lyrical measure!” The nature of events must be “pure joy;” for obviously, whatever occurs is the fulfilment of the Will of its master. Sorrow thus appears as the result of any unsuccessful – therefore, ill-judged –struggle. Acquiescence in the order of Nature is the ultimate Wisdom.”
Nuit, of course, is infinite space (though one may easily argue She also represents other things, as well); and Hadit may, in one sense, be described as the true, inner, or atomic “self,” the infinitesimal locus at the center of a being or inanimate thing’s personal universe (though one may argue He also represents other things, as well): their “play” or interaction must be a form of love, if we go by Crowley’s definition of love as a form of coming into and achieving union. The self or or essence of a thing, representing a point in space, or rather a “point-event,” comes into contact with the infinity surrounding it, and produces a third phenomenon. Love begetting joy, according to Crowley, and the universe subsisting on countless interactions we may describe as love, existence is thus pure joy.
Additionally, if we observe the phrase “whatever occurs is the fulfilment of the Will of its master,” and we apply this concept to the totality of existence, we find that there can be no event that is not a part of the will of the universe. All is as it is, and all must be as it must be, and all becomes as it should (note this is not an ethically prescriptive “should”) based on what has gone before it—that is, based on cause and effect, or what one may describe as karma.
And indeed, “Acquiescence in the order of nature”—in so many words acceptance of things as they are.
Before I developed an interest in Thelema I was very much interested in Zen Buddhism. (I still am, though I’ll admit that these days I’m mostly focused on Qabalah and Western esotericism.) And now I am reminded, thinking of such acceptance, of a Zen proverb:
“If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.” That’s how it goes.
Yes: whether you understand or not, why not accept things just as they are? Do not struggle to “get” it, just be here.
Speaking of Zen, one of the most interesting books I read on the topic was The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery (published 1973), a memoir by Dutch writer and traveler Janwillem van de Wettering. The book recounts the author’s stay in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery, and some of his experiences engaging in long periods of meditation.
Anyway, to get back to the topic of dog turds, the passage I recall best from the book was one about a feces. In the book, van de Wettering explains that after long periods of silent meditation his perception of moment-to-moment life begins to change, and he starts to know joy through normal experience.
“It is irritating, annoying, to be shut up all the time, to be unable to talk, not to be able to say: “Here I am, I have experienced something, I have thought of something, I believe I know something, I understand something, please listen to me.” What irritated me most, I think, was that nobody wanted to listen to me when I discovered that meditation, even the blundering sort of meditation I was engaged in, led to new experiences with colour and shape. I noticed that when I walked through the temple garden, the observation of bits of moss on rocks, or a slowly moving goldfish, or reeds swaying with the wind, led to ecstasy.
By losing myself in the colours and shapes around me I seemed to become very detached, an experience which I had known before, in Africa, after using hashish. The feeling wasn’t only caused by observing, being aware of, “beautiful” things, such as goldfish or pieces of moss; a full dustbin or dogshit with flies around it led to exactly the same result.”
This makes me wonder if my malaise, my lack of joy, is the result of too little meditation—or perhaps too little magick. (I’d argue much of magick is a kind of meditation, though after another manner.) After all, if it worked for van de Wettering, why shouldn’t it work for me? “Practice makes perfect,” as they say. And philosophical conjecture can only do so much. Perhaps the best way forward is to simply try, to practice.
Indeed, it’s unlikely that one could simply think one’s way into what Crowley described as the Trance of Love—though I will say that there are claims that Qabalists who contemplate their art long enough may either go mad or reach a mystical trance, especially (supposedly) by ruminating over gematria. (I’ve only heard this once or twice before, so please don’t take it as gospel.)
Laughter, too, is often a product of joy, and Crowley describes a Trance of Laughter in Little Essays Toward Truth.
Crowley places a good deal of emphasis on this particular trance, one which he calls the Vision of the Universal Joke, stating that it is central to the career of the adept.
He first compares the adept, and perhaps by extension the average person, to a victim of war or execution, and then, interestingly enough, a child playing:
“In this Trance he accepts fully the Formula of Osiris, and in the act transcends it; the spear of the Centurion passes harmlessly through his heart, and the sword of the Executioner strikes idly on his neck. He discovers that the Tragedy of which so many centuries have made such a case is but a farce for children’s pleasure. Punch is knocked down only to get up grinning with his gay “Root-too-too-tit! Here we are again!” Judy, the Beadle, the Hangman and the Devil are merely the companions of his playtime.”
The Formula of Osiris, in Crowley’s thought, corresponds to the aeon of the same name, and conceives of humanity as subject to death, perceiving the universe as being ruled over by a dying god, and dependent on the idea of resurrection as a form of maintenance for the continuation of life. However, in the Vision of the Universal Joke the adept transcends this notion of being subject to the cycle of birth-life-death-resurrection and perceives himself eternal.
Pertinently, Crowley wrote in the The Vision and the Voice (published 1911), “The Thelemite does not ‘suffer death.’ He is eternal and perceives Himself the Universe by virtue of the categories of Life and Death, which are not real but subjective forms of his artistic presentation.”
The universe as pure being, the Yod of Tetragrammaton, is, of course, eternal, and can never die. We as individuals being expressions of that—Alan Watts would describe us as being waves that flow out of and retreat back into the ocean of the cosmos—we can never truly die, for in essence we are one and eternal.
And what can one do, perceiving this, but laugh?
Furthermore, to perceive all sorrow and suffering as the mere blunders of a romp in one’s playpen, to distance oneself from suffering in such a way that it appears to be a necessary component of joy, makes for a grand joke, one whose punchline spans the whole universe.
“So, since (after all) the facts which he thought tragic are real enough, the essence of his solution is that they are not true, as he thought, of himself; they are just one set of phenomena, as interesting and as fatuously impotent to affect him as any other set. His personal grief was due to his passionate insistence on contemplating one insignificant congeries of Events as if it were the sole reality and importance in the infinite mass of Manifestation.”
This reminds me of Buddhism, in a certain way: to distance suffering from the notion of self, to regard oneself as not harmed by suffering, is in essence to regard the self as either aloof to the extent that it is beyond conditioned reality, and therefore unconditioned, or non-existent, and therefore one with the Absolute itself. Compare the concept of adi-Buddha, important in the Vajrayana tradition especially.
It furthermore reminds me of Stoicism, an ancient Greco-Roman philosophical tradition which teaches indifference to suffering and the pursuit of virtue.
“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been,” wrote Stoic philosopher and emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius in his diary, what would become a famous work known as the Meditations.
His Meditations also provides this wisdom:
“Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not “This is misfortune,” but “To bear this worthily is good fortune.””
Indeed, much of suffering—at least emotional suffering—has to do with perspective and the way we think. That’s why, as I have experienced, many psychologists and therapists practice cognitive behavioral therapy as a form of intervention. This is a practice which attempts to alter one’s cognitive biases and distortions in order to mould the patterns taken on by thought processes so that they become healthy and stable.
Anyway, Crowley continues:
“It is thus that the Perception of the Universal Joke leads directly to the Understanding of the Idea of Self as conterminous with the Universe, and at the same time one with it, creator of it, and aloof from it; which Triune State is, as is well known, one of the most necessary stages of Samadhi.”
Observe this trinity of self: self as unified with the universe, self as creator of the universe, and self as transcending the universe.
First of all, if one’s self is the universe, and the universe itself contains both all suffering and all joy (as it contains all conscious beings capable of experiencing such states), how can it truly suffer? (It is, after all, an unintelligent universe, as far as we can tell, and one in some state of equilibrium.)
Secondly, if self creates the universe, it is necessarily the maintainer of it, and has power over it. How can that which has power over a thing allow that thing to harm it?
Lastly, if self transcends the universe, it is beyond the conditions which cause suffering in the first place.
This all makes me think of aloofness or indifference, that the aspirant needs to grasp a kind of uncaring attitude in order to move beyond the throes of pain and suffering so entrenched in our world. And, indeed, Crowley writes of a Trance of Indifference:
“The state of mind which is characterised by Indifference is commonly called Trance, but the misnomer is unfortunate. It is, in fact, in a sense the precise contrary of a Trance; for Trance usually implies Samadhi, and this state specifically excludes any such occurrence. That implies a uniting, and thus a willed dissociation…
The general idea of the state is that the mind should react automatically to each and every impression: “It does not matter whether the Event be ay or nay.” Blavatsky observes that the feeling is at least tinged with disgust. But this is an error; such a state is imperfect. There should, on the contrary, be a quite definite joy, not in the impression itself but in being indifferent to it. This joy springs doubtless from the sense of power involved; but that is again an imperfection; one should rather rejoice in the cognizance of the ultimate truth that “existence is pure joy,” not in any feeling more immediate.”
The Vision of the Universal Joke is samadhic in nature, according to Crowley, and he states in Little Essays that the Trance of Indifference is inferior to a state of samadhi, taking less technical skill to achieve. However, he notes it is not without merit, as, as we read, it leads to joy. Yet the trances, while they free us from suffering to some extent or another, are definitely different in character.
The Vision of the Universal Joke, for one, relies on the aspirant identifying the self with a transcendent state unified with and yet beyond the universe, and at the same time the generator of the universe, essentially making self a panentheistic God.
This differs from the Trance of Indifference, which relies on analyzing phenomena in a way that they are not given value. That is to say, value judgments are stopped altogether.
A good practice for achieving this end may be Crowley’s Class D Liber Jugorum, described as “An instruction for the control of speech, action, and thought.”
Perhaps more difficult, but still useful, may be Liber Turris vel Domus Dei, described as “An instruction for attainment by the direct destruction of thoughts as they arise in the mind.”
Also consider the Trance of Beatitude, or the Beatific Vision, a state in which beauty is perceived in all things. There are two forms of this vision, according to Crowley: one form, the lower, pertains to Tiphereth, and the other, higher vision pertains to Kether, and the grade of Ipsissimus. However, Crowley states that the higher form of this vision has “never been described in detail,” and he instead focuses on the lower form.
“Let us then occupy ourselves with the lower form of this Vision (so called; it is not technically a Vision at all) which pertains to Tiphareth, and is thus the natural grace of the Minor Adept. It may be said at once that those who have attained to higher grades, especially those above the Abyss, can hardly return to this Vision. For it implies a certain innocence, a certain defect of Understanding which is not possible to a Master of the Temple. Again, the Grades of Exempt and Major Adept are too energetic to admit of the balanced quietude of this state.
Only in the centre of the Tree of Life, only in the self-poised security of the Solar Axis, can we expect to find the steady indifference to Event which is the basis of the Trance, and that Ontogenous radiance which tinges it with Rose and Gold.”
Indeed, we know that Tiphereth is the heart of the Tree of Life, its center corresponding to the Sun in its effulgence. And Tiphereth, of course, means “beauty.” Yet Tiphereth is not the crown of the Tree, and so it cannot represent full attainment and understanding, as exalted of a state as it provides.
“In fact, it may be surmised that the Vision arises not from any given action but rather from a subtle suspension of action,” Crowley goes on. “The conflict of events has ended happily in a state of serenely perfect balance, in which, though energy continues to manifest, its issues have become without significance. We may compare the condition with the return of health of a fever-stricken man. The alternation of pyrexia and subnormal temperatures has subsided; he forgets gradually to consult the thermometer at the accustomed intervals, become absorbed instinctively in his regular pursuits. At the same time he is not longer aware of the hot and cold spells, but half consciously of the quiet glow of health. Similarly in this vision all conscious magical effort ceases, although the practices are continued with all customary diligence, and the whole of the Adepts’s impressions, internal as external, are suffused with the glow of beauty and delight. The state is in many respects closely akin to that sought by the smoker of opium; but it is natural and requires no artificial regulation.”
Tiphereth being located in the middle pillar of the Tree of Life, it is balanced in a way that the sephiroth on the pillars of mercy and severity are not. It is also at the center of the tree, and from it branches a number of paths connecting a number of sephiroth. It thus maintains a state of equilibrium and openness that the other sephiroth don’t. It seems that staying in this consciousness of equilibrium, the aspirant or adept eases into a state of routine joy, perceiving beauty in all things, working their way through life and routine with the least of conscious effort.
I think, reading this, of the Taoist concept of wu wei, or effortless action, action which flows without resistance—action that exists in harmony with the way of things and nature itself. (That is, in harmony with the Tao.) This analysis makes sense, as the Tao, according to the tables of Liber 777, flows from Kether, which connects along the path of Gimel directly to Tiphereth.
Lastly, let’s take a look at what Crowley writes of what he calls the Trance of Wonder:
“A little more than kin, and less than kind” are the Trance of Sorrow, and the Vision of the Machinery of the Universe; this latter being the technical aspect of the Apprehension of the Law of Change, which is also a Trance of the same order as that of Sorrow. Now one mode of victory over all these is the Trance of Indifference, in which one stands aloof from the whole matter; but it is only one mode, and (in the generally known form) full of falsehood and imperfection. For to stand aloof is to affirm duality, which is itself the root of Sorrow. To obtain the highest one must unite oneself with all things, partake of all as a true Sacrament. And this motion leads to the Trance of Wonder.”
Indeed, to be indifferent to something is still to say, in effect, “I am separate from this thing,” and as we know, duality is the basis of suffering—for if there is self and other, there is a self to suffer because of that other. Yet if self becomes one with other, there is no self to suffer and no other to cause suffering.
“The Trance of Wonder arises naturally—it is the first movement of the mind—from the final phrase of the Oath of a Master of the Temple, “I will interpret every phenomenon as a particular dealing of God with my soul,”” wrote Crowley. “For, immediately the Understanding illuminates the darkness of knowledge, every fact appears in its true guise miraculous.
It is so: then, how marvellous that it should so be!”
I have sometimes, in the past especially, had moments when I found myself marvelling at the complex intricacies of everything, the very fact that all things are so interdependent and that the universe is so vast and that yet, at the same time, everything breaks down into something so infinitesimal. In those moments the whole of the cosmos appeared to be incredible. I wonder now, reading Crowley’s description of this trance, whether I was marvelling at the world or really, ultimately amazed at myself.
Because, after all, what’s the difference?
And, if everything is awe-inspiring, and oneself is no different than this awe and the world that begets it, what other response can spring forth but an eagerness to partake in the very sacrament of existence, to adventure into the endless and incredible universe, the jeweled palace of space and time?
Trances and meditations, contemplations and methods of achieving joy—mystics and hierophants both alive and long gone have told us of these things. But as much as we may doubt them or their efforts, there’s no real way to know whether they’re right or wrong without trying our hand at their ways. I will be the first to admit that I’m easily distracted, disorganized, sporadic, and lazy: it’s difficult for me to form a routine. But every day I wake up and remind myself of the need to accomplish the Great Work, and with that intent in my heart I go through life with the aspiration toward joy and strength. As much as I’ve suffered in my life, as much as day to day toils have thrashed me and allowed me to trash myself, I know there is a way out and through the all-too-real abyss of emotional turmoil and into a higher life characterized by beauty and wonder and love and joy and solemn indifference to the impermanent woes of that too often befall us.
Ideally, the Thelemite is to be filled with joy, alive and “Thrill with the joy of life and death!” (Liber AL 2:66.) In this essay we’ve read about some of the states which lead to such thrill and joy—though, of course, what’s left is the long, hard road to mould ourselves into beings capable of perceiving this joy in ourselves and in the world, despite the suffering which in reality plagues our universe.
We may wander the gray land of the Qliphoth, caught up in our own pain and confusion. However, as much dross as we contain, we may do away with it and see a diamond mind shine through. As much lead as we are we may transmute ourselves into pure gold.
Now none of this is a call for Thelemites to be indifferent to the pain of others: we ought to work to free others from the tyranny which thwarts their wills to life and joy and beauty. However, we can work compassion in this world while not allowing the sting of life to be quite so potent that it strikes us down. We can stand tall and stalwart against the battering waves of life, and learn joy despite the agony which surrounds us.
Perhaps I’m a fool, and you may call me one if you like. Yet I really believe one can learn true happiness, real ecstasy, even in Hell. The power and ingenuity of the human spirit promises it. The true will must lead to it. Darkness surrounds us but, with the right sort of eyes, one can see that the universe is pure light, and that the effulgence of the Unknown Crown shines through all shadow and doubt and pain, eternally and everywhere.
The following is a re-publishing of my article published in Thelemic Union, “There’s Nothing Special About Meditation,” (2020) comparing the wisdom of Eihei Dogen and Aleister Crowley on the discipline of meditation:
Eihei Dōgen (also known as Dōgen Kigen, 1200 – 1253), the founder of the Buddhist school of Sōtō Zen in Japan, and one of the most important and influential Zen masters, preached the omnipresence of Buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha)—that Buddha-nature, one’s true and enlightened nature, is present and available to everyone, everywhere, and at all times. To Dōgen, zazen, meditation, is not an attempt at enlightenment so much as enlightenment in and of itself. For him, the simplicity of just sitting, maintaining mere presence, is enough to tap into one’s innermost perfection.
As Dōgen said, “To model yourself after the way of the Buddhas is to model yourself after yourself.” This is a stance of radical self-authentication, a view of enlightenment which, though quintessentially natural and undeniably simplistic, is ultimately beyond description, being rooted in the purity of practice, and not in conjecture or philosophical rhetoric. Hence the Buddha’s noble silence, Bodhidharma’s insistence that the true and profound dharma is “a special transmission outside the scriptures, not depending on words and letters,” and—as we read in so many koans—the wordless responses Zen masters to inquiring pupils.
One Zen parable that illustrates the omnipresence and immediacy of Buddha-nature is a mondō, or dialogue between a disciple and teacher, involving the Zen master Hotetsu.
In this dialogue, a monk approaches Hotetsu, who is fanning himself, and asks the following:
“The wind-nature is constant. There is no place it does not circulate. Why do you still use a fan?”
“You only know that the wind-nature is constant. You do not know yet the meaning of it circulating everywhere.”
In his commentary on the parable of Hotetsu, Dōgen states, “To say that since (the nature of wind) is permanent one should not use a fan, and that one should feel the breeze even when not using a fan, is not knowing permanence and not knowing the nature of the wind either.”
This is itself a somewhat cryptic response to an already cryptic parable, but it remains telling: I think that what Dōgen wants us to understand, essentially, is that Buddha-nature is inherently available all the time, but that just because it is “there” and that we “have” it, doesn’t mean that we comprehend, fully appreciate, and integrate it into our lives.
Zazen is thus like the fan, a utilization of latent potential. By simply sitting in meditation, we better comprehend and, indeed, integrate Buddha-nature. Through practice we move from philosophical speculation to spiritual affirmation. In a single moment of sitting Buddha-hood is actualized.
Meditation for Spiritual Perfection
Teachers from other traditions have in, in so many other terms, echoed similar notions, with the primary idea more or less being that one is already spiritually “perfect,” but has yet to really “remember” or “actualize” that perfection.
Hints of this concept can potentially be inferred from the writings of esotericist Aleister Crowley: Crowley railed against the idea of restorative reincarnation in his commentary on Liber AL vel Legis, saying:
“The idea of incarnations ‘perfecting’ a thing originally perfect by definition is imbecile.”
This conception of existence, Nietzschean as it seems, assumes that each individual human life, in its own uniqueness, is already “perfect” and in need (though not necessarily want or will) of nothing beyond itself.
Crowley developed Thelema, a spiritual and philosophical system which, like Buddhism, often sees its practitioners engage in meditation. And like the pupil of Dōgen, the pupil of Crowley may, if one should in this regard follow his philosophy to the tee, see meditation, and spiritual practice in general, not as a reshaping of something presently unsuitable for a certain purpose (in this case enlightenment), but as a reminder to wake up—a cue to approach life with excellence and live out the perfection already and always resident within all human beings.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Here is my second video transcript and expansion (VT&E), this time on the use of the phrases “spirituality” and “metaphysics,” and regarding phraseology in talking about the “inner life” more generally. (THIS is the video, part two of the LOGOS series of videos that I am slowly (but surely) putting online.)
Aleister Crowley. (Source unknown.)
So, “once more unto the breech…”:
“So, today I kind of wanted to talk about… spirituality. You know: what does that mean? You know, what annoys me is that… I dunno… I guess I think of myself as [something of a] spiritual person. No—I definitely think of myself as a spiritual person, but, I don’t feel the need to define what that means, exactly… because I…
I’ve been itching to reboot my YouTube account for a while now. I used to do some sparse reviews and music video mashups and all that. I figured, I’ve still got it on there, and decided to start uploading again.
Welcome to my new blog. I am Vincent St. Clare, a somewhat lackadaisical man with a mystic’s heart and a skeptic’s mind. I am a writer in various senses: a blogger, essayist, poet, and author of short fiction. I’m also an all-around curious person.
I decided to test my mettle as a blogger beginning sometime around 2011 or 2012, when I started a Tumblr blog, and Blogger mirror blog, entitled Not I: Meditations on the Strange Side of Life. (Those blogs have since been deleted.) I eventually ended up leaving those blogs behind and started another blog, The Grand Tangent, in April 2014. I blogged there for a short while, writing about everything from politics and society to the environment to religion and spirituality. I eventually realized that, precisely because that blog was literally a long series of tangents, it lacked the focus necessary to make it really shine. (The Grand Tangent still serves as my main website, featuring a list of my written works.)
Now, in late 2018, I’ve decided to initiate this blog, LOGOS!, with a focus on a skeptic’s—my—day-to-day spiritual journey.
I am a skeptic and evidentialist at heart: I doubt the existence of things for which the evidence is insufficient. At the same time I feel a deep impulse toward something greater than myself; I’m inspired to pursue a spiritual path because I sense there is something more to the world, something sacred in spite of the base matter from which the universe is formed.
How to reconcile these two: the skeptic’s mind and the mystic’s heart? This blog will explore the bridging of the gap between those two aspects of myself.
Per ardua ad astra is a Latin phrase which means, “Through adversity to the stars.” I find it fits well the theme of this blog, by which I will attempt to document spiritual development and mystical experimentation while maintaining a rational and scientific frame of mind.
I intend to update this blog on a weekly basis, to the best of my ability.
Let’s hope that my writing does carry itself so far, from the dark lead of Earth to the golden light of the stars above.