MYSTERY AND REGENERATION

Tag: hermetic

Binah

Bruno Perramant, Notre Dame #2 (2014)

The sefirah Binah, the third emanation on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, is a focus for numerous magical traditions. As the ‘nearest’ of the supernal triad, it represents  and transmits the highest and most abstract powers down to the mental and physical world. In the great compilation of Kabbalistic wisdom, the sefer ha-ZoharBinah is often referred to as a fountain or an ocean from which run seven watercourses, the seven lower sefirot. She is also frequently called the supernal mother; Moses Cordovero refers her to the heart, the organ of understanding and intuition. In the words used in the AS’s consecration of the grail, she is ‘the mother of all living, and the womb of rebirth.’

As Sophia, and as the supernal aspect of Saturn, Binah is of special interest to the Ogdoadic tradition – especially in the resonance between Saturn and Earth, Binah and Malkut, the Heavenly Mother and the Veiled Maiden. The Reiya Mehemna, a late stratum of the Zohar says of her, ‘if she were to distance herself from the world for a moment, all that exists would be destroyed and void’. In magical traditions, the attribution of Saturn to Binah divides into two distinct forms: one, the limiter, bringer of death, and the other the great teacher of wisdom. Marsilio Ficino says of Saturn:

‘Saturn is also neighbour to the innumerable (i.e. fixed) stars; and indeed, he is very similar to the Primum Mobile because he travels a lengthy circuit. He is the highest of planets; hence they call that man fortunate whom Saturn fortunately favours. And although most people are terrified of him as alien from the ordinary life of man, nevertheless the Arabs consider he is agreeable even to the common life whenever he has very great power and dignity as he ascends, or his Jupiter (who tempers Saturn – ed.) aspects him favorably or receives him well in his terms. Otherwise, unseasonably received in matter, particularly gross matter, his influence is like a poison, just as by putrefaction or adustion an egg may become poisonous. From such influence, certain people are born or become impure, lazy, sad, envious, and exposed to impure daemons. Flee far from the company of these. For in other places the poison of Saturn lies hidden and dormant like sulphur far from flame; but in living bodies it often blazes up and, like kindled sulphur, not only burns but fills everything around with noxious vapour and infects the bystanders. Against this influence of his, generally alien to, and in a way unsuitable for, human beings, Jupiter arms us by means of the following: with his natural quality, with certain foods and medicines of his, with images (as they think), and with behavior, business dealings, studies, and affairs properly pertaining to himself. But it is not only those who flee to Jupiter who escape the noxious influence of Saturn and undergo his propitious influence; it is also those who give themselves over with their whole mind to the divine contemplation signified by Saturn himself.

(De Vita Libri Tres, Book III, Ch. 23, emphasis mine)

There’s a lot going on in this passage, and I only want to dwell on it briefly. The two faces of Saturn I mentioned above are present – predominantly as the classic astrological malefic, but also as the remotest power from human experience, and guardian of the transcendent realms. This doubleness preoccupies Ficino, who was born with one foot in and one out of the world, who suffered terrible melancholia (Saturn’s ailment), and fixed his eyes on the stars in search of truth. Here and elsewhere it is Saturn’s remoteness from human affairs which Ficino understands as inimical to a settled and conventional life. But to mystics, magicians, those given over to contemplation and artists, Saturn might show quite another face. Ficino warns later in this book that the advantages Saturn bestows cannot be won by whiting a sepulchre: fraud, hypocrisy and deceit, a pretence at the contemplative life, will cry out for the sickle.

Saturn and Binah for the modern magician are deeply linked. But we might multiply the ways we think about the sefirah of the great mother: as reflected and refracted in the lower sefirot traditionally assigned feminine deities, the green fuse of life in Netzah, the lady of mirrors in Yesod, or the great earth mother of Malkut. All have their root in her. Rittangelius says of Malkut that it will be uplifted on the throne of Binah, in one of the deepest and most concise images of spiritual integration. (It is why, in a shared ritual meal, we might dip bread into salt: bread made of the bounty of the earth, dipped in the salt of the great ocean from which all things come.)

Too often in twentieth century writing on magic there is a lot of bravado about the ordeal of Binah, the ‘crossing of the abyss’ and the various high grades it entitles one to blather about. All that has its place. But too often the deep intimacy between heaven and body, Saturn and earth, is missed. The poem below, by Kathleen Raine – herself an initiate – is one of my favourite ways of redressing that. It contains beautiful images of anamnesis, a kind of intuitive spiritual ‘unforgetting’ which is sometimes a gift of Binah.

BINAH

Kathleen Raine

Lifelong the way —
I never thought to reach her throne
In darkness hidden, starless night
Her never-lifted veil;
Too far from what I am
That source, sacred, secret from day;
But, suddenly weeping, remembered
Myself in her embrace,
In her embrace who was my own
Mother, my own mother, in whose womb
Human I became.
Not far, I found, but near and simple as life,
Loved in the beginning, beyond praise
Your mothering of me in flesh and blood.
Deep her night, but never strange
Who bore me out of the kind animal dark
Where safe I lay, heart to heartbeat, as myself
Your stream of life carrying me to the world.
Remote your being as the milky way,
Yet fragrance not of temple incense nor symbolic rose
Comforted me, but your own,
Whose soft breasts, nipples of earth, sustained me,
Mortal, in your everlasting arms.
Known to the unborn, to live is to forget
You, our all,
Whose unseen sorrowing face is a farewell,
Forgotten forgiver of forgetfulness.
Lifelong we seek that longed-for unremembered place.

A BEGINNING

Max Ernst, Violette Sonne, c.1962

I’ve set up this blog in order to share with the internet a wide range of reflections on ritual magic, coming from a tradition sadly underrepresented online – the ‘Ogdoadic’ tradition. But there will be plenty of material of interest to an outside practitioner or those simply interested in occulture as well, as I plan some forays into history, translation, and the odd bit of creativity as well. That is to say: because magic is the shadow-twin of western culture, far from respectable, with more than its fair share of hucksters, narcissists and madmen, magicians can sometimes lose the sense of being full participants in a rich cultural tradition which extends beyond the few dusty shelves marked ‘occult’. (And this sometimes leads to some truly heinous aesthetic choices.) Hopefully I can do a little to change that here.

What’s an ‘Ogdoadic’ when it’s at home, anyway?

‘Ogdoadic’ – admittedly a bit of a mouthful – means ‘pertaining to the number eight’. It can be thought of as defining a philosophical and magical tradition running like a golden thread through Western culture, with its keyword being regeneration. It finds its roots in the ancient Hermetica, especially the ‘Secret Sermon on the Mount’ (CH XIII) in which Tat asks of Hermes how to achieve regeneration, and resonates in alchemical symbolism, Jewish and Christian Kabbalah, and Florentine Hermetism. Why the number eight? Eight is the octave, the base note transformed but resonant; it is the traditional number-symbol of the baptismal font, the sign of new life; for Gnostics and astrologers alike the symbolism multiplies.

It’s important for me to point out that in calling this a ‘tradition’, I don’t allude to an unbroken mouth-to-ear secret line, but rather a clinamen, an inward turning which leads one generation to discover the work of a previous generation and build on it, either together in person, or, more often, out of books and texts. Ours is a literate and literary tradition as much as a practical magical one. Thinking of it this way avoids much foolishness.

In the contemporary world, the term mostly refers to the work of husband-and-wife team who published under the names Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips, who published a major series of books called ‘The Magical Philosophy’ with Llewellyn in the 1970s (initially as five hardbacks, then reorganised into three paperback volumes). These books are major achievements in magical synthesis – including Kabbalah, magical symbolism, the relation between magic and psychology, and a presentation of the magical system of their order, the Aurum Solis. The system has been called a ‘Greek Golden Dawn’, although that conceals as much as it clarifies. It uses Greek divine names and formulæ, and is avowedly pagan and Hermetic in orientation, rather than Christian and Rosicrucian; its central divine powers are the White Goddess, the Black God and the sun-serpent, Agathodaimon. Its style of working is simpler than, and quite different in feel to the GD’s heavily Masonic style of work; for personal work, much emphasis is laid on the creativity of the individual magician.

Denning and Phillips claimed descent of the AS from a 19th century antiquarian society, though evidence for that has long been a matter of allusion to private archive. There is little public evidence of it, or its predecessor organisations, before the mid-20th century, and a ‘genetic’ reading of the organisation’s magical techniques suggest influence by the post-Golden Dawn organisations, including the Stella Matutina. I don’t find it hard to believe that the two came into a relatively moribund order and revitalised it significantly, and used everything around them to do so. Melita Denning’s breadth of occult knowledge, and her special dedication to the Divine Female, is visible throughout the published work.

The order’s post-publication history is full of sudden changes and turns, and leaves us today with two distinct groups, one (the Astrum Sophiæ) with succession from the old order, working the system close to that practiced by the Aurum Solis until recently. The latter, under new leadership, has changed its curriculum to focus on a blend of Platonism and third-hand Iamblichean theurgy, and seems quite far from what it once was. Denning died in 1997. Phillips moved to focus on Christian mysticism and hesychasm in 2003, and is today part of a mystical, heterodox ‘Catholic’ church. He has recently become involved in a new revival of the Christian form of the Ogdoadic mysteries. But we will have more to say about the tradition’s history in time – especially the post-war magical ferment in the UK, which is now beginning to pass out of living memory.

So is this all going to be dry magical theory and history, then?

No. One thing that comes across from just reading about the tradition is its insistence that all of life is the prima materia for magical work, including art, dance, music and full participation in the world around us. For instance, the first full ritual a student learns is the ‘Setting of the Wards’, similar to the GD’s pentagram ritual. In order to really call on the great powers guarding each of the elements, the student should be out walking and feeling the sun on his face, the sharp cold of the sea lapping between every crack or blown in tempest, or the wind on a mountain peak – and that is brought back to his temple. If we hold the world is bound in secret knots, then the magician’s attention should be directed as much to the world around him teeming with life and boundless mystery as to his inner self. A starved soul feeds only on itself.

That means as much as there will be history and theory and personal magical or spiritual reflection here, there will be forays into art, nature, literature – whatever in the broad array of wonders I think is useful. I am writing here, lastly, because I think in dark times to write about regeneration is a deep human need. I hope to meet just a little of that need here.

And who the hell are you, anyway?

I am a magician living in London in the UK, with a broad magical background – including in GD, Thelemic and witchcraft traditions. I am lightly sceptical and a little sardonic by nature, rarely given to believe people who add preposterous titles after their names or humour those who want to swap charters and lineages. I speak several languages well and read others reasonably. I prefer to remain mostly anonymous, the world being what it is, although I very much welcome serious correspondence.

Onward!

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