Author Archives: Alan

Intersubjective Enlightenment: Case No. 3

At approximately 1.30pm on 13th April 2008, travelling south between Kings Cross and London Bridge on the Northen Line of the London Underground, I suddenly found myself experiencing non-duality or emptiness. At first, I thought this was one of the periodic plateau experiences of non-duality characteristic of the grade of Magus, or the Third Path of Theravada known as Anagami, until I began feeling as though I were ‘coming up’ on a strong entheogen. I’ve experienced this twice before, both times in the company of Andrew Cohen. Sat across from me was a small Indian man in an oversized suit, purple tie, with a thick black ‘tache and hair do. He was staring at me. 

He continued to stare at me for a good five minutes, before turning his attention elsewhere – but wherever he looked, he maintained an expression of complete detachment. 

I got off the tube, and before I could tell my girlfriend what had occurred (she had sat a few seats away from me), she said she had noticed a strange Indian man staring at me. The awareness of non-duality began to fade a few minutes later.

This event has led me to reconsider both mine and Duncan’s experiences with Cohen. At the time, I considered the experience a transmission of enlightenment – something passed from one person to another, a bestowing of the same level of development to someone less advanced, through physical proximity.

However, considering both Duncan and myself were not permanently enlightened as a result of our meetings with Cohen, the fact I’ve experienced a number of Fruitions when in Duncan’s company, and in light of the event recorded above, I am now inclined to believe that enlightenment, or non-duality, is experienced intersubjectively between individuals sufficiently advanced within the metaphysical process, through any kind of sensate contact (i.e. by sight, physical proximity, sound, etc).

Rather than positing some absurd ‘field’ or substance that is ‘transmitted’, I prefer to entertain the idea that what happens during intersubjective enlightenment is nothing more than recognition. The Absolute Self within one person recognises itself in the other, and God sees himself in a mirror.

The non-dual is not a unit, nor is it divided; but duality is the illusion that it is so. Hence the manifestation (as a result of the process of enlightenment) of the non-dual through two individuals must necessarily be expressed as a shared experience (the non-dual being undivided) from each individual perspective – in other words, enlightenment becomes intersubjective.

This means that although someone less advanced in the realisation of enlightenment might have a profound experience of inetrsubjective enlightenment due to the presence of a more advanced practitioner; it does not shortcut the metaphysical process, nor does it bestow enlightenment as a permanent adaptation. 

I wonder if Duncan is getting intersubjective at his retreat…

Crossing the Abyss: How to do it and what to expect

This is transcript of Alan's solo podcast Crossing the Abyss Part 1: How to do it and what to expect.

In the Western Sacred Tradition of Magick there is an event known as ‘Crossing the Abyss’, which marks a certain milestone in the magician’s magical career.

Due to the histrionics of Aleister Crowley and the general degeneration of the Western Magical Tradition since his death, many contemporary magicians usually regard the abyss as a metaphor for going through a period of depression, losing a job or significant other, as a catch all term for any kind of initiatory crises whatsoever, or as nothing more than a fictitious magical attainment dreamed up by Crowley as a device for inflating his ego.

However, based on my own personal experience and that of others, I can tell you that crossing the abyss is only a metaphor in so far as it describes a specific, unique, one-off, personally verifiable magical event peculiar to the tradition of magick, although there are equivalents found in other traditions.

What is the Abyss?

The abyss is that which divides the relative from the absolute. Any experience whatsoever is relative, being an expression of a relationship between one thing and another. Quantum physics, Transactional psychology and postmodern thought all tell us that we are born relative creatures in a relative world, with our everyday reality being a unique construction based on our own peculiar conditioning, habits, biology and environment.

Sadly, it appears as though this realisation is as far as most magicians get in terms of understanding the world, hence their attitude to crossing the abyss as just another arbitrary metaphor for just another relative and subjective experience, because after all, aren’t all magical techniques, traditions and experiences of equal value?

Well, no, and this is what crossing the abyss is all about. One plane of relative experience is the mystical or profound. The language used to describe mystical or profound experience is known as metaphysics, and crossing the abyss is part of the metaphysic of magick. Just like every other plane, the metaphysical is dynamic – our experience of it is progressive, and we can grow and develop at the metaphysical just as our bodies grow and develop at the physical level of experience from foetus to adult.

To cross the abyss is to begin a metaphysical process that will lead from a reality composed solely of relative experience to one that includes the absolute for the first time. It is the beginning of magical maturity.

It should be noted that crossing the abyss has sometimes been equated with the destruction of the ego, but this is misleading. Yes, metaphysical experience transcends the relative self, but it is inclusive, not destructive or dismissive. If we first consider the hand and then the body, would it be correct to say the hand is destroyed by such a growth in awareness? The same is true of the growth in awareness from ego to absolute, and this is no more illustrated in those magicians, gurus or holy men who attain to enlightenment or the completion of the Great Work and yet still remain egotistical, sociopathic shit heads.

What is the Absolute?

It’s important to understand that there are many metaphysical events besides the absolute, such as various trances, states of absorption caused by concentration exercises, visions, psychic and magical experiences. None of these events, including those experiences that result from the absolute, are the absolute itself. If it comes and then goes, it is most assuredly relative.

Being beyond the relative and subjective, the absolute is not really an experience as such, as there is no experience or experiencer so to speak, but to refuse to talk about it on these grounds is firstly to risk failing to recognise there are techniques and an identifiable process that can lead to the absolute, and secondly, to reduce the Great Work or enlightenment to nothing but the intellectual realisation that words are inadequate for accounting for reality. I will therefore be referring to the absolute as an experience for convenience sake.

The absolute occurs as part of the metaphysical process, which proceeds in stages, and it isn’t something that can be practiced like a trance state and experienced at the whim of the ego. At first, the absolute will occur during the process as a peak experience, or as a momentary ‘blip’ in reality. As stated earlier, what happens during the ‘blip’ cannot really be accounted for with language, but the most useful term I’ve found to describe it is the Buddhist Theravada concept of emptiness, although the experience really isn’t anything like an absence, a negation, a void or a nothingness. I urge you to go and experience it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

The results of experiencing the absolute may include but are not limited to: overwhelming bliss, a sense of coming home, an increase in compassion, the realisation of the Truth, perfect happiness and all round good times. If that isn’t reason enough to want to cross the abyss then I don’t know what is.

Eventually the magical developmental process will lead to the occurrence of emptiness as a plateau experience, when emptiness becomes progressively more obvious during real-time, fading in and out of the 'background' of reality, regardless of whether you are in the temple meditating or eating your lunch in the canteen at work.

The final stage of the process is the occurrence of emptiness as a permanent adaptation i.e. instead of identifying with an unknown, the self know finds its centre of gravity with emptiness. The divide between the relative and the absolute is abolished and the Great Work is accomplished.

In the metaphysic of magick there are three grades that designate the three stages of the process. After crossing the abyss and the occurrence of emptiness as a peak experience, the magician becomes a Magister Templi, or a Master of the Temple. When emptiness occurs as a plateau experience, the magician attains the grade of Magus; and with the permanent adaptation of emptiness, and the accomplishment of the Great Work, the magician assumes the final grade of Ipsissimus.

How do you cross the abyss?

There is only one act a magician can do to the cross the abyss, and that is to gain the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The Holy Guardian Angel is the embodiment of the absolute. The Holy Guardian Angel is a means by which the relative self or ego can interact on its own terms with that which is above the abyss.

Once the knowledge and conversation is attained, or the magician has entered into a dialogue via vision and synchronicity with the angel, the magician will be led through the developmental process, which occurs as a cycle with stages, with the angel providing the right teachings and techniques at the right time. This usually means a daily meditational practice, but when I crossed the abyss I went through the first cycle using a daily ritual of sun worship. As a relative entity, it follows that there will be methods relative in their usefulness for each magician at each stage. In other words, it's different strokes for different folks.

So
how do we actually gain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel?

Being the absolute, it doesn’t follow that the relative self or ego can command the angel to appear or make contact; rather, it is the angel that must initiate the conversation, for the angel transcends but includes the magician. The correct attitude to be adopted then is one of surrender – the magician must open himself up to the absolute, to give up all he has, has been or will ever be in favour of the knowledge and conversation of his angel. The relative self or ego must take a back seat if it is to begin the process of union with the absolute.

A devotional ritual involving the surrender of the self to the angel should therefore be constructed and performed daily, for the rest of your life, or until instructed otherwise. Note that the surrender must be genuine – if the relative self or ego doesn’t really want to let go then you are wasting your time. Of course, for most people this does take practice, hence the rather lengthy traditional invocations of the angel such as the one given in the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.

It may be that the relative self has a number of issues preventing the correct practice of surrender, and these will need to be addressed before success in the work can be expected. Similarly, if the magician has no real magical skill or experience, how is the angel to affect communication?

Before attempting to gain the knowledge and conversation the magician should have a good solid grounding in the basics, especially divinatory methods, dream and visionary work, plus a degree of intimacy with synchronicity.

In Crowley’s order of the A.’.A.’., we find a magical syllabus for practicing magick peculiar to each plane of experience in order to prepare the magician, and grades are conferred based on the acquisition of competency at each level.

However, it should be made explicit that these grades do not describe the metaphysical process as the three grades above the abyss do. The grades below the abyss are simply designations of magical competency within certain areas, and are only ever conferred by man; those grades above the abyss describe a process independent of the accomplishments of the relative self or ego, and can only be given, as it were, by the absolute.

In other words, you do not need to engage with Crowley’s A.’.A.’. grading system, or attain each of the grades below the abyss, before attempting to gain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The absolute and the metaphysical process are not a system, and they are not dependent on any syllabus or on any one’s opinion of it or you. If you want to join the A.’.A.’. proper, you need only gain the Knowledge and Conversation.

Since Crowley’s day practical magick has moved on somewhat, and if you want a good solid practical magical education in order to prepare yourself you could do a lot worse than taking up the pseudo-tradition of chaos magick for a few years.

How do I know I’m crossing the abyss?

To recap, crossing the abyss is going through a metaphysical process, starting with the acquisition of the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and ending with the occurrence of the absolute, or emptiness, as a peak experience for the first time.

The division, or the abyss, between the relative and the absolute will have been crossed for the first time, and as this can only ever be said to occur once, the crossing of the abyss is necessarily a one off event. While it is true that the metaphysical process doesn’t end there, and that the magician will cycle through the same process again and again, the attainment of the experience of the absolute is akin to losing your virginity – you can never go back, nor can you say you lose your virginity each time you have sex thereafter.

If it helps, you can consider crossing the abyss as being deflowered by God.

The metaphysical process is made up of a three-part cycle, consisting of a plateau, a trough and a peak. It is the successful completion of the first cycle that constitutes crossing the abyss, and you can expect the following:

The plateau is a period of novelty, where magical practice is interesting and progress is steady. Insights come easy, and the plateau culminates in an event I like to call Naïve Enlightenment. Naïve Enlightenment can include, but is not limited to, the following phenomena: trance states, dissolution of boundaries, visions of bright light, feelings of bliss, oneness, vibration, love, great enthusiasm for Non-dualism, the belief you’ve experienced God/the Tao/the Truth, the belief enlightenment has occurred as a single event, as opposed to a process.

The trough quickly follows Naïve Enlightenment, and practice becomes difficult and unpleasant. The success enjoyed during the plateau is gone, and the magician can experience any number of negative emotions, at varying degrees of intensity, in regards to perception itself. The trough can include, but is not limited to, the following phenomena:  feelings of fear, disgust, and hate, desire for deliverance, psychosis, unpleasant bodily sensations, and sleepiness. The trough is sometimes referred to in other systems as the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, and can last anywhere from a few hours to a number of years, the latter usually as a result of buying into the Naïve Enlightenment event.

The Peak arrives with a gradual equanimity towards phenomena: peace is made with perception. Magick is no longer the slog it was during the trough, and a certain feeling of mastery prevails. The peak reaches a climax with the occurrence of the absolute as a peak experience, and this marks the attainment of a grade, being the grade of Magister Templi if it is the magicians first time through the cycle.

The cycle then begins again, and it usually takes a few more cycles with peak experiences before the absolute occurs as a plateau experience and the next grade is attained.

So far, so good. Everything I’ve said isn’t too dissimilar to many other developmental models, but what sets crossing the abyss apart is the fact that it is a magical event. As such, the cycle doesn’t just manifest in an emotional or perceptual way, but on many other planes of experience too. During the crossing you can expect all kinds of bizarre synchronicities, magical visions, manifestations and interactions with entities.

It goes without saying however that there will be one entity you will have to deal with during the crossing, and that is the denizen of the abyss, Choronzon.

Choronzon can be considered the embodiment of what is experienced during the trough: fear, disgust, and most especially confusion. How Choronzon will manifest, both as an entity and on other planes, is unique to each magician, but how to deal with him is the same for all. He should be met with silence and acceptance, and the same goes for the
fear, paranoia and confusion that will arise in his presence. Your angel will provide instruction in any specific rituals that might need to be performed.

For an account of my meeting with Choronzon, please see Crossing the Abyss Part 2: The Encounter with Choronzon.

It is often said that crossing the abyss is a terrifying event – but this isn’t necessarily the case. The trough can last anything from a few minutes to a number of years and can vary greatly in intensity with each individual. Apart from my encounter with Choronzon, crossing the abyss wasn’t really all that terrifying.

You might be wondering why, if you can achieve the Great Work or enlightenment through other much simpler, less poetic systems of attainment, such as vipassana or Zen, you might want to consider attempting the Great Work the magical way.

The answer is simple: the Holy Guardian Angel is the fastest, most efficient means of metaphysical development I have ever come across. Working with the angel means progress is no longer a question of conscious deliberation, and the angel is in the position of knowing your self better than you do. Who better then than the angel in providing instruction?

The fact that the magician undergoes transformation on the basis of magical vision does not mean the magician is any less engaged with fundamental insight, or simply dealing with the content of his mind – rather, the relative self is afforded the opportunity of dealing with the process of insight on its own terms in a dualistic fashion, being the complete antithesis of the life denying asceticism of most systems of purely meditative practice.

Conclusion

The abyss is the divide between the relative and the absolute. To cross the abyss, the relative self must engage with the absolute, by attaining the knowledge and conversation of the holy guardian angel through a habitual ritual of surrender. Once this is attained, the magician will begin the metaphysical process of union with the absolute, which occurs in cycles made up of three stages.

The first time through the cycle is known as crossing the abyss, and the magician can expect to go through a novel plateau with a trance event known as Naïve Enlightenment, a trough with an encounter with the denizen of the abyss Choronzon, and a peak with the occurrence of the absolute for the first time.

The magician will then have attained the grade of Magister Templi.

With repetition of the cycle, eventually the absolute will occur as a plateau experience, and the grade of Magus will be attained.

Further repetition will eventually lead to the occurrence of the absolute as a permanent adaptation, the Great Work will be completed and the magician will have attained the grade of Ipsissimus.

Obviously, there is a lot of work involved. So what are you waiting for? Go and get deflowered!

Now the dust has settled…

I think what happened to me and Dunc is beginning to make sense.

 

The developmental process is essentially the progressive introduction of the absolute into the magician’s life, with a concurrent gradual re-orientation of the ego. The natural tendency of the ego is to identify awareness with a self, but with the repeat experience of the absolute this identification is weakened, eventually leading to its abolishment.  

 

There is a saying on the Theravada scene that ‘the arahat fractal is vast’. In other words, enlightenment as a plateau experience persists for a very long time, involving cycles upon cycles, before enlightenment becomes a permanent adaptation. For both me and Duncan, the time between enlightenment occurring as a plateau experience and the Cohen event was very short indeed. The fact enlightenment buggered off suggests it might have occurred too early – perhaps the ego had not been given enough time to adapt, and so enlightenment was ‘lost’.

 

But this is only true if we assume enlightenment is either a hit and miss affair or it is a state dependent upon the attitude of the ego, both of which are patently absurd.

 

Results

 

Before the event, I experienced emptiness on-and-off during real time.

 

After the event, emptiness was no longer separate from reality, but seemed to be made up of it. I also gained the ability to experience non-duality by simply asking ‘who is the HGA?’, and my insight into the workings of the ego and the story-making faculty is something only an arahat or Ipsissimus is privy to. My current daily meditative practice (something similar to Ramana Maharshi’s ‘self-enquiry’) is a direct result of this insight.

 

I’m still going through cycles, and the other day I had a fruition followed by a kick-arse Naïve Enlightenment, involving a Big Ball vision beyond comprehension.

 

And for the first time since the Cohen event, the Wisdom Eye opened again this very morning. This experience made it apparent that my attitude towards enlightenment has been greatly affected, not only by the first occurrence of the opening of the Wisdom Eye, but by my new daily practice.

 

If the Cohen event had never occurred, I would still be using the same practice and still slogging my way through a ‘vast fractal’.

 

As a result of the event, I am using a completely different method and I’m certainly much closer to accomplishing the Great Work than could be expected for the bog standard anagami.

 

It’s all too easy for me to forget that everything that has happened, or ever will happen, is down to my work with my Holy Guardian Angel. He engineered the entire Cohen event (as my new ability to recognise my self as Him testifies) as the most efficient and appropriate means to my eventual enlightenment.

 

The Cohen event was never meant to be the completion of the Great Work, but a catalyst to an enlightenment that is due to arrive a damn sight sooner than previously expected.

 

If that isn’t an advertisement for gaining the Knowledge and Conversation of your Holy Guardian Angel, then I don’t know what is.

  

The Opening (and the Closing) of the Wisdom Eye

The last two weeks have been absolutely insane.

 

In order to fully understand what has happened, here’s a brief recap of my magical career:

 

Although I’ve been a practicing magician for just over a decade, I only began the Great Work when I attained the Knowledge and Conversation of my Holy Guardian Angel in 2005.

 

Since then, I’ve been led through vision and synchronicity to the right teachings and methods at the right time, and I put the brevity of my progress solely down to working with the Holy Guardian Angel, although the mainstay of my practice has largely been various meditation techniques.

 

As predicted by a number of magical models, most notably the Theravada Four Path model, the A.’.A.’. grading system, and the Ten Zen Ox Herding images, I went through a cyclical process with recognisable stages as a result of daily meditative practice. The simplest way of describing this is to say I went through the cycle once (known as ‘Crossing the Abyss’ in magick) and experienced emptiness as a peak experience, which occurred on the 22nd February 2007. (It should be noted that emptiness is not a trance state, and cannot be achieved through concentration practice; rather, emptiness as a peak experience is a fundamental insight into the nature of reality, achieved through techniques such as vipassana and centred prayer, to name but two). I then went through the cycle a few more times, with their attendant peak experiences, until emptiness occurred as a plateau experience on the 14th July 2007. At this point the cycle became less important as emptiness became progressively more apparent during everyday consciousness, fading in and out of the ‘background’ of reality regardless of the stage of the cycle I found myself in.

 

The next step in the process, as predicted by the models, is for emptiness to become a permanent adaptation. This event is referred to by many names, such as the accomplishment of the Great Work, Awakening, Satori or Gnosis, but the most popular term for this accomplishment is enlightenment.

 

The Next Step

 

On the 19th October 2007, I attended a talk with the supposedly enlightened spiritual guru Andrew Cohen. You can find details of the talk in the Cohen Dialogue.

 

After the talk, I felt something had changed. Before, emptiness was phasing in and out of reality, which could be quite intense at times and would often gave me the impression that I could reach out and put my hand through it. Afterwards, emptiness had become stable and was no longer in the ‘background’ of reality – it had taken centre stage. I felt very calm and focussed.

 

The next day I felt exactly the same, although I had experienced unpleasant dreams in the night. Normally, when considering myself, there would be a definite sense of a person. Although every single sensation that makes up my self was still present, including the sensations that I am an individual, my identity was no longer found in the grasping of those sensations. I was emptiness, which is simultaneously the same thing as being Alan.

 

Rather strangely, I became depressed (in hindsight, I think the cause of this depression was also that of my bad dreams). It was almost as if I needed to see someone or be somewhere, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

 

Of course, by this time I was considering the fact that emptiness had become a permanent adaptation. Needless to say, if I was enlightened, it was not at all what I expected. Where were the fireworks? Where were the answers to life and death?

 

As far as I could tell, the only thing that had changed was my centre of gravity. Instead of identifying with an unknown, I now recognised the centre of my self as emptiness. Strangely, I couldn’t quite remember how I was before, just like when I experienced emptiness as a plateau experience for the first time.

 

Awakening

 

For a few months I had been using an adapted version of centred prayer for working with my Holy Guardian Angel, and during my daily practice it became obvious something wasn’t right. The idea of my Holy Guardian Angel now seemed meaningless, and yet I could sense what my Holy Guardian Angel used to embody being ‘somewhere’ else.

 

The events of the Andrew Cohen talk kept going through my mind, and when I considered Cohen, the feeling of needing to see someone or be somewhere lifted. This could have been quite disturbing, were it not for the sudden realisation that it wasn’t Andrew Cohen I needed to recognise, but who he really is.

 

The moment emptiness had become a permanent adaptation was now obvious: during the talk, Cohen’s ‘magnetism’ had suddenly disappeared, and I couldn’t understand why there were so many people looking to him for something when they need only look to themselves. It was at that moment that I became identified with who I really am, who we all really are. I had become the Truth, but I had failed to consciously acknowledge it.

 

So during my meditative practice, instead of trying to surrender to my angel as per usual, I surrendered to the memory of Cohen.

 

What I describe next all happened in an instant, and may seem quite confused; however, no event has made as much sense as this in all my life.

 

I recognised that my self and Cohen are one. By this, I do not mean Alan is the same as Andrew, but that we are both what I can only call the Absolute Self. It was then that I also recognised the Absolute Self as my Holy Guardian Angel, and that this whole event was His doing!

 

Bliss, peace and certainty overwhelmed me, and I found myself rather curiously exclaiming ‘What an excellent, excellent game!’ The bliss was akin to that of being in love, both emotionally and physically, and the depression I had felt was very much like being love-sick.

 

I had lost myself in order to find myself, simply for the sheer joy of it.

 

Over the next week or so, I felt like I was dreaming. Everything that had happened was just too good to be true. How ridiculous that I was enlightened!

 

And not only was I enlightened, but it seemed as if the same thing was happening to Duncan too.

 

No Guru

 

Due to the fact both Duncan and I appear to have completed the process after attending the Andrew Cohen talk, it might be tempting to think that Cohen enlightened us both by his presence. I couldn't disagree more.

 

As far as I can tell, none of the audience members we spoke to before or after the talk were enlightened, neither were a number of the students I met (although I’m pretty sure the same thing happened to Chris Parish, after hearing him talk about his first meeting with Cohen). Of course, I can’t 'prove' they're not enlightened, but I think it speaks volumes that I failed to meet a single person with something of their own to say about enlightenment. Can you really be enlightened and not have your own opinion of it? Can you really recognise the Absolute Self and still need to seek it in someone else?

 

If I had met Cohen two years ago, I seriously doubt anything would have happened. Due to the fact many of the original students who became enlightened in his presence were previously practising Theravada Buddhists, I’m willing to bet that only someone advanced in the process can become enlightened in such a fashion (it is worth noting that Daniel Ingram became an arahat in the presence of another, whilst an anagami – see the details of his enlightenment).  

 

I therefore didn’t feel the need to claim direct lineage from Ramana Maharshi (who enlightened Poonjaji, who in turn enlightened Cohen).

 

The Absolute Self in me recognised itself in Cohen, after leading me to that moment through a two year process of progressive enlightenment.

 

I enlightened myself, in the most absolute sense. Who else could?

 

What does it mean?

 

Enlightenment is a loaded word. Over the centuries it has accrued all kinds of fantastic descriptions, such as the idea of a constant state of bliss or love, the knowledge of everything that has ever existed, the acquisition of God like powers, the inability to think, feel or act in a ‘negative’ fashion, or a process of biology-defying physical transformation.

 

From my own experience, I can tell you that the simplest way of describing enlightenment is to say that everything is exactly the same as it was before, except identity is now found with emptiness instead of phenomena (it is therefore not an identity at all).

 

The effects of this are quite profound. Bliss is abundant. Normality becomes much more intense, and so although suffering as an individual is gone, that which is painful actually hurts more. This might sound bad, but enlightenment brings with it an incredible mental strength. The fears and delusions of the ego are illuminated, and although they are still experienced, the ability to overcome them is greatly enhanced. Enlightenment brings with it an incredible courage.

 

Fade Away

 

Over time it became apparent that the effects of enlightenment were fading. The bliss was lessening, and emptiness seemed to disappear at times. Needless to say, this was very disappointing.

 

I adopted a philosophical approach. Of course the effects would fade – they are relative and subjective, and so impermanent. This didn’t mean we were ‘losing’ enlightenment – how can you lose the Absolute? Surely the novelty was just wearing off.

 

Over the last week or so I’ve learnt an incredible amount about my relative self, or ego, and its attitude towards enlightenment. It was grasping at enlightenment; it wanted to keep the experience for itself. But surely it was over? And how could enlightenment be a state that could be held on to? It was obvious that my lifetime habit of grasping or avoiding every phenomenon I’ve ever come across needed serious work, and I wholeheartedly flung myself into various techniques for changing this attitude.

 

But there is no getting away from it: emptiness has gone. Completely. It doesn’t even fade in and out of the background as a plateau experience.

 

I’m stumped.

 

Cohen has often referred to students of his that have had an awakening only to revert to their old selves further down the line. He puts this down to those people not wanting to change enough.

 

I can tell you from personal experience that this is bullshit. Enlightenment has nothing to do with the ego.

 

In his essay on Arahats, Daniel Ingram states:

 

There is a phenomenon in which the Wisdom Eye may open, which qualifies one as an arahat, but then close again. These people are arahats, but they are a lesser subcategory of arahats. Full arahats have had the Wisdom Eye open and stay open, meaning that they have obtained the understandings listed below (see essay) and those have not faded.

 

(Note: ‘arahat’ is the Theravada Buddhist term for someone who has achieved enlightenment).

 

I think 'phenomenon' is the best way to describe what has happened – it occurred all by itself. But to say it has just faded away is to dismiss my current state – which is very different from when this first happened. The luminous emptiness has gone, but it seems impossible for me to fully identify with those sensations at the centre of my being that I used to think were me. I've also retained the ability to experience my Absolute Self.

 

It does appear as if both Duncan and I are now arahats, albeit of a lesser sub-category.

 

I don’t mind telling you that this is simply not good enough.

 

Fall Out

 

Duncan and I have discussed the possible repercussions of posting what has happened; with serious consideration given to the effect that claiming enlightenment might have on our audience (as small as it is). However, this doesn’t seem to be too much of a concern anymore.

 

But this site is a record. We try out the techniques, we report the experience, and we offer what we have found useful. And I’ll be damned if we don’t post the achievement of the actual god-damn aim of magick, the result of many years of blood, sweat and tears, on the basis of the fear of being called a liar, a cheat, and an ego-maniac, even if it was only a partial success.

 

I urge you not to believe a single word on this site. What you have in front of you is a record of two regular magicians who have tested out the techniques claimed by many traditions to lead to the experience of the truth. The techniques, models and results obtained are all on here.

 

This record appears to demonstrate that two people have accomplished the Great Work – if only for a short period of time – right here, right now and in your lifetime, with techniques available to all for free on the internet.

 

Whether you decide to corroborate any of this for yourself is up to you; but if you don’t perform the experiment, on what basis can you form an opinion?

 

Of course, this isn’t the end for us – predictably, this whole thing appears to have been a necessary step in terms of my development, especially in light of my experience with the god Horus this morning (a story for another time I feel).

 

Despite the fact I’ve advocated disbelief when it comes to everything on this site, I don’t think I could end this article without letting you know that the accomplishment of the Great Work is more fucking glorious than can possibly be imagined!

The African Diaspora: An interview with an initiate (Part 2)

Part two of Alan’s interview with Eduardo Hayes, a direct lineage initiate of Cuban Santeria, Palo Mayombe, Haitian Voodoo and Southern USA Root Working or Hoodoo.

Part One can be found here. 

 


 

ALAN: Although you've said you have never encountered anything within your traditions that approach enlightenment/mystical practices, I cannot help but see some similarities between the Western tradition of the Holy Guardian Angel and the head Orisha.

EDUARDO: Yes, I agree. During the "asciento" or "ordination" ceremony where the Orisha formally is "seated" in your head, cuts are actually made on top of the skull or crown of the head and an herbal compress is applied directly over the wound.  Then your Orisha is called "down" to reside within you.  A "life divination" is made for you and one final check to make sure the proper orisha is being "seated."  All this is written in a book, which ends up being the equivalent of your "book of shadows."  I think this has striking similarities to certain ceremonial magick rituals.

ALAN: What exactly is the practice employed when working with the Head Orisha?
 
EDUARDO: Several methods are used when working with the head Orisha, I will list
4 ways, although other ways are possible:
 
1) During your formal initiation into the "priesthood" where the Head orisha is called down into your head, you are given 7 sets of stones which "live" in ornate lidded soup bowls.  These stones are the Orisha embodied in a physical form, you keep them in your "temple / shrine" and they are at your disposal anytime you require them. When you touch them or use them, they are treated as if living beings, and receive the respect of Orisha.

2) The Head Orisha can subtly speak to you in your thoughts.  Often this is used to formulate questions properly when doing divination work.  I use the word subtle because you may decide that certain types of wordings are necessary when performing divination, or a thought or solution or spell could just occur to you.

3) On occasion, when conditions are right you can be physically possessed by any of the Orisha.  But most often people are possessed by their Head Orisha.

4) You can communicate with your Head Orisha or any of the others through different divination techniques, but most common are the16 cowrie shells (some traditions of Palo Mayombe use 5 or 7) or the 4 pieces of coconut.

ALAN: In Western magick, the magician, although working with the HGA quite frequently as if working with a spirit, is ultimately in a process of complete surrender to or absorption in the HGA, until unity in a metaphysical sense is achieved. This is very similar to bhakti or the method used when working with deities in the Hindu tradition. Although the deities are distinct entities in themselves, they are ultimately one apsect of the Truth that transcends but includes all things, including the deity and the magician, and this is realised as the result of the practice. Is such a process recognised in working with the Orisha? Just for clarity, by unity I do not mean the sharing of characteristics or the sense of the deity as an amplification of a part of the self, as what occurs during invocation/possession.

EDUARDO: From my observations and research, there is not an aspect of complete absorption, with the exception of possession, which is very temporary, a few hours at the most.  In fact some practitioners have specific charms and rituals which "ground" them and do not allow for spiritual interference of any type.  I don't think any Santeria practitioner believes that the Orisha is actually a part of themselves, they are distinct spiritual entities, not a product of the psyche. They are beings in and of themselves, and I have not heard of them being associated with an ultimate truth or with any type of transcendental aspect.  It is possible they could be interpreted n this way, but I know no direct evidence of  this.  However, I am still learning about the Western Ceremonial Magick concept of the HGA, perhaps when I learn more, I will see a clear connection.  This goes back to the idea that I do not see Santeria and the other African Traditions as a method of "spiritual advancement" or what we might call the "Great Work." I believe there is potential for this, but I have met no practitioners and heard of none that use this potential.

It is very possible that Santeria and other African Traditions have been "cut off" from the metaphysical.  I cannot speak to the traditions as practiced in Africa.  I have seen no evidence of this in the African Traditions transplanted in the New World (the Americas).  To be sure I will have to learn more about Rene Guenon's ideas – I read your essay on Tradition, and will reread it in light of our discussion.

ALAN: Have you or do you know of anybody that has tried to contact Olodumare, or
attempted direct experience of Him? Is it simply taught that he cannot be contacted, and so people never try? I can see a very sound reason for this being so, in the sense that enlightenment/Truth/God/One is not manifest as people are, and so it does hint at the fact that such a teaching may be based on mystical experience. I would find it very interesting if Olodumare is simply 'out of bounds'.

EDUARDO: In all the academic literature from religion, mythology, folklore and anthropology you will find that Olodumare is simply too far removed from the human plane.  He is out of reach.  However, there have been rumors that the otones or "sacred stones" of Olodumare have been brought to Cuba.  And that some of the Cubans in the USA have access to them or are receiving some of their own.  I have reason to believe this is just a way for someone to create a priesthood position above that of babalawo (the high priest).  In the USA where a well known Santeria priest can make $$$, this seems like a good business move.  I have talked to a number of initiates about this and most say there is no such thing.  I agree with them.

ALAN: I found your discussion on the development of 'houses' very insightful, as well as the change from shaman to priest that has occurred in South American traditions.

EDUARDO: To be clearer on the subject, there were "priests" in Africa. However, to practice your religion you did not have to be a priest. A priest could certainly help you, but in general the religion was in the hands of the people. In the Western form or Santeria, if you have not received any of the levels of priesthood your magical abilities are very restricted. Most practitioners say that a person not initiated would "hurt themselves" by trying to work with Orisha on any but the simplest levels.  However, some people such as myself where encouraged to work anyway they chose to as part of their "education." Once again I look at the circumstances where people are told they cannot perform rituals, and when people are told they should.  It all seems based on economics ( i.e. is it  to the advantage of the priest or initiate to warn against or give permission to perform rites of some sort?). For myself, my "godfather" in the tradition said I should perform my own animal sacrifices to "feed" various implements, tools, and Orisha, in spite of the fact I was only a low level initiate when I performed my fir
st sacrifice.  He told me it was "good practice" for me, and that I was fully able to perform the rites, and that if he was to do it, he would have to charge me a fee for sacrifices.  When I told other initiates, I would receive a good comment if they liked my "godfather", or a negative comment if they were in competition with him for clients, or if they wanted me as a student. They would tell me things like "your padrino (godfather) is trying to fuck you up…" So, it always came down to rivalries based on money, control, or fame.  

Anyhow, in Africa the practice or Orisha worship appears not to be so influenced by money. The tradition is more open in Africa, and here in the Americas it is more controlled.  This "freedom" of practice is even greater in African/Congo practices of Palo Mayombe.  In Africa you are self-initiated for the most part, you build your own tools, and equipment.  In the Americas this stuff is built for you and is very expensive.  So all in all, the religion in Africa is more communal and more shamanistic in a certain sense, and in the Americas, the priesthood attempts to limit the type of work people can take into their own hands.

ALAN: Well, all that remains to be said is thank you very much for agreeing to this conversation, and I hope to speak with you again soon.

EDUARDO: My pleasure!

 

The African Diaspora: An interview with an initiate (Part 1)

The Baptist’s recently made the acquaintance of Eduardo Hayes, a direct lineage initiate of Cuban Santeria, Palo Mayombe, Haitian Voodoo and Southern USA Root Working or Hoodoo. With a severe lack of accurate information in the West regarding the African Diaspora, and its usual misrepresentation as a result, the opportunity to gain a real insider’s view of these traditions seemed just too good to pass up. What follows is the resulting dialogue between Alan and Eduardo. 

Back in ’98, Eduardo wrote his masters degree on Santeria, and so in a number of places he has provided quite extensive notes that provide a basic introduction to the elements of his tradition and its historical development. A bibliography can be found at the end of the article.


ALAN: One of my favourite divinatory techniques for communicating with my HGA is the Obi. My use of the Obi is taken from the Urban Voodoo handbook by Dr. Hyatt, which I'm fully aware is not Voodoo by a long shot. I first saw the Obi being used when I met the spirits of a Quimbanda house here in the UK, and I was impressed by its efficiency as a divinatory tool. I find the possible outcomes deep enough to give a useful answer (rather than just ‘Yes’ and ‘No’), but not so deep as to require years of study (I've got the tarot for that). Can you tell me a little more about it? 

 

EDUARDO: In both the Santeria and Palo Mayombe traditions, the coconut/cowrie shell divination system without a chain connecting the pieces is called Obi.  High initiates of Santeria, the ‘babalawo’, use Obi with a chain connecting the pieces and this is called the Opele or Ikin.  I have never seen it used in Haitian Voodoo or Root Working.   Rune stones were once my favorite technique of divination, but now, however, my main methods are tarot and I-Ching, and when I am performing my Taoist practices I also use something called the Poe, which are two pieces of wood (usually bamboo roots) which are thrown like the Obi, and oddly enough there are some interesting similarities in the interpretations, but with such a small combination of throws, there is likely to be similarities. 

 

ALAN: My experience of the African Diaspora is very limited – I had the misfortune of spending some time with a Quimbanda house (the only one in the UK) and I've met with a practitioner of Voodoo a few times. I do not believe that the Quimbanda house was a representative of the entire tradition, but I was told in no uncertain terms that magical revelation, or mystical experiences, were to be ignored, and that my primary concern should be pleasing the spirits, acquiring material wealth and following my 'destiny'. The members of the house were egotistical, sadistic bullies. 

 

EDUARDO: From what I know, Quimbanda is an African tradition brought to South America and found mainly in Brazil.  The terminology of ‘house’ is also used in Palo and Santeria.  These ‘houses’ are not elements from the African tradition; the ‘house’ concept was added in the Americas originally as a type of ‘social club’.  

 

NOTE: Santería utilizes a system of fictitious kinship. The creation of new kinship relations among its initiates further strengthens the social cohesion Santería creates.  Brandon (1993: 75), illustrates that from ancestral lineages of priests:  

 

Blood kinship became ritual kinship after the manner of the catholic institution of compadrazo. The sons and daughters of the Orisha became the ajihados and ajihadas (godchildren) of the priests.  All the godchildren constituted a religious family of brothers and sisters.   

 

The madrina and padrino, who serve as teachers, initiators, or sponsor in Santería, are akin to ‘godmother’ and ‘godfather’ (Murphy 1993: 181).  Thus, initiates of Santeria become a part of an extended affinial kin group, complete with ‘mothers,’ ‘fathers,’ and ‘siblings.’ The relationship between godparent and godchild is of utmost importance.  This relationship is what fosters the spiritual growth of godchildren.  The “godparents” help direct and regulate their study and application of religious beliefs until they are ready to practice without the supervision (Brandon 1993: 149-150).  This complex of ritually created kin additionally enables the practices and beliefs of Santería to be transmitted to the next generation. 

 

The second institution that contributed to the formation of Santería was the religious social clubs called cabildos.  The Spanish population of Cuba came from many different parts of Spain.  Each had its own customs and regional dialect.  The members of each cultural group created the cabildos to promote mutual aid to its members as well as continue the traditions of their homeland (Canizares 1993: 24-25).

 

At first, the cabildos acted as town councils that delegated civil control to the level of the local property owners. The cabildos were in charge of legal arrangements in matters of the welfare and interests of the people in the community. During the periods when Spain attempted to gain more control over the colonies, the cabildos lost much of their legal power.  But they were still a popular place for the many Spanish ethnic groups to gather, and eventually they became mutual aid societies and social clubs (Rogozinski 1992: 118). These types of ‘clubs’ were adopted by the slaves divided by tribal groups, likewise serving as a place for them to socialize and carry on native customs. In later years, the African cabildos were open to all ethnic groups. As new Africans slaves were brought to America, they, too, joined these types of groups, adding to the cultural memories and knowledge of the group. Membership in cabildos was even encouraged by the slave owners, because it added to the competitive spirit of the slaves, as groups tried to outwork each other. In this way, tribal and cultural groups kept together in such social settings and were able to maintain their native traditions (Canizares 1993: 24-25).

The Catholic Church also influenced the cabildos and ‘sponsored’ dances and religious processions.  At such functions African elements were added to the European rites. Cabi
ldos often adopted patron saints and symbolic colors. The Church and State extended more and more control and restrictions over the cabilidos during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Brandon 1993: 70-72).  There were greater limitations placed upon the Afro-Cuban practices occurring in the cabildos.  In the late 1800s to early 1900 cabildos were transformed into reglas (Murphy 1993: 33).

Researchers have proposed that the greater survival of Africanisms in the circum-Caribbean area is a result of the slaving techniques.  In the United States, African tribal members and even families were commonly separated from each other.  Less contact with their own cultural groups resulted in a tendency among slaves to keep only the most basic or common elements of their cultures.  However, the colonial techniques of handling slaves in the Spanish parts of the Americas not only fostered a close-knit association of peoples of the same tribal groups, it provided a culturally acceptable way to continue traditional practices. Additionally complemented by the adaptable popular religiosity of the Spanish Catholic Church, African slaves were allowed much flexibility in their style of worship.  This clearly resulted in a greater retention of Africanisms (Simpson 1978: 12-14; Canizares 1993: 24-25). 

EDUARDO (Cont.): You will find some very interesting groups in Mexico that operate in conjunction with the church.  These clubs where formed by slaves and later continued like Masonic clubs after slavery days.  Interesting note, there is actually a great deal derived from masonry in these traditions especially Palo-Mayombe and Umbanda (very Masonic meetings and organization, secret hand shakes or grips, passwords, and initiations which draw directly from lower level Masonic Traditions). There is even Masonic symbolism in Haitian voodoo.

NOTE: Santeria is perceived as “a Cuban occult practice.”  Adefumi stated, “there was some resentment among certain white Cubans when informed that the religion was of African origin.  They had come to regard it as a Cuban form of freemasonry (Ibid. 117).”  Ortiz (1943:3), the Cuban anthropologist, also referred to Santería in Cuba as “Negro Masonry” upon his first encounters with it. 

EDUARDO (Cont.): In Africa, traditional practitioners of these systems were very much like ‘shamans’, but in the Americas they have became more like priests (in the Catholic and Anglican sense).  In Africa, everyone practices rituals and can perform spells and magic, although some people may be more gifted with divination, or good at calling spirits. In general, the religious tradition was one where everyone took an active and empowering role. In the Americas, however, the “priests” and initiates perform magic on behalf of people. So the common man lost much of his ability to practice magic, because the priest now does most of the magic for him.   

NOTE: The Catholic saints, whom Spaniards believed acted as intermediaries between humanity and God, were quickly adopted as ‘equivalent’ or ‘parallel’ to the Africans’ traditional deities, the Orisha.  It is this very mixture of Catholicism and traditional West African religion that provides Santería with its particular beliefs. In the New World, the Yoruba’s social and religious hierarchy was disrupted, and so they established a new modified system of priests and initiations based upon the traditional West-African beliefs and Catholicism.  They adopted the Spanish language, therefore, a priest or priestess became known as a santero or santera respectively.  The priest or priestess had the power to induct other people into the religion through secret ceremonies brought from Africa.  (Filipowicz 1998:27) 

The religion is eclectic by nature absorbing appealing ideas and beliefs into the religion.  For example, Buddha statues, Egyptian symbols, astrology, and even Chinese number and dream charts can be found in botanicas, attesting to the versatility of the religion.  Foreign ideas are often adopted and placed within the belief system, “without compromising identity and origins” (Canazares 1993: 110). 

EDUARDO (Cont.): Furthermore, based on my own experience, the African traditions in the Americas have gone another step further to become a type of religious ‘pyramid scheme’, where people have to pay lots of money for initiations, and levels of initiation have been developed and subdivided to maximize the amount of control a head of a house has over his or her ‘children.’ I was lucky in this regard – I was involved in this not just for personal reasons but for my university degree.  Practitioners I worked with gained respect by having me with them. They often said things to clients like "you see Eduardo is learning from me, he is in University and I am his teacher.  He is writing a book about my power…” So, because of my unusual status, several priests and practitioners helped me learn, because helping me learn meant I went to rituals with them and helped them with clients.  I got a good education, and in return they got a free helper and could also declare they were teaching someone getting a masters degree.  You say the Quimbanda people were egotistical, and from my experiences most of the Santeria and Palo Mayombe people where very egotistical, everything revolved around money, and controlling clients and lower initiates.  There were constant criticisms of other houses – if I ever learned something from another house, it was always criticized, as “the wrong way,” or they implied the other practitioners told me wrong “just to make trouble for you.”   Behavior like this was encouraged in the system itself.  When other houses are in competition for clients and money, there is always going to be a problem. I find this approach to magic very "unenlightening".

NOTE: Santeria utilizes an elaborate system of initiations, which induct Santeriá devotees into the mysteries of the religion. Through divination and devotion, the adherents may learn through which ceremonies the Orisha require them to pass.  These ceremonies establish a person’s rank within the religion as well as increase a devotee’s knowledge and skill.  Additionally, these rites forge a link between the devotee and the Orisha (Murphy 1987: 66-67).  After reaching a high level of initiation an adherent may take his place in the community as a santero, or priest of the religion.  There is another type of priest, higher in authority, called a babalao, meaning “father of the cult” or “father versed in mystery”.  He is a priest of Orisha Orunla the deity of divination and destiny.  The babalao is especially important because of his expertise as a diviner, versed in the Ifa oracle (Idowu 1995: 6,76).  His services are sought for all important undertakings and phases of life in general.  The roles of the Santero and Babalao are complementary. This religious structure, together with the lower-level initiates, comprises Santería families or houses and thus the Santería community (Canizares 1993: 28-35). 

ALAN: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with Voodoo? 

EDUARDO: I was very pleased with my experience of Voodoo, these people were more "down to earth" and they did not keep secrets like the Palo and Santeria people did. They were a smaller community and they openly discussed anything I wanted to know about Voodoo.  I spent hours in a few Haitian "botanicas" in Central Florida, just talking and sharing.  They were very interested in my knowledge of Santeria,
and even in things I had read about Haitian voodoo! I shared with them; in return they taught me anything I asked about. Root working was also very much this way, I learned most of my root working from a man who operated a hair salon in Tallahassee Florida (Mr Chapman [ALAN: What are the chances?]).  Once he knew I was serious about learning, he openly shared his methods with me. I think that Voodoo is and Root Working are more “well-rounded” religions, and not just systems of magic. 

ALAN: As someone initiated into genuine lineages of the African Diaspora, can you tell me if there are any teachings that deal specifically with the process of experiencing enlightenment/magical development? Does mysticism play a part? 

EDUARDO: I think that in general the African traditions as found in the Americas lack any "spiritual" or "personal growth factors."  I think that most of the hard core practitioners are actually "unenlightening" themselves, as explained earlier.  In fact, they are not "spiritual" in the Western sense, although they attempt to use, control, and propitiate spirits. In general, I believe these traditions (at least as they are practiced outside their original environment of Africa) lack any emphasis on looking inward or seeking gnosis. I believe this is because of the time and place they came from. Only in the West and Far East have we enjoyed almost nonstop civilization (in the historical sense i.e. cities, writing systems, food technologies which create a surplus, metal smithing…). For over 2000+ years we Europeans have enjoyed an environment that has afforded some of our most "learned" people the time and luxury to explore inner space.  I think that traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism are a great example of this, as they are the product of Chinese and other Asian cultures with a much older continuous civilization than our own. In Africa, people are mostly concerned with survival. We in the West have had wars, but we did not have to contend with the constant battling that traditional African peoples encountered.  Additionally, their lack of technologies made life very unsure and unstable.  How could anyone develop deep systems of enlightenment in such conditions?  Just using magic, rough and ready, something to get you through an uncertain day was enough work. Think of it this way: In parts of the world with formal/academic systems of philosophy, there are religious and magical traditions that deal with enlightenment.  Areas without formal/academic philosophies seem to be void of this type of inner tradition.  I cannot think of any culture which does not fit into this paradigm.  

ALAN: Despite the behaviour you’ve witnessed, are there any teachings within these traditions that resemble the mysticism of the West?  

EDUARDO: They are not mystical in the sense of the Sufi or the Western mystic. I have never heard any mention of enlightenment or anything that I could interpret as enlightenment within these traditions.

In Santeria, everyone has what they call the head orisha, or guardian angel. This is a guiding spiritual father or mother depending on the gender of the orisha/deity. The term ‘head orisha’ has a double meaning: it is the deity which presides over you like a “head” master, and the orisha is said to reside in the crown of the skull.  The term guardian angel is used among people who have a more catholic take on the system; it is also a simpler way to explain something to non-initiates, and safer depending on their religious outlook.  

NOTE: The Yoruba believe that every person has been given a specific destiny. The fate of each individual was selected before birth while in the presence of Olorun. Also chosen at this time is the ‘guardian angel’ Orisha who helps the person understand and live according to what was preordained. When a person is born, all memory of the selected destiny is forgotten and once assigned the destiny cannot be changed.  As a result, each person’s task in life is to find his or her destiny and acknowledge it. (Idowu 1995: 177, 179-184) 

Each person is believed to have a destiny. To fulfill your destiny is to make the best of your life.  I learned from several priests, that to follow one’s destiny to the fullest is to ‘flow with life.’ When you understand this, everything becomes easy. The destinies are often called caminos (roads).  Initiates of Santería are better equipped to be ‘in tune’ with the ‘road.’ As one finds their path in life, àché becomes easier to balance and control, and therefore, the believer advances effortlessly through life (Murphy 1993:130-131). Adherents of Santería believed that every person has a following, a ‘profession.’ Likewise, a study of African-Americans found a similarity in this idea of destiny.  It is essential for one to find this ‘road’, which may be one of good or evil. Only in this way can one secure their course through life in the world (Whitten 1962:319). 

The Orisha have been compared to the Olympian gods of Greek mythology as they presided over various realms of nature and humanity. Unlike the Greek deities, the Orisha are a part of a living religion, and some are explained in their mythology or patakí, as human, like Shango, the third king of the city-state of Oyo (Gonzalez-Whippler 1994: 6; Nunez 1992: 43).  The superficial missionary work of slave owners and clergy only helped entrench the syncretic religion by leaving gaps in the Catholic belief system to be filled by the slaves with their own traditional ideology. 

When one becomes a devotee of the Santeriá religion, he identifies with a specific Orisha who serves as a ‘protector,’ often called a “guardian angel.”  The Orisha are worshiped through a combination of ceremonies and festivals comprised of dancing, animal sacrifice, music, and ritual.  The religion also has an elaborate system of ‘magic’ which is exercised to gain the favor of the Orisha, allowing practitioners to manipulate nature for specific ends.  Trance, divination, and honoring the ancestors are other important components of Santeriá rites and practices (Nunez 1992: 7-17). 

Because the Orisha are thought to guide their initiates, and even to reside in the head or ori of his priests, the attributes which characterize the Orisha are thought to transfer to the initiate, thus, explaining specific dispositions and behaviors of these initiates.  Orisha help to shape the religious communities’ understanding of themselves as embodiments of the Orisha’s archetypal personality (Pemberton 1987: 537; Ojo 1966:158-159). 

ALAN: Isn’t there a deity in Santeria that embodies primordial consciousness? 

EDUARDO: There is a deity called Olodumare. He is like the Gnostic view of god.  He is ultimately the creator of everything, and the source of all energies and life, but he is too far removed from people, too distant, for us to ask him for help – he does not hear us…  The Orisha are but different manifestations of this one god, and they can act as intermediaries from people to Olodumare. This idea might be why the African traditions worked so well in the Americas, because Catholic saints also act as a kind of intermediary between people and God, and so they coulkd easily stand in for the traditional Orisha. Some religious academics actually call the West African traditions "Diffuse-Monotheism", meaning that they recognise only one God, but that one God interacts with people indirectly through emanations of himself – he is diffused into many forms. 

NOTE: Theologically, the Yoruba spiritual world is divided into levels of hierarchy.  The uppermost point is Olodumare, also called Olorun.  He is believed to be omniscient and all-powerful, equivalent in many ways to the European concept of a Supreme Being (Murray 1989:38).  The level below is occupied by the Orisha, the lesser deities who, varying by region, are ranked according to their importance. These divinities originated from a division of the prominent characteristics of Olodumare. The Orisha are various aspects of Olodumare seen as separate entities independent, yet springing from him (Idowu 1995: 57-58).  Under the Orisha are the ancestors, who have established houses/families to carry on their lineage and to recognize and honor the continuous ancestral existence (Ibid. 134,207-208).  Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy are various nature spirits, which inhabit animate creatures, inanimate objects, and even places (Ojo 1966: 159-160,184). 

There are no temples or shrines built for Olodumare in spite of his status.  Yoruba believe that this supreme God is too far separated from the events and happenings of humanity to be addressed directly. Instead, when people need to call upon the highest power to intercede in their lives, they invoke the deities below him, the Orisha, who act as emissaries between humans and the almighty.  Each Orisha has dominion over distinct aspects of the ‘material world’ (Drewal, Pemberton, and Abiodun 1989: 14-16). 

ALAN: If you don't mind me asking, why do you feel the need to practice Thelema or Taoism whilst also being an initiate of Santeria/Palo Mayombe/Voodoo/Root work? 

EDUARDO: Why do I want to practice Western Ceremonial magick and Thelema?  For many of the reasons stated, I don’t feel the West African traditions are conducive to experiencing enlightenment.  Although I could adjust the systems or only use the magical aspects of my lineages, I personally don’t feel right mixing these traditions up. I would rather practice the African Diaspora as I was originally taught.  If I mixed them all together I feel I could up end up like some neo-pagan, running sky-clad in the woods waving a crystal wand, blessing everyone with light and love (although that may not be a bad idea…).  

Part Two of the interview can be found here.


 

REFERENCES

 

Brandon, George – Santería from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, Indiana University Press: Bloomington, Indiana. 1993 

Canizares, Raul – Walking with the Night: The Afro-Cuban World of Santeria, Destiny Books: Rochester, Vermont.1993 

Drewal, Henry John, John Pemerton III, and Rowland Abiodun – The Yoruba World in Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, Edited by Allen Wardwell. The Center for African Art, Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers: New York, New York. pp. 13-44. 1989 

 

Filipowicz, Eugene B. – Santería As Revitalization Among African-Americans, MA Thesis. Department of Anthropology, Florida State University 1998 

González-Wippler, Migene – Legends of Santería, Llewellyn Publications: St. Paul, Minnesota 1994 

Idowu, E. Bolaji – Olóldùmarè: God in Yorùbá Belief, Original Publications: New York, New York. 1995    

 

Murphy, Joseph M. – Santería in The Encyclopedia of Religion, Edited by Mircea Eliade, MacMillan Publishing Company: New York, New York. Vol. 13, pp. 66-67. 1987

 

Santería: African Spirits in America, Beacon Press: Boston, Massachusetts. 1993  

 

Murray, Jocelyn (Editor) – Yoruba Traditional Religion, in Cultural Atlas of Africa, Equinox: Oxford, Ohio. 1989   

Nunez, Luis Manuel – Santeria: A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic, Dallas, Texas: Spring Publications. 1992  

Ojo, G. I. Afolabi – Yoruba Culture: A Geographical Analysis. London, England: University of London Press Ltd. 1966 

 

Ortiz, Fernando – On the Relations Between Whites and Blacks in Points of View, Division of Intellectual Cooperation, Pan American Union: Washington D.C.  7: 1-12. 1943

 

Pemberton, John III – Yoruba Religion, in The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Eliade, Mircea. McMillian Publishing Co.: New York, New York.  Vol. 15, pp. 535-538. 1987

 

Rogozinski, Jan – A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and the Carib to the Present, Facts on File Inc.: New York, New York 1992 

Simpson, George Eaton – Black Religions in the New World, Columbia University Press: New York, New York. 1978    

Whitten, Norman E. Jr. – Contemporary Patterns of Malign Occultism among Negros in North Carolina,  Journal of American Folklore. 75: 311-325. 1962    

 

The Camel Rides Again: A Primer in Magick

In six short chapters and one appendix, this book strips down magick to its barest essentials. To beginners, it offers a basic understanding of what magick is and how it can be worked. To more advanced practitioners, it offers an exciting new perspective on the definition of magick, and its relationship to personal enlightenment.

Enjoy! Beautiful paper copies are also available for purchase worldwide, or you can download your own PDF copy for free (361Kb). You might also like this plainer text version (PDF file, 159Kb)