Monday, June 21, 2010

Paths to awarness - The mysteries

This is the final installment of our series on Road Maps to Awareness.
As a part of Gavin's initiation in England many years ago, the Coven of Boskednad assigned him to walk around the coast of the Duchy of Cornwall. He is not a conspicuously athletic person. All this occurred before the days of cellphones and other electronic gizmos. At that time the track was far less polished and civilized than it is today, and was essentially free of direction signs. He was forbidden to read newspapers, nor was he supposed to go to any restaurant or café along the way; instead for provisions he was supposed to go only to grocery stores. He had to camp out--using only such equipment as he could pack with him. In other words, he was expected to undergo the absolute minimum of exposure to any distracting contact with the temporal world.
The walk took him a little over a week. On each day he met different people who asked him a variety of questions and then left him. It was a typical journey of a mythical hero, designed to allow solitary contemplation of the questions that he was asked, in most cases to contemplate each question for 24 hours as he labored along the rough track following the cliffs.
Various groups call such an experience by various names. We like the name that FireHeart uses for spiritual journeys of this type: The Mysteries. Among paths to Enlightment, it is one of only a few that takes a group to set up and run so that you can travel it. You travel it as an individual, as you traveled the other paths; though this one is not entirely free-form but a preset path, usually through a wood or another mysterious landscape. Along the way you will meet various archetypal guides at what are called Stations. Stations can be compared to the Lights of the Sephiroth, or to the gods and goddesses in Tantra, or to the tarot cards. You can think of them as milestones that prompt epiphanies along your path to awareness. Each Station houses an Archetypal guide. In The Mysteries, as in Gavin's initiation, a path is set for the candidate with a specific end point. However, it is the individual interactions with their guides and archtypes which determines what they receive from the quest.
The group sponsoring and organizing the candidate's journey assigns members to serve as archetypes. In this context archetypes are comparable to stereotypes or the essence of a concept. They appear everywhere, particularly in such diverse places as folklore and literature, and in prehistoric cave artwork. The Native American Vision Quest is another such initiation utilizing fasting and solitude come into contact with spiritual guides.
In our opinion, the longer such an assignment is stretched out, the better. There needs to be plenty of time between encountering one Station and the next; and the more complex the route, the better. In case there are more than one candidate, participants must be forbidden to talk to each other along the way. They must talk only to the various archetypes that inhabit the Stations.
Carl Jung suggested the essence of universal forms that could be used to channel emotions which would result in stereotypical patterns of behavior. One modern example of the use of archetypes is in the original Star Wars series--a typical hero's journey. Representations of archetypes are limitless. Familiar to almost everyone are the Goddess, the Mother, the God, the Ruler, the Lover, the Hero, the Sage, the Sibyl, the Trickster, the Mentor, the Innocent.
Let us look for a moment at some guidelines concerning archetypes.
1. If you like, you can turn to the tarot or to various pantheons to find your archetypes; or you can simply invent them out of the whole cloth, from your memory, from imagination, or from personal experience.
2. The archetypes for any initiatory walk should have a continuity. In other words, if you are thinking of a Celtic path, each archetype should fit somehow into a Celtic theme. Base them on a Celtic pantheon, and be careful that the questions asked by each one are framed in Celtic terminology.
3. There should be quite startling differences among the archetypes, and it is quite permissible to have gates so that there can be parallel archetypes for different genders. As an example of Stations, somewhere along the way the Mirror comes into play. One very powerful greeting archetype we have seen was the Sibyl seated behind an imperfectly silvered mirror. You could vaguely see her but could also see yourself.
4. In some pathways, it is important for anyone who shows up well dressed and made up to surrender their jewelry, particularly any closed rings; that they lay aside their fancy clothes, and thoroughly wash off any cosmetics as a preliminary to following the Path. All binding garments, all fragile garments, and all clothes constructed from parts of dead animals should also be left behind, before or at the first Gate. Yes, candidates can wear simple robes; but they must be stripped of all status symbols and all masking disguising cosmetics. You may recall how Inanna was stripped of all her symbols and clothing as she descended into the Underworld to visit her sister Erishkegal. It is critical that one is first removed from mundane space with its requirements, distractions and energy drain and is kept apart from it for the duration of the initiation.
Labyrinths and Mazes
Two very ancient methods of arranging a pathway through various epiphanies to Awareness are the Labyrinth and its sister the Maze. Depictions of the Cretan Labyrinth occur throughout the ancient world; it is permanently set in stone in the floor of Chartres Cathedral. A most interesting vertical labyrinth is carved into a pathway ascending Glastonbury Tor.
As you go through any Labyrinth, at each turn you pause for a moment and contemplate a different level of awareness and reorient yourself. Eventually (in most case after seven layers) you arrive at the center.
It is noticeable that the original shepherd's crook design represents the center of the Labyrinth, with an opening so that you can attain the center. The Christian church, though, made the open center into the chi rho with its closed center. In their new theology the only way to gain awareness is to accept their Jesus paradigm.
The Maze with its many dead ends is another way of thinking about awareness. Many of your life's paths end up in dead ends. Accept them as an opportunity for more exploration, and realize that no knowledge is wasted. Even Death itself, which some people think of as the ultimate dead end, is only a stop on the way to the Center. Yvonne has come to regard the milestone we call "death" as a graduation.
Be prepared for the unexpected.
Whatever you do, realize that some people will be dramatically affected by such a journey as this. Compressing the journey from a week down to a few hours emphatically raises the stress that some people go through. You need to have someone accessible who is educated in formal psychological counseling. If the counselors haven't undergone Initiation of this type themselves, at least they must be sympathetic and well briefed beforehand. It is also advisable to have an exit strategy for those who are unable to complete the initiation. This is especially important in the case of multiple initiates, otherwise the failure of one could result in the remainder being unable to complete their personal journey.

Here endeth the journey toward Epiphany, with our gratitude for comments and additions from FireHeart.
We are always interested in any personal experiences that you are willing to share with us. Give us feedback on these ideas.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tarot path to Awareness

This is the third blog on paths to awarness.
Thousands of assorted tarot decks are available, ranging from the James Bond deck to the Mickey Mouse. By now there is probably a Barbie Doll deck as well. Some are extravagantly illustrated and others austere. You need to pick a deck that speaks to you. Once you have chosen your deck, throw away the guide tht comes with it. All tarot guides attempt to put into words thoughts that are beyond words.
Our own favorite deck, the one Gavin grew up on, is the classic Rider Waite deck, one of the oldest. That one was illustrated in 1920 by Pamela Colman-Smith. She was a well-traveled American living in England; and both she and Arthur Waite were long-time members of the Order of the Golden Dawn. In predictive work he often uses the Grand Etteilla Gypsies deck as it has a different take on the major arcana.
The cards have some Egyptian overtones because at that time Egyptian magic was all the rage. Echoes of Napoleon's conquest of Egypt still lingered after crossing the Channel from occult circles in fin-de-siecle Paris. Howard Carter and King Tut's newly discovered tomb were headline news as well. The symbology is elemental and simple. It depicts things you already know which should hold no fear in your mind.
In using the cards to explore spiritual enlightenment, only the 22 cards of the major arcana are used. Two layouts are popular. The one we will use follows the Sephiroth. More on this in a moment, but for now we will look at the simplest layout of all.
A. The simplest layout
In this method, The Fool ( 0 ) is placed at the "bottom". On your right side a column of cards is placed starting with The Fool nearest you, going directly away from you, through ( 9 ) to form a column one card in width.
The Wheel of Fortune ( 10 ), considered to be a crossover card, is placed in the center position between that column and the one consisting of cards ( 11 ) through ( 21 ). The remaining cards progress upward from ( 11 ) to ( 21 ) in a stack or column on your left, parallel to the stack formed by ( 0 ) through ( 9 ). The final card at the top of the left-hand column is The World
( 21 ), where everything is known, including the four fates. In this layout, then, you start with the Fool who knows nothing and is stepping off a cliff into the unknown.
B. Now to turn to the simplified Sephirothic layout. For this you need a diagram of the Tree of Lights, the Sephiroth. Several Trees have been developed, ranging from the traditional to the modern. We like the simplified rectified diagram we show on Page 70 of our book "The Solitary Wiccan's Bible". Remember: you need a diagram in which the paths are numbered from 0 to 22. The major differences between the various Trees is in the number of paths and lights, and the depiction of the female on the right or the left. We will use the version that has five paths leading from the lowest light upward. Each path is represented by its own card. We will spend a few minutes considering the five cards representing those paths.
You can either ascend the Tree or descend it. Most pagan/Wiccans will ascend because they believe that everything we are starts at Mother Earth and our incarnation allows us to ascend. Abrahamic religions tend to start from the top, leaving everything behind, and ending up as earth.
Remember that the following words are only illustrative. What carries the most weight is your own understanding of the meaning of the cards.
1. The World ( 21 ) - Here you think of it as leaving the world behind. The egg shape of the central pattern is taken to mean rebirth. The elemental essences will support you in your quest.
2. The second path open to you, very close to the World, is Judgment ( 20 ). This is a judgment on your own life. You must recognize when it is time to make changes in your life style, though change can be frightening. The blast of the trumpet awakens you from your present situation of non-growth. It awakens you from the box you are trapped in.
3. The central path of the five, represented by the Devil ( 15 ), is gender-neutral. Here you must give yourself over to a higher power, even if at first that power appears negative. You must cast off restrictions, misguidance, and the package of guilt / shame / fear of the abrahamic religions.
4. The fourth path shown to you is Temperance ( 14 ). It is one of controlled and temperate progression. You stand in water, and water is being passed from cup to cup; in other words you still need to be connected with the earth as you ascend through the paths to Enlightenment. This path calls for steady, careful, self-controlled progression, and for the reconciliation of the apparent opposites in your life.
5. The fifth path is represented by the Moon ( 18 ). Occultists often interpret this as representing the most dangerous of the paths. The card shows the pathway leading away between towers and
over a distant mountain. You do not know where it leads; you know only that you cannot come back, that there is no return, because the scorpion will sting you.
Here you have to decide whether the energies pulling you onward can overcome your primitive left-brain activities. To choose, spend two days meditating on each card in turn, 15 minutes a day. In meditation keep the card before you. When the mind wanders, pull it back to the card.
It is best to start at new moon. On day 12 through day 14, try to meditate on all five cards at once as they lie before you in a fan pattern. On day 15, under the full moon, make your first decision.
Then you will proceed, meditating to the next Light on the Tree and its onward paths. Usually there will be many new paths opening to you. One of them will take you across the whole Tree. There will be many opportunities to change direction. Each time such a change occurs, lay out the cards showing possible directions and meditate on them. Finally after perhaps three months of continual card meditation you will be ready to try understanding the Fool ( 0 ). You will attempt to get completely out of your body, and the Fool will be your guide. He is stepping off a cliff in full knowledge of his danger. The little dog warns him, yet he is sure. New life springs from his left hand; and though he still carries some baggage, he is leaving this world to experience the Ultimate and to gain the knowlege that we all seek: the reason for our being.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

revised Frost schedule

Hi again, troops.
Many of you have asked about where we will be when, so we are revising this blog to update earlier information. Here's what we know today. It's still prudent to see individual sites for full information.

07 12 - 07 18 Sirius Rising Sherman, NY

07 19 - 07 25 SummerFest Sherman, NY

07 28 Kaleidoscope Gathering north of Ottawa
09 11 Pagan Pride Day Russellville, AR

09 18 Pagan Pride Day Little Rock AR

10 09 Nature Spirit Alliance Day Princeton WV

10 31 Witches' Ball Radford VA

Again: Watch carefully for updates; some of this stuff is still coalescing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Sephirothic Path

This is the second in a series of four blogs discussing roadmaps that will help you gain awareness through a series of enlightenments.
In many ways the Sephiroth is the most complex path among the roadmaps we are considering; thus an illustration will be helpful in finding your way. There is one such simplified illustration in "Good Witch's Bible", Frost and Frost, page 229. (At the time we published that work, we were a little negative about the Kabala; given today's greater understanding, for that attitude of some 35 years ago we apologize.)
Looking at the illustration, you see nine circles containing words in either Hebrew or English. The circles are called Lights because each represents an area that will illuminate your understanding.
Be warned that the Hebrew words are not easily translatable directly into English. It's not a matter of simple one-on-one, straight-across translation. For instance, the Light at the bottom in Hebrew is Malkuth, often translated as The World but sometimes as Wholly Remembering. The one just below En Soph is often called Kether or The Crown or God-ess, and is said to mean "I am that I am".
As you meditate on each Light in turn, a clearer understanding of each one and its relation to the others should come to you.
The central Pillar of Lights leading from The World all the way up to En Soph is considered to be gender-neutral. It represents Balance. Some Sephiroths have a Light between Beauty and Goddess; its label in Hebrew is Da'at; that is thought of as Knowledgable Balance.
One side of the Sephiroth's vertically arranged Lights is female. It stands for Severity, Water, and Blood. Sometimes it is placed on the right, but it lies on the left in traditional depictions. The male side stands for Mercy, Fire, and Milk (or seminal fluid).
It is interesting to note that these three male Lights have Endurance at the bottom, Love in the center, and Wisdom at the top. The center one, Love, is actually called Chesed, translated alternatively as Kindness. Here in this very old pathway you can see that the female side has more power than the male side, just as we found in Tantra that the goddesses were active whereas the gods were contemplative. It is interesting to see this attribution of lesser power to the male in a society that produced the most dominant male god ever known to the western world.
If you use the traditional Sephiroth omitting Da'at, you have nine Lights in the lower section. Wiccan tradition customarily starts at the bottom with Malkuth and moves upward meditating on each Light and on how you get from one Light to another. Everything comes from the Earth or the Great Mother. As you move upward the blank slate of your understanding comprehends the various attributes of the Lights.
In Judaic tradition you move from En-Soph the Ultimate Deity downward, releasing various emotions and human attributes as you go, so that you are pure and unsullied when you arrive at the base. Everything here comes from the Deity.
In each case you now go through the cycle again, in one case descending and giving up what you have gained, and in the other regaining in a purer form that which you had released.
Many workers regard the numbers on the paths as comparable to the archetypical images of the tarot's major arcana. We will address the tarot in the next blog.
Meditating on the Lights requires a commitment of a half-hour daily. The time may be divided into 15 minutes before breakfast and 15 minutes after supper; or it can be done as a half-hour after supper (provided you are not too sleepy). Some say that you must spend a whole week's worth of meditation on each Light. We have found that you can shorten this time if you develop mind keys or aides-memoirs in your mode of understanding for each Light. We get in touch with our subconsious in accordance with which sense is predominant. If you are clairvoyant (that is, if you psychically "see" your impressions), you will make up pretty brightly colored patterns; if clairaudient a piece of music or a particular sound, and so on for each sense.
There are nine Lights in the lower section. If you spend seven days in each of them, that comes to a total of 63 days. In Wicca we prefer to work in a moon cycle similar to the one in Tantra, spending a total of 27 days on a cycle (3 days per Light and two days of assimilation).
After completing your meditations, you are ready to move out of the lower area and try to get an understanding of En Soph by moving your meditation upward.
The first line of the Torah in Kabalistic tradition reads:
With a beginning It created Elohim. They created the World.
Interpretations of the Sephiroth and methods of using it are as numerous as grains of sand on a beach. You need to develop your own techniques, and to approach it with an open mind unburdened by the finite nature of most of modern thought regarding it. This is not a one-plus-one-equals-two task.
The Sephiroth cannot be comprehended solely through the intellect. Instead the mind must be free and must move into realms where everything is fluid and everything is possible. The work is about as far from a literal so-called left-brain approach as any psychic effort can be.
Once you get into the rhythm of meditations, your life will change and you will begin to interpret experiences differently. You will bring a new level of awareness to every act. You will think before you speak, and will contemplate the words that you say and every thought that arises in your mind. The Sephiroth will change the way you live your life. It will encourage you to integrate mystical study into your daily meditative contemplative exercise(s). This leads you to a stronger connection between yourself and the Great Unconscious, and will give you more understanding of the meaning of Life.

A caution: "Upward" is just a convention. Clearly, En Soph is not necessaraily upward in a literal sense; it is everywhere.

For those who would go further, we recommend David A. Cooper's "God Is a Verb". The copy on our personal shelf is from the Riverhead division of Penguin.