Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Victorian Arts...

Not all of the poetry, music and artistic output of the Victorian era was about doing body shots of absinthe off of velvet ruffled proto-Goths who were taking side bets on which one of their inner circle would die first of consumption while smoking blond Moroccan hash through a bong filled with ice from a Swiss glacier and fifty year old single malt Scotch that had been saved for just such an occasion. It was far more interesting than that.

Some of What Some of the Victorians Knew: The Delsartians

In addition to the frame I have selected for presenting the contextual expressive possibilities of the generally ignored North American branch of the Golden Dawn, there are four tool sets I'll describe. The framework is New Thought, which is radically different from the Anglican basis of the British and Continental Holy Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD). New Thought was developed from Mesmerism by Quimby in the 1850's. Quimby recognized the potential for abuse in mesmeric healing, and sought to replace the outside suggestions by internal changes in consciousness, resulting in improved health. By 1880, New Thought had cross-pollinated with Theosophy and its own parent, Spiritualism, to produce some of the following disciplines:

Magnetic Healing, Practical Psychology, Science of Mind, Divine Science, Mental Science, and a host of other terms. Several church movements will arise from all of this--Christian Science, Unity, Universalism (one of the two sources for Unitarian Universalists) and quite a few of the "Spirit Churches" find their origin in this movement.

Here's tool set one of four.

Delsarte 1.0(?!)

Francoise Delsarte was the son of a physician in France, born in 1811. His father died when he was young, leaving him a penniless orphan. He found his way to a Conservatory while in his teens, and was recognized as a prodigy in the field of elocution and dramatic instruction. Delsarte lost his voice due to over-use. In an attempt to reclaim it, he spent a lot of time analysing motion and gait. Eventually, his voice returned, and he began teaching statue posing. Delsarte viewed Greco-Roman statuary as a model of the True, the Beautiful, the Supernal. He founded a school, compiled notes and died in the 1870's before he published anything. Luckily he had an American student, Steele Mackaye, that knew everything Delsarte knew. Mackaye came to the US, and died shortly thereafter. Genevieve Stebbins (of the HB of L.) went to France and studied with the Abbe Delaumosne, a French Delsarte instructor. Stebbins and Northrup, her contemporary, suggest that Delsarte movement is based on Swedenborgian metaphysics. There's no way to confirm this, but true or not, it would factor into Delsartism in the 1880's and beyond.

He taught decompositions in the following order:

Finger, hands, forearm, entire arm, head, torso, foot, lower leg, entire leg, entire body, eyelids, lower jaw.

Exercise 1--Let the fingers fall from the knuckles as if dead; in that condition then shake them. VItal force should stop at the knuckles.

Exercise II--Raise arms above head, decompose them---that is, withdraw force. They will fall as dead weights. Arms still hanging decomposed from shoulders, agitate body with a rotary movement. The arms will swing as dead weights; now change and swing body forward and back: bend knees in this. The arms will describe a circle in their sockets; they must be decomposed. Druid Comrades should always remember to follow the Law of Gravity in their workings.

As Egami Shigeru, the master of Karate said:

"The hardest thing is for the pupil to comprehend and express the difference between relaxation and tension."

Let's look at a bit of Delsarte instruction, rendered in his style:

"Please pull a chair up to the table, and do try the white wine with cheeses, Monsieur Ash. It is a good vintage, is it not? Let us begin by observing our first subject, a man in his early twenties, as he walks along the street. See how his arms move crisply, note the certainty of his stride, and the brightness of his eyes. He is sure of his destination, and his youthful energy carries him along. Notice that the expression on his face precedes his walk and speech. This is a vital point to consider. The eye is the mental centre in expression, just as the centre of gravity is the vital centre. As the mind is first impressed, and the passions are first aroused, , the eye should indicate attention or intention first,; then the centre of gravity; then gesticulation; then articulation.

Moving lengthwise is passional, heights and depths are intellectual, breaths are volitional. Straight form is vital, circular form is mental, and spiral form is moral or mystic. Limbs move in an oppositional fashion--right hand/left foot, etc.

Life and mind are one and the same soul; soul and mind are one and the same life; life and soul are one and the same mind. From the basics of decompositions, we arrive at harmonic poise or being. Art is at once the knowledge, the possession, and the free direction of the agents; by which are revealed the life, soul and mind."

Elocution is the last discipline taught in Delsartism, though no part of this is taught in isolation. Articulation of sound was of great concern to Delsartians, living as they did in a time prior to the invention of motion pictures and in the earliest era of recorded sound. Vowels and consonants would have a decidedly Parisian accent, a point we'll consider later. "A voice, however powerful it may be, should be inferior to the power which animates it."

The statue posing of the 19th and early 20th century represent a God in a fraction of an interval of motion. The god postures are always Vitallized. The eye directs first. Strike with the eyes and assume the god form. Breathe, but not merely air.

Delsarte spends a lot of time breaking down movement into what he considered its basic elements. Delsarte was a genius, but neither had a movie camera nor training in physiology. Delsarte 1.0?! does not make a provision for reflex actions. I’ll expand on this in future posts. Suffice it to say that there is a wealth of material that’s been un-appreciated and unused since the earliest part of the 20th century, part of a useful and beautiful set of perspectives on esoteric practice.

First and always, comes the Silence. Following assumption of the silence, there is Concentration. Then there is the Meditation, which is also manifestation.

In any working, the good high Occultist would summon their spirit Band, conjure the egregore, and if outside, perform a Solar Adoration or similar energy exercise, focussing on the solar plexus (aka "The abdominal brain"), processing the violet effulgence of the Sun, bringing it down to the solar plexus, standing barefoot on the ground to make sure that contact with the Earth is never interrupted. It wasn't just the HOGD doing this-----There were public tableaus with hundreds of people wearing gossamer veils, posing in God forms in public and private. Magnetic Healing, processing of sunlight and activating the solar plexus are covered in the blog "The Only Course in Magnetic Healing You Will Ever Want".

Take a look at this passage, from "The Golden Dawn" vol II, page 132---

"... Let him remember what particular God he represents. Exalting his mind unto the contemplation therof, let him think of himself as a vast figure, standing or moving in the likeness of that God, colossal, his head lost in the clouds, with the light flashing round it from the head-dress of the God---his feet resting upon Earth in darkness, thunder and rolling clouds, and his form wrapped in flashes of lightning--the while vibrating the Name of the God. Thus standing, let him endeavour to hear the voice of the God whom he represents and of the God-forms of the other officers as previously explained.Let him speak, then, not as if unto an assembly of mortals, but as to an assembly of Gods. Let his voice be so directed as to roll through the Universe to the utmost confines of space. ..."

This passage is an excellent summary of Delsarte 1.0?!. In fact, it is so specific to the discipline of "High Occultism" that I suspect this bit had to have been written by an adept with lots of exposure to the French esoteric and dramatic scene, someone who worked this material repeatedly in person, and not a "perfume book-man" as the Chinese would say.

On introduction to the HOGD postures, the Delsarte student would have "decomposed" the Golden Dawn postures, breaking them down into spiralling movements beginning near the torso, ennervating each bit of the limb sequentially, moving from the shoulder to fingers, hips to toes. Think of it as western Chi Kung, or "sentiment avec elan vital." As mentioned in an earlier post, "Cong-Fou" is the Chinese translation of "magnetism".

The ritualist is not merely stepping across the floor, but across the Universe and in sacred space. "Look at the floor and consider it well." Floor work could have been as simple or as complicated as the group or individual desires. Step with meaning.

Here is my preliminary version of what I think of as the most basic Golden Dawn posture:

There are possibilities inherent in the simplest of gestures or actions that frequently go unexplored. In fact, a practitioner of esotericism might be well served to take a single ritual action or short reading from their materials and focus exclusively on this for a period of weeks. Let’s take the sign of Harpocrates from Golden Dawn ritual as an example. This stresses the child of silence aspect of deity. It is mythologically rich in associations from several perspectives. Looking at the “Kybalion”, one of the central texts of US Golden Dawn magic, the state manifested by Harpocrates refers to the One silence that pre-exists all else. It is the first of the Rosicrucian precepts that Magus Incognito lists. Another and equally valid way to view this is as the manifestation of the first child of magic, the infant Horus. Let’s see what happens when we step through this posture in light of Delsarte mind/body/spirit mechanical actions:

The first puzzle to be solved by the Magus is, simply, the determination of a neutral or beginning position for the ritualist.

The GD system offers no answers here, so we must design a solution that is compatible with the other postures found in the GD. What John Michael Greer and myself have independently arrived at is the “neutral stance” in Tai Chi Chuan, itself a position with several layers of meaning. It is a quiescent state, one of tranquility and full of the possibilities inherent in Malkuth. This cannot and should not be practiced "1, 2, 3, 4 ...". There is only this accomplishment, this motion. All else is devoid of meaning. Approach this with a state of reverence, play and curiosity, and allow assumption of the posture to guide your visualization and accompanying sonics.

When viewed from above, the feet are arranged thus:

This forms the character “pu” in Chinese, a gentleman.

/ \

The line of movement would be as follows:

1. / \

2. \


3, / \

Step out with the left foot, slowly, moving the hips and torso forward while raising the arms in sections--first the right shoulder, then the right upper arm, the forearm, the wrist, and finally the fingers. If a light were to be taped to the fingers, the lifted arm would be seen to follow a spiral pattern. The action is one of rising to the heights while remaining grounded and in constant, deliberate motion.

A brief exhalation should accompany the completed gesture, with the finger raised to the lips as the final stage of the action. It might help to meditate on the way a bird breathes--its bones are hollow, and fill with air as they move. There is a centered lightness about this, but one should not emulate a wooden puppet on strings, as that would be a performance denying the existence of gravity. The eyes strike in harmony with the arms. This simple movement occurs not merely in time and space, but from one breath to the next, the Magus will take on, assume and finally cast off the aura and mental state of the neteru in the Work.

There is dynamic movement through passive, active and "quiescent" energy states within the ritual space that manifest with each glance, action or sound that should be attended to by the practitioner. Nothing is static for more than a bare instant.

Prior to the advent of cheap, universally available recordings in the 20th century, folks had to have a personal teacher or guess a whole lot when pronouncing foreign words. This would have especially applied to Egyptian. If I were to put money on it, I suspect the HODG Egyptian pronunciation had a decidedly French feel to it.

Consider the circulation of the officers in a fraternal lodge about the ritual space, and think about it in terms of "magnetic healing" or what today might be termed "Polarity Work." without the relevance of physical gender or inclination. (I’ll expand on this in future posts.)

Now, with this post in mind, go back to the Solar Adoration and apply the movement discipline of Delsarte to your own mechanics. Don't worry--it will take a while for you to learn how to relax. (In Delsarte schools, pratfalls and flatfalls were taught. In my opinion this is unnecessary and counter-productive. I'll introduce a safer and equally valuable tool in a few posts.) I'll detail some useful bits on Delsarte chanting in a few posts. Until then, practice, practice, practice!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gooey Things II -- Prelude

It occurred to me that there are a few points about the powers of context - and text - that are appropriate for a discussion of occultism in literate cultures.

One of my favorite alternative process photography gurus has noted that there's no such thing as "Photography". Rather, there is "Photography-As-We-Know-It". She recognized that any sort of meaningful dialog or discussion is founded on the paradigms that the self-identified group (in this case a computer mailing list) holds to be valid. There are tacit if unspoken agreements that are necessary for dialog to occur. Construction of a narrative is the act that may best reveal the strengths and weaknesses of our species. We are tool using, story telling primates with opposable thumbs and agendas. In looking at source documents that tell the tales of any subject, it helps to remember that:

1. Not everything important was put into print. Conferences, Chataquas, Lyceums and Assemblies were major vehicles for sharing information prior to the era of cheap newsletters and books. Very few of these left footprints.

2a. Not everything in print survived into the present day.

2b. Not everything in print that survived is of equal value. Some of it was and is rubbish.

2c. Information makes a great circuit from the West to Asia and back again. Chinese authors of the late 19th and 20th century would read New Thought, Physical Culture, Martial Arts and Spiritualist books as source documents. In turn, these books from the East were translated into English, completing this circulation of information, with the serial numbers conveniently ground off at each point of the exchange. Our 18th century "magnetic healing" is 19th Century Chinese chi kung, and vice versa.

3. From the point of view of a practitioner, there is no single globally valid history that can subsume all events into a coherent narrative that reflects what happened.

4. History, like politics, is local and based on a variety of experiences that are unique to a biome, era, region or group.

5. No author is free from bias. All of them that aren't reference librarians writing bibliographies "cherry pick" their data.

There's this belief that excreting ink onto paper (to paraphrase the late, lamented author Robert Anton Wilson) grants a sort of authority to ideas. Within the subculture of the occult this is generally if unknowingly expressed as the quest for the "black book".

The basic notion is that someone, somewhere,somehow got hold of a book that holds all or many of the secrets of the Universe. In Iceland it was said that such a book was written in luminous ink on black paper, was only visible at night and could be given to a wizard or sorceress by the devil or some similar agent of evil, like Interlibrary Loan. This notion seems to hold greater importance in the Americas than in Europe.

Not only is such a book an item of power, its use crosses into the realm of talismanic operations--the rumor that such a book being possessed by someone is oftentimes as esoterically potent as the book itself. To use a hypothetical example, if I were to claim, say, that I had all of the documents from an early 20th century Rosicrucian lodge in England and other participants in the occult community believed this to be true, this belief in a book by members of the Body Esoteric would generate usable power for me, without any additional work on my part. Acceptance of the assertion in a community is oftentimes as potent as ownership of such a work.

Now, there was no shortage of grimoires to choose from in 19th century America. The 6th and 7th Books of Moses were two of the most used additions to this corpus. An old standby filling a similar niche would be an antique or antique looking bible. Bibles were used for bibliomancy and had other less common uses, such as removing warts by smacking them with that Good Old Book. The psalms were held in high regard as well. Carrying the text of a psalm on a piece of paper in one's garments was a frequent custom. The German community would contribute to this literature, giving us "Pow-Wows: Long Lost Friend, a Collection of Mysteries and Invaluable Arts and Remedies by John George Hohman. This volume would become a staple for occult practitioners in the New World, where its influences would be present from the Pennsylvania "Dutch" settlers who were the book's audience to the blossoming of hoodoo in the Deep South. Other texts would include the "Oraculum" also known as Napoleon's Book of Fate. If a printer didn't have one of these works in stock, putting a custom cover on whatever volume they did have and titling it the 6th Book of Moses was a commonly accepted practice.

Gooey Things II

Returning to the early days of Spiritualism, it is important to remember that this particular manifestation of religious activity took the Americas and England by storm. The Fox Sisters had their experiences in 1848. By 1849 there were Spiritualist conferences, books, tracts, lectures and the establishment of its preferred mode of operation, that of the "Home Circle". While damned few books were written on how to organize a home circle,its presence is a given in spiritualism/spiritism in the Americas. Small groups were the preferred format for participation in occultism. Spiritualism is more about the living than the dead---don't think of those who have passed on as "dead" think of them as differently embodied. If these folks were to manifest it was thought that these bodies would be composed of "ectoplasm", or spirit-force goo.

At least in this world, living things need water. Not too surprisingly, NASA has adopted a similar search strategy in looking for life on Mars, Europa or elsewhere. "Follow the water!" is the rallying cry for exobiologists, at least in this era. Similarly in spiritualism, we "follow the ectoplasm".

The term "medium" is revealing. It suggests transmission of a force through space and demands an interaction between the medium, the spirit realm, and the members of the home circle. For lack of a better term, the assemblage of the home circle, its spirit band and the rest of the local environmental manifestations determines the sort of information that can manifest.

The first consistent messages through mediums were interpreted as a call for Women's Suffrage and the abolition of slavery, with a small but vocal minority advocating "free love" as an innate Spiritualist doctrine. Spiritualists were oftentimes criticized for being involved in the abolitionist movement, possibly because spiritualism was widely and quickly accepted by large numbers of slaves in the South. This adoption would help to shape the emerging folk culture of hoodoo. In Brazil, Cuba, and almost any other place in the Americas where slavery was present, Spiritualism began influencing the interpretation and practice of Afro-diasporic practices. Allen Kardec would write a series of books and hymns on Spiritism that ultimately formed the basis for Brazilian espiritismo and the 20th century Brazilian religions of Candomble and Umbanda, along with many similar manifestations in the New World.

Spiritualism arrived on the British, American and other New World religious scenes with an inherent stubborn practicality that did not depend on formal institutions, leaders or theological training. It proved to be an omnivorous faith, gladly swallowing elements of virtually any other spirituality it encountered. Native American motifs and spirit guides were adopted in quite early, and there was a lot of material to be had in the 19th century Americas. Any cross-pollination that could happen with religions, spiritualities and cultures basically did happen.

At this point it would be appropriate to discuss a seance. From the French term "to sit" a seance consists of several people sitting, including a medium and a control or conductor.
As noted in "Gooey Things I" there are three distinct phases--"Entering the Silence", "Concentration" and "Meditation or Manifestation".

The initial state needed for a successful home circle is the ability to "Enter the Silence". Tons of printer's ink were sacrificed in an attempt to teach this concept to 19th and 20th century Spiritualists. In short, the "monkey mind" needs to quiet down and the doors of perception need to creak open a bit. (Please see "Tools for Druid Companions I" for further information.) Seances facilitated this by providing a stable context--the same songs, prayers, members of the circle, positioning of the chairs and hands, position of the head provide us with a Western asana, mudra and mantra. Spiritualists scheduled meetings at the same time every month. It might have been the third Wednesday at seven pm. Regardless of their choice, they felt that the spirits liked keeping to a regular schedule.

In examining the procedures of Spiritualism and Mesmerism, I offer the following analysis. This is not the only way to parse the data, but it is one that offers quite a few benefits in describing the activities of occult practitioners of the Americas from the 19th to the 21st century.

After summoning the Spirit Band (those positive entities that have ties to members of the home circle), there are three components in any sort of working.

The first component of an early Mesmeric or Spiritualistic working is intention. There is a definite desire or purpose to accomplish that is held by the Mesmerist (or Control) and the medium.

The second component is motion--Mesmer used gestures in his working and initially manipulated metal crosses or other objects over the body of the Subject. Mesmer abandoned the use of objects and used his hands in later years.

The third component is a sub-set of the second---sound. Seances began with a song or other music. Shape-note hymns were a favorite, taken right out of the Primitive Methodist hymnal. Later Spiritualists used the inspired volume from Peebles, titled "The Spiritual Harp", available as a Kessinger reprint.

The glass harmonica was used in seances through the 1850's where it lost popularity reportedly because it was considered too spooky. I've never heard one in person, but I have a cd by Thomas Bloch, entitled "Music for Glass Harmonica" that conveys some of the power of this instrument. Spiritualists weren't limited to the glass harmonica, of course. They were at home with church organs, pianos, guitars, drums, trumpets, sistrums and other instruments. A quick read of the literature from the mid-19th century suggests that the oboe, bassoon, mouth harmonica and accordion were the only musical instruments that Spiritualists didn't use in a seance.

There are frequent allusions to music in Spiritualist writings. Andrew Jackson Davis titled one of his works on Spiritualism "The Great Harmonium". This lies at the heart of Spiritualism as a discipline--the notion was that there is a medium of forces that flow between the Cosmos, the Mesmerist and the Subject or medium. This medium or "aether" will be characterized as "animal magnetism", at least early in the 19th century. It was viewed as an energy that could be produced, directed, absorbed and was capable of altering the subject or their perceptions. Again, the notion of a flow of energy is the basic concept, one that is found in virtually every society on earth. These energic systems are not all the same--the ways that they are characterized are as varied as the terms for this energy. There's more than one chakra system from India, these don't neatly equate to the tan tien centers used in China, and neither are of any help in discussing the energies directed by members of the Native American Shaker churches in Washington State. Pick one or none, and don't worry because they do things differently in Maine.

At heart Spiritualism can be characterized as a a system of practical and happy esoteric discipline that is founded on the subtle worlds that have intercourse with our realm, accessing it through sound, movement and directed intent. These elements will form the base of much occult teaching in the Americas for the next two centuries.

There are just a few other points to make. Spiritualists had (and have) quality control measures to weed out ectoplasmic posers. Quite frankly, there were "humbugs" in the 19th century just as there are in the 21st. Some spiritualists just put on shows. They could palm objects, alter photographs, throw their voices, tip tables, blow horns and rig elaborate mechanical hoaxes in a fashion that would have impressed Rube Goldberg. The existence of wigs does not prohibit the existence of head hair, it just makes it harder to find.

In the midst of these religious innovations, hermetic and alchemical doctrines brought over from Europe were not forgotten. Many of the Founding Fathers of the US were Masons and had connections to various esoteric groups. Our ambassador to France, Ben Franklin, founded the US Postal System (possibly as a way to more easily coordinate Hellfire club parties), mapped the flow of the Gulf Stream, invented the bifocal, popularized an almanac that is still being published, and experimented with electricity, a frequent pastime in that era. As noted earlier, there were more than a few magical manuscripts circulating among folks interested in such things.

Here is a list of generally recognized principles of spiritualism. Although this was compiled c. 1900, it reflects fairly accurately how earlier spiritualists felt and operated.

Many Spiritual Churches accept the Seven Principles of Spiritualism, of which principles, full individual liberty of interpretation is reserved to each member. This set of principles was delivered through the medium Emma Hardinge Britten:

The Divine Eternal Parenthood (sometimes called "the Fatherhood of God")
The Family of Humankind (sometimes called "the Brotherhood of Man")
The Interconnectedness of all Creation.
The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels
The Continuous Existence of the Human Soul
Personal and Social Responsibility, including compensation and/or retribution hereafter for the good and evil deeds done "on Earth"
Eternal progress open to every Human Soul

Those of you with experience in Fraternal lodges may recognize some of this language. It isn't a coincidence.

Next time, Victorian Arts and Sciences, along with the only course in Magnetic Healing you'll ever need.

(Please see "Tools For Druid Comrades" for the technical materials for this weblog series.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Prelude--"The Great Awakening"

While the earliest part of the 19th century is generally characterized as a period specifically rife with religious revivals and experimentation, truthfully it is difficult to find any period in history where folks haven't tried to modernize a religion or bring practices into accord with a newly invented (or rediscovered) yearning for an idealized past. As the westward expansion of the United States got underway, it should be remembered that none of these "new" lands were blank canvasses. To the contrary, these regions had permanent inhabitants who effectively lacked political rights. Native peoples were oftentimes resettled (The Cherokee were moved from Tennessee to Oklahoma) or as in the case of California during the Gold rush, became non-entities because they were perceived as an obstacle keeping miners from their gold fields. Some of these tribes were moved to lands deemed worthless due to the presence of smelly black substances oozing from the ground or yellow rocks that fogged photographic film.

This transition from the untamed wilderness of the Pilgrims (itself an interesting cultural construct) happened so fast and so thoroughly from the perspective of Western history that it is easy to not notice that North America had and has any number of sub-cultures existing alongside the one true and catholic vision of reality that CNN, Fox News and others reassuringly display sanctify and invoke 24/7. These sub cultures are regional and participatory in nature.

A slower and quieter approach is needed to find these Other Americas. There are sweat lodges and vision quests regularly held a few hundred feet from Interstate Highway 10 in west Texas with ceremonies conducted in Spanish and Nahautl. Not everyone in the Duwammish region of West Seattle has forgotten the Rock Too Terrible to View, and Thunderbirds still dance in the summer sky over the Great Plains, revealing themselves to those brave or foolish enough to visit them. There are shrines to Saints hidden in the desert of New Mexico, and Inuit traders still follow the routes from Siberia to Alaska, bringing trade goods and stories, just as their ancestors have done for countless thousands of years. These lands do not speak with a single voice, nor are these voices necessarily in English. As North Americans, our crops, festival traditions and language in America have been informed by these peoples, and it does not serve anyone well to forget that.

As is generally true, regions perceived as frontiers are occupied by people thrown out of more "civilized" society. The Clearances in Scotland would produce any number of sandy-haired Lakota speaking, kilt wearing Scots/Lakota cowboys who lived between their two cultures.
There are many, many places where the land has not been forgotten, nor has the land forgotten its children, but these realms cannot be found from an airliner or through traveling down a highway at 70 miles per hour. To borrow a phrase from an Anglican chaplain I know, these are "the thin places" known in other times and places variously as faerie, the lands of the small folk, the first folk, and by many other names.

Following the model that Brandy Williams articulated for the Seattle Pagan Scholars community (http://www.speakeasy.org/~bwilliam/scholars.html) almost a decade ago, here is my self-disclosure on this topic:

Any occultist who claims to not have an agenda probably can't have a pulse either. Look for the guy behind the visage of the "Great and Terrible Oz" in these instances. I don't know if I believe in spirits, but treating them as if they are at least partially external and real results in a shorter and simpler chain of logic than asserting their non-existence.

I have post traumatic stress disorder, courtesy of the NSA. The process of dreaming brings with it the risk of nightmares. Not all of my dreams are terrors, though that is true for the vast majority of them. Many evenings I cannot go to sleep until the sun comes up for fear of what sleep brings. Of those relatively harmless dreams I do have, most of them consist of the normal flotsam and jetsam of the day's happenings leavened with absurdities. Yet there are others...

The dream comes sharp and crisp as the salt spray of the cold Pacific ocean. I breathe, open my eyes, and find myself in the City, the real Seattle.

I've walked its cobbled brick streets for almost two decades now. The city is built on the edge of a desert, a place where the Great Northern Forest of conifers stretches from Mexico to Alaska and converges with two rivers that flow to the Sea. The City rests comfortably in this spot and has been here always in Forever Years.

My oak floored, glass-enclosed second story loft has a view of both rivers and the market, a place where Gods and spirit beings shop for food and exchange stories. There's a visiting spirit from the great plains standing on a corner, dancing and singing to a music that carries the message of thunder beings from far away. Next to him Fox woman minds her children as they wait for a bus to take them home. Past the row of neat "Painted Lady" Victorian houses on my block stands a community theater, owned and operated by an extended family of ritual magicians who have married lodge magic with English drama. My computer, a 2001 Amiga Deskpro's screen glows faintly as I pause to make breakfast for the day.

I'd thought that this place was a fairly private manifestation until I met others who have inhabited the same place. Imagine my shock at finding a Pioneer Square comic book artist who draws this creation that I inhabit but did not invent.

The real Seattle isn't the only place in this realm--I've visited the etheric double of Chicago where a ceremonial magician I know tends to the needs of the Dead in the labyrinthine mausoleum complex that lies at the heart of that metropolis. And there's another person I know whose close spirit companion inhabits a flat in ethereal Atlantic City.

What are all of these places, and how do they relate to esoteric practice? I have no firm idea, save that they exist and exert influence on those of us who wander through them. The phrase that has come to mind is the notion of "an ecology of spirits". One of the great breakthroughs of 19th century New Thought and Spiritualism is the concept that the complexities of the webs of life are in some fashion mirrored in the more subtle realms. I have no clue as to their ultimate origin. Spiritualists that I know assert it is simply enough to know that the spirit realm is tangible, and all other speculations are best saved for after hours discussions with bread, cheese and a bottle of wine gracing the table. From my experiences the inhabitants of the subtle realms are as varied as slime molds, willow trees and elephants.

But back to the Great Awakening of the early 19th century. I'm not sure how many of my readers are familiar with tent style revival meetings. They are much less common now than thirty years ago. For many participants these are visceral, gut wrenching encounters with some of the scariest, most repressed and most hoped for experiences imaginable. And there's almost always a sensual undertone that many people experience as a sort of sexual awakening to their concept of God. Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggert are cousins after all, and the energies of Elvis and Fabian performing in person caused thousands of otherwise perfectly healthy teenage girls to writhe in spasms of ecstasy that equal anything that Teresa of Avila or a Python priestess in classical Greece could have described. And folks in the heartland of early and mid 19th century America were getting salvation on a regular basis. (As for me, my Mennonite grandfather revival-proofed me before the age of eight, and I find Tridentine masses to be more meaningful than the tent based church services.)

The preachers of the 19th century were as adept at manipulating these emotional interactions as any Roman general leading troops into battle. Out of this stream of revival events the seeds of the Noyes' Oneida Colony and the Church of Latter Day Saints were planted, fertilized and harvested. Joseph Smith was one of many folks who were puzzled by the origin of Native Americans. Could they be descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel? Did they leave a cache of golden treasures somewhere nearby, and was he enough of a diviner to find it? What Smith produced was an amazing myth that was strong enough to get folks to move from relatively civilized regions to a desert and build a nation.

So why did spiritualism take the Anglo portions of North America by storm? Forensic sociology is a wide open field, and anyone can play. I suspect that the desire for a personal experience of divinity coupled with populist sentiments was enough to launch and sustain the movement. From my perspective it is a mistake to view the popularity of spiritualism as something that was inevitable, it was simply one of any number of possibilities in the astral gene pool.

The defining moment in Spiritualism as seen by historians was the sequence of events that began with the Fox sisters on March 31st in 1848, just outside of Rochester New York. The three sisters claimed to have heard an insistent rapping that was not explicable, and further, the entity responded when addressed as "Mr. Splitfoot". Said entity described his life before death, resulting in the excavation of a basement. Current opinions on this matter seem to fall into one of two camps with some shades of grey between them.

The noise was either made by one of the girls cracking the joints of her foot or hand, or a differently embodied person was talking to the sisters from beyond the grave.

Modern day spiritualists I've spoken to have proposed a third alternative--why not hold seances and determine for yourself the truth of the claim that spirits can manifest or communicate with the living?

There are three classic phases to a seance (meaning "to sit" in French). The first stage is referred to as "holding the Silence". This is the basic underlying state of consciousness common to most esoteric workings in the over-subcultural Anglo esotericists, the remaining stages being "Concentration" and finally "Meditation".

Considerable differences of opinion exist as to the best means of attaining the Silence. The recitation of a prayer by the group or the singing of a hymn often precedes the working. Flowers and live plants seem to positively influence the spirits, and Subdued lighting is considered beneficial as well. The method I recommend is to consciously listen to the tides of blood and breath and attentively wait for the quiet places between breaths that can allow for manifestation of the Silence. Sit comfortably upright in a favorite chair or couch. Some modern spiritualists use recorded music as an aid to the Silence. Experiment and see what works for you.

The first few dozen or so times it is likely that you'll encounter your own inner chattering rather than an express message from inhabitants of the hollow earth or Zeta Reticulans who have chosen you as their spokesperson. It is possibly a good idea to hold off for a while on writing that multi-volume book series that explains the deep structure of the universe.

The women's movement and the anti-slavery movement were nurtured by spiritualists who tended to view equal rights as a logical consequence of their world view. The foremothers of the Physical Culture movement were involved in spiritualism, magnetic healing and kindred fields up to their eyeballs as well.

"Other Powers" by Barbara Goldsmith is an excellent in depth presentation of the interplay of these social movements, and I highly recommend this book.

Next time--"Gooey Things II" and the arts of storytelling.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I had intended to start this series out with a brief nod in the general direction of Emmanuel Swedenborg and Francois Mesmer, then proceed without delay to the sad tale of a failed alchemist and diviner, just before arriving at the house of the Fox sisters and their new friend, Mr. Splitfoot.

Along the way to that very brief post, the Universe intervened and persuasively argued for a more complex narration of some of the days before the Victorians. In October, I had some extreme chest pain that didn't subside during an asthma attack. After an hour or so of this, one of my friends drove me to the hospital, where I spent approximately four hours hooked up to an EKG machine, an iv, and a pulse oxygen meter. Between the fuzzy consciousness that the hypoxia of an asthma attack brings while listening to the beeping sound of an EKG in a room with very bright light and the sight of the iv dripping fluids into my arm, I was led inescapably to the Romantic era, alchemy, and the places deep inside us where monsters are kept under lock and key, at least most of the time...

"Gooey Things Part I"

The roots of the Frankenstein story include European alchemy, Taoist healing practices, and the tales of European explorers who'd come back from the New World and Siberia.

1816 was the year "without a summer", due to the Tambora volcano eruption of 1815 . Saying "It was a dark and stormy night" is completely appropriate here, for deep from the mountains of Europe, possibly from Castle Frankenstein itself, stories about 18th century alchemists like Dippel and the electrical experiments of Ben Franklin and Volta would seamlessly fuse in Mary Shelly's mind. Her monster was "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus" . The first vampire novel, "The Vampyre" by Polidori was written at the same time as Frankenstein, so both Hollywood staples were born together.

Most folks know the Frankenstein story mainly from the Universal films starring Boris Karloff (and others playing the monster) or the British Hammer Films versions of the 1960's that usually starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The impact of the original novel is generally lost on movie audiences who rarely read the original story. The horror the protagonist Victor Frankenstein faces is one, literally of his own making. Shelley's description of the exact means used to create the monster, (called "Adam" by Shelly in one oral telling of the tale) are left disappointingly vague to those of us who were brought up expecting spark gaps, lightning, and the rest. (The earliest film treatment of the Frankenstein story by the Edison film company in 1910 has the monster created in a bubbling alchemical retort, which is possibly a better fit for the 18th century origins of the monster).

Victor Frankenstein, a student of classical alchemy and naturalism, studies bones in his charnel house, working late into the night by the illumination of a single gutting candle. Once his work is done, the yellow eyes of the monster open and fix on their creator, and he knows he has broken a law of nature in bringing this monstrosity to life and sins further by not destroying it immediately. He compounds his error by creating a second being. (The James Whale sequel to the Universal version of "Frankenstein" titled "The Bride of Frankenstein" is considerably closer to Shelley's tale than any version before or since its time.)

Shelley's monster was of course, not the first artificial being in literature. Most creation myths involve someone or something sculpting the first humans out of dust, the body of a dead god, or something similar. There were many examples of these stories in Europe, including the golems of Jewish mysticism and the homunculus of the alchemists.

Within almost every culture, there's a long tradition that connects breath and bodily fluids with health and the processes that sustain and create life. The classic study of this for the Indo-European world is by Richard Onians, titled "The Origins of European Thought: About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate". An exceptionally deep book, bring your Latin and classical Greek lexicons and a grammar, as many of the text sections aren't in English.

In brief, Onians notes that most European cultures connect cerebro-spinal fluids, tears, semen and blood with expressions of vigor and life. These notions are reflected in the mythologies of Europe as well, giving us the "ichor" that flowed through the veins of Greek deities, the hydromel (sacred honey drink) of the Norse, the wild, rushing torrential streams of poetry from the third cauldron of the ritual poet in the Irish text referred to as "The Cauldron of Poesy", and possibly the soma of the Vedas. For those with access to a really good library or very deep pockets, read
"Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from LA Tene to the Viking Age"by Michael J. Enright. This book is one of the very few deep discussions of the socio-magical role of women in parts of northern Europe, tying together the role of poetry, Sovereignty, political and economic power, sacrifice, the position of women in society and sacred myths.

In modern fiction, there's the crazy General in "Doctor Strangelove" who is very concerned with preserving his vital body fluids and the possibility of theft of same by a woman, raising the possibility he was influenced by Taoist thought.

European alchemists didn't just try to make gold. They would pioneer studies of minerals, acids, and herbal healing. Many alchemical processes simulate fermentation or the natural growth in an organism. The world of an alchemist was a complex place, filled with aetheric fluids as well as influences from the planets and stars. One of the most famous alchemists of the 18th century was Anton Mesmer, born in 1734 and educated in Vienna. He is known to have attended the hypnotic healing sessions of the priest Johann Gassner, who held a metal crucifix while hypnotizing his patient. Mesmer popularized this healing method that operated through hand passes, the intent of the healer, suggestions to the patient, and the playing of a musical instrument, in this case, a glass harmonica. (Mesmer's notebooks reflect his use of a notation set that used more than seventy symbols, something characteristic of many alchemists of that era.)

This second major influence on medicine and popular culture in Europe c. 1800 was Chinese medicine. French Catholic priests in Asia were writing down accounts of the mysterious "magnetic" healing art of China, known to them as "Cong-fou". The healing modalities of the "Cong-fou" as understood by academics and popular writers of the time embraced acupuncture, massage, breathing, and a series of postures and movements that improved the flow of life energy through an organism. By 1817 this had been formalized into the "Swedish Health System" of P. Ling, which would be so popular in books, medical practices and gymnasiums that it would give rise to the military calisthenics in most European armies, and form the base of exercise regimens that were prevalent in the West until the 1930's (It is almost certain that Ling would infuse Delsarte theory into his system, given his use of triads.) Kellogg, the inventor of cold breakfast cereal and the five station health vibrator, would describe this "Cong-fou"as the discipline of moving energy flows through a body, directed by intention. (I'll cover this in greater detail in "Gooey Things II and III")

The third sources for Victorian healing modalities are from unexpected places: Siberia and North America. As Gloria Flaherty has so aptly demonstrated in her book "Shamanism in the 18th Century", popular and academic writers were fascinated by tales of the healer-priests in these diverse "primitive" societies. Algonquin first peoples and the shamans of Siberia used gestures, massage, dancing, and other techniques that resembled not only European alchemy but this exotic Chinese import "Cong-fou" as well.

One convergence point for all of this is Shelley's Frankenstein.

What's interesting is that in the almost two centuries between the publication of this novel and our time, it has come to be regarded as the first science fiction novel, more so than any work by Verne or other 19th century authors. So the prototypical cultural story of science and mankind gone wrong was penned by a Romantic writer and based on the principles of alchemy.

Before we get to the Victorians proper there are two more actors in this drama to consider--Emmanuel Swedenborg and John Chapman. Swedenborg (1688 to 1772) was an influential mystic and prolific writer. While it would take too long to get into his metaphysics here, there's one bit of relevance to the lifestyles of many later Victorians--Swedenborg believed in spirit wives. Swedenborg was not the only person to hit on this notion-- there are strong implications in the lives of many of the Catholic saints who had "Christ for a Bridegroom". Teresa of Avila, to cite one, and described her ecstatic experiences in fairly earthy sensual terms. Contemporary Korean mu dongs (priestesses) have spirit spouses, as do tribal healers all over the world. Virtually all of the spiritists, spiritualists and New Thought authors will cheerfully refer their readers back to the voluminous writings of Swedenborg for details on this, as will I.

John Chapman, aka "Johnny Appleseed" (1744? to 1845?) was a Swedenborgian arborist who was wealthy enough to roam the frontiers of the Ohio Valley and Illinois, planting apples as he wandered and distribute tracts by Swedenborg. Chapman never married on this plane of existence, preferring the company of his two spirit wives.

Next time I'll introduce a God-fearin' treasure seeker and the Fox sisters with their controversial friend, Mr Splitfoot.