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.)