Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book Review: Deceptions and Myths of the Bible

Tonight I want to talk about Deceptions and Myths of the Bible by Lloyd M. Graham. I bought this book about 8 years ago, when I was still in my atheist phase. The title appeared to me, but I put the book away after reading a few pages and concluding that the author was a total crackpot. I'm not sure why I kept the book around all these years, but I picked it up again recently and was surprised to discover that the author was actually very knowledgeable about hermeticism. You wouldn't know this from the title, but the major theme of the book is the Bible as an allegorical creation story: not just the first part of Genesis, but most of the Old Testament, and major portions of the New Testament.

According to this book, Genesis is about involution, the descent of spirit into matter, and Exodus is about evolution, the development of the resulting combination. Involution was done by God; evolution is our responsibility, but we have help. If Graham harps on the deception and politics involved in writing the Bible, it's just because continuing to interpret the document literally gets in the way of our evolution.

This is all perfectly compatible with the model of religion given in Cloud upon the Sanctuary. At some point we're supposed to question things. We're supposed to ask why there are two conflicting stories of Noah's Ark. We're supposed to ask why the four Gospels don't agree about what happened on the first Easter Sunday. We're supposed to ask why it was so important to Yahweh that the Hebrews took no prisoners in their battles to claim the Promised Land. When we ask the questions, we're ready for the next level of interpretation. This book can help with understanding the next level.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What If? The Movie - Clip 4

Here's the 4th clip I received about the What If? movie:

This clip is about a group of people living in the Himalayas who reportedly are able to have children past age 70.

The movie should prove to be very interesting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Put Down the Stone and Step Away

Blog of helios: Character-Assasinations-Ain't-Us
If anyone reading this found this from the link posted above, this blog isn't about Linux or anything computer-related at all. So I won't be making any arguments for or against open-source software. Just thought I'd make that clear up front.

I normally don't write about computer-related topics, but this story is really about a much more important topic: judging others. We all do it. I for one, have a hard time even driving to work without negatively judging most of the other drivers. But here's the thing: a judgment is a limit. It's a limit on your ability to see the reasons why a person may have done something. It's also a limit on your ability to see that the person may have changed in some way or learned something in the meantime.

Now stop to consider that most people also make judgments about their own actions (because judgment is a habit), and you can see that this is a big problem. It's even worse in this case because the judgment is telling you something about yourself, and you can't change without making the judgment untrue. And most people would rather be right than happy.

So, let's throw out the slogan "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Instead, just put down the stone and walk away. It will be O.K. Really. I promise.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What If? The Movie - Clip 3

Here's another clip from the upcoming What If? movie:

This clip talks about reports from other cultures about people with longer-than-normal life spans.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of the "What If?" questions turned out to be: What if aging was actually caused by what's in our minds?

Monday, December 15, 2008

"What If?" The Movie - Clip 1

I was recently sent a clip from a new movie called What If? The Movie. The clip shows Dr. Bruce Lipton explaining epigenetics:

What If? Epigenetics Description

I've read Dr. Lipton's book, The Biology of Belief. His part in the movie should be very interesting. My only complaint is that the clip is short (about 20 seconds).

I'm told there are 3 more clips coming. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Review: Astrology, A Cosmic Science

I've been studying astrology for a couple of months, and I've looked through a few books on the subject. My favorite so far is Astrology: A Cosmic Science by Isabel Hickey. What makes this book different is its approach to astrology. Your chart does not so much describe your inherent nature as much as lay out a blueprint for your future evolution. Positive aspects and planetary placements are seen as things that come easy, or potentials to develop; negative aspects and placements are seen as lessons that must be learned.

An interesting idea in the book, which I've seen in a couple of other places, is that you don't get the characteristics of your sun sign by default. That is because most people are driven by their emotions, which are governed by the moon sign. The sun sign actually reflects your true inner nature, and it must be brought out. The ascendant determines how you appear to others. All twelve Zodiac signs have an influence on each of us because they appear in at least one of the twelve houses. Just to give you an example of the book's approach, here's how the Scorpio ascendant is described:
The hardest Ascendant of all. Battlefield where the soul and personality must come to mortal combat. They must come into alignment and the personality must die...No unevolved soul is born with a Scorpio Ascendant. The razor-edged path that can only be tread when there is strength and power enough to do so...
So the theme of this book suggests a good approach to astrology: use the chart to show what lessons have to be learned in this lifetime, and leave the fortune-telling to the newspaper crowd.

If you only buy one astrology book, this book would be a good choice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tarot Court Cards

I'm still reading Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners by Joan Bunning. I understand the court cards a lot better now after reading this lesson.

The traditional attribution of the court cards is as follows: the Page represents earth, the Knight air, the Queen water, and the King fire. This didn't make much sense to me given that the four suits have similar attributions. But what makes more sense, and I think Ms. Bunning was trying to get at this, is that the Page, Knight, Queen and King actually correspond to the four worlds of qabalah. The four worlds are typically explained in terms of the manifestation of things and events, but in this case, they refer to evolution, specifically our evolution. In other words, recovery from materialism.

Under this interpretation, the page represents the starting point: the realization of the need for recovery and the initial efforts. The knight represents the initial exploration of the element given. The queen represents embodiment of the principles represented by the element, and the king represents mastery. The elements are as follows: pentacles represent the body and the material world, swords represent the intellect, cups represent the emotions and wands represent spirit and creativity.

If we can combine in ourselves the qualities of the king of each suit, we'll be well on the way to recovery. I don't know how to do this yet, but I have reason to believe that I'll find out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: Esoteric Christianity

I was raised as a Catholic. I was an altar boy for a brief period, and even went to a Catholic high school. When I went to college, I got away from it and went through an atheist period which only ended a few years ago. Now that I'm on the road to recovery, I've seen some things that indicate that I may have thrown the baby out with the bath water. That brings me to the subject of today's review: Esoteric Christianity by Annie Besant. This book talks about the hidden side of Christianity.

You see, Catholicism, which is the root of modern Christianity, was meant to be a religion for everyone. By everyone, I mean even the most ignorant and materialistic of us. As such, it needed to be lowest common denominator, at least on the surface. Where the Catholic Church went wrong, in my opinion, was refusing to admit publicly that there was anything beneath the surface. I'm still not sure about that, though. It may have been necessary from a credibility standpoint. Anyway, here's a quote from the book:
He (Origen) says that the Body of the Scriptures is made up of the outer words of the histories and the stories, and he does not hesitate to say that these are not literally true, but only stories for the instruction of the ignorant. He even goes so far as to remark that statements are made in those stories that are obviously untrue, in order that the glaring contradictions that lie on the surface may stir people up to inquire as to the real meaning of these impossible relations.
Well, there we have it, from an early Church father no less. Whenever we see something in the Bible that seems contradictory or absurd, we should look for a hidden meaning. The book spends a few chapters exploring this idea in the context of the story of Jesus. There are also chapters about the forgiveness of sins and sacraments. I recommend this book for any of you who, like me, come from a Christian background.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book Review: Pregnant Darkness

Pregnant Darkness: Alchemy and the Rebirth of Consciousness by Monika Wikman is an excellent introduction to Jungian psychology and the use of alchemy for personal transformation. My guess is that "pregnant darkness" refers to the subconscious mind and the wealth of treasures there if you know how to look for them. Dreams are prominent in the book as indicators of progress and what needs to be worked on.

Alchemy is the art and science of transformation. In the case of this book, what is being transformed is yourself. The important concepts in alchemy, for example, the philosophers' stone and the first matter, are explained in relation to psychology. Mythology is used to help explain the concepts. The story of King Midas, for example, is given as an illustration of what happens when you refuse to admit when you're being a jackass. That points to what seems to be a prevailing theme of the book: don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and own up to your shadow self. And that makes sense. After all, isn't admitting there's a problem the first step of recovery?

This book is not for newbies, but should prove very helpful with some background knowledge.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Recovering Materialist Thanksgiving

If you're like most people I know, you'll spend your Thanksgiving doing one or more of the following things: watching one or more of the parades; watching one or more of the football games; eating dinner with the family. Some of us will also take some time to be thankful for the things we have: our families, homes, health, that sort of thing.

Those of us who are recovering materialists will take this one step further. Both the hermetic and mystic traditions affirm that we both have and are more than we know, even more than we can imagine. Maybe we can't be thankful for these things because we don't know what they are, but rest assured that there's a part of us that knows exactly, and is infinitely thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Learning Tarot

Thanks to a couple of years with B.O.T.A., I'm familiar with the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot, but recently I decided to learn more about the rest of the deck in preparation for doing Tarot readings. I've read a few books, and I'm currently reading Learning Tarot by Joan Bunning, which has an associated website.

One thing I've noticed is that if you look in 5 different books for a description of the same card, you will get at least 4 different descriptions. Even the different decks have vastly different artwork for each card. It seems that Tarot is like a book that is written once for each deck that gets produced, and once again for each author that interprets it. What's even worse is that every author who writes about Tarot has a slightly different way of reading the Celtic Cross spread. This can be very confusing, so I've decided to stick with one deck (the Rider-Waite, pictured above), and one system of readings, which I haven't decided on yet.

My approach to the readings will be: "What's on your mind?" The consensus theory is that the order of the cards is changed during mixing or shuffling to reflect the state of mind of the person for whom the reading is being done. Of course, the cards can't be seen, so this theory only works if the subconscious mind somehow has access to the order of the cards. I'm O.K. with that. Everything I've read, and the practice readings I've done, indicate that it works, and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Learning Astrology

I've been studying hermeticism and related topics for the last three years, and it always bothered me that I didn't really understand astrology, so I decided to devote some time to its study. My background in astrology before this consisted of reading the daily horoscope in the newspaper as a teenager, and Sun Signs and Love Signs by Linda Goodman.

The first thing I noticed was that the descriptions of the planets corresponded nicely to the spheres of the tree of life to which they were assigned. In the course of re-reading The Mystical Qabalah I learned that the correspondence was by design. The aspects between the planets were easy to understand if I thought of them as the interactions between the spheres of the tree. The signs also had correspondences to some of the major arcana tarot cards. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the functions of the houses.

An interesting idea I found in my research (though I don't remember where I read it) is that you don't get the characteristics of your sun sign by default. This is because most of us are basically in automatic pilot mode, governed by our emotions (the moon). I remember the author saying something like "We all have free will, but most of us don't use it."

Another interesting concept from Astrology: A Cosmic Science by Isabel Hickey is that we do not have the characteristics we have because we were born at a certain date and time; it's exactly the other way around.

Anyway, I'll keep studying, and hopefully I'll be able to start doing readings some time soon. On a related note, I got a sign today that I'm probably ready to start doing tarot readings now. My wife and I were waiting in line at the espresso bar at a local Barnes & Noble. A young lady in front of us noticed that I had a copy of Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning. She asked me what I thought of the book, then asked me about a tarot card she had found. It was the ten of wands, but the design was different from the normal Rider-Waite layout. At first, I just told her that the fact that she found the card meant that she should pay attention to it. After thinking about it for a while, I came to a realization. She had found the card, and knew what it meant, but the design wasn't what she expected. The meaning seemed obvious to me: she was already in that situation (being over-burdened), but saw something different on the card and was confused. I told her that she needed to look at the situation she was in differently. She was happy with the answer, and I was happy that I was able to figure it out.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why I Didn't Vote

As I mentioned in a prior post, I've only voted once. Generally when people ask me if I voted, I tell them the truth, and I get basically the same response an atheist would get from a churchgoer. ("You didn't vote!? Why not!?" vs. "You don't believe in God!? Why not!?") To that I usually say something about the probability of my one vote deciding the election is almost as high as my chances of winning the lottery. "But what if everyone did that?" I used to say that I don't decide for everyone, just myself; I now realize that answer doesn't cut it, for a very important reason. The question itself is a version of the Categorical Imperative, and it's important because in the course of my research I've discovered that the state of mind in which one performs an action can have an effect on others, so the Categorical Imperative is probably a good idea.

With that in mind, I have a new personal policy toward elections: I will only vote for a candidate if I know the candidate's philosophy and agree with it. This policy satisfies the Categorical Imperative because I would highly encourage everyone else to follow the same policy.

First reason: it would send a more accurate message to the candidates. CNN says that 53% of the population voted for Obama. I'm pretty sure that at least some portion of that 53% voted for Obama because they didn't want McCain to win, or for the opportunity to make history. How many? We have no way of knowing. If everyone followed my policy, we would know, and people wouldn't claim mandates that weren't really there.

Second reason: everyone following this policy would create a space for third parties. Obama and McCain together got 99% of the popular vote. At least some of that 99% actually would prefer a third party candidate. A third party winning, or getting enough votes to cost of the the two major parties the election, is a good thing. More competition would give the major parties incentive to improve, and provide an influx of new ideas.

Third reason: the people who followed this policy would have the personal benefit of knowing that they voted for what they wanted instead of against what they didn't want.

So, anyway, that's my new policy, and I would encourage the rest of you to follow it as well.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Review: Cloud upon the Sanctuary

Did you ever have the feeling that someone "up there" was looking out for you? Or in the alternative, do you agree with the Matrix guys who think we're being farmed like sheep? And is there really any difference? Either way, we're being monitored by beings much smarter (or more powerful) than us for reasons we can't determine. But enough paranoia. Let's look at the positive side of this idea.

Cloud upon the Sanctuary by Karl von Eckartshausen is a classic work of hermeticism based on the idea that there is a body of knowledge being held in escrow for us, to be released when we're ready for it. In the meantime, symbols pointing to that knowledge are spread throughout the world's cultures and religions.

When will we be ready? Those of us who realize that there's more to the world than can be measured by our scientific instruments, and that there's more to religion than rules and rituals, have already started the journey. Contact with people who have more information, either directly or through books, is inevitable at that point.

Will this book help you get ready? Probably not, at least not by itself. But it does point to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and sometimes knowing the pot is there can be helpful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Book Review: Enchanted Love

One side effect of recovery from materialism that I've noticed is that life seems to take on a quality that can only be described as magical. The Course in Miracles says that is by design. Miracles are supposed to happen; we just need to get out of our own way.

But how does this relate to love? What most people think of as romantic love is better described as a combination of need and fear. The neediness and fear drive jealously and possessiveness. But when you get rid of that, what's left? The problem with unconditional love is it's inherently universal, and if everybody's somebody, then nobody's anybody.

Marianne Williamson, one of the most prominent authors who write about The Course, has the answer in her book Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships. She says that romantic love is vital because "heaven is entered two by two." Any of us who have been in a serious relationship will know that it can show you the very worst aspects of your partner and your self. This is a good thing. According to the course (and most psychologists), the traits we dislike the most in other people are really parts of ourselves that we disown and project onto them. By bringing these traits to the surface, an intimate relationship gives us the opportunity to accept them, which is of course a prerequisite for real change.

I could go on and on about the book, so I'll close by saying that Ms. Williamson has obviously learned a lot about love, presumably the hard way. Her book can same you some time in creating the real thing for yourself. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recovering Materialist Politics

After a recent argument with a couple of friends over why I wasn't voting for Obama (or anyone else), I started thinking about my political philosophy, and the fact that it hadn't been updated to reflect what I've learned in the past few years. The first concept that comes to mind is the Taoist idea that people who are living right don't need laws. An obvious corollary is that if everyone is living right, laws become irrelevant. I'm sure there are other applicable ideas, and if you happen to think of any, please leave a comment.

Now, why am I not voting for Obama? The same reason I didn't vote for Clinton or either of the Bushes. I won't vote for anyone unless I know their philosophy and agree with it. The "lesser of two evils" or "at least it's a step in the right direction" will happen just as well without my help. At least 30 percent of the population will think it's the wrong direction anyway.

Thinking about the argument raised an important question: how do we deal with others who we think have suboptimal beliefs or behaviors? This seems to me to be the central question in politics. A possible answer is the use of force, and if you're in favor of laws against "victimless crimes" or mandatory anything, this is your answer. Another answer is that we leave them alone and insulate ourselves from the results or their beliefs or actions as best we can; this is the Libertarian philosophy in a nutshell. A third answer is the use of persuasion. Can you think of any others? Again, please leave comments.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Bright Spot of the 2008 Recession

I have good news tonight. Because of the recession, people are cutting back on unnecessary purchases. They are bringing lunches to work more. They are holding on to their cars and houses longer. No, I haven't lost it. This really is good news, for the economy and for ourselves.

First, the economy. Growth based on consumer spending driven by easy credit is not sustainable. We've now found this out the hard way. Sustainable growth is driven by productivity improvements and new products. Both of those things need savings and investment. We'll save now, because we know we have to. Consumer spending will come back after this happens, and the economy will be stronger than before the recession because it will have a solid base.

More important than the economy, however, is the effect the cutback will have on ourselves. We're being forced to prioritize, to decide which things are more important to us to have. This re-evaluation is actually part of the first step toward recovery from materialism (admit there's a problem).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book Review: The Body Electric

If salamanders, flatworms and stone crabs can regenerate body parts that are cut off, why can't we? A possible answer is given in The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life by Robert O. Becker, M.D. and Gary Selden. The book explores the role of electricity in the healing process, along with certain fundamentalist materialist beliefs that turn out not to be true.

For example, cell dedifferentiation is considered not to be possible in more complex animals such as ourselves. A brief explanation will be necessary for those of us who are not biologists. As embryos develop in the womb, they start off as clumps of identical cells. At some point in the process, some of the cells become bone cells, some muscle, nerves, organs, etc. This process is considered to be irreversible in mammals. Dedifferentiation is the temporary reversal of this process so that cells can be repurposed. The experiments described in this book offer strong evidence that dedifferentiation not only possible, but vital in healing bone fractures.

The authors discovered while researching regeneration in salamanders a consistent pattern of electrical charges during the healing process. By altering the electrical charges, the authors were able to slow down, stop, or even accelerate regeneration. They were even able to induce bone re-growth in rats and cartilage re-growth in rabbits. Under certain circumstances, the regeneration process in salamanders eliminated cancer as a side effect. There's also an interesting bit about piezoelectricity in bones.

This book is an important reminder that the belief that we have all the answers actually prevents us from getting all the answers. More importantly, it will give you new ideas about what we are capable of doing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Review: Human Devolution

Science is supposed to work on the basis of developing a provisional theory which is modified or re-done as further information becomes available. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Initial hypotheses often become set in stone, and any evidence to the contrary is swept under the rug until it starts to spill out from under the edges. Need examples? Human Devolution by Michael A. Cremo has them. The book is devoted to a single important proposition: that the fundamentalist materialist view of us, the world, and how we got here is incomplete at best.

The first part of the book is an overview of evidence given in Forbidden Archeology that the timeline of man's development given by traditional evolutionists doesn't match the time periods given by archeology. Evidence of man, including fossils, has been found in deposits thought to predate humans, by millions of years in some instances. The second part of the book provides evidence against the materialist view of man as being merely "a bag of chemicals." As you might expect, this section gives plenty of examples of documented paranormal phenomena, including levitation and telekinesis. Myths from various cultures about the origins of man are also covered.

This book is a helpful, if long, antidote against fundamentalist materialism.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review: The Twelve Conditions of a Miracle

Most of you are familiar with the miracle of the loaves and the fishes from the New Testament. For those who aren't, here's a simplified version: Jesus was preaching to his followers outside of town. It was getting late and no one had had dinner yet. They took a collection among the crowd and came up with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. They started to distribute what they had, and it not only turned out to be enough to feed everyone, but there were 12 baskets of leftovers.

Did this really happen? Those of you who are Christian fundamentalists will have no problem saying yes, but what about the rest of you? Do you believe in miracles? Before you answer, what is a miracle? I can think of three possible answers:
  1. Miracles are deviations from the course of nature caused by divine intervention.

  2. Miracles are deviations from the course of nature, and are therefore impossible.

  3. Miracles are apparent deviations from the course of nature, and it's rather arrogant of us to think that we know everything about how nature works.
As you can tell, I prefer the third answer. Since we don't know all the laws of nature, someone who managed to find out more about how things work might be in a position to do things that seem impossible to the rest of us. Todd Michael, author of The Twelve Conditions of a Miracle: The Miracle Worker's Handbook, has found out something. By using correct translations of the words of the original which for some reason aren't used in the conventional translations, Mr. Michael has created a pattern that can be used by us to create our own miracles.

The Course in Miracles says that miracles happen naturally, but that our fear, judgements, and hate prevent them. This is all part of the baggage I keep talking about. Mr. Michael's book doesn't really address that, but that might be because he's already gotten rid of the baggage himself. Your mileage may vary. Don't let that stop you from reading his book. Also, Mr. Michael has an interesting book about angels, and one about parables.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Alternative Election Day Activity

I noticed recently that there are apparently some people who can't decide between Obama and McCain. My first thought was that people who really can't decide between them really shouldn't vote for either. For those people, and for anyone else who for whatever reason has decided not to participate in the election day festivities, I have an alternate activity: infecting the Matrix.

You see, a couple of years ago, I came to the conclusion that conspiracy theory was not so much wrong as irrelevant. I'm not saying that there aren't groups of rich and powerful people making plans for us. I'm saying that the driving force is actually a network of ideas and beliefs. The technical term for this network is the "noosphere", and the ideas and beliefs are referred to as "memes". I like to call the network "The Matrix", and if you've seen the movie, you may understand why. An example of a meme would be: "regulation is necessary to prevent the greedy and power-hungry from taking advantage of others." People who have the meme tend to favor government regulation, and since the greedy and power-hungry are more likely to want the regulator jobs, you can imagine the result.

So this election day, instead of voting, why not inject your own memes into the Matrix? Here are some suggestions:

  • People who are living right don't need laws.

  • What would society be like if everyone lived according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount?

  • What would society be like if everyone read A Course in Miracles?

  • Bring earth to heaven, and heaven to earth.

You get the idea, so try it. You'll make at least as much of a difference as you would by voting.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What is Materialism? lists the primary definition of materialism as follows:
preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values.
I would like to offer for the purposes of this blog and the Materialists Anonymous Google Group the following definition:
The belief that the physical universe as we know it is the most important (or only) thing there is.
Why this definition? Because it also covers religious materialists of the type who think that what you put in your mouth or what you do with certain body parts is more important that what you put in your mind and heart. It also covers the belief that the physical universe is not all there is, but that we don't have any access to or contact with anywhere else until after death. This is really just the other side of the materialist coin.

If the physical world as we know it is not all that exists, what else is there? Well, that little phrase "as we know it" holds the answer. Are there places and events the scientists don't know about because the places can't be detected by our instruments, and the math doesn't work for the events? Or, even worse, stuff that we don't even bother to look for because we're not expecting to find anything? Phenomena that perfectly sane people will swear to have experienced that don't fit into our scientific models? I'm going to say yes to all of the above, even though I can't prove it according to established scientific method. That's now how science works in practice anyway. New phenomena are either ignored until the weight of evidence becomes overwhelming (like asteroids), or the new thing discovered and the justification either provided later or assumed not to be necessary once the occurrence is considered to be common knowledge.

So what's the answer? Let's find out what we can on our own for now. The scientists will catch up. Or not.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Book Review: Alchemy & Mysticism

The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism by Alexander Roob is an art book published by Taschen that happens to be a good introduction to hermeticism. You won't be an expert after reading this book (or looking at the pictures), but you will have been exposed to all of the basic concepts. You'll also see many of the pictures as illustrations in other books. As you would expect from the title, much of the book is devoted to alchemy. However, astrology and qabalah are also covered. Each picture is accompanied by a blurb explaining the symbolism, and some quotes are also included.

Alchemy, simply put, is the art and science of transformation. It's not just about turning lead into gold; it's also about turning yourself into gold. As I mentioned in prior posts, symbols can be very helpful because they operate on many levels at once. With that in mind, I recommend this book to everyone on the hermetic path, even if you don't actually read any of it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Book Review: The Secret Language of Tarot

Symbol systems are an essential part of the hermetic path, tarot is one of the most central symbol systems. Eliphas Levi said that given enough time, a person could learn everything they needed to know about esoteric wisdom using only a deck of tarot cards. That's a slight exaggeration in my opinion, but he has a point. Even if you don't believe in a collective unconscious accessible to everyone, you must admit that symbols like castles, swords and crowns have lifelong associations for those of us who were brought up in a Western culture.

Tarot, however, can be intimidating for beginners. The Secret Language of Tarot by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone can help. Instead of presenting a beginner with meanings of 78 cards, and another set of meanings if the cards appear upside-down, the symbols are discussed one at a time. Some hermetic concepts and mythology are included with the explanations.

There are also guided visualizations given for some of the symbols. Guided visualizations are useful because they get your conscious mind out of the way, allowing your subconscious to play connect-the-dots with the symbols given. Further along the path, there will be other guided visualizations based on the Tree of Life; these visualizations are called pathworkings.

That brings up the best feature of this book. It's not only an introduction to tarot, but also excellent preparation for entering a mystery school. If you're getting started on the hermetic path, you should pick up a copy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Book Review: The Great Book of Amber

Are you looking for a good science fiction/fantasy read? Do you have a lot of time on your hands? If so, The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny is a good selection. It's actually a collection of 10 novels, all about a family of superhuman beings who rule a kingdom called Amber. The book's worldview also includes a collection of parallel universes called Shadow. The beings who rule Amber can move through Shadow, changing it as they see fit. The family may be superhuman in abilities, but they are thoroughly human in motivation and behavior. Their interaction is like a soap opera, with plenty of intrigues and betrayals.

Sometimes I read a fantasy novel and come away convinced that the author "knows something." I suspected that about Mr. Zelazny after reading Lord of Light, but 70% of the way through this book, I'm thoroughly convinced of it. In addition to a family-owned set of tarot trumps and a customized labyrinth called "the Pattern," there are even correct references to qabalah.

As I said in an earlier post, a good science fiction/fantasy novel will stretch our beliefs about what is possible. The Great Book of Amber is no exception. Pick up a copy, but be prepared to spend months with it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book Review: The Sea Priestess

Dion Fortune is famous as the author of The Mystical Qabalah, the canonical guide to Qabalah as used in the Western Hermetic tradition. Ms. Fortune has also written some novels. The Sea Priestess is said to have the practice corresponding to the theory given in The Mystical Qabalah.

The novel is set in early 20th-century England. The main character is a real-estate broker who lives with his mother and sister. One of his customers is a mysterious lady who owns a country estate. In the course of the book, the lady teaches the protagonist about magic and prepares him for his subsequent marriage. There's also an interesting fireplace recipe involving sandalwood, cedar and juniper.

This book is important because it gives an example of the magical life. As recovering materialists, we do learn various concepts in our studies, but we also have to apply them. The result should be that our lives get better. We grow as people. Little coincidences happen that tell us we are on the right track. Seemingly insurmountable problems disappear with some elbow grease.

If you have chosen the hermetic path, read this book, before or after The Mystical Qabalah.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Book Review: Love is Letting Go of Fear

Are you looking for a simple introduction to the concepts given in A Course in Miracles? If you are, or even just looking for a fun feel-good book, Love is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald Jampolsky is the right book for you. It's very easy to read, but gives you all of the fundamental concept of the Course: beliefs affect perception.

A warning for those who take themselves too seriously: the book is illustration-heavy, and the illustrations will seem overly optimistic. "I can just push fear and guilt aside? Wow! Who knew?" Maybe it is oversimplified. Most of have spent all of our lives with guilt and fear. It's hard to believe that we don't need to carry around this baggage with us any more. And because we don't believe, we don't try.

If you're reading the Course, you don't need this book, but pick it up anyway. It'll be fun.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Review: Meditations on the Tarot

The three religious vows are poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows are taken by people who wish to devote themselves to the religious life. A book on the Tarot is the last place you would expect to see them featured. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (anonymous, published posthumously, is that book.

The book covers the Major Arcana tarot cards using the Marseilles Tarot. The cards are covered in the medieval order: the Fool is just before the World, and Justice and Strength are reversed, with the standard weak explanation of why the Fool isn't first where it belongs. But that's O.K., because the Tarot isn't the kind of book that's written in stone. It's the kind of book that's rewritten each time it's read.

So what exactly is Christian hermeticism? Hermeticism uses symbolism to balance the different components of the personality with an ultimate aim of realization of union with the universe. Substitute God for the universe, and you have Christian hermeticism.

Themes addressed in the book include: personal magic vs. sacred magic, building vs. growth, reincarnation vs. purgatory and heaven. The last theme is interesting because it includes an explanation of why the idea of reincarnation was suppressed by the church, despite an obvious Bible reference. The reason given is that people would not strive to lead lives sufficient to reach heaven through purgatory if they knew that they could keep coming back.

If you come from a Catholic background like I do, this book should be right up your alley.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eve Hubbard in '08: A Possible Foreign Policy

I've written a couple of posts about a character from the Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy named Eve Hubbard who runs for President and has some unique policies. I don't remember seeing anything in the book about her foreign policy, so I'm going to nominate myself for her Secretary of State and tell you about what I would try to implement.

First: our soldiers should be defending our borders and our citizens. If there is a threat to another nation, we can help, but they should pay for it. Playing world policeman is right out.

Second: trade embargoes restrict the choices of our citizens. While they certainly affect the livelihoods of citizens of other countries, they rarely make life difficult for the leaders of those other countries. So embargoes are out too.

Third: as with most things, the principle of correspondence applies here. Problems getting along with other nations on a world level reflect problems getting along with our neighbors on a local level, and vice versa. Some of us complain about perpetual war, but how many of us can even drive to work without getting annoyed at one or more of the other drivers?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Alice in Quantumland

Quantum physics is the swan song of fundamentalist materialism. Given that quantum physics started about a hundred years ago, fundamentalist materialism is a walking corpse and has been for some time. Just to be clear, by fundamentalist materialism I refer to the belief that the universe consists of a lot of particles that behave basically like little billiard balls, and electromagnetic energy, and gravity. That's all. Nothing else. Even life, according to this paradigm, is simply a result of particular combinations of the billiard balls.

The mortal weakness of this paradigm, however, is the central assumption that the billiard balls and associated forces behave deterministically. That is, if you were able to know the position and momentum at a certain point in time of each of the billiard balls, you can predict the position and momentum of any of them at any point in time in the future (given a sufficiently powerful computer). Quantum physics says quite flatly that this assumption is incorrect. For this reason we as recovering materialists should all devote some time to learning at least the basics of quantum physics.

Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics by Robert Gilmore is a good place to start. The format of the book is exactly what you would expect given the title. The content will be more surprising. Neils Bohr once said: "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." So if you don't know anything about quantum physics, prepare to be amazed.

In this book you'll find the standard double-slit experiment, the multiple-worlds theory, quarks, and Schrodinger's cat. The best part of the book in my opinion is the explanation of the measurement problem. The measurement problem is this: each subatomic particles could be in a variety of different states and positions before a measurement is made. The measurement instruments consist of more subatomic particles with the same properties, as does the brain of the person making the measurement. However, once a measurement is made, there is just one set of definite properties. So at what point does a collection of probabilities collapse into a single measurement?

The book doesn't cover the new string theory, but all of the basics of quantum physics are there. Pick up a copy if the subject interests you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Read Some Science Fiction Today

For a recovering materialist, the most important thing is getting rid of what I like to call "the baggage": a collection of beliefs that no longer work for us. The worst of these beliefs concern limitation: the things we think we could never do; both things we could never do because they are "impossible" and things that we could never do because they are beneath us. Science fiction and fantasy novels can be used to help expand our conceptions of what is possible.

Good science fiction says "What if?" It shows us worlds that we think are impossible given current knowledge of the laws of nature. It shows us parts of ourselves that we didn't know we had. It invokes myths and archetypes that echo in the depths of our minds.

A good novel will induce you to identify with the main character. This is a good thing. A good novel also creates a picture of its world inside your head. This is also a good thing, because the picture will involve the above-mentioned myths and archetypes. These myths and archetypes refer to things that are a part of all of us, but mostly unrecognized. The references in the novels will lay the foundation for future mystic and/or hermetic work. The symbols are in your head now, and when you learn the meaning of them later, the meaning will seem familiar to you.

So don't feel bad if you're over 30 and still reading Harry Potter. It may be that you need some magic in your life. Getting the germ of an idea in your head that magic is possible will prepare you to find the real thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Review: The 21 Lessons of Merlyn

When I was in grade school, I used to love exploring the forest behind my grandfather's house. Later, when I was in high school, I played Dungeons and Dragons. My character was always a magic-user (wizard in training). Reading The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore by Douglas Monroe brought back memories of both those experiences.

The book is set in 5th-century England, and tells the story of a young King Arthur being tutored by Merlin. After each of the 21 chapters is a practical exercise. The author recommends working through the exercises as an initiation into Druidism. I haven't tried any of the exercises, but I did try the recipe given for a soup based on the four elements: fire is represented by chile peppers, water by squash, air by corn, and earth by mushrooms. Quite tasty.

There's a quote from the book that would make an excellent motto: "The one God has many faces."

I recommend this book for people interested in the hermetic path; it shows that Druidism is certainly a viable option.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Book Review: A Garden of Pomegranates

A Garden of Pomegranates is a classic work about Qabalah and hermeticism. This edition by Chic and Sandra Cicero is an updated version with additional material about pathworking, which I'll get into in more detail later. Now what is Qabalah and why should you care? Qabalah is first and foremost a symbol system, and you should care because the symbols are symbols of different aspects of the universe. If you know about the principle of correspondence, you'll see that the symbols are also about different aspects of yourself.

The most important symbol in Qabalah is the Tree of Life, which is covered by chapters 3 and 4 of the book. The Tree of Life is a compound symbol composed of ten circles called "sephiroth" (covered in chapter 3) and twenty-two lines called "paths" connecting the circles (covered in chapter 4). Attributes of and correspondences to each of the sephiroth and paths are given in the book, along with an explanation of each.

Now let's talk about pathworking, the subject of the second half of the book. This is really about practical application of the information given in the first half of the book. The way this information is applied is by vignettes about each path containing relevant symbolism. To try a pathworking, you would either record the vignette and replay it while relaxing with your eyes closed, and visualizing the events given, or have a friend read it aloud to you. The pathworkings start at Malkuth at the bottom of the tree, and proceed up to Kether at the top. By the time you get to the top of the tree, the symbolism and related myths will become part of you, burned into your subconscious mind.

This book is ideal for those who have read Chicken Qabala but still find The Mystical Qabalah to be intimidating.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Review: Between Heaven and Earth

There is a growing dissatisfaction toward Western medicine, especially here in America, where it seems that every year it gets more expensive, but the results don't reflect the price. My biggest complaint is that we don't have cures for the most common ailments; we just have treatments, mostly in the form of prescription medicines that have to be taken indefinitely. A second and possibly related complaint is that we treat the placebo effect, which reflects the power of the mind, as something to be controlled for instead of something we might be able to use to our advantage.

If you are interested in alternative medicine and would like to learn about some of the concepts and options, Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine is a good place to start. The book covers acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition. The book offers the model of the body as a garden and the doctor as a gardener as a contrast to the conventional model of the body as a machine and the doctor as a mechanic. A healthy garden has growing plants and fragrant flowers; a machine works as intended or it's broken. A gardener tends a garden and removes weeds; a mechanic does preventive maintenance and replaces broken or worn-out parts. You get the idea.

A healthy garden includes more than the plants themselves; the soil, water, and weather conditions also have an impact. The gardens that we are include not just our bodies, but our minds, emotions and personalities. Thus the book gives five elements (fire, water, earth, wood and metal), which have more in common with the four elements of alchemy (fire, water, air and earth) than with the elements of the periodic table. The five elements correspond to basic personality patterns and to five of what the book calls "organ networks." The idea is that there should be balance between the elements.

You won't be able to perform acupuncture or prescribe herbs after reading this book, but you will have a solid grounding in the concepts behind traditional Chinese medicine. I recommend this book for those interested in the subject.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Are We Ready for Obama?

I have noticed in the liberals I have known a firm belief that everything would be fine if only we could get the right people into office. From what I've heard and read about Barack Obama, he seems to be one of the "right people." When Obama won the nomination, my first thought was that the liberals would finally get their wish, but that it wouldn't work. The current system is too firmly entrenched for one person to change it, assuming he actually tries to do what he says he will do, which would be a first.

What I believe now is that electing Obama will work if we work. I'll explain shortly, but first I have to cover a couple of terms that may not be familiar to everyone: microcosm and macrocosm. A good literal interpretation would be that microcosm means "small universe" and macrocosm means "large universe." Now to the point: America's current situation, with the economy, war, environment, and so forth, is a macrocosm. The situations of individual Americans are corresponding microcosms. I use the word "corresponding" because the doctrine of correspondence ("As above, so below") is one of the basic tenets of hermeticism. Simply put, in order to fix our country, we also have to fix ourselves.

As an example, let's talk about the economy. You can blame greedy speculators if you want, but the major cause of our economic problems is that the government has been spending more than it gets for years. This has caused a drop in the dollar's value, and a corresponding increase in oil and other prices. This corresponds to the main problem of many Americans (including myself): we are in debt up to our eyeballs. Both problems must be addressed in order to fix the economy.

I think you get the point, and I'm starting to sound preachy, so I'll stop. The bottom line is that if Obama wins, he's going to need lots of help. We can help him by doing the right thing for ourselves. I'll get off the soapbox now. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Psalms 82:6

There is an interesting verse in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 34:
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
This verse actually references Psalms 82:6. The King James version says this:
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
But the Jewish Publication Society version says this:
I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High.
The context in the Gospel according to John, where Jesus is about to be stoned by the priests for claiming to be the son of God, seems to support the King James interpretation. On the other hand, since the reference is to a book of the Old Testament, one would expect the Jewish interpretation to be authoritative. So which is right?

The short answer is: I don't know. But let's consider that both the Western mystic and the Western hermetic traditions say that we are all ultimately children of God. Let's also consider that children normally grow up to resemble their parents. At this point, I'll just say that growing up sometimes takes a long time (lifetimes, even) and let you connect the dots for yourself.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Book Review: A Course in Miracles

A Course in Miracles is a textbook for those on the mystic path to recovery. It contains 4 parts: the textbook, a set of exercises, a teacher's manual, and a glossary. This book is channeled; like all channeled books, the important question is: "have they got anything useful to say?" In this case, the answer is an unqualified "Yes!" In addition to a viable roadmap to the mystic path, there are some interesting interpretations of the Bible, one of which I'll talk about below.

As I mentioned before, the mystic path aims at direct experience of unity with God (or the Universe, if you prefer). Before this can happen, the "baggage" must be dealt with. The Course has a unique way of dealing with it: forgiveness. You deal with your baggage by forgiving what you see of it in others. However, the Course has an unconventional definition of forgiveness. It doesn't mean "you've done something terrible to me, but I forgive you"; it means "you've seemingly done something terrible to me, but what I really am cannot be hurt, so there is nothing to forgive." The extreme case is given by the Crucifixion, where Jesus said: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do."

So how does this relate to baggage? It is a principle of psychology that what we hate most in others is the traits of ourselves that we push below the surface. Therefore, by forgiving them in others, we also forgive them in ourselves. As an example, have you ever been driving and had another car tailgating you and swerving back and forth to get your attention? If so, you probably have also been behind another car that was driving much to slowly and got a little impatient about it. The two situations are really two sides of the same coin. So if you can forgive the tailgater, you can also forgive yourself for secretly wanting to apply high explosives to the slow car in front of you.

Now for the workbook exercises: these are designed to be done no more than one per day. If it takes you more than one day to do an exercise, or you skip a day, don't worry about it. Each exercise consists of an idea that is to be applied in short sessions, and throughout the day. There are 365 of them, but, like I said, don't worry if it takes you more than a year to do them all. (Just between us, I only got through about 40.) The first half of the exercises is designed to erase your current way of perceiving the world, in order to make room for the perception given by the second half.

You can read the teacher's manual now if you really want to. The Course Police won't break down your door and arrest you. You'll probably get more out of it if you read the text first and do all of the exercises.

The bottom line? I've chosen the hermetic path, but I'm still reading the book. You should too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

I read anything I can written by Alan Watts; I recommend that you do the same. The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is a good place to start. He has also written very good books about Zen and the Tao. "The Book" is an excellent introduction to the issues we face as recovering materialists.

The first chapter of the book reads like a mission statement: if there was a book for young people containing what they needed to know to lead fulfilling lives, what would be in the book? The answer relates to our first step: it is that our perception of the world is incorrect. We are not just separate personalities; we are also connected at a very deep level.

Let's talk about personality. The word comes from the Latin word "persona," meaning "mask." Our personalities are like masks that we wear when we interact with others. They are not us, except on a superficial level. The third chapter of the book, entitled "How to be a Genuine Fake," deals with this issue, and the paradox of being a "real person," which implies that one can make something real out of what is essentially an act!

This book would be a good start for all recovering materialists, especially those who have chosen the mystic path.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Star of David

The star of David, as you can see from the picture, is composed of two equilateral triangles, one pointing up and one pointing down. Today I would like to talk about the four alchemical symbols that can be derived, and some implications for us.

The symbols of the four alchemical elements, fire (an upward-pointing triangle), water (a downward-pointing triangle), air (an upward-pointing triangle with a horizontal line through it) and earth (a downward-pointing triangle with a horizontal line), are contained within the star of David. The word "elements" in this context does not mean elements like hydrogen and oxygen. Instead, they are more like qualities or states of being. Or if you like, you can think of them as the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma (not as in blood, but matter so hot that the atoms can't hold their electrons anymore).

Now let us consider the obvious combination of the fire and water triangles. Fire is active and water passive. From the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the (Father's) domain]
This is talking about making a union of opposites. For us, one example would be integrating the conscious and subconscious minds.

Now for the combination of earth and air. If air is read as heaven, this calls to mind an old saying: "Bring earth to heaven and heaven to earth." This is really what we are about as recovering materialists. So how do we do this? Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Review: Lord of Light

Lord of Light is a classic science-fiction work by Roger Zelazny. The setting is a future colonized planet. A few people have figured out how to make themselves immortal, and are worshiped by the rest as gods. The "gods" keep technology to themselves because they think the general population isn't ready for it. The main character, Sam, has been brought back from Nirvana in order to fight for the general public against the "gods" in order to make technology accessible to everyone.

The reason I decided to review this book is the following quote:

Being a god is the quality of being able to be yourself to such an extent that your passions correspond with the forces of the universe, so that those who look upon you know this without hearing your name spoken.

This is what we are aiming at. Recovery from materialism is not really about renouncing wealth, the 4000-square-foot house, the luxury car, and so forth. Most people who want those things don't really want them for themselves. They want them to impress their friends, or themselves. These things are success symbols, and that's OK. Nothing is wrong with these things per se. The problem is that some people want them mainly to prove to themselves that they've made it; they can't really "be somebody" without those things.

The real goal of recovery is to be yourself, instead what you think you are or what you think you should be. Only after you do that can you really decide if you want the McMansion and the Lexus. And it will be you making the decision instead of the theoretical conception of yourself that you carry around with you.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


As with many words, people have ascribed different meanings to the word karma. Some say it is the law of cause and effect. Some say it is reward for good deeds and punishment for bad.

Karma is a concept that can be looked at on multiple levels. A simplistic physical interpretation is that "what goes around comes around." People who have this concept will expect bad things to happen to people who do evil or selfish deeds. Of course, that doesn't normally happen right away, so reincarnation is brought into the equation. A higher-level interpretation is that the deed is its own reward or punishment. The reward for a good or bad deed is being the type of person who would do that sort of thing. The problem with this interpretation is that it is only likely to be accepted by someone who doesn't need it. Another interpretation is that a good deed only carries positive karma if it is done without concern for the result. You do something because it needs to be done, or because it's the right thing to do, and you don't worry about what happens next.

Some of you may wonder how to get rid of negative karma. Of course, if you have done something harmful, you first will have done whatever is in your power to make amends. And depending on the details of your religious beliefs, God will either forgive you or couldn't be bothered either way. The people you have hurt may or may not forgive as well. But the real question is: can you forgive yourself? Are you willing to let go of what happened and recognize that it's in the past, and hopefully you're a better person now? If not, all of the prior considerations are irrelevant.

There is another option. Let's take the concept of karma as being cause and effect. For example, if you throw a tennis ball at a wall, it will bounce back toward you and probably hit you. But if you were able to jump a few feet in the air just as the ball was coming back, it would miss you entirely. I'll let you work out the analogy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dump Your Baggage

If you are like me, most of your beliefs and knowledge about the world and yourself did not come from you. It was pushed on you by family, teachers, schoolmates, professors, etc. Not all of it is accurate, and some of it is internally inconsistent. Some of it lends support for counterproductive habits and behavior. I call this subset of our belief systems the baggage.

Let's look at an example: the belief that "nice guys finish last" and it's corollary that "if you want to be rich, you have to be a b****." The first question we should ask is: what does it really mean? Does it mean that people who are polite don't get very far, and that you have to be rude to succeed? Next question: is it accurate? It can be refuted by finding one rude loser. You can probably do that while driving to work in the morning. Finally: does it support counterproductive habits or behavior? Rudeness can certainly be counterproductive, and the belief that because you're nice, you won't get anywhere doesn't help either.

What I recommend is examining your beliefs, starting with the ones you're aware of. What do they mean? Are they accurate? Do they work? If not, throw them out. It's that simple. As for the beliefs you're not aware of, a mystery school or the Course in Miracles can help.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Book Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Alchemy

I always get a chuckle when I see certain "Complete Idiot" books. A complete idiot is expected to be able to learn calculus and quantum physics. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Alchemy by Dennis William Hauck is different. In the introduction, the author says that he wants you to be a "complete idiot" so that you will come to the book without preconceptions. This is important because alchemy is probably not what you think it is. (If alchemy is what you think it is, you don't need this book, or any other book that I've reviewed so far.)

So what is alchemy? Simply put, it's the art and/or science of transformation. While most people think of it as trying to turn lead into gold, it can also be applied toward turning yourself into gold, metaphorically of course. It's really about taking undesirable things and changing them into something better.

You would expect any "complete idiot" or "dummies" book to provide an accessible introduction to the subject, and this book delivers. All of the basics are covered, including the Emerald Tablet and the First Matter. Instructions on making herbal extracts and on personal transformation are also included.

If you've chosen the hermetic path or are interested in alchemy, this book is a good starting point.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Materialists Anonymous: Not Just Another 12 Steps

As you may have noticed, we now have a Google group.

Materialists Anonymous may sound like just another 12-step program to you, but it's not. For one thing, we only have 7 steps. The most important difference, however, is that in our journey to go beyond the materialist paradigm, we will be empowered to address other problems we have that would normally be addressed by a 12-step program. The most bothersome of our addictions are all about material things. The rest are about emotions that are largely a result of the materialist paradigm. More on this later.

This program that we are creating is not just about getting past a particular addiction. It is about changing our lives, and eventually getting past all of our addictions.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Review: The Art and Practice of Caballa Magic

The Art and Practice of Caballa Magic by Ophiel is an informal introduction to some of the concepts you'll need if you've chosen the hermetic path. The author tends to ramble, but there is useful information here mixed in with complaints about blinds and the general impracticality of most of the published works in the field.

One thing in the book that I noticed and haven't seen anywhere else is an explanation of the Mason's square and compasses symbol. If you connect the points of the compass and the upper corners of the square with two straight lines, you get two intersecting triangles, one pointing up and one pointing down. The upward-pointing triangle represents the element of fire; the downward-pointing triangle, water.

There are two groundbreaking concepts further on in the book. The first is a new interpretation of the holy name of God: YHVH. The name, according to the book, is actually a formula for manifestation similar to that given in The Secret. The details are similar to the Four Worlds I mentioned in my last post. The other concept is a unique interpretation of the three pillars of the Tree of Life. The Pillar of Mercy is called the Pillar of the Past; the middle pillar is the Pillar of the Present and the Pillar of Severity is the Pillar of the Future. I haven't seen these interpretations anywhere else.

If you happen to see this book in a bookstore, you should pick up a copy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Tree of Life

I was going to write a review of Ophiel's The Art and Practice of Caballa Magic when I realized that the most groundbreaking idea from the book would be lost on those of you who are not familiar with Qabala and the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is a symbol from Kabbalah (the mystical branch of Judaism) that has been adapted for use with Qabala (the symbol system used by Hermeticism). To the left is an image of the tree, courtesy of Wikipedia. The ten circles are called sephiroth (sephira for one circle). Sephira and sephiroth are Hebrew words; since the Hebrew alphabet doesn't exactly correspond to the Roman alphabet, you will see these words (and the names of the sephiroth) transliterated differently depending on which book you're reading. The twenty-two lines connecting the circles are called paths.

As a preliminary warning, I will point out that much of the literature on Qabala was written by members of mystery schools who were under oaths of secrecy. As a result, whenever they touched upon something that might be covered by the oath, they resorted to what is called a "blind"; they would write what they wanted, but change an essential detail. This is on the theory that anyone truly worthy of the knowledge would somehow figure out what they had done. Joseph Lisiewski probably has the best method of addressing this problem: read at least 2 different sources about anything, and use your own judgement as to who is correct.

That said, let's get to it. What follows is a list of the sephiroth, with English translation of the names, and some of the things that I associate with each.

  1. Kether. Translation: Crown. The First Mover. The place where Neo got his light in the fight scene at the end of the third Matrix movie.

  2. Chockmah. Translation: Wisdom. The outpouring of energy in the big bang. The Heavenly Father. The Zodiac.

  3. Binah. Translation: Understanding. The expansion of time and space in the big bang to give the energy from Chockmah somewhere to go. Mother Nature. Saturn.

  4. Chesed. Translation: Mercy. Generosity. The building up of form. Jupiter.

  5. Geburah. Translation: Severity. The breaking down of form. Mars.

  6. Tiphareth. Translation: Beauty. Balance between mercy and severity. The Golden Mean. The Christ. The Sun.

  7. Netzach. Translation: Victory. Emotions. Sensuality. The beauty of nature. Venus.

  8. Hod. Translation: Splendor. Logic. Symbolism. Mercury.

  9. Yesod. Translation: Foundation. The subconscious. The astral plane. The Moon.

  10. Malkuth. Translation: Kingdom. The earth. The universe, including the parts we don't know about yet. The four elements.

What you need to know for my next post is that the tree can be divided up in a few ways. The two most common are the four worlds and the three pillars.

The four worlds division is a pattern for the creation of the universe and everything in it. One way of dividing the sephiroth into worlds is as follows. The Archetypal world contains Kether, Chockmah and Binah. In this world, a general idea appears for a new creation. The world of creation contains Chesed, Geburah and Tiphareth. In this world, the idea is made more specific. The world of formation contains Netzach, Hod and Yesod. In this world, all of the details are worked out. The world of manifestation contains only Malkuth. In the world, the idea is implemented.

The three pillars is another grouping of the sephiroth. The pillar of mercy contains Chockmah, Chesed and Netzach. The pillar of severity contains Binah, Geburah and Hod. The pillar of mildness contains Kether, Tiphareth, Yesod and Malkuth.

Now you may be thinking: "That's great, but all that plus two dollars will get me coffee at Starbucks." But here's the thing. The tree is a symbol which can be applied to God and the universe, but most importantly to us. All of the parts of the tree are inside us. How would we treat other people if we all knew that the Sun of Tiphareth was in us? If we knew that the four elements of Malkuth were inside us, we would cooperate with the environment instead of trying to exploit it. We wouldn't worry so much about the economy if we knew that we had the generosity of Chesed and the frugality of Geburah. The elegant symbolism and intellectuality of Hod, and the emotions and sensuality of Netzach make life worth living. Yesod is where our dreams come from.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book Review: The Final Elimination of the Source of Fear

If you have chosen the mystic path and are having a bit of trouble with A Course in Miracles, The Final Elimination of the Source of Fear by Saratoga and Telstar can help. Judging by the authors' names, the book is either channeled or written by two people who take themselves much too seriously. On the other hand, I consider the content of a message to be at least as important as its source.

This book describes what it refers to as the source of fear, and details how it is responsible for everything that is wrong with our lives and with society in general. It claims that in the course of reading the book, the reader will be enabled to remove the source of fear from themselves if so desired. A method for doing so is even laid out at the end. Try it.

The description of the problem is similar to that given in the Course in Miracles, but maybe easier to understand for beginners. The source of fear corresponds nicely to the ego as described by the Course. There are helpful diagrams and hypothetical examples. It's also expressly stated that exposure to the ideas given will automatically start the process of the solution. The Course says basically the same thing, but recommends daily exercises. The Course has a slight Christian emphasis, while this book is more non-denominational.

If you haven't started reading the Course yet, or if you're finding it difficult to understand, read this book first.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book Review: Spiritual Enlightenment

Jed McKenna, author of Spiritual Enlightenment: the Damnedest Thing claims to be enlightened. Furthermore, he claims that enlightenment isn't what most people think it is. What most people think of as enlightenment is actually just cosmic or unity consciousness. A good thing to have, but not the real deal. What's more, he recommends that you don't try to become enlightened if you can possibly help it.

Here's the thing: in order to become enlightened, you'll have to leave what you think of as your personality, and your belief systems, at the door. You'll get your personality back afterward, but it won't be the same as you won't identify with it. The worst part is, you go back to your normal life afterward, but it looks like you're watching a soap opera from the inside. You see all of the characters hamming up their lines, and you know it's not real, but they don't. You might as well be sitting on a mountaintop by yourself. If this is enlightenment, I want no part of it, thank you very much. On the other hand, I know he's right, so I may not have a choice.

For those of you who for some reason wish to try it, the formula is quite simple: "ask yourself what's true until you know." It's a scorched earth approach. Question everything, and whatever is left at the end is the truth. But are you really sure you want to do this? After all, as Mr. McKenna says, "the price of truth is everything."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Eve Hubbard in '08: Her Crime Policy

At the time of this writing, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are still battling for the Democratic party nomination. As I mentioned in a prior post, my candidate of choice is a character from Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy: Eve Hubbard. Today, I want to talk about how she would deal with crime.

Her policy would divide crimes into three classes.

  1. Crimes against convention. This includes all of the "victimless" crimes like gambling, non-violent drug possession, prostitution and the like. These crimes would not be penalized, but if enough people complained, the perpetrator would be encouraged to relocate somewhere more fitting to his habit.

  2. Crimes against property. These crimes would be addressed by restitution. The perpetrator would pay the value of what was stolen or destroyed, or work off the debt.

  3. Violent crimes. A relatively low-population state would be allocated for use as a prison. Violent criminals would be sent there, where they would only pose a danger to each other.

Sound good? There's one problem with this policy: we are nowhere close to being ready for it. There are far too many of us who believe that the country would go to hell in a handbasket if we stopped the drug war or legalized prostitution or allowed gambling outside of licensed casinos and lottery stations. Never mind that all these things happen anyway.

So what could we do in the meantime to improve the situation? My suggestion is simple: reserve prison for violent criminals. Only violent criminals should go to jail, and they should stay there until they are no longer dangerous. The other types of crimes can be dealt with through restitution or "community service" to the extent that they need to be dealt with at all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is a classic in the Christian tradition. The format is a series of letters from Screwtape, a high level demon, to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned the task of tempting a Christian. Each letter details a situation in the person's life, with instructions as to how Wormwood should proceed, and a warning at the end about a way that the person could escape Wormwood's influence permanently.

As you can probably imagine, the book is an entertaining read. It may seem on the surface merely to be about how to be a "good Christian," but for those of us brought up in a Christian background, being a good Christian is half of the battle.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Which Path is Right for You?

When King Arthur's knights set out on the quest for the Holy Grail, it is said that each of them entered the forest where they thought it was the thickest. In other words, they each chose their own path, starting at the point that seemed to them to be the most difficult.

Before talking about which path is right for you, I want to go over the two main categories: mystic and hermetic. Paths in the hermetic category tend to emphasize balancing and integrating the various parts of the personality with the eventual goal of transcending it, and realizing the essential unity of all things. This category includes qabalah, tarot, and ceremonial magic.

Paths in the mystic category tend to emphasize transcending the personality and realizing the essential unity of all things, with the assumption that the various parts of the personality will be integrated and balanced on the way. This category includes the Course in Miracles, Buddhism, kabbalah, and esoteric Christianity.

You may have noticed that there is some overlap between these categories. To understand why, imagine a group of people who decide to climb a mountain, and for whatever reason, decide to scatter themselves around the base and start up. Naturally, the higher up the mountain they get, the closer they will get to each other.

So which path is best for you? Whichever feels most comfortable at the moment. You have to start where you are. And don't worry if the path isn't difficult like those of King Arthur's knights. Difficulties will arise soon enough.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Book Review: Chicken Qabalah

If you have chosen the hermetic path and are looking for an accessible introduction to Qabalah, Lon Milo DuQuette's The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford is a good choice. Not only does it give you the basics, but it's a very entertaining read. As an example, instead of the Ten Commandments, he lists the Ten Command-Rants. My favorite is the sixth, which is rather zen-like:
In order to overcome our defective powers of perception we must be willing to abuse them until they break.
The Hebrew alphabet, the four worlds, and the Tarot are all covered. There is even a derivation of the Tree of Life from a series of student papers. The treatment is very casual with "Don't worry about it!" being a catchphrase, but the information given is solid.

There is also a section about ceremonial magic, specifically summoning spirits, which tells you a lot more that it seems if you are willing to read between the lines. In answer to the question "Are the spirits part of me, or do they live an existence independent of me?" he replies: "The spirits are inside you, but most of us do not realize (1) how big our insides really are, or (2) how much out of control and seemingly independent the things inside us can be." This, dear friends, is exactly what this blog is aiming at: there's more to life (and to us) than meets the eye.

If you found The Mystical Qabalah to be difficult reading, The Chicken Qabalah will be a helpful introduction. Or read it if you just want a good laugh.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Book Review: Everyday Grace

I mentioned in a prior post that the road to recovery is something you must devote your entire life to. It is not enough to learn some new principles or have an intellectual knowledge of unity. What we are aiming at here is changing our lives. Marianne Williamson, author of Everyday Grace is here to help.

Ms. Williamson lists five basic principles to apply to your daily life:

  1. Miracles happen.

  2. The angels are waiting for us.

  3. Thoughts of judgement block the light.

  4. The end is inherent in the means.

  5. Sacred silence rights the universe.

The rest of the book illustrates how to apply these principles. In the morning, for example, why not read something inspirational (like the Course in Miracles) instead of watching the news on TV? Or try asking for a different perspective on the rude drivers on the freeway. Or try going into a meeting with the intention of doing or saying something helpful.

This book belongs on your reading list, especially if you have chosen the mystic path.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Step 7: Share the Wealth

The revised step 7 is as follows:
Having perceived the world differently, we strove to spread the message to materialists everywhere, and to improve our lives with the knowledge gained.

If you're on the right track, something about your life or the way you look at your life will change. This change will be readily apparent both to you, and to people who know you. Your friends and family may not be able to identify exactly what is different, but they will notice. Some of them will be curious and ask you about it. So tell them. Don't violate any secrecy oaths, or try to talk a fundamentalist out of it, but discreetly share some of what you've learned with those who express interest.

If your life hasn't changed, are you applying what you've learned?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Review: Putting on the Mind of Christ

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. -- John 14:12

I first heard about this verse while watching a DVD of a talk by Micael Ledwith, who you may know of from the What the Bleep? movie. At first, I didn't really believe it was in the Bible, so I had to look it up for myself. Sure enough, it was there, and I came to the conclusion that mainstream Christianity is missing something major.

Jim Marion, author of Putting on the Mind of Christ: the Inner Work of Christian Spirituality, says that main thing we're missing is that when Jesus said that "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," he really meant it. The book details how to experience the Kingdom for yourself, and the stages you'll pass through on the way. I don't want to steal any thunder from the author, so I'll just say that if the church had told me about this stuff, I'd still be there.

This book is firmly on the mystic path, but even if you've chosen the hermetic path, you will still find this book worthwhile.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Step 6: Get to Work

Step 6 is as follows:
We sought through meditation and study to experience God and perceive our world differently.

The eastern traditions say that we are actually already enlightened; we just don't realize it. Realization of enlightenment is just taking that last step. However, the baggage must be dropped first, and getting to a point where we're ready to drop the baggage is what takes the time and work.

For this step, read everything relevant that you can get your hands on. Take some time to think about what you've read, and how it relates to your daily life.

As I mentioned, there are two main paths: mystic and hermetic. Both have the same long-term goal, but the short-term emphasis is different. For the hermetic path, joining a mystery school may be helpful. For the mystic path, I don't think you can do any better than A Course in Miracles. My recommendation is that you try both, and continue with whichever one you like best, or do both.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Review: Cosmic Ordering

Before you place your order with the universe for the winning lottery numbers, you should think about the old saying: Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. As I said before, people who read The Secret and apply its principles will probably learn this lesson the hard way. However, because you're reading this post, you won't have to. So how do you know what you should wish for? Why not ask your guardian angel?

Cosmic Ordering: How to Make Your Dreams Come True by Jonathan Cainer tells you how to ask your guardian angel for stuff, and more importantly, how to ask for guidance on what stuff to ask for. It explains why asking to win the lottery probably won't work, but asking for guidance on how to get a better job probably will. Best of all, there's a surprise about the guardian angel at the end.

You may wonder why I have the "hermeticism" tag on this post. This is because getting acquainted with your guardian angel is one of the primary goals of ceremonial magic, which is a subset of hermeticism.

If you've read The Secret, read this book next. If you haven't, read this book instead.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Book Review: A Guide for the Perplexed

Some of you may need a little help with the first step (admit there's a problem). Others may need help with how to go about finding the something else I keep talking about. A Guide for the Perplexed by E. F. Schumacher addresses both issues.

The first chapter establishes that yes, there is a problem. The map of the universe that most of us use omits things by design that are actually important. The example used in the book is of maps of cities in Soviet Russia which intentionally left out churches. The maps used by scientists (but not quantum physicists) tend to leave out anything that can't be measured by instruments and any phenomena that can't be duplicated.

The second chapter details a major thing that's missing on most scientists' maps: that there are readily apparent differences between inanimate matter, plants, animals, and people. Everyone knows this to be true, but some of the scientists will say that the differences are "epiphenomena." For example, a biologist may reduce life to chemical activity, or a psychologist may say that consciousness is an illusory phenomenon arising from neural activity.

The main part of the book deals with what the author calls "four fields of knowledge." The fields of knowledge are the answers to four questions:

  1. What's in my inner world?

  2. What's in other people's inner worlds?

  3. How do I look to the outside world?

  4. How does the outside world look to me?

The author says that these four questions must be dealt with in order, because the answer to each is necessary to get to the answer to the next. Reading the book and coming up with your own answers to the four questions may help you find the something else. Give it a try.