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.