As the economies of first world nations continue to fall apart and slide towards “third world” levels, businesses and organizations will need to restructure their mode of operation to account for the now emergent realities of the post-industrial, post-information and post-American age. One part of this process will be a diminishing number of college graduates. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, with little or no guarantee of being able to find a job once a degree is earned, more and more people will side-step the university, whose attendants really only increased to exponential numbers in the boomer years following World War II.
There will still be plenty of work that needs to be done and while trade schools may still prosper, guilds offer another way to train people inside of existing professional organizations. Since I have worked in a Library for over thirteen years I will use it as an example of a public service oriented organization that could see benefit from such a gradual reorganization. I’m not so naive as to think the presidents, VPs and Board of Trustees for companies -whether profit or non-profit- are going to willingly jump on board with the idea of “reverting” to a guild system. What I do think is that it can be used as a way to mitigate the disintegration of companies and organizations as the economy continues to drag its ass into oblivion. This idea stems from the simple observation that in many jobs there are plenty of people who know how to do the work, and have the potential to do the more advanced work, but because professional level training and teaching exist outside of the job, they never get promoted to positions they otherwise might be able to hold, all due to a flimsy piece of paper with a long digital trail of debt behind it.
To begin with let us look at perhaps the most familiar of the legacies of the guilds, the three tiered rung of apprentice, journeyman, and master.
When my grandparents (and to a lesser extent my parents) went into the workforce, they could expect to find entry level positions, no degree required, and work their way up from the bottom to the top if they were diligent in applying themselves. They could also expect to get decent benefits, have a wage they could raise a family on, and even a retirement. All of these factors no longer apply.
I won’t be caught off guard if my retirement money disappears, or due to inflation is worthless by the time I am 65. Yet the work which takes place inside of a library will still be useful to folks 30 years from now. I got my first library job when I was 18. In my year and a half at the Olive Kettering Library of Antioch College I learned the ropes of checking things out to people using the stamp-card system which will come back into play when computers are no longer serviceable. I learned to shelve, shift whole stacks, do some basic interlibrary loan work, and a slew of other beginners stuff.
Then I got my current job at age 21. I continued to learn, this time in a Public Library. I learned the intricacies of a huge system divided into a number of different subject departments. The Main Library has three public floors of books in one building, a connector bridge with magazines and two public floors of books in the other building. Then we have the stacks with three floors of books and materials in one building, and three more in the other. I know my way around this huge collection very well now and have a knowledge of the general content, and an intimate knowledge in certain subject areas. Yet many people who have gotten a degree or in to a higher paying position from outside don’t know their way around what is the bedrock of the whole institution: the collection itself.
I am sure similar stories could be told from people in other fields. The point is, that by starting from the bottom you gain a ground level knowledge and fortify your learning of the cornerstones with hands on experience.
Having spent a sufficient number of years becoming intimate with the collection, I am well situated to become a JOURNEYMAN –or in the parlance of my field, a Library Services Assistant. What has prevented me from promotion so far are the politics emerging from the HR department. This last sentence may have turned what I have said so far into a rant, but I assure you reader I am not trying to have a pity party. The job-seeking environment is incredibly competitive. However what I want to point out is the frequency with which people who have gotten into a “higher” position have not put in as much time with the Library or they came in from outside. De facto, they lack the intimate knowledge I have of the collection from working with it day in and day out. I guess I also am a believer in the timeless virtue of loyalty. And though there are no guarantees in life, rewarding loyal workers who have also demonstrated their competence, is still a foreign idea in environments which have been overly influenced by business books and current corporate philosophy.
In a traditional way of work, starting with the basic elements and moving to the more complex procedures of a given operation would be the natural way of progression -if a person had the inclination, diligence and willingness to learn. As people once again stop attending college, those organizations which continue to exist would do well to have more in-house teaching, training, and one-on-one learning. So often I see people in the workplace come into a job and struggle to gain a thorough command of the collection -which is what the best librarians have. While they may have greater or lesser technical know-how in “Library Science” which now has an increased focus on digital collections, archiving, and so-called social media (which will all become obsolete once the products are no longer capable of being produced) they would be hard pressed to figure out a system for reintroducing card catalogs, or reproducing the system for checking out books to patrons by hand. Those low-tech options will become relevant again in short time. Other fields of work probably have other low-tech options available to them.
What does it mean then to become a MASTER in any field? We may have to search harder for examples, but they are out there among those who have chosen a line of work and stuck with it for the long periods of time it takes to exemplify all that a Master is. From the ineptitude seen by those who postpone “real life” for an extension on their adolescence, it looks like the future may well have less masters in any field than it needs. Society will instead have a glut of adult children who are continuing to party and get high off the fading fumes of gasoline. For those of us who are going to look at the challenges facing human continuity with a sober mind, we can skip the fancy pieces of paper and get to work honing our own skills.
Although competition among those with degrees has increased there will be other work to do besides. The important work of saving the best of our current civilization to be used by our descendants and those who will build a new civilization in the future. How people will be compensated is something else that organizations can look to the guilds of old for guidance on, and will be explored in part two of this series. This will become more and more relevant within what remains of the workplace as benefits continue to disappear. Some of those bottom feeders who remain sticking things out in particular types of 9-5 jobs may well see a “promotion” in their future -even as society as a whole becomes demoted from the lifestyles people are currently accustomed to living in.
Before wrapping this up, I’ll take a brief look at just a few of the work sectors which could be refashioned using the toolkit found in guilds and fraternal societies.
Utility Companies: Water Works could be preserved until it is no longer feasible to deliver running water to each home. A Water Works company could still work on things such as small scale filtration and monitoring chemicals in the water, and setting up alternate forms of water collection in existing homes.
Communications – While long distance lines for telephones may no longer work due to the expensive upkeep, it’s possible phone grids may still be around for some time. Independent, community run radio could do worse than collaborating with HAMs to develop a resilient network of stations capable of delivering news.
Libraries -the Celtic monks helped preserve various aspects of culture following the collapse of Rome, including their own epics. It would be nice to see libraries coupled with printing presses and a slew of scribes/printers. The two activities of making books and preserving them can come together like a peanut butter banana sandwich.
Medicine -truly, allopathic medicine is one of the areas where it is nice to know the person doing brain surgery on you has had a lot of specialized training and schooling. On the alternative side of medicine however, and in the training of midwives and nurses, things could be done differently. And they will, perhaps about ten years from now, when conventional health care is a total miasmic swamp.
Education -not only can we expect a decline of college graduates and university students, young adults will be entering the workforce earlier as well. The highschool drop out won’t be viewed with stigma, but as a person who is facing reality. Homeschooling will rise, as will the return of the single room schoolhouse for grades k-6, approximately. Teacher Associations will be a way for those working in this area to develop projects and techniques together, as well as keep things going. Further developments in Waldorf schooling and Montessori would be welcome.
Hacker Spaces & Clubs – I don’t have faith in the long term viability of silicon computers. Natural computers, like the ones Rudy Rucker has envisioned in his works of Science Fiction and non-fiction may appear, but no one knows when. For awhile though, society will be in transition, and computers will still be around. Already existent hacker spaces and clubs could add elements of guild culture to the work they already do to provide a further service to their members and the community and to become more resilient.
There are plenty more fields to think about -construction work once encompassed the traditional trades of masonry, carpentry and the like. Welders may once again become blacksmiths, etc. None of these will be an overnight change -except when a superstorm wipes out the infrastructure of a whole city and people have to start from scratch again. In the area of law and its enforcement, there will not only have to be judges, lawyers, etc. but also clerks who can keep records by hand -another form of a library, specialized to another field.
Work itself will never go away. The way it is done and managed will continue to change as it always does. The model of the guilds is not something to revert to per se, but a way of looking at how things were done before industrialization that offered clear benefits to people in and out of the guild. We will look at some of those benefits in the follow up post and how they might be deployed in organizations who would like to continue their existence despite shrinking resources.
The unfolding of the many crises of our time offer an opportunity for magicians and esotericists to use our specialized knowledge to help the mineral, plant and animal communities around us -including the ever turbulent human social groups we find ourselves a part of.
If you take for granted and as a fact, that the American empire is on its rough way down, that the fossil fuels which power current western lifestyles are ever dwindling, and that climate change is a reality, these concurrent trends project a challenging future for all and sundry. It doesn’t matter whether you are already broke or are making a six figure income. Getting into a mindset of service can help you to deal with these realities in a constructive way.
John Michael Greer sums up the situation with his usual succinctness in these words from a post on the Archdruid Report, “Most people these days have noticed that for the last decade or so, each passing year has seen a broad worsening of conditions on a great many fronts. Here in America, certainly, jobs are becoming scarcer, and decent jobs with decent pay scarcer still, while costs for education, health care, and scores of other basic social goods are climbing steadily out of reach of an ever-larger fraction of the population. State and local governments are becoming less and less able to provide even essential services, while the federal government sinks ever further into partisan gridlock and bureaucratic paralysis, punctuated by outbursts of ineffectual violence flung petulantly outward at an ever more hostile world. The human and financial toll of natural disasters keeps going up while the capacity to do anything about the consequences keeps going down—and all the while, resource depletion and environmental disruption impose a rising toll on every human activity.”
By giving up on the idea that magic and spiritual arts can be used (and should be used as some public mages suggest) to give you a one up in life, or a better edge in moving up financial and corporate ladders whose rungs are already crumbling, you can instead turn your magical efforts towards working with the Land, helping people in the community, and in service to the inner worlds. This will in turn help you when a hungry family shows up at your door, when someone is dying and can’t get medical care, when a field is ruined by pollution and food cannot be grown or harvested there. These are just a few of the scenarios people will take as a matter of course as the institutions around us lose financial support and fall into disrepair, before finally disappearing. Sure, other things will replace those institutions, but they won’t necessarily be of the same scale or function in the exact same way.
Instead of focusing on doing spellwork to get a raise or a girlfriend, consider the following areas of magical focus/specialization as skills that can be useful in a world faced with the above crises (as well as ones I didn’t mention, like the population explosion, etc.). Or if you’ve just chosen magic as a mere lifestyle accessory and haven’t actually been putting in the necessary work, consider actually buckling down and getting on with it. The following have been traditional roles for both initiates and adepts to engage, as forms of outer altruistic work. These are some of the areas where your efforts can be put to good use, now, and during the long descent.
HEALING: This includes everything from herbalism and folk charming/curing, to energy work, shamanic soul retrieval and removal of etheric objects from individuals; to modalities of exercise, and the preventive aspect of care. Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Alchemy, Qi Gong, Herbalism, Shamanic Healing all offer different tools that can still be used in a low-tech way of life. They each have their own corpus of associated skill and learning, and of course those are only a few of the many traditional healing arts to be found in the world. Now most of these exist as forms of care used by a pampered Boomer generation, but they had their origin among the common folk. As corporate health care continues to disappear expect these methods to be taken up by the growing underclass. Being available to serve the needs of the needy will not only be commonplace, but a way of putting your skills to the test.
DEATH WORK: The houses of death will be close to the houses of healing and the worker in one will sometimes need to be able to crossover into this other area of work, and help the sick transition and cross the river of death. Getting comfortable with Death is part of the work of the initiate in any case. We can also expect untreatable plagues/disease, natural disasters, and violence to rise. It may often be that an initiate is put in the path of assisting. Americans, in general, have a lousy relationship with Death and it is part of the work of the Mysteries to not only prepare for your own death, by facing the mortality of the physical body, but to work on repairing our own traditions and houses of death.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.” -Ecclesiastes 7:2
EXORCIST: Sometimes there are spirits and beings around getting into people, places and things which kind of wreak havoc on the world around them. Restoring things to the proper balance, ushering these beings back into places proper to them, and the like is part of the work of an Exorcist. Josephine McCarthy‘s The Exorcists Handbook is the gold standard text. If this is an area of work thrown at you by the gods you would do well to get a copy of her book.
UPHOLDING THE LAND: Bioremediation is a word you will hear more of in coming years -a technique of using microorganisms to help neutralize pollution. Permaculture is one you’ve probably already heard of -, it in a nutshell is “Permaculture is a creative design process that is based on ethics and design principles. It guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics.” As magicians began to work in these areas, alongside spiritual work they may do with the genius loci things will get very interesting. Dana Lynn Driscoll is a Druid who is doing innovative work in this area.
Besides combining magical tech to bioremediation (something laboratory alchemists and verdelets might like to tackle) and permaculture practices, there is also the purely magical work of befriending the local land spirits, faery folk, talking to the weather and learning how it works in your bioregion from an inner point of view. From setting up shrines, to working with existing mounds and power spots, and perhaps in the temples, churches and cemeteries that are already a part of your neighborhood, a lot of useful work is waiting to be done in this area. For a longer discussion, see my review of Josephine McCarthy’s book The Magic of the Northgate.
THE BARDIC ARTS: The need for meaningful entertainment will remain, even as big cinemeplexes and Hollywood blockbusters themselves become a thing of the past. Bards -those Keepers of Sacred Memory, Tellers of Tales, and Carpenters of Song will weave communities together, and preserve the memory of ill deeds through satire. I see a true need for the continuing return of the Bard to our world.
If you find it helpful to step outside of a Celtic worldview in this instance (with the Bard) think of the Griots of West Africa. They are historians, praise singers, storytellers, musicians and poets and they help keep alive important lore, wisdom and knowledge.
The other fine arts, as well as handicrafts, will also continue to have a role in one form or another. In the absence of cheap renewable energy however, they will exist under a changing set of circumstances. The role of the arts in post-collapse society will continue to be a focus of inquiry on this blog.
MARTIAL ARTS: The Martial Arts have long been allied to spiritual and magical arts. It only takes a brief survey of those extant in the East to come to this conclusion. In China these arts are split into two broad categories: Internal, about the manipulation of Qi, and External, focused on improving muscular and cardiovascular fitness and agility. Though popular countercultures have been uncomfortable with the role of the Warrior for sometime, due to the abuses others have suffered by them, and the abuses the warriors themselves have been put to, our own warrior nature should not be ignored. In a future where police protection will have been replaced by drug warlords, gang leaders, mobsters and the like the role of being a warrior will once again become a thing of honor. The West has its own traditions of Warriorship. Just look at the Ulster Cycle for some great examples. These styles are in need of inner visionary investigation to be rebirthed at this time.
This list is just a starting point, a sampler. And remember, it’s not a matter of picking a few of these specializations, getting a few books and getting your hands dirty. If there is a need and a reason for you to be working in one or other of these areas, the universe will let you know by waving the flag of synchronicity and dream in front of your face.
Some of these areas already have strong traditions. All could use some applied innovation, and a few are in need of out and out reweaving. Working in one or other of these areas enriches all of the Western Mystery Tradition. And the long term benefits will be greater than if you’d spent your time conjuring for a pay raise at a job that might not even be there in the future or for a new car in a world running out of the very fuel to power it. The jobs listed above however have stood the test of time, and adding your own efforts to the furthering of these traditions can have effects which last for generations.
I don’t dip my toes into Buddhist waters very often, let alone go for a swim, but the concept of Right Livelihood is something which has stuck with me. I believe I can trace it to the compelling essay “On the Path, Off the Trail” by Gary Snyder in his collection The Practice of the Wild. In a nutshell Right Livelihood is a part of the Noble Eightfold Path. It states that in work a person should not compromise the five moral precepts of not killing, stealing, misusing sex, lying or abusing intoxicants. These morals transfer readily to other wisdom traditions and can be thought of as basic instructions before leaving earth. Add other morals and ethics and reduce as necessary to form your own moral code as it applies to Right Livelihood. The point is, these form a core bedrock of standards of behavior, that if you don’t follow, you’ll have trouble achieving anything else in life. If you telescope in on these types of moral & ethical codes many of the jobs in industrial society would be precluded.
From what I understand Right Livelihood is something applied to lay people, or those outside of the priesthood. Yet this idea of earning an ethical living should also be applied to the various spiritual and magical teachers a seeker may encounter on her or his path. It should certainly be applied to oneself. There are desperate and trying situations where any type of work may need to be done for a period of time in order to keep yourself and loved ones from even worse situations, i.e, to keep them fed, clothed, and sheltered. Outside of these situations it becomes another story.
What is a proper way to earn a living if you are called into work as a teacher, artist, magician, priest/ess or cultural worker of some other kind? And how does the mindset of unconditional service further affect the choices available to us in a society afflicted with the multiple ongoing crisis of imperial collapse, energy shortages, and climate change?
Many of the newer modes of operation for individuals involved in these sectors of work will no longer be sustainable on the economic front as the institutions supporting these activities fall into disrepair, itself a result of the money behind them being allocated to other resources critical to day to day survival. The grants, scholarships, and tenure may still be there for another decade or so, but in my reckoning it’s only a matter of time before no one will pay for such things. The same goes for the mage or esoteric teacher who makes a living catering to middle class folks by hosting workshops, online courses and the like. As society continues to collapse other forms and models will take hold, and I hope these will be a mixture of tradition and innovation.
In thinking a lot about magical teachers lately, I came to realize that though I myself had paid for instruction in esoteric arts on a number of occasions, most of the real significant moments came to me in my everyday life, or a teacher appeared for a time as part of my journey. And they asked for nothing in return.
YOGI BHAJAN ROCKS THE MIC
After I graduated high school I went down to Tennessee to visit some friends who’d moved there, and a girl I’d been writing letters to -who became my girlfriend over the summer. My cousin who was my best friend at the time came with me. My then-girfriend had been taking yoga classes in Knoxville from a guy named Dharam Singh. He was an old white hippie who’d reformed from his psychedelic-drug taking ways. He made his living by doing a paper route. So he was a fifty-something paper boy (that was in ’98). His yoga lineage came from Yogi Bhajan and the Sikhs based out of New Mexico. They called it Kundalini Yoga (he founded the Kundalini Research Institute), but I later heard other people call it Kriya Yoga. They had more emphasis on mudras and mantras than I’ve seen elsewhere in yoag the west (not that I’ve ever been to the east!). Every summer solstice the Sikhs had a camp in the mountains near Espanola. The story was that the Hopi’s donated the land to Yogi Bhajan because he’d fulfilled some prophecy of theirs (I have no idea if this is true, but its what I learned from my paper boy yoga teacher). For three days at the camp we did “white tantric yoga” in polarity with a female partner. It was about 6-8 hours each day, with a break for lunch. Those experiences were really powerful, for an 18 year old without much discipline. My discipline is only mariginally better now. They had Sikh liturgy at various times too, but a lot of the people there weren’t Sikh’s and they never seemed to pushy about the religion. If you were just there for the yoga that was fine.
After the yoga camp we went to the National Rainbow Gathering which was in Arizona that year. Dharam Singh set up his tipi and out of taught Kundalini yoga two or three times a day to anyone who showed up. Back in Knoxville he taught out of his apartment, if my memory serves. He may have passed a hat around for a donation, but that was the extent of it. In this manner he was able to fulfill his duty as a teacher and be of service to seekers without it becoming some kind of illuminati franchise.
I didn’t stick with Kundalini Yoga as a discipline in the long run. However, I learned a lot that summer, and one of the things I took away from my friendship with Dharam Singh, who continued to stay in touch through the mail for a few years after that trip, was a connection to the Peace Pilgrim, whose work Dharam turned me onto. She gave up all her worldly possessions and took to the roads in pilgrimage and prayer, sleeping where she could, and eating only when food was offered to her. That’s not a way of life for hearth holders, but she still has a lot to teach.
The most I hope for out of my work would is to become independently poor. To work in my day job long enough that I can pay off my house and then quit or go to part time so as to focus on other things, such as the household economy. The phrase “independently poor” I gleaned from notorious pederast Hakim Bey. He had inherited enough money from his family to be able to live without job, and work on his writings, anarchist and publishing activities without recourse to a 9 to 5. At the same time, for an anarchist with the means to be independently poor, I wonder how much the struggles of daily life ground away at him to shape his character. It’s easy to be a lifestyle anarchist when you are independently poor. It’s whole other story when the first thing on your mind are the struggles of day to day existence. That’s the fire where character is forged.
So if you are an artist, magician, or other independent spirit, my advice is to find a day job that is in alignment with the character of your work or your ethics, or something you simply enjoy to do. Get in the business of making something of value instead of offering spiritual services to the highest bidder. The work that needs to be done in service will come to you of its own accord, as will the means for fulfilling your creative potential. The joys and sorrows of your life, will fill your cauldron of inspiration.
I’ve been reading stories from the Ulster Cycle the past two weeks. Randy Lee Eickhoff has done an excellent job translating them into an English I can relate to. Thomas Kinsella’s version of the Tain Bo Culain I had tried to read before, but couldn’t get into it. Of course it took a trip to Texas to really get an intuitive grip on the story at all (seeing all the cowboy stuff in Texas helped me to understand herding and cattle raids in a way closer to home for this American). Anyway, it’s come back around as something for me to delve into again.
Also, while in Texas I found some used books by Steve Blamires that I bought. They’ve been sitting on the shelf unread the past 2 1/2 years but now they see to have some useful stuff for me, particularly in The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition: Ancient Wisdom of the Battle of Moytura. And Randy Lee Eickhoff is a Texan too. He wrote some cowboy books. Don’t know what it is about the Texas-Irish connection for me but there seems to be one? (I didn’t enjoy actually being in Texas all that much though.)
One of the things I’ve found while looking into the Ulster Cycle is this 21 minute animation of the Tain made for the band the Decemberists who did a music EP of the same name. Their lyrics don’t always seem to relate as far as I can tell to the story, but the animation is awesome. If you don’t like the music you can turn the sound down, as it stands on its own, or put your own soundtrack to it. Just thought I’d share for people’s viewing pleasure.
Sometimes, in order to move forward in any given practice or discipline, other activities will have to be cut out. In order for something to grow it needs room and space to mature. Too much overcrowding, in terms of time and physical stuff, can stifle roots from going as deep as they otherwise might and shoots or stems from reaching up to the light. We’ve all probably seen the canopy of a tree contort into an unnatural form because of the placement of electrical power lines. Our own lives become distorted from their inherent pattern when left cluttered. Our efforts are less effectual because of distortions in the system. And once the distortions are in place they have a tendency to further shift and shape subsequent actions.
It is hard to live split down the middle for an entire life. Certainly as humans we can manage to adapt in all manner of situations, from the merely aggravating, to the terrible, as is exemplified in Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. Yet for the sake of this argument, let us imagine a human who is in a relative state of stability as far as her or his basic needs are concerned (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Yet because of the junk food they have filled up their life with, in terms of entertainment, material goods, social obligations which serve neither party, and the like, their growth has become stunted. The tide of encroachment must be halted, and perhaps flood walls in the form of boundaries erected so as to prevent an out-and-out flood.
To heed an inner call of service it often times becomes necessary to cull and weed out from your life those things which no longer serve. This is perhaps one reason why monastics have traditionally taken a vow of poverty. Not only does directing your attention away from materialistic gain enable the further cultivation of those things which are of spiritual value, voluntary poverty is also a simpler way to maintain a “steady state” economy because the time and effort otherwise put forth in keeping up with what has already been acquired can now be turned inwards.
Uncluttering our physical lives is one way to turn down the noise in our life. It is a way of making stillness by removing obstacles. All the things that we own, somewhere in our mind, occupy a part of ourselves on some level. Going through the house, cleaning out the desk, the closets, the drawers, putting it in the recycling bin, or taking things to the thriftstore (where in my house is where we often first acquired the junk) becomes a way of ridding ourselves of burdens we didn’t know we were carrying. The further we climb up the Mountain it becomes more and more necessary to let go -of dogma, of opinions and beliefs, of things we never wanted, needed or used in the first place . It gets steeper the closer you get towards the pinnacle and those things will only hold you back. Besides, the way back down requires complete letting go, the dissolution of who you are in your surface life.
So in this time after Samhain, in this moonth ruled by Scorpio, I have undertaken the task of going through my possessions, and sending them to an appropriate place, either to where someone else can find them, or into the trash where they have belonged. What I am finding is a feeling of liberation. Much of the stuff I’ve shedding, has been either material I’d planned on making some kind of art project with, books, CDs, and the like. What I feel happening inwardly as a result of heeding this inner call is an opening up to a greater sense of dedication to the path -and making way for new possibilities which were potentially being held back by all the energy expended holding on.
Frater Acher has recently written part one of a post On Resilence and Renewal. It’s basic theme is a message many of us in the contemporary Western world need to remember: when our live are bogged down by a surplus of desires and wishes, constantly shifting from one thing to another, it depletes our available energy to put forth towards those things that would truly nurture and renew us. He also gives an exercise for determining what a healthier ‘work-life balance’ might look like and another tool to map the orbit of your desires, and see which ones fall outside the current scope of your actual ability to achieve in three months time.
His essay is timely for me, as ever. I’ve been contemplating what I need to trim away and prune from my life as I move into the dark half of the year -a time I think of in terms of creative hibernation and incubation- so come spring I may be send forth shoots in emergent areas, and strengthen the roots of other areas and interests in my life that I wish to go deeper.
Frater Acher wrote: “Constant accessibility of goods, resources, information and social partners as well as an increasing convenience in lifestyles has empowered our wishes to simply take over. Where our ancestors might have had cravings or desires life taught them in nine out of ten cases that not bothering too much about it and simply getting on with work was what would be a good strategy to survive the next year. This changed dramatically with the Industrial Revolution, when desires and cravings were turned into the most essential commodities of all. Fast forward to the 21st century – and here we are overpowered by technological, economical, social and even cultural services and products, which all feed off our inability to say No to our own wishes, to delay pleasures and to balance cravings and prurience with calm and composure.”
What I see as related to this is experience of being shaped and sculpted by our limitations. Our limitations form us in ways, that being open to the vast sea of potentiality can never do. It is impossible to try and actualize every inherent possibility of who we might be, of what we could do in this life. Such behavior ultimately makes our efforts disparate amid the cognitive dissonance and workload of such a multiplicity of aims. In The Dyslexicon I wrote about this tug as going in eight directions at once. Working at a library I am constantly being exposed to all kinds of interesting ideas, pathways, hobbies to pursue, areas to research. And while I have often felt that weaving together these various threads in a syncretic manner is part of the function of both artist and magus in this 21st century, I must also admit that having the discipline to do so without going out of balance, or as a carpenter might say, out of true, is a truly difficult task. Not only does pursuing eight things at once put a strain on yourself as a person, but also on the supportive web of spouse, family and friends, who at times must pick up the slack when you hit the point of inevitable burn out.
Our character is forged in the fire of limitation. The daily grind of living, with all of its joy, ecstasy, frustration, repetition, sadness and heartbreak chip away at us until our skin becomes weathered. As time goes by we look more and more like sailors who have become as they are from their daily congress with the elements. The cracks in our skin mirror the cracks in our personality. Yet these cracks allow for the hidden substrata and deep ore of the philosophers to emerge from below. For we are also like miners who have to pan and sift through silt and mud looking for those flecks which reflect the light; who only find the vein of gold after taking a pick axe to those which have calcified inside of us.
Orson Welles said the “enemy of art is the absence limitations.” In this culture that constantly proposes that you be all that you can be, it is instructive to take a step back and throw some cold water on your face and gaze unflinchingly in the mirror. What is it that you can’t be? What can’t you have and what can’t you do despite your best efforts? The society around us preaches the gospel of excess. When that is shed, what is left behind, what remains? In our restless sailing from port to port, hunting down exotic wares in strange markets and bazaars do we ever feel the stir to return to home ground?
I think it is important to address such questions to ourselves now and adjust the till of our boats accordingly, as we move deeper into a literal age of limits and scarce resources. Those who continue to cast their nets into the sea of possibility may well starve when they come back to shore without a catch.
So much has changed since I encountered Magic of the North Gate by Josephine McCarthy. This book came to me at a difficult time in my magical life, a time when I was questioning everything about the path. It didn’t answer all of the questions I had inside of me but it did act as a catalyst and reignited a long held desire to be of service to the Land, and gave me a bunch of tools to do so. There are so many books, classes and courses out there in the world of occultism and magic whose main aim seems to be personal development and the acquisition of material things. This is totally different. There is no narcissistic navel gazing in these pages or polishing of the magical mirror to glamorize your self image. You won’t find sorcerous techniques or any drawings of sigils optimized to add a net gain to your stock market account. Rather, it is a detailed investigation on the Land, the Living, and the Living Dead.
There is no beating around the bush here, rather Josephine gets straight to work and discusses the practical and visionary means of working the magic of the North Gate. The language she uses is straight forward, and filled with humor and wit, traits altogether lacking in most magical texts. It does not attempt to wrap itself up in displays of verbal prowess. For the new initiate or seeker this means they are able to spend less time trying to work out just what the heck the author means and spend more time testing and applying these techniques to their own practice. Don’t get me wrong, I love cunning word play, but all too often it is used to mask a lack of substance, or to add filler to what should have been a long essay instead of a book. Furthermore, Josephine is a wonderful writer anyways. Her voice is authentic, rooted in experience, and unafraid to lance the many tumors growing on the sacred cows of occult tradition.
Now… on to the content of the book! I look at it through the subjective lens of my own relationship with this material and the experiences resulting from that interaction.
WORKING WITH THE MAGICAL ELEMENTS
I had begun 2013 with the idea and intention of working with the Four Elements during each of the Four Seasons that they correspond to; Earth in Winter, Air in Spring, Fire in Summer, and now Water this Autumn. And I had steadily been posting some of my experiences on my blog. Up until I started working with the material in the book. Within was laid out a powerful method of initiation into the mysteries of the four directions and elements for those who wish to take it. Yet when I first started applying those visionary methods I wasn’t thinking of it as a path of initiation -and Josephine doesn’t lay it out as such. It has just been what is now unfolding in a natural rhythm from the work of going in vision into the Four Elemental/Directional Temples. These inner events started to change me in ways I’m still grappling with. One of those ways is how much or little to share in public.
Josephine quotes a teacher she had in her introduction: “You can only really master the skills of one direction in a lifetime.” Yet for the person who dares to walk into the gate of the East, South, West and North (not necessarily in that order) a literal initiation will occur. That shouldn’t be surprising to the working occultist. In the course of our years we go through many initiations; some may happen in a lodge, coven, or druid grove but most of them happen from experience in the inner worlds. And having had these visionary encounters with various contacts in the four elemental directions I find my body is changing from these “initiations” and the way I need to live in my home is changing. Adjusting to these changes can be a bumpy process. Luckily the Body and the Home are dealt with in Chapter 1 and 2 of the book, so after skipping ahead and getting fried a bit by the elemental journeys presented in chapter 6, I was able to go back to the beginning to learn how to cope with the inevitable results.
AT HOME, IN YOUR BODY
Visionary magic stretches the practitoner out, literally into other worlds and other times. The impact this has on the body should not be underestimated. If mediation comes naturally to you, as it does to me, loads of energy might be pushed through you because of this work and that can leave you feeling zapped. So it is important, right up front, to have some tools for coping with those effects. The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more important it becomes to be able to balance the dynamics of power that the body becomes a mediator of. Josephine equates the shift of a magician from working with smaller amounts of power to larger as that of an amateur athlete who has just made the cut to go pro. As you get rolling, expect changes in diet, sleep patterns, and a myriad other issues. This chapter sets you up so you know what to expect and can take some preventive measures to keep yourself out of the hospital.
The second chapter goes into extensive detail about living magically in your home. The practicality of having a dedicated working space isn’t within in everyone’s reach, and depending on what it is you are trying to achieve, isn’t always necessary. It’s the difference between commuting to work or working from home. When you are properly “plugged in” you shouldn’t need a shop full of fancy accoutrements to display to guests. Still, objects and tools will have a way of flowing to you. There will probably be shrines to various deities or powers at some point in your magical career. And if you don’t want them all at war with each other, much like human people and families sharing a space, you’re going to have to find ways to accommodate each other.
If you’re doing regular work, you might also from time to time, draw the attention of things you really don’t want hanging around. Parasites, little nasties, and other buggers of the astral plane. But hopefully you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t need to go banishment crazy. The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram can be an effective tool, but it has gotten to be the be-all-end-all in many of the 101 books out there. I wonder now how much my indiscriminate use of the LBRP as a daily ritual banished many good things from my life? Household protection that doesn’t blast out all the friendly non-physical beings around is the way to go, and that is covered here, alongside general balancing of the home, and having your ancestors, fairies, dead relatives, and other folks around to sip on a pot of coffee with me.
With the basics covered I’m now more aware of what I might expect -and what to do- when a sudden power surge runs through my body after a working, or if things start going bump in the night around the house. Now I can really get to work.
MAGIC OF THE LAND
The next three chapters go into extensive detail about working magically with the Land, which makes this a book that will be just as much at home on the shelf of a Witch, or Druid, as it would with the Ceremonial Magician (who really does need to get out of the Lodge more often and go do some work in the woods or at the river, besides all that time indoors can make you look pasty).
So much wisdom is condensed into these three chapters that even the most enterprising and tireless magician could unpack the material here and continue to work with it, all the while discovering more, for well over a decade. From the simplest of beginnings on researching your Land, the people and legends and stories connected to it, to checking in with the beings who dwell in the trees, fields, hills and creeks. To turning on the inner guidance system that will draw you to that park or patch of land you hadn’t known about before, but turns out to be a hotspot, places of ingress or egress patiently waiting for a human to stumble upon and get to work. Here are insights about working with the weather, with the tides of life and death. Ways to nurture the Land are included from the simple but endlessly profound act of gardening -and how the small acts of a contacted magician working in her garden can ripple out to the surrounding country. Both short and long term construction of magical working spaces -on the inner plane of the Land- are covered in detail. Working with Faeries, Deities, and Ancestors and the various shrines and structures corresponding to them are also what you will find, sitting comfortably alongside stories from Josephine’s own experience, all entertaining and instructive.
Look at the Land around you. It’s crying out for a worker to help in the many ways it needs. These three chapters, and the instructions you get from your the Land you live on, will have you breaking a wonderful sweat.
CONTAINERS OF POWER
Beyond these chapters there is so much more that I’ve got the chops to feel comfortable working with. Yet there may come a time when it is needful that I do, and here is a reliable guide to the Qliphoth. In some circles of magic it has become very fashionable to work with the Qliphoth. There are many reasons one might do so. Unfortunately, proving how dark and edgy you are isn’t one of them. Josephine cuts away the chaff on a subject that is often needlessly confused. This is a clear exposition on how to do this work. Now there is no need to try and make your way through the maze Kenneth Grant has left so many people in.
MAKING FRIENDS WITH DEATH
The ways a person can be called to work in death, with death, and for the dead are many and various. On the one hand it can be the service of ushering those who have lingered on to the other side of the river, helping them board the ferry and get along with their journey. Or some bones may find their way to you and they may have a reason to be with you and for you to work with them. Sometimes a family member may return for a visit, pop in to a dream to give you some information you and your family may need, or just to let you know what they are up to on the other side. And for the mage, there is the long work of preparing for your own death. In doing so, you’ll probably be in a position at some point to help others when they are dying by assisting them in vision as they cross over. In the West our relationship with death is very unbalanced and perverted. I see this manifesting in the collective as a current obsession with zombies and vampires. These obsessions say a lot about our lack of a healthy relationship to death. This chapter packs a big punch and goes a long way towards healing that rift in the Western psyche.
THREADS OF LIFE, DEATH, AND FATE
I’ve long had a relationship to Spiders and their connection to the various Weaver Goddesses. This is a domain of such powerful magic, that though I haven’t worked with in the depth represented here, caused me to say “whoa” and take a step back. Fate is not something to take lightly in your hands. Your own or another beings. In some cases it may be appropriate. The final chapter is all about weaving power into form, learning to work with the Fates, to be able to patch places where the fabric has become frayed, to mend, stitch and alter the material in ways that are of service to the larger patterns being played out in life and in the Land.
The Foreword to the work is by Frater Acher, a wise German magician who has also now posted a number of free e-books on his website. In the foreword he writes about the need to move beyond the idea that attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Gurdian Angel is the be all and end all of magic. As someone with a Thelemic background I agree with my whole heart. This ideas has become so prevalent in Western occultism since Crowley made a mountain out of it, that it can be a huge stumbling block for younger magicians. It is such a daunting task, you might give up on all the other useful things in need of doing. There are so many areas of magic that are in need of repair, in need of dedicated work and experimentation, that perhaps if we set aside for a time our own ideas about personal attainment, we may attain something else for all the beings around us.
Here is a book to keep you busy and put you to work for years ahead. It has layers and layers of meaning and learning to be extracted from it as you begin the process of working with the material. Have you heard the call of the Land? Mother Earth is in need of some folks who are willing to get their hands into the dirt and start working.
My wife and I were in Columbus, Ohio a few weekends ago visiting her best friend. We brought our dog with us and twice a day I would take Nula for a walk. Down the street from her friends house I stepped onto “Walhalla Rd”. This street is in an old ravine and and the stream there has been preserved along with the native plants creating what they called an “urban arboreteum”. From Walhalla Rd. I take a left up “Brynhild Rd.” a street with two long brick walls on other sides and huge white oak trees.
When I get to the top of this street a sign announces I am in the Midgard Neighborhood. There is Midgard Pl. and off it, Gudrun, Mimring, Iswald. Nearby is Woodbine. Eventually As I loop back down towards the house, I see another street called Druid street…. and I’m thinking, if I ever moved to Columbus, this is my neighborhood! Then I see a truck in a parking lot for someone who does tree work. Their bumper sticker says, “Trees are the Answer“.
Later in the evening after 10PM I take the dog out for another stretch around these streets, and all of a sudden I spot a coyote on someones manicured front lawn. The wild can’t be kept out. The rise in deer population in Ohio has also meant a rise in the number coyotes and they are creeping closer in the cities. We regard each other for a moment and then it is off.
The Sword of Heaven is the fascinating memoir of photojournalist Mikkel Aaland‘s involvement in a global peace project initiated by a Shinto priest. The practices and beliefs of Shinto have been a subject I’d been very curious of since I had a series of Japanese hued dreams several years ago, around the same time as I became obsessed with the writings, work and legacy of Lafcadio Hearn. Mikkel’s book took me a bit deeper into the world of Shintoism, though it isn’t primarily about the beliefs and practices of those who follow The Way of the Gods. It is more about the authors quest for his own personal peace and power as the son of an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a facility that specialized in nuclear weapons and plutonium research. Set against the backdrop of the final days of the Cold War, with Regan’s Star Wars project looming overhead, proxy conflicts in Central America, and the Berlin Wall still dividing a nation, the tensions at play in the world are mirrored in the tensions of Mikkel’s personal life. The project took place at a time when the Doomsday Clock was ticking closer towards midnight. The sense of urgency with which Mikkel roamed the planet to place his share of the 108 broken pieces of the Sword of Heaven, each containing a Kami or “god” matches the urgency of the superpowers in their race towards mutually assured annhilation.
You could say Mikkel was raised in a bomb shelter. This isn’t far from the truth. The town of Livermore, also known as Atomic City as a producer of nuclear weapons was also a known target for the “enemies” own nukes. As such, Mikkel’s father, a Norwegian immigrant, built a bomb shelter in the front yard for the family just prior to the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, accessible via a stairway and underground hallway. This became Mikkel’s bedroom after the major threats were over (for a time). It later became the setting of a recurring nightmare that haunted the photojournalist until he had a major breakthrough with it as a part of his work with the Sword of Heaven project. This is part of what I loved about this book -it weaves together dreams, synchronicities and actual Japanese magic. That Mikkel became involved in this project through the chance meeting of someone at a San Francisco dinner party seemed to be the very hand of the Fates.
The project itself involved placing a magical sword, The Sword of Heaven, into a stone. “A Japanese Shinto priest, a survivor of Hiroshima, had a horrific vision of the end of the world, and a subsequent vision of how to save it. The priest, or sensei as he is called in Japanese, was instructed by God to break an ancient Shinto sword into 108 pieces and place the pieces in stone. Each piece, which now became a kami or god, imbued with magical powers, was then placed strategically around the world. After each placing the priest and his followers in Japan were to conduct a special ceremony to help fight the evil that was engulfing the world.” Often these pieces housing Kami were placed under water in rivers, lakes, and ocean. Sometimes in other places, such as the one buried near Trinity, New Mexico site of the first nuclear blast and birthplace of the atomic age. This placement was carried out by an American Indian. Many of the placements were carried out by volunteers other than Mikkel. In as much as he placed a number of pieces himself in Norway, Florida, Iceland, South Africa and South America, he also acted as a facilitator in getting them to other people who then were able to place them.
Mikkel traveled to Japan a number of times to meet a man named Kazz, one of other students of the Shinto priest working on placing the kami, and the Shinto priest himself. In these he was able to participate in some of their ceremonies and take some classes on various aspects of the Way of the Gods at the monastery his teacher was associated with. One of the most interesting parts of the book was about one of these ceremonies. The gathered group would begin to chant while also waving about swords and daggers in the air. Meanwhile the priest would be engaged in astral travel while fighting “bad spirits” -the energy produced by the group giving him added strength it seems. In this respect the use of the sword among the Shinto is not a far cry from the way ritual swords are used by practitioners of the Western Mystery Traditions -for exorcism, for defending the Land, for protection against those beings who would do us harm.
And while I harbor many reservations about magical work that is directly aimed at or aligned with political goals, this working had the feeling of being unconditional, of being a work in service to the planet during a time rife with danger, and initiated by people who had seen the terror of a nuclear blast. That it was further carried out by the man who grew up sleeping in a bomb shelter inside Atomic City has further implications of the Fates connecting people across and around the world
The Fakir had cultivated the venom of his winged cobra with such care and erudition that connoisseurs of the ecstatic delights gained from poison came from all corners of the kingdom to sample its bite. As is frequently the case among addicts there were those who overestimated their resilience to tolerate the effects of the reptilian substance. Feeling the pinch of the Uraeus at the base of the spine and subsequent flooding of the sensorium with inexplicable tinglings, sensing the emanations of the stars, was known, in some, to cause madness and death.
So the Fakir Srikanth was never surprised when his assistant Legrange, a dirty French emigre, had to drag another casualty down to the bone yards alongside the river. The first time a corpse came back, blackened but not burned, revivified, breathing, intact, it did surprise him. It was a strong venom indeed which took a man so deep into a coma as to resembled death. Of these cases, and there were only a few, the celebrant of the serpentine mysteries often reported such vivid encounters in the supernal realms as to defy even the the Fakir’s ratiocination. With supreme dread and fear he reluctantly sent the poisoned back out into the world. They had been torn apart and were in need of healing. Yet he was no healer. His hand was not for mending. They walked away from his shack, back into the desert, wounds gaping wide.
He rued that word from these few fortunate unfortunates would somehow spread, and the respect he had earned for genetically engineering such fine specimens as the winged snake would be ruined. Only the opposite was true, and those who had been so close to becoming ash came back to test once again their temper and strength against the fire of the serpents venom. And they brought with them devotees eager to submit themselves to the hand of chance, people fervent to partake of the miracle themselves. So it was that many pilgrims began slithering to the Fakir’s once humble dwelling. And so his pride began to swell as did his purse with gifts received from the many petitioners desirous of the ineffable poison. Indeed, his now frequent visits to the brothel, his commanding swagger and sway among the people of the nearby village who feared his art, all combined to attract the attentions of the Heresiarch.
The electric chair of the inquisitors had been sitting dry for many a year as the populace had finally succumbed to his lashings. Yet the Heresiarch was eager for the high he got when he made another man taste the juice. There was nothing quite like watching eyeballs boil to a blister in the socket. When he want to the Fakir’s dwelling he hadn’t counted on being taken in by the strange rhythms of the circle of snake charmers whose somnolent pipings now attended the increasingly elaborate services of the Fakir.
Soon he was among them, the sweating poor and merchants alike, among the warriors and converted priests, among the flying reptiles amidst the celebrants. All burned with violent inebriation. The snakes were hungry and ready to pounce.