Offering the little things

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For you, o spirits!

“Have you ever studied Onmyodo?” RO non sequitured in the middle of a Google chat last November. “What’s that?” I replied innocently, then quickly Googled it.

My jaw dropped when I saw: medieval Japanese sorcery. Intuitive bastard! How did he know I’d just, the day before, been thinking of researching what kind of magic they practice/practiced in Japan?

He gave me a couple of links to help me get started, and then…

…well I haven’t gotten much farther since.

I won’t bore you with stuff you can go look up yourself in a few minutes of web searching. But most of what you could learn about onmyodo on the internet can be read within less than an hour. Like many things Japanese, you probably need a decent institute library dedicated to Asian studies and a knowledge of Japanese and Chinese to penetrate it to any significant degree.

RO said he planned “to be studying the techniques of onmyodo“, but with the scanty resources available, I don’t see how. I’ll be pumping him for information to see if he’s made any headway.

Nonetheless, my desire to bring more magic into my aikido practice (or to get more magic out of my aikido practice) is still there, and although I can’t say I’ve found much about onmyodo beyond the superficial academic history book level, the search itself has given me some ideas.

As I’ve indicated in recent posts, I currently see devotional practices as the key to spiritualizing aikido: sincerely evoking O Sensei every time I get on the mat, attuning myself to the collective egregore of the art through aiki no kami as a tutelary spirit.

It is an interesting experience to come back later in life to something you were heavily involved in earlier in your life. As I wrote about many times in the early days of this blog and in a previous blog, returning to Western/Hermetic occultism/mysticism after years of dedicating myself to other pursuits (higher education, martial arts, writing/journalism/editing career, raising a second family), I was amazed how the intervening years had given me a very different perspective on occultism, and how many things were much clearer to me since I had gained a lot of life experience in the meantime.

When I practiced aikido in the eighties and early nineties, my focus was on the Zen side of the Japanese martial arts. I have no idea why, but the Shinto aspect didn’t make as much of an impression on me back then.

As hard as it is to do Internet research on Japanese subjects when confined to European languages, I have occasionally been exploring mystical/metaphysical/religious/magical topics that might have relevance to Japanese martial arts.*

Sarutahikonookamishikishi

A few months back I became aware of the central role the kami Sarutahiko plays in budo.** He is an important figure in Japanese mythology: the highest of the “earthly” kami; guardian of the bridge between the earthly and heavenly realms. He carries a jeweled spear he got from his father Izanagi. It turns out that O Sensei prayed regularly to Sarutahiko, and he claimed Sarutahiko taught him some techniques that were eventually incorporated into aikido.

Taking this as just the clue I needed to further spiritualize my aikido practice, I printed out a good image of the god, put it in a frame, and placed it in our dojo. Now, first, you need to understand what I mean when I say “our dojo”. This is a fairly unique post-communist Hungarian situation. You see, in the days of state socialism, martial arts had a very limited presence in this society. Either you got training as a member of the military/police, or you belonged to a judo team, which the state sponsored. The state had a vested interest in judo, since it was an international Olympic sport, and excelling in sports was good propaganda for communist countries. To this day, there are judo facilities maintained by the state, because this policy of promoting the national image through the country’s athletes was never discontinued (along with many other policies and institutions that have been maintained uninterruptedly since the cold war).

Where I train is a huge, state-owned, barn of a facility, with enough mat space to hold three judo matches at once. That’s huge. A regulation competition area is 14m X 14m. So altogether that’s 588 square meters. I’ve been at a workshop where we had over 100 people training on that mat at one time.

Something I’ve learned about large facilities in Hungary is that nobody questions something you do if it has the appearance of plausibly being official. So I just took the framed image of Sarutahiko and superglued the back of the frame to the wall next to the area where we train. Next to the image there’s a convenient gap between two boards that holds a stick of incense at a good angle. Not one question was asked.

Now, every time I emerge from the dressing room, I perform the following ritual. First I put on my hakama (as a sign of respect for the art and for Sarutahiko). Then I walk over to Sarutahiko and insert a piece of incense into the “holder” (I always use a high-quality Japanese brand called “Herb and Earth”, which has bamboo sticks. It produces lots of scent with minimum smoke. Frankincense.). Then I perform the Shinto gestures of offering: two bows, two claps, and one more bow. At that point I close my eyes and visualize his living image, and pray to him, either silently or sotto voce.

I also have a small shrine to him in my house, and I light a candle and some incense every time I do my morning exercises.

The Home Altar

The Home Altar

 

Results? I have to confess this is all “subjective”. I don’t really have anyone to compare myself to. I don’t know anyone else who returned to the practice of aikido after seventeen years off the mats. And success at working to get my aikido “mojo” back at the age of 54 is also hard to judge, because I was 34 when I quit. It was amazingly easier to achieve physical fitness and agility at that age.

Nonetheless, Sarutahiko does seem to be helping me. After one year back on the mats, I am very happy with what I have gained back. In the above recently made video, you can see me performing up to black-belt form, even if it’s still not quite the stuff I could do in my thirties. In the video I am my teacher’s partner while he is demonstrating a technique, but in the last twenty seconds of the video he has me perform the technique twice (right side, left side) When I reviewed this video, I found my second execution to be smooth and subtle. I was pleased.

I was also pleased, when I saw the above video, to observe that my sword work has also picked up some power and precision lately. This exercise is called happo undo, which means “eight directions practice”. Chaotes should take note that the exercise is about projecting energy outward from the center in eight directions (It teaches one to turn rapidly and maintain balance, so as to be ready for an attack from any direction. There is also a spiritual metaphor that one is cutting the fetters that bind one’s spirit.). The first four cuts describe a cross. The fourth cut is a 45-degree turn (as opposed to 180 and 90 for the rest of the cuts), which then begins a second cross whose arms fall between the arms of the first cross.

This exercise should be performed like a meditation, working to maintain absolute concentration from the moment one draws the sword until one has sheathed it again. And it teaches a lot about integrating breathing with movement.

But perhaps the evidence that the spiritualization of my practice has born some results is best illustrate by the following anecdote.

As I’ve mentioned before, my teachers acknowledged my rank and skills by allowing me to teach the last class of every month. I contemplate what I will teach in my next class during the weeks in between.

This last weekend I was in the hills of Northern Hungary, near the Slovakian border, attending the annual kindergarten camp held by our Waldorf kindergarten. In the morning, before everyone else was up, I would slip into the forest and do my morning exercises in the fresh, conifer-scented air. As has become my habit, I visualized Sarutahiko and bowed to him before I began training. At some point I began doing a slow “mime” of one of the techniques I plan to teach this month. Suddenly, in a flash, it came to me how to explain the essence of the technique in terms of yin/yang, drawing and projecting. It struck me as the perfect way to show why, at the beginning of the technique, one hand turns upward while the other turns downward, and why they reverse for the throw. I knew I could get the idea across very easily this way. I’d never seen the technique explained this way before. I kept spinning and turning my hands, and I felt the smooth energy flow this enabled.

Then it struck me where this idea had come from. Immediately, I bowed deeply and said, “Thank you very much, Sarutahiko.”

To paraphrase Rick in Casablanca: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

*Strictly speaking, Japanese martial arts don’t really include karate, which is Okinawan, and came to the Japanese Islands by way of China. The form of karate that Elvis Presley made famous by becoming the student of Ed Parker is called kenpo, because kenpo is a Japanese adjective meaning “Chinese”; ergo it is Chinese empty-handed technique.

**bu=martial, do=tao=way or path; ergo, the martial path, the way of the warrior

Has the public really been that clueless?

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The only thing that shocks me about the frenzy of news media “revelations” that US intelligence services have been intercepting just about all information crossing the internet for years is that so many people are acting shocked and outraged.

Really? Where the hell have you people been for the last two decades? I’ve taken it for granted that Uncle Sam has been watching my internet activity ever since I got my first email account. I’m sure he knows how much money I have in the bank, who my friends are, where I shop, and all about my reading habits and political leanings.

Taken it for granted.

For years.

I’m an America who has lived abroad for 21 years. I’m certain the CIA has a file on me. I’m sure it’s noted every time I cross an international border.

Taken it for granted.

For years.

What kind of rosy-spectacled cave do you all live in?

And why weren’t you saying anything back in 2001 when they set this whole system up, right before your very eyes? Oh! Right! You thought they were protecting you from terrorists.

Funny thing. I’ve never met a terrorist in my life. Never. I wonder if they even really exist.

“If you let me take all your personal rights from you,” says Uncle Sam, “I’ll protect you from something I can’t really even prove exists, and even if it does, it has an infinitesimal chance of actually affecting your life or the life of anyone you know. But we think it’s important to use every resource available to us to deal with this almost non-existent problem.”

To which Joe Public says, “Why sure, Sam. Thanks for protecting me!”

Fools! And now you act shocked?

It’s like Max Frisch’s play “The Fire Raisers”. You even helped measure and cut the fuse before they blew you up.

Lurch to the left (left-hand, that is)

blaue-eule-kleinOne of the gifts of my liberal arts education was the revelation in my freshman year of college that you can’t make sense of English literature using modern qaballah.  The summer after I finished high school (summer of ’77) a copy of Crowley’s 777 fell into my hands; a hardback copy with a blue buckram cover. And in the fanatical way that only a naive, enthusiastic young man can, I began pigeon-holing the world into the nice neat 32 categories the Golden Dawn showed everything fit into. And it all made sense! It all fit the pattern! I gained the vision of the universe as one big Dewey-decimal card catalog on acid. Groovy.

And then, after my psychedelic year off from academics, during which I read tons of books on the Western esoteric tradition, college presented me with the whole wonderful, beautiful, ungainly mess of unfiltered Western civilization. And I proceeded to try pigeonholing it à la Crowley-with-a-tree-of-life-filing-cabinet. It was that English class, Dr French’s “The Short Story Genre”, that finally broke the mold. Blew the son of bitch to smithereens, as a matter of fact. I think it was Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” that made me finally admit to myself that I was trying to stuff square pegs into round holes (or is it round pegs into… oh fuck it can be a bitch being dyslexic!).

I began to realize that  one of the dangers of the pigeonholes is that they can be a way of avoiding thinking. Or even worse, they can be a way to overthink things and avoid a genuine encounter with cultural artifacts such as those my education was confronting me with.

“Let’s see. Bearded gentleman with a stuffed eagle in his study. Obviously a Jupiter thing. Man who smokes lots of tobacco. Martian if I’ve ever seen it. Man driving a two-horse wagon. Chariot card.” But the more I stuffed things into little conceptual boxes, the more I realized I was missing the point, the more I realized  this was creating distance between me an the things I interacted with. Besides that, if I didn’t catch on to the critical theories the professor was talking about I was going to fail the coarse (I got a B+ in the end). And so it went with my academic career. I let Western mysticism slowly fade into the background as I studied Latin classics and ancient history as an undergraduate. And I got thoroughly soaked in modern scholarly perspectives studying German literature in graduate school.

Now, even during my early love affair with Western mysticism in my youth, I had a hard time digging tarot. Oh, sure, I read The Book of Thoth and Case’s Book of Tokens and God-knows-what-else available in the late 70s and early 80s. And I did some really effective work meditating on the major keys. These books all sold the slick lie that tarot was ancient, and that the 22 major arcana were based on murals painted on the walls of the Egyptian mystery schools, and yada yada. And like a naive young fool I bought it wide-eyed and mouth breathing. This view of the subject became a problem when it came to trying to read the cards for divination. I just couldn’t stop thinking of the cards as pages from some great akashic book of wisdom.

I remember, on one of the rare occasions I consented to read the cards for a friend, finding myself spouting gushes of esoteribabble that I associated with the cards. My friend furrowed her brow and asked, “Do you wanna say that in English?”

And don’t even get me started on qaballah. I took several semesters of Hebrew as an undergraduate so I could master qaballah. And what happened? When I could finally read Hebrew well enough to attack a bi-lingual edition of the Sepher Yetzirah, I discovered that the traditional attributions of the letters to elements, planets and zodiac signs had nothing to do with the system that Knorr von Rosenroth, or MacGregor Mather et al flogged to the Western world. I began suspecting that pond was contaminated, and I didn’t want to drink from it anymore.

And once you’ve trained yourself to automatically think “Venus” the moment you see the Hebrew letter Daleth, and immediately get a picture of the Empress in your head, along with a whole string of other correspondences, it’s too late to reshuffle them in your mind and learn a new system of correspondences.

So after a lapse of two decades, when I picked up magic again at the beginning of the 21st century,in my middle age, I half-heartedly began working with Golden Dawn-ish materials (e.g. Regardie) and magic books based on Western QBL (e.g Benjamin Rowe and Joseph Lisiewski). But slowly I became aware of the things that had been going on in the magical world while I was getting a liberal arts education and a few hard knocks (chaos magic, grimoire revival, the later developments of Nordic magic and witchcraft, etc.).

And here’s where I start getting to the point of my essay (and to the bottom of my third –or is it the fourth — glass of Villányi Bársony cuvée). The longer I work with the so-called Western tradition; the longer I try to harness powers with whatever this stuff is that we call magic, the longer I try to make sense of this maelstrom of symbolic experiences that make up incarnate life, the less I trust any teaching that espouses neat and tidy systems for pigeonholing everything into precise and consistent categories.

Fuck that!

Life is wonderfully messy, and you have to keep your eyes open, your hands busy, and your heart engaged in order to glean the subtle meaning of each precious moment. The world is a jealous lover, and she needs to know you are paying attention to her every second. And if you think you have the meanings of things memorized like a list of characteristics for identifying species of lichen in the field, WATCH OUT! You are likely to be bitch-slapped by an experience that doesn’t neatly fit your categories. And you won’t know what hit you.

This was all a roundabout way of saying that I have more or less thrown in the towel on tarot. I love it on a certain level (at least the major arcana), but I can’t use it for shit when it comes to divination. And I’ve come to the point in my practice where I need some reliable divination. Things have gotten serious in the last few years, if you haven’t noticed yet. We could all use some reliable divination.

Let’s face it. Tarot was invented by modern occultists from a set of playing cards (If I wanted to be hip and contemporary I’d say they “hacked” the tarocchi.). Over time individuals and esoteric schools grafted symbols and schemes onto the deck that weren’t there from the start, and they turned it into a “system”. This doesn’t detract from its effectiveness as a tool for teaching, initiation and divination. And by now the symbols have taken on an astral life of their own. Or they’ve hitched a ride on some pre-existing astral forces, or… well, it’s beyond me. They’ve just become more than a deck of cards, is the point.  If you accept this more sober historical perspective, it frees you from bowing to it as something sacred and ancient. (I know a Rosicrucian — a dear friend — who teaches tarot classes in which he gives people the whole tarot-is-an-ancient-Egyptian-mystery song and dance. I don’t have the heart to disabuse him or his students of this notion. It serves their purposes. What can I say? Due to the language barrier, much of Hungarian esotericism is still stuck in the early 20th century.)  So, since I’ve come to the realization that for my purposes one symbol set is more or less as good as another (let’s just take that as a given and understand that it can be taken to absurd extremes, but I’m not into the extreme end of that assumption), I started shopping around for one that doesn’t have the baggage you get with tarot. Geomancy attracted me, but then I realized it was just another set of pigeon holes. And it requires getting into astrology far deeper than I care to go (a different kind of baggage). Pendulums are cool, but just too 70s for me.

Lenormand deck

And then, around two years ago, Balthazar wrote about Lenormand cards on his blog. I was really intrigued. He said they were more down-to-earth than tarot; better suited to predicting day-to-day earthly events.

I bought a pack of Blaue Eule cards over a year ago, which I promptly stuck in a drawer of my magic chest and left unused. But then I had a conversation last week with a lady who runs an esoteric store in Berlin that finally got me motivated to start learning how to use them. I spent far more money on a hardback book about reading Lenormand cards than I usually spend on books, which showed me my determination to bring this skill on board.

I like the fact that the symbols have nothing to do with either tarot or qaballah. And I appreciate that a number of authors on the subject of Lenormand make no bones about the fact that the deck is a modern creation. They admit that not only is the deck a nineteenth century phenomenon, but that it very likely was not created by the famous Madame Lenormand, reputed to be the greatest card reader of all time, and a confidant of Napoleon.

All of this is part of a greater shift in my thinking about relating to the “invisible world”.

I am gravitating more and more toward working with the contents of consciousness in a direct and personal manner. I’m not looking to relate my experience to some greater set of correspondences. I am looking for how it resonates with me directly. I’ve become impatient with any layers of intermediation. Much of this comes from the fact that my primary mode of mystical experience is dreamwork. In dreamwork the dreamer is encouraged to regard the dream as an experience, and not as a set of symbols to be interpreted by some third-party key.

The longer I engage in dreamwork, the more I see that our subconscious gladly shapes itself to our preconceptions. It’s like that Abraham Lincoln quote. The story goes that a cabinet member asked him how he liked the play he’d seen in the theatre the night before. Lincoln thought for a moment and said, “Those who like that sort of thing will find it to be the sort of thing they like.” In much the same way, I think that if you find your are having a particular sort of dream, it is because that is the sort of dream you think you should be having. It’s an instance of the “observer effect“.

This principle is wonderfully illustrated by the experiences of the psychic researcher and OBE experimenter Werner Zurfluh.* Mr Zurfluh, during one period in his life, studied psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. He observed that during this period of his life, his dreams were very accommodating, presenting him with symbols and sequences that perfectly conformed to Jungian theory. He was having Jungian dreams. But once he became suspicious of this, and he drifted away from Jungian studies, his dreams began speaking in other sets of symbols and he began having completely different kinds of experiences.

I am reminded of some magicians who occasionally discuss their dreams in their blogs, or other magicians with whom I’ve discussed dreams personally. Oddly enough, if the magician is very qaballistically inclined, he receives very qabalistically encoded dreams. If dreamers are Wiccan or Asatru, then they get dreams that include lots of Nordic symbolism. But when you speak to these people, you can tell they are under the impression that they are getting such dreams because these symbols are “universal”. This is the “real” deeper truth of the universe, etc. They don’t realize that those who expect this sort of dream will find that this is the sort of dream they will get.

So, in general, I’m less and less interested in “universals”, because I am becoming more and more convinced that they aren’t nearly as universal as many believe. That’s the “lurch to the left” referred to in the title of this posting. I have less use for sunny, agreed-upon, we’re-all-on-the-same-page kinds of methods, and am gravitating toward doing what seems right for me and my world view. And due to this shift, I’m taking greater interest in texts produced by people who are identified as “left-hand-path” or at least chaosy-ish, such as A. O. Spare, Andrew Chumbley, Gordon White.

This, naturally affects my approach to mythology and ritual, as well. There’s far more power (in my eyes) to taking myths as primal narratives, and relating to them as tales, rather than dissecting them to extract the planetary, elemental and alchemical building blocks (real or perceived) that make them up. I don’t think the ancients “devised” or thought up rituals as much as they received them from the inner planes or were inspired to create them as works of art. It’s a modern thing to make an artificial distinction between myth, ritual and art. I really seem to be developing a virulent pigeon-hole allergy here. (Must be some sort of feather mites.)

The admonitions against going one’s own way are legion. And, to a certain extent, I understand why initiates issue these warnings. The last thing a beginner should be encouraged to do is freestyle. You have to learn rules before you can break them. There’s got to be a standard things are compared to. It is true that many people claim they want freedom when all they really want is the freedom to be lazy and undisciplined. But I’m 54, and I’ve been in and out of this occultism game since I was seventeen. I feel justified in saying that certain things just aren’t working for me and therefore I’m doing some serious spring cleaning to rid myself of the clutter.

For the time being tarot and QBL (and all other clunky, rigid, highly compartmentalized schemes) are on the shelf, perhaps never to be taken down again (Nah! I’ll never be able to resist playing with tarot cards every now and then!). Dreamwork, martial arts, Lenormand experiments, body-based visualization and energy work, and more free-form rituals are going to be my mainstays for a while. I just don’t have time anymore for things that speak only to my head but leave my heart unmoved.

 

 

Be careful what you wish for…

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And you know how that old chestnut ends.

It’s just odd. Sometimes you throw magic at things and they just don’t seem to want to happen. Other times you just idly think it would be nice if some particular thing would happen, and — voila! — it happens.

After coming out of my eighteen-year aikido retirement, and being back on the mats for only five months, and just beginning to feel like my flexibility, strength and black-belt mojo were coming back, I had the thought that I might like to teach the occasional technique in class, or even occasionally substitute for my two teachers. I expressed this desire two weeks ago, and a few days later one of my teachers broke a toe. And it was a nasty break, too. He asked me to teach for him. Bam! Idle wish becomes reality in days.

So I’m the Tuesday morning teacher until he recovers.

Yesterday my son took some videos of my class. So you can see the middle-aged Scribbler teaching.

Just so you understand a little about the clip, I’ll explain what we are doing. The techniques are called kokyu nage. Kokyu, in Japanese, means breath, and has all the metaphysical and metaphorical dimensions that word has in every language in the world (e.g. spiritus, pneuma, prana, ruach, atem, etc.). Nage means throw (roughly). So these are “breath throws”. The premise is that they only work if the attacker insists on holding on. They are not “real” techniques, in the sense that you wouldn’t do this if a 100-kilo gorilla came at you with a knife. These techniques are meant to hone your skills for other techniques, such as the infamous jiujitsu-like joint locks and rapid take-downs aikido is often known for (jiiujitsu is on of aikido’s ancestors). But the problem with practicing those types of techniques all the time is that the student ends up concentrating too much on the hands doing the joint lock, or the blocking of a punch, or grasping the partner for a throw/take-down. Then they forget to move their whole body, and to manipulate the partner’s balance and movement. Kokyu nage also teaches you to stay poised and balanced while you throw. The partner learns to fall and roll with a little oomph added by the thrower. When you master these moves, it makes the “practical” techniques all the more effective.

I see these as the aikido equivalent of a musician practicing scales, or an oil-painter drawing pencil sketches.

Watching this made me realize that I really need to work on my flexibility and on the end of my forward rolls. Being able to back roll out of a technique is something that only came back about two months ago. I was shocked I couldn’t do it anymore when I started training again. And I could stand to lose about five kilos (ten pounds). That would seriously add to my grace and precision.

But, all-in-all, I’m pleased to have worked back to where I am in five months. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be five months from now.

The slow train to Belgrade

Monday, 12 November 2012, 14:00, Somewhere between the Hungarian/Serbian border and Belgrade

I recall this from my last trip south: endless stretches of flat cropland, punctuated by forlorn little Serbian (Hungarian?) villages. The train crawls at a pace that is unimaginably slow for a route between two European capitols. And the way the train rocks back and forth, you know it would come off the tracks if it went any faster.

The border between Hungary and Serbia is still a real border. Cops with nine-millimeter automatics bursting into your train compartment demanding papers, scrutinizing your passport, and giving you the hairy eyeball as they (reluctantly) stamp a visa on its pages. I’ve gotten too used to easy-going inter-EU borders.

And I can’t help meditating on why this part of the world hasn’t caught up to it’s immediate neighbors: the foolish wars of ethnic domination it unleashed in the 1990s. Thirteen years after the last shot was fired in the last of those wars (Kosovo), they’re still paying for it. I look at this country (just like I look at post-war Germany) as a cautionary tale about the destructive power of pride, hate, jealousy and greed.

Just as Hungary was often referred to as the happiest barracks in the Soviet-bloc camp, Yugoslavia was regarded as the lucky socialist country that evaded Soviet hegemony. They were seen as “rich” among East European countries.

Well, not anymore. Not only did their wars make them miss the general infrastructural retooling (road system, data networks, utilities, railroads, banking system, services sector) the rest of the countries behind the former “iron curtain” got, they wasted all the treasure they’d accumulated on weapons and mobilization. And, of course, there’s the lingering illness you inflict on your nation when you make your youth engage in barbarous acts of mass violence. The insult upon injury was when NATO bombed their infrastucture until they finally withdrew and let peacekeepers occupy Kosovo.

Ever since then, their integration into the new Europe has been slow and carefully scrutinized.

But some things never change. I come here as part of an international network of corporate services firms. So I can fairly well judge how affluent a country is by how well off our network’s firm is in that country. When I visit Serbia, they haggle over every cent of my expense account. And for economy’sake, the firms in former Yugoslavian states pool their training resources, so they often send their personnel to Belgrade for workshops (such as mine). Last year I was out having a drink in the evening with those members of the course who were from other former Yugoslavian countries. They never missed a chance to make nasty jokes about the Serbs. This stuff runs deep.

Every time I’m confronted with ultranationalism in Central Europe, I’m reminded of what Joseph Weed wrote on the topic. A one-time Grand Counilor in AMORC, Weed was one of the leading Western mystics of the 20th century, whose out-of-print books I recommend highly for anyone looking for no-nonsense techniques to develop psychic faculties. (OK. You should be warned that the style and presentation is very mid-twentieth century. But if you can see beyond the surface and the faults of the times, there is some pure gold to be found in there.)

Weed’s work occasionally refers to the doctrine of “The Hierarchy”. The Hierarchy consists of ascended masters; souls now free of the wheel of karma, but still dedicated to serving mankind from the other side of the veil. (I think I might have just lost all the “chaos” people in my audience, if any, by indulging in such Blavatsky-esque terminology). The Hierarchy, being disembodied, does it’s work by broadcasting chosen thoughts to mankind in an effort to bring about desired trends in civilization. According to Weed, one such “project” to The Hierarchy was the evolution from absolute monarchy to the nation-state. He suggests that the thought framework on which the masses hung their sentiments of national pride and loyalty to country (as opposed to being allied to, or subject to a king), was all planted in the collective unconscious by The Hierarchy.

But now (he wrote some time in the 60s) this has become an out-dated idea, and those who continue to adhere to it are holding civilization back.

Every time I encounter some pin-headed nationalist, who thinks his insistence on wearing a national costume, desire to ban all popular music in favor of traditional folk music, spouting off about how his ethnic group descends from the Tibetans/Egyptians/Aryans/Atlanteans/You-Name-itians, insistence that nobody ever buy ANYTHING from outside the borders of their country, and last, but not least, that his ethnic group are the be-all and end-all of the human race and God has designated them sole heirs (despite whatever hell-hole they are currently living in), well… I can really see Weed’s point. I mean: do they really think they can hold back the flood tide of modernity? Do they? It’s rough living in the 21st century. We’re all overwhelmed by the pace of change. Indeed, much of the change seems to always benefit faceless multinational corporations. But, I swear, joining a tribal cult with members who like wearing military garb and cultivating cruel anti-semitic humor is not the solution by a long shot.

“But you don’t understand,” some people tell me, “this was much more complicated than you think.” My understanding gets a little short when it comes to genocide. Wholesale slaughter tends to make me unconcerned about “who was right.”

All of this tends to make me contemplate my own ambiguous relationship to nationality (which starts with the fact that my mother was a foreigner). I find it absurd that I carry a US passport. I haven’t lived there in 20 years. I haven’t even BEEN there in twelve. Why does the US government need to vouch for me? Why do I owe any allegiance to it?

Besides that: what is the USA anyway? The longer I’m away from it, the more I believe it’s not a country at all. It’s an idea. That idea spilled over its borders long ago, around the end of the second world war. I’m an American because of the things I believe, not because of where I come from. Not because of the fancy high-tech high-security document the State Department gives me to identify myself when I travel. As far as citizenship is concerned, I feel like a citizen of international Anglo culture. That’s the world of ideas and aesthetic contexts I live in. I believe in freedom and human dignity. Does the USA have a corner on that?

These are the kinds of things I think of when I come to this country. A country that has been overrun by a number of other nations in its time: the Turks, the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, the Germans. A country that is having a hard time accepting that their old idea of themselves is dying fast. Europe is coming. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure where The Hierarchy is leading us now, but it’s definitely far beyond the destructive nationalism the “dead-enders”* are holding onto.

*Yes, I know the bad taste Bush-administration officials used this term in. It’s just my little joke.

Binding to the warrior spirit

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For certain kinds of magic, you gotta dress the part

Talk about your Saturn-return phenomena. I just had a sneaking suspicion that drove me to check the ephemeris. Indeed.

In January of 1985, after my first semester as a graduate assistant at UC Davis (a school infamous for being cut-throat competitive), I decided I had to do something to relieve my stress. My coping strategy of choice was tai chi, or so I thought. I don’t know how many days or weeks beforehand I thought I was going to sign up for The Experimental College’s tai chi class. But when the day came for sign ups, on my way across campus a small poster caught my eye: Aikido at The Experimental College. It just struck me at that moment that this was the class I was supposed to sign up for. On what many people would see as a whim, but I held to be inspiration, I changed my mind in a flash. I can be that way sometimes. Drives some people around me crazy.

That decision turned out to be fateful. Graduate school ended up only being two years out of my life, since I bailed on the PhD, taking the MA and high-tailing it out of there. But aikido became the passion of my life, to which I dedicated seven years of my life, eventually inheriting a small dojo from a training buddy, where I taught for over a year.

I played with teaching an English-language class in Budapest for a little over a year, but life got too complex and I dropped aikido in the autumn of 1994. In the intervening years I kept in shape as best I could with yoga, chi-kung and tai chi, but to tell the truth, somewhere in the back of my mind I always missed the rigour of aikido. As I mentioned in my previous post: there’s something about rolling and falling on the floor and getting twisted up like a pretzel that just toughens you up. And there’s the element of touch. It’s good for everything about you that’s human to spend that much time in physical contact with your brothers and sisters. I had a complex itch that only aikido could scratch.

Fast forward to August of this year, when the father of one of my son’s kindergarten mates started raving about how much he loves his aikido class. And then he said, “Actually, the dojo is only about 15 minutes from your apartment.” I went to observe a class, and I was sold. So, now I’ve been back on the mats for two months. I’m hardly even sore after a good workout now.

Two things happened that I never expected.

The first was that I didn’t anticipate the bug biting me again. But it’s bit. Hard. It’s like it was when I was in my twenties and early thirties. I count the days between classes. I watch aikido videos on YouTube. I trade techniques with my fifteen-year-old son who’s been taking aikido at a different school for two years (he knows some cool techniques!). I live to be on the mats.

The second thing is that I can now see aikido through the eyes of a Western magician/mystic, and through the life experiences I have gathered over the last 18 years. And what a difference that makes.

Back in the day, I’d just had my fill of a bunch of scalawag occultists in West Virginia who had been the friends of my teens and college days, including my ex wife and my former best friend. When I went out west to go to graduate school, I didn’t want to have anything to do with magic or occultism any more. Aikido was comfortably far-eastern and divorced from the kitsch and clap-trap of occidental hocus-pocus. It was pure and zen-like. Or so I thought.

Holly, one of my training buddies in California showed up for a belt test one morning and confided in me (sotto voce), “I had a dream last night that O Sensei was teaching me aikido. It was awesome. I feel really confident about my test now.” I smiled and humored her. Back then I thought the whole thing about bowing to a picture of The Great Teacher was a quaint form of far-east Asian ancestor worship. I went along with it out of respect, because I agreed with everyone else that creating this art was an amazing feat. But I was kind of skeptical about the  practice. I was also aware that after O Sensei (his name was Morihei Ueshiba) passed on they referred to him as aiki no kami, or The Great Spirit of Aiki. It was information I knew intellectually, but didn’t dwell on much.

But the first time I stepped back on the mats two months ago and saw the picture of O Sensei at the head of the room, I realized that there was a powerful bit of magic going on here. Every day, in thousands of dojos around the world, students of aikido begin and end class by bowing in reverence to an image of O Sensei. Teachers of a more mystical bent say that aiki no kami is present in the room whenever people are training; that he indwells the very ki we use and circulate around the room when we are practicing. Once, when I interviewed Jack Wada sensei for our dojo newsletter in Sacramento, he said he didn’t plan classes. He just let the ki tell him what to teach that day.

I don’t want to give you the impression that all aikidoists are heavy mystics. The majority aren’t. Some are even materialists who just think it’s a cool martial art. But there are always a few dyed-in-the-wool mystics lurking in every dojo.

So class begins with everyone sitting in seiza in a line facing the teacher. The teacher indicates it is time to collect oneself. Everyone sits silently and lets their mind settle. They become fully present and fully focused on why they are here. My new practice is to imagine a living breathing O Sensei walking on the mats in front of us, laughing, and radiating his light throughout the space. I ask him to abide with us and teach us. We perform the same ritual at the end of class, at which time I again visualize him as a living radiant being among us.

Each time I have done this visualization it has become stronger and more vivid. The aikido egregore is strong and easy to tap into using all the associated symbolism, ceremony and mythology.

The hakama is one such symbol. It is not universal when students are permitted to begin wearing it, but generally in the higher ranks. It has a symbolic and a practical function. Symbolically, as the traditional clothing of the samurai class, it represents the student’s adherence to the highest ideals of warriorship: bravery, loyalty, dedication to truth and beauty, reverence for all life, and integrity in the face of death.

Its practical purpose is to teach the student flowing circular motion. The legs of the trousers balloon out very elegantly when the aikidoka moves correctly.

It’s also a typically complicated piece of traditional Japanese clothing that requires a lot of care and maintenance. It has a lot of pleated folds that have to be arranged just right when it is being put away. After class the black belts gather on the tatami to chat while they attend to this chore. I once heard someone joke that the hakama was a conspiracy to keep black belts in the dojo longer.

Beyond the many pleats to be folded, it also has four long straps that need to be tied into a complicated knot so they don’t become a snarled mess in your athletic bag (or in the chests they were traditionally stored in).

After my first recent training I sheepishly tried to remember the knot I’d learned over two decades ago. After attempting several clumsy-looking variations, I just gave up and stuffed it in my bag.

But one day, after a particularly vivid visualization of O Sensei’s presence, at the point in folding up my hakama when I needed to make the knot with the straps, my hands just started moving by themselves. I wasn’t trying to figure the knot out, my   hands just did it. I looked at the knot (pictured on the left), and my jaw dropped open. Where did this sudden “knowing” come from? Then I realized. I turned toward the open mat and said, “Thank you, O Sensei.”

My new understanding of this phenomenon is that it’s the same as other types of “ally” one might use magically. Who is O Sensei other than the Heroic Dead? The mythology is that he transcended and became a wise tutelary spirit who teaches anyone sincerely training in his art. He sounds a lot like a Japanese St. Cyprian to me.

My scheming sorcerous brain has been picking up some waves associated with this phenomenon.

  • How about making an O Sensei mojo bag to take to the dojo with me? What would it charge from? The energy (ki!) released in the dojo by training, of course.
  • Sigils sewn into the inside of my hakama? After all, O Sensei said, “The art of Peace I practice has room for each of the world’s eight million gods, and I cooperate with them all. The God of Peace is very great and enjoins all that is divine and enlightened in every land.” Keep in mind that the Japanese word “kami” is often translated as “god”, but many times the word “spirit” would be more appropriate.
  • Astral travel to the heavenly dojo to learn higher technique?

The possibilities are endless. But it took eighteen years away from the art, and refining my understanding of magic, to be able to see these things.

But I began this posting with a reference to Saturn returns. Well, when I checked the ephemeris, I saw that in January of 1985, when I began learning aikido, Saturn was somewhere around 24 degrees into Scorpio. When I recently began training in aikido again, Saturn had just returned to Scorpio again (27 years).

Time for me to take this to another level.

Seething in a hakama

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Another kind of magic

Bless Deb’s twisted little overachieving heart. You never know what unexpected quarter inspiration is going to come from, but it’s such a blessing to get your creative urge goosed into action just when you feel your will to resist the darkness has completely drained, and you are becoming a colorless drone.

When the taxi arrived at the office to pick me up last night,  I’d been there for 14 hours, after having gotten less than adequate sleep the night before. I arrived to a dark, quiet apartment at 11:30.

All the children and Very Aries were sleeping soundly. I took off my tie and my shoes, fetched a bottle of white rum, a shot glass and a big tumbler full of cool water and sat down at the dimly lit kitchen table with my Android phone to read a couple of blogs before hitting the sack.

After the first shot and half a glass of water (Ah!!!) I began reading Our Little Charmer’s latest rant. Now there’s good rant and there’s tiresome rant. But it only took a few sentences to sense that she was cookin’ when she wrote this posting. And I could identify: that strung-out, used feeling that comes from being über-busy for weeks (months!) on end, and continually putting off those projects you promised yourself you would do; or worse, promised someone else you would do (sorry Justin). She captured the feeling that comes from wanting to engage in the more interesting and satisfying work of one’s life and just seeming to find… well… seemingly everything getting in the way. After the second shot and a goodly slosh of water (Ah!!!) I sat in that dim kitchen and stared at the clock on the stove. Shortly after midnight.

Now, you need to know that one of the more radical moves I’ve made recently was to return to aikido training after 18 years. I started doing aikido while I was in graduate school, and trained fanatically for seven years. In the end I was an assistant teacher at the school where I’d come through the ranks, and eventually got my teacher’s blessings to take over a school a friend was leaving behind in Davis, California to follow his wife’s career. Then I came to Hungary and for various reasons decided to retire from the art. It was mostly a time thing. Between family and work, I just can’t make serious evening commitments.

But then  a few months ago an acquaintance told me there’s a dojo near my apartment that has classes on Tuesday and Friday mornings from seven to eight. For nine-to-fivers, don’tcha know. The temptation was too much. I went to watch a class, and it was just what I wanted. I like their training. I liked the teachers.

So I got my hakama out of storage, bought a new judo gi, and showed up for the next class. My fifty-three-year-old body was pretty sore after the first class, but not as sore as I’d expected. All the years of morning chi kung and yoga  paid off. Now I’ve been training for about a month, and I’m getting back into that condition I’ve only ever achieved from aikido training. All that rolling, slap falling, getting twisted up like a pretzel, and swinging around heavy wooden weapons just makes you tough. And I can tell my body unloads a ton of toxins after each session. I’m finding those arthritic old-age pains I was just beginning to get are now disappearing. My eyesight is improving. And I just generally feel more alive.

So it was just the other day that I said to Very Aries that I’d be damned if I was going to let my work commitments keep my from training on Tuesday, because I would miss Friday class due to a business trip (Istanbul! More about that later.) and next week Tuesday is a national holiday in Hungary.

Isn’t it just like the universe to test our resolve after saying something like that?

So there I sat in the dim kitchen staring at the stove clock. Tired. Rum buzz (“Why’s the rum always gone? Oh. That’s why.”). Brains addled from marathon editing. Generally feeling like 21st century civilization’s bitch. But I felt a fire had been lit in my belly (Thank you, Deb!). “Damn it! She’s right. If I keep putting the muse off, the next time I go looking for her, she’s gonna tell me, ‘Not tonight, I have a headache’. ” So, it’s time to get writing.

And what’s more: I decided I didn’t care how tired I was when I got up less than five hours later, I was going to the dojo to train. Warrior training is not a luxury in the apocalypse.

And so I went. And it was good. I can’t tell you how gorgeous that post-class shower felt. And then walking out into the fresh air: sublime.

And what’s even more: I resolved that I wouldn’t let my trip to Istanbul go to waste, blog-wise. Even if it’s only a paragraph or two. I will blog while I’m there. I mean, for God’s sake: I’m going to the very edge of that quarter of our world where the changes are downright volcanic. There must be something worth observing.

A samurai never lets his vigilance lapse.

If ya wanna grow, ya gotta molt

Ah! Home sweet home!

New home, new brand

Like a hermit crab, I’d just outgrown the old shell, and this looked like a likely replacement. A little roomier, a little easier to protect myself in, a little more suitable in several ways.

I’ve been growing, and not just as a blogger and as a… whatever it is that we are.

Define your terms, Mister!

The primary friend and rival of my youth — Tyler was his name — decided to confide in me when we were fifteen years old and had only known each other for a few days. He got this serious look on his face that only a fifteen-year-old buck can muster, and said, “I’m a witch”. He began to describe experiences and phenomena I was slightly more familiar with, or had a context for, because my mother and her best friend (sort of my aunt) were Rosicrucians who discussed these matters with me often. At that time I might have described him as a “mystic” (the word AMORC prefers for people with deeper psychic development and spiritual aspirations). But he came from a fairly straight-laced WASP-y family, so he didn’t have the vocabulary or the context for his experiences. “Witch” was the word he plucked out of the 20th-century language.

It’s a perennial puzzle. What do you call people like us? I’m fairly comfortable with the designation “magician” for a certain mode I function in, but I’m still aware that it comes with baggage. Sorcerer has its advantages, but also has some unfortunate associations. None of this is new. It’s a topic that gets chewed over on the magic blogs at regular intervals.

I only mention this as background for why I got attracted to the word “seething”, a term I’ve appropriated for the title of this blog. The first time I ever saw the word in an occult context was when I was 18 in the late seventies, in the Enochian calls: “…and make me a strong seething, for I am of Him that lives forever.” I had no idea what the word meant used this way, but it appealed to me. Seethe is such a wonderful Anglo-Saxon word, meaning to boil, and to move like-, or have the qualities of something boiling.

I’m well aware of the fact that the term is specifically associated with Nordic magic and witchcraft, but I’m taking a little syncretic poetic licence here. As I understand it,* the association between the verb seething (i.e. bubbling and boiling) and the particular way Odin’s children went about practicing hocuspocus has to do with the sort of worked-up liminal state the practitioners got into to attain visions: boiling and seething.

Know these symptoms!

I imagine it to be like the head I was in when the orange microdot kicked in at the Fleetwood Mac concert all those decades ago, and from my seat up in peanut heaven the crowd on the floor became a seething mass of humanity on a Völkerwanderung through time and space, and the music began telling me the story of our race’s fate to be driven from place to place and… well, you get the picture.

It’s like the state of mind you’re in when you dream that you’ve managed to sneak into the castle of the white dragon, and as you are spying on that magnificent humanoid lizard with the opalescent scales holding council in his throne room, a guard grabs you from behind, and you snap awake, heart pounding, gasping for breath… and feeling deliciously alive!

It’s like that feeling that the setting is right, the incense well chosen, the symbols appropriate, your incantation resonant, and you’re sure you’ve gotten someone’s attention and they are listening.

If you know these experiences, then you have seethed; you are a seething.

Got that three-piece in camo?

And what about the suits? Well, my life changed dramatically a little less than a year ago. Until that point, I assumed I was stuck in a dead-end job in one of the biggest
corporate networks in the world. And then I was informed that one of the partners wanted a meeting with me. Expecting the worst, I showed up for the meeting dressed to kill, and was totally unprepared for the news that I’d been promoted. Now I have a team of five working under me. I’ve been abroad to give training twice since, and I am scheduled to go to at least three countries to give training this year.

It must have been the Jupiter magic. It must have been.

But now I’m a (business) card-carrying suit, with a Blackberry, a management coach, expense accounts, endless rounds of meetings, plans to formulate and execute, and
occasional sleepless nights worrying about how the fuck I’m going to deliver what I’ve committed myself to. And I’m a seething. And I use my seething to get things done in
the business world. Ergo: I’m a Seething Among the Suits.

“Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…”.**

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*Don’t bother to correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m afraid your explanation will be boring and tendentiously partisan, and I just made a disclaimer about syncretic poetic licence, didn’t I?

**Yes, I know this is a misquote.

Encountering a Dark Church Sorcerer

The urge (the call!) to go to church after work was overwhelming. It’s been a few months since I’ve felt that longing. There was a stretch of weeks in the deep of winter that I dropped by the church every night on the way home (a story I’ll have to relate here sometime, but not now).

But I haven’t had time lately. My life has been really wrapped up in work: leaving for the office just a little earlier than usual every morning, coming home just a little later than customary. The financial year ends at the end of June. Lots of paperwork and meetings to finish off the year. Annual evaluations.

This year’s evaluation was particularly hairy. My old boss got kicked up the ladder to the global network, so I’m being handed over to another partner. I got reviewed sitting in a room with both of them; two high-powered partners. I’d had a good year. I had all sorts of accomplishments documented, and I had all sorts of good feedback in my report. My career developed more in one year than it had in the last eight. But I still wasn’t taking chances. That morning I’d done a ritual called “The Prayer of the Perfected Self” (from Jason Miller’s book “The Sorcerer’s Secrets”) to freshen up my magnetism. I had a Financial Hand charm in my right pocket, a Jupiter talisman in my left, and a Maxorial talisman in my breast pocket. And I’d done the Kundalini yoga Eagle pose for several minutes before coming to the appointment, to charge up my aura. Should I be surprised the evaluation went well? That my old boss used the words “fantastic job” several times?

But living life in the teeth-gritting zone takes its toll after a while. And by mid afternoon today, a voice was telling me to go to “my” church after work to pray and gather strength. The urge was powerful. So I heeded it.

“My” church is the Teresa of Avila church on Nagymező street, about a ten-minute walk from my office. I’d include photos or links to photos, but it would be counterproductive. I’ve tried to take pictures on several occasions, and despite knowing a thing or two about photography, they just didn’t come anywhere near the sublime beauty of its interior. I’ve even noticed that professional photographers can’t capture its beauty. So you just have to take my word for it: it’s beautiful.

There’s a vivid two-meter tall oil painting of Saint Teresa behind the altar. She’s being visited by the angel, and he’s holding the arrow in his hand that he’s about to plunge into her heart; a mystical vision of divine ecstasy that holds a revered place in Catholic mystical literature. (Teresa lived on the edge. The Spanish Inquisition was never sure whether they should burn her or be in awe of her.) The East, South and North walls of the church (of course the entrance is in the West) are adorned with marble columns topped by triangular pediments of classical proportions. In the center of the nave a dome rises into heaven. There have been evenings I have sat and stared up into the space of that dome, quietly repeating The Lord’s Prayer over and over again, and felt God’s presence under the vault. 


And it’s not St Teresa’s church for nothin’. I was born Catholic, and I’ve never been in a Catholic church that feels like this one. This is a mystical church. It attracts some interesting creatures.


For instance, there’s a gypsy girl who’s in there mornings and evenings. She’s always alone, she looks to be about 16, and she’s a fierce prayer. There are several rows of simple benches at the back of the church behind the proper pews. That’s where she goes. She kneels on the marble floor and prostrates herself across the bench. Then she does the round of the saints. She’ll wrap her arms around the legs of each statue and lay her head at its feet, occasionally turning to kiss the feet. Whenever I do see her face, it bears an unmistakable look of religious ecstasy.


There have been times I’ve caught myself thinking she was a bit off the deep end, and then I considered how much time I spend in the church praying and doing magic. Kind of like Churchill’s definition of an alcoholic: someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.


But despite the fact that there are some heavy mystic types frequenting this church, I’d always assumed I was the only one doing sorcery here.


I have a routine. When I enter the church (after putting both of my phones in silent mode!), I turn left and go straight for the bank of votive candles for the dead. The framework that holds the candles is massive wrought iron, and has the feeling of something that’s been there forever. Behind it is a grating and a little chapel for the Infant of Prague. I pay for a candle (I know some people would freak about giving money to the Roman Catholic Church, but I consider it a fair exchange for being able to tap into the energies of the church egregore), and then get out my portable vial of St Cyprian oil (homemade from Conjureman Ali’s recipe) to dress the candle, and sometimes put a cross of oil on my forehead.


After lighting the candle I call to my dead, naming them out loud as their images come to me, asking them to aid me and guide me, finishing off the list by calling to St Cyprian while knocking on a wood frame nine times. (In a big old church you can get away with these things if you’re discrete). After this I’ll cross myself with holy water, go into the church, and either just pray, or do magical experiments (mostly scrying spirits).


This evening, I had just called Saint Cyprian when an unusual man came into the church and made a beeline for the votive candles. The sinewy, wiry dude was carrying a large paper bag with handles and he had a smell of tobacco smoke and sweat, plus other signs of being lower class, which at first made me think “seasonal construction worker” and then briefly “homeless man”. Then I noticed his perfectly new turquoise canvas deck shoes. But as he put a very nominal fee for a candle in the plate for used wooden matches (which is OK, the listed “price” for a votive candle is, as Captain Barbossa would say, “more like guidelines”), I noted that he had peculiar tatoos, such as mandalas on the backs of his hands. And his hair was sort of punk: shaved in random patches that at first made me think he was getting radiation treatments. He looked as old as me, but I decided he was probably rather younger but aged by a hard life.


After he lit his candle, he licked the thumb and index finger of his left hand, took hold of the head of the match, held it upside down, and allowed the entire match to be consumed by the flame. This caught my attention because it was something my magical mentor used to do, after which he’d declare, “a well-spent match!” Then the guy pulled something out of the paper bag at his feet. It was a brown paper cup — probably from KFC, since I think I saw the Colonel on the side — that had had a band of twine wound around the base and the rim. 


And then after patiently waiting for several minutes, much to my surprise, he picked up his burning candle and began pouring wax on the bands of twine. What was he up to? There was only a certain amount of time I could pretend I was still standing there praying. So I went into the church (mass had been in progress this whole time) and strategically placed myself in one of the back benches where I could keep an eye on this guy. He was obviously doing something sorcerous, or bizarrely folk-religious. And what blew me away was that, as opposed to my efforts to fly under the radar, this dude was brazenly crafting something right there by the candles to the dead, during mass.


Again, I have to emphasize that I had been fairly certain I was the only one of my ilk at this church. And I’ll add to this that, for various reasons, I don’t seek out magical contacts in Hungary. I am active in AMORC, and I talk about mystical things with fellow parents I know from the Waldorf school, and I even have a dreamwork group in my office, but I mostly keep my magical activities to my immediate family. 


But this guy had me curious. What was he up to? He would pour some wax, then put the candle down, then peel wax off the cup and drop it. I watched him from a distance, and almost resolved to go ask him what he was doing, when a man came into the church who I think is one of the deacons. The deacon briefly said something to the sorcerer, and he quickly put his magic cup in his bag and left.


Now my curiosity had the best of me. I grabbed my computer bag and briefcase, and was out the door. I decided that, despite detecting signals saying this might not be the sort of man I want to know, I was still going to ask him what he’d been doing. Let’s call it “professional interest”. 


But he was nowhere to be seen in the square in front of the church. So I did a sweep, widershins, around the church. Guy was gone. Not a trace.


Who was he? What was he doing? Was he just a deranged homeless person with religious compulsions? Was he consciously doing sorcery? Had Cyprian brought him to me to show me something? 


Much to contemplate. Maybe I’ll slip by the church on my way to work tomorrow morning.
  

It’s time for a fast

I am about to eat my last meal for the next four days. It’s not as drastic as it might sound to you. I’ve done this many times before.

Four-day fasts were a regular part of life in my early thirties. For a few years I did them almost every quarter. At the time, my girlfriend (now my wife and the mother of five of my children) often fasted  with me, which lent a certain moral support. Other times I would just drop out of social life and spend four days by myself, hanging out in my apartment and taking daily walks in the park on Margret Island. It’s amazing how quiet the inner dialogue can get in the later days of a fast.

For people who’ve never done it before, it seems like it would be torture. But it’s not, at least not the way you would think it is. My first couple of fasts I suffered from awful headaches and weakness, but reading up on the proper techniques mostly eliminated those complications. The main trick is to empty your bowels. Anywhere else I might shy away from the gory details, but this is a magic blog, and anyone reading this should be able to deal with the nitty-gritty without flinching. You can empty your colon either with an enema or by purging with a dose of Epsom salts dissolved in warm water. I can’t abide by the taste of Epsom salts, and I don’t really like the idea of taking them internally, so I go the enema route. Once you get over the initial squeamishness and learn how to use the equipment, the process is not much more hassle than, say, giving yourself a pedicure. And anytime during the fast that you feel a headache coming on, or you’re just not feeling well, an enema clears it right up. The other trick is drinking diluted vegetable juice and not fruit juice during the fast. It maintains the proper pH in your system. Becoming too acidic doesn’t feel good.

Once your colon is empty, oddly, you have no more sensation of hunger. The idea of food is appealing, in an abstract sort of way, but you no longer have the physical craving. Your digestive system then goes into reverse: rather than absorbing nutrients, the entire length of your intestines begins shedding waste materials and toxins (which is why the occasional enema helps, when they begin accumulating). Actually, every part of your body begins shedding waste and toxins. You need to scrub your skin when you shower and scrape your tongue at bedtime and in the morning.

But that’s just the physical part. Then there’s the mental and spiritual part. People, admittedly, are different. People who don’t really concern themselves with spiritual matters don’t really seem to notice much. They can go through life in an ordinary way during a fast. My mother-in-law, for instance, who learned about fasting from my wife and me, is a veteran faster. She can carry on like normal during a fast.

Not me. I get very introverted. I’ve tried fasting and going to work, but I just spent the entire day thinking “I can’t wait to go home and think about other things.” It’s not pleasant. And not very spiritual. I learned my lesson. After trying that once or twice I didn’t try again. Fasting and work don’t mix in my life. I need a minimum of solitude when I fast.

Because of my professional life and having kids, the opportunity to fast got rare, and my wife has been breastfeeding for the better part of the last 16 years. You can’t fast and breastfeed because the toxins come out in the milk. So, it’s been at least ten years since my last fast.

But my body’s been calling for it for months. I knew I’d have to take advantage of the first waning moon during the first decent warm spell of spring. And here I am.

If you go by Uncle Al’s definition of magic, fasting is an effective piece of magic. It brings on change in accordance with will, very effectively. I always feels healthier and more clear-minded after a fast, and I always manage to sort things out that I’d been having troubles getting straight in my head. And I manage to reach some very deep states of consciousness.

I have big hopes for this fast. If you want to follow my random thoughts as I come unmoored from ordinary consciousness for the next few days, I’ll be tweeting it at “at” TheoHuffman.        

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