Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Between The Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism

Book Review: Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism by Mark Stavish (Weiser 2007)

This was an interesting book with lots of unusual information coming from the various occult societies. The author is the founder of The Institute for Hermetic Studies. He identifies the three main strands of the Western Occult Tradition as Qabala, Astrology, and Alchemy. He notes that these three were synthesized into a coherent whole during the magickal revival of the Renaissance in the 16th century. The book is full of various occult practices, rites, contemplations, and visualizations from the various magical orders. The author has degrees in theology and seems to know much about the more philosophical and magical aspects of Eastern and Roman Catholicism and Hebrew Mysticism.

He describes Qabala as a key for relating symbols to consciousness and matter. He describes Astrology as a key to “understanding the relation of cycles to consciousness and matter. He describes Alchemy as a key for relating energy and consciousness to matter. He mentions herbalism, homeopathy, and spagyrics as alchemical methods. These make up the Hermetic Tradition that stems from the magical groups active in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1st 3 centuries A.D. and writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (Thrice Great Hermes) – such as the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. There was a synthesis of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, Gnostic, and Persian thought.

He describes the perhaps archetypal energy of The Guardian of the Threshold as the consequential terror of our own subconscious (a figment of conscience) and suggests we befriend the Guardian by practicing morality in the form of humility, mercy, and gratitude.

He gives a good description of the Qabala as a “map of eternity.” The Tree of Life is covered. The four levels of being – the physical self, the lower self, the middle self and the higher self are explained according to Qabala. The Higher Self is often equated with one’s Holy Guardian Angel (HGA). The three divisions of the Higher Self are given as Divine Self (Yechidah), True Will (Chiah), and Intuition (Neshamah). The Higher Self is also called the Soul of Fire, the Middle Self, the Soul of Air, and the Lower Self the Soul of Water and Earth. The Tree of Life is said to emanate from the Limitless Light (Ain Soph Aur) into ten basic levels or varieties of being – these are the ten spheres or sephira. The tree is also divided into the four worlds from subtle to fine and is associated also with the four elements. These are based on the formula of the tetragrammaton, YHVH. The Lighting Bolt (Mezla) path from subtle to gross matter through the tree is described.

He also describes the magical “maps” of the Renaissance magicians and alchemists like those of Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, Dr John Dee, Giordano Bruno, and Robert Fludd. These models were often in concentric rings based on Neo-platonic models describing the Soul of Nature (Anima Mundi). He ties these to the Enochian magical system with the 30 aethyrs and the many angels, demons, and spirits. It is said that scrying the aethyrs is what initiates the experience of the Knowledge and Conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel.

He describes the various psychic centers of the subtle body and compares them to the Eastern system of chakras. The Lucid Dreaming practices involve the throat chakra as they do in the dream yoga practices. He associates the hidden sephira, Da’ath, meaning Knowledge with the throat center Hermes, or Mercury, the great psychopomp, or traveler between the worlds. Several techniques are given in this book to initiate lucid dreaming, to develop the so-called Body of Light, and to initiate astral projection. There is a section on developing the Magical Voice and the Secret Magical Name according to Qabala. There is a ritual to awaken the Hebrew letters.

He mentions the Hebrew palaces of the Hekelot as relams traveled to during astral projection. One astral projection method given is the Golden Dawn method of Rising on the Planes advocated by Crowley and Dion Fortune. This is a method of developing the Body of Light and taking it everywhere possible based on ones aspirations/intentions and imagination, and also employing magical symbols. The Astral Projection practices often involve projecting from one’s solar plexus region.

The section on Alchemy is interesting. Spagyrics refers to the employment of specially prepared medicines of plants and minerals in order to affect and purify the subtle bodies. The making of the White Stone and the Red Stone or Philosophers Stone are examined. The White Stone is said to confer mastery over the astral, or lunar realm. The Red Stone confers adepthood. The elixir of life cures all ills. These products are legendary and allegorical. He notes that the philosophy of Alchemy is based on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. He describes the alchemical operation of solve et coagula (separate and recombine) as an allegory of life, death, and rebirth. He notes the basic constituents in alchemy (called the Three Essentials): “ In alchemy, everything is seen as having three basic parts: Salt (body), Sulphur (consciousness or soul), and Mercury (life force). ....... “In humans or any animal, the physical body is the Salt, its blood the Mercury, and the conciousness, or sense of self, its Sulphur.” He also mentions the use of homeopathic salts to influence the development of the subtle body. He mentions too the Alchemical realm of the Secret Garden as an astral journey destination via visualization and imagery cueing. He mentions that quite a bit of European cathedral architecture from the Renaissance was made according to alchemical symbolism. He often mentions various esoteric Christian symbolism as well based on the experiences of Nicholas Flammel and Christian Rosenkreutz.

He goes through a brief history of subtle body description in various systems including a turn of the century text by G.R.S. Mead who describes the Alchemical Tradition as heir to the cult of Mithra which he says the main point of which was to develop the subtle body through practices similar to Indian yoga. This may be similar to the Hebrew method given in the Sepher Yetzirah for forming the golem. He mentions three levels of subtlety of the Body of Light from gross to subtle – the spirit body, the radiant body, and the resurrection body. It is said that the radiant body allows us to experience Tiphareth, the sephira of Beauty associated with the experience of the HGA. The Mithraic and Christian/Jewish ideas of resurrection may well be based on the refinement of the subtle body. There is also a short section about Ectoplasm and various psy experiments where detection of various subtle energies was attempted. Ectoplasm is said to have the look of muslin and the feel of cobwebs.

The section on Assumption of the Godform describes as an example the suggested Golden Dawn invocation of the Egyptian God of Silence, Harpocrates, the Lord of Matter, an aspect of Horus. Harpocrates is also associated with invisibility. The Body of Light is also used in Assumption of the Godform as a way of uniting the visualized form with one’s subtle body. The author notes that there “are three fundamental techniques in Western magical-qabalistic ritual:

1. Rituals of invocation and evocation,
2. Vibration and vocalization of divine names,
3. Identification of the operator with a chosen deific form.”

The last subject covered in the book is that of death and resurrection. Some very interesting ponderings are here. It is said that the development of the Body of Light and the assumption of the Godforms can prepare one for the Assumption of the Cosmos at death. This is said to be the point of the Egyptian and Greek esoteric practices. The practice of remembering ones dreams deliberately and immediately on awaking is said to
strengthen the ability to remember beyond death. The Alchemical tradition considers the development of consciousness through experiences in life to be the reason we live – this is echoed in one of its heirs, the Rosicrucian system – and indeed in most spiritual systems. The Alchemists speak of the Quintessence, “or the perfect balancing of the Elements, or qualities and expressions of energy and matter.” Qabala states that a polarity developed to allow spirit to enter matter in order to make life so when that polarity breaks down then death occurs. As in the Tantric systems the elements are said to dissolve into one another at death. The author describes three death scenarios according to Qabala, the Path of Air (most common) generally experienced by folk with little or no spiritual training and said to be the most comfortable path with eventual return to material life, the Path of Water – “this refers to the path taken by heroes into the Elysian Fields in classical antiquity.” Memories are said to be totally lost in this and the previous path. In this path it is said that often one returns to material life to complete unfinished business. The Path of Fire is that of a conscious death where memories can be retained and is the path of the adept or spiritual practitioner. It is here that one may survive the so-called second death, or the death of the ego, also called passing from the psychic to the archetypal realm. This is equivalent of crossing the second of the three barriers between the four worlds of the Tree of Life. Death is sometimes called the Great Initiation where one has to overcome obstacles and ordeals. The various stages of death in these esoteric systems are covered in this book. There are a great many exercises and practices in the book that one could work on for years. It is a very good overview of the whole Western Esoteric methodology.

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