Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exu', Divine Trickster & Master Magician

Book Review: Exu’, Divine Trickster & Master Magician by Denise  Alvarado
(Planet Voodoo’s Applied Magick Handbook Series 2010)

This is an interesting short book about an interesting West-African spirit-deity that is now part of many of the Yoruban-derived religious traditions of the African diaspora. Exu, pronounced ey-shu, is the form active in Afro-Brazilian Umbanda. Exu represents a complex deity and family of deities. “... he is known as Eshu in the Orisha-Ifa system of the Yoruba, as well as in the Candomble, Santeria, and Lukumi religions. He is known as Papa Legba in Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo. In Cuba he is called Eleggua, and in
West Africa he is known as Esu. In Palo Mayombe, he is known as Lucero.” As a Yoruban Orisha Exu functions as divine messenger and gatekeeper to the spirit world. He is always invoked first for he gives access to the other Orishas. One of his places is the crossroads, particularly at midnight. He is a trickster associated with male sexuality, strength, and fertility. He guards the cemetery gates and the mysteries of life and death. As a crossroads force he offers choices. He translates and acts as a bridge between humans and nature. He is the keeper of the life force (ashe). Every being is said to have as well a personal Exu.

Exu has similarities to Hermes/Mercury as a messenger and magician. As a sex/fertility spirit he resembles the Greco-Roman Priapus as he can be depicted with a giant penis. As a gateway to the spirits and remover of obstacles he has some similarities to Ganesh/Ganapati. As a trickster he is associated with chaos and breaching social norms, but also as teacher. For these reasons the early missionaries syncretized him with the devil and all things evil so he is often depicted with horns, tail, and trident/pitchfork. The other Orishas became syncretized to the Catholic saints. The female counterpart of Exu is Pomba Gira and she is depicted with horns, a red face, and as a prostitute who wears furs, sequins, and a gold necklace. She has Portuguese gypsy accoutrements as well.

There are several forms of Exu – often for specific purposes. There is a Yoruban story that illustrates his role as teacher. One day he was walking down the road with a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. After he departed the people who had seen him were arguing about the color of his hat. People on one side of the road saw red and people on the other side saw black. Eshu returned and taught that one’s perception of reality is influenced by one’s perspective and that one can be easily deceived. In the Bantu creation story – the creator god Nzambi created Exu as a being “... that could traverse the Universe and mediate between matter and space.” This became the androgynous Exu-Aluvaia. According to another legend he was given seven powers by Nzambi: 1) limitlessness and the ability to travel between space/matter, light/dark, hot/cold, etc. 2) free will to choose between good and evil. 3) knowledge of all things, the ability to remember all encountered, and the ability to gain wisdom from his own and others’ experiences. 4) the ability to transform and to change matter. 5) the ability to see past, present, and future of everything and everyone with the exception of himself. 6) the ability to understand all creatures. 7) the power to multiply himself – although these other versions of himself will be lower in faculties – and could be dangerous for him if he could not re-unite himself. “In Quimbanda, Exus are said to be the souls of dead men who died unclean deaths, chained to evil, and devoted to helping people with earthly desires ......” This function is likely at least partially traditional and partially a result of syncretization with the Devil. Quimbanda also says that everyone is born with a personal Exu and/or Pomba Gira (Exu’s female counterpart). They are said to be like Guardian Angels but they exist in the shadow realm of the psyche where desires, fantasies, and fears tend to abound. It is also said that his nature changes according to how he is perceived. “According to one practitioner of Condomble, Exu is referred to as – the Slave – because he works at the bidding of the practitioner. As the Master of Sorcery, he works spells and performs favors, but he must be paid to do so.” If he is not paid, or paid to his satisfaction – he can wreak havoc.

Exu Meia-Noite is the Exu of great healing, the doctor. Red and black candles, steaks cooked in olive oil, popcorn, rum, and cigars are offered to him. He has special numbers, times, places, and blood sacrifices. He is said to command seven other Exus related to: women/children/marriage, love, magick and witchcraft, mountains and waters, justice/vengeance, power and madness, and one who helps women who have fallen on a “bad path.”

There is Exu de Quimbanda who originated among the people of Angola – a tricky spirit of the forest who likes red and black. Exu Gerere guards the mysteries of Necromancy and African magic and witchcraft – some of which made its way to Medieval Europe and mixed with some of the ceremonial magick there. Pomba Gira Maria Padilha also helps with this function and together they head the Nago Society of Exus.

There is Exu de Candomble who cannot be bought or sold, only petitioned. In Palo Mayombe there is Lucero, the spirit of balance and guidance through paths. The Yoruban Esu is said to have arisen from a sacred red rock and allows people to communicate with the Orishas. There is Exu Cigano de Garito, or Exu the Gypsy of the Casino. There are many other manifestations as well.

Images and forms of Exu are often placed near the door of the home or just outside the door. Sometimes he is a lump of concrete with a nail in the center of his head and cowrie shells for eyes and mouth. Sometimes he is a specially consecrated coconut head. He has special correspondences and offerings, greetings, black animals, incompatibilities, plants (mostly tropical), all black stones, and he is associated with certain Christian saints as well as the devil, ie. St Anthony of Padua, the Holy Infant of Prague, St. Benito, and St. Martin of Porres.

The talismans given here for Exu show some resemblance to those from Medieval grimoires show that influence. Many have tridents. I have seen quite different Veves for Legba in Haitian Vodou. There is an interesting one given with simple Roman numerals referred to as the Odu Ose Tura’.

There is one given for Maria Padihla and her story given is as follows:
      “Maria Padihla, whose name means Queen of Fire, is an entity of light that works for good. She lived a long time ago in France, and was the madam of a house of ill repute know as Cabare’. All the men she had, in each of her seven incarnations are with her in the spirit world. There is a prophecy that says that in the year 2000, Maria Padihla, queen of the queens will step on the Orixas. The Orixas will worship her since her mission is to convert the man that she loves (Lucifer, angel of darkness) to the world of light. They will enter the house of God dressed in white. She will sit alongside Jesus and he at the feet of Christ. Maria Padihla will save 7000 souls and will give 7000 to the flames of hell.”

There is a sigil given, derived from an 18th century magick book called The Grimoire of Truth, for the three highest Exus of Quimbanda, called Exu Rei de Sete Liras.

Next there are songs and invocations to Exus – in Portuguese and some with English translation. He is sometimes addressed as – the Gentleman of Souls or God of Midnight. Here is one from a Cuban Santeria song to Ellegua:

“My body gives homage, praise,
I ask your permission, I salute you
Young child, there is no other,
My body gives homage, praise
I ask your permission, I salute you’

Here is one I know (not from the book) from Haiti translated from the French calling on Legba:

“Legba is at the Gate   Legba is at the Gate    Legba is at the Gate
It is you who carries the flag and shields the spirits from the sun.”

Finally some spells and rites are given for certain purposes; House Cleansing, to Arouse Sexual Energy, to Divide an enemy’s attention, to eliminate an enemy, and one to make a magick lamp for protection. Some of these require some not so easy to obtain supplies.

Personally, I think these Yoruban-derived spirits can be quite powerful due much to the energy invested in them. They are named, colored, given personalities, and an egregore, or group energy that transcends places and times, continents and cultures, even religions. They are worked in traditional rural and modern urban cultural environments. There is syncretization with Christianity but also with some Portuguese and Brazilian Gypsy notions, and also considerable syncretization with practicess of ceremonial magick – some due to the French mystical societies, others due to more modern developments such as the Gnostic Voodoo and Thelemic Voodoo currents. I have personally witnessed some interesting crossroads magick associated with the gate dweller and can vouch for its effectiveness in certain situations. Legba/Esu/Exu/Pomba Gira/Ellegua/Lucero/Kalfu/ is most interesting indeed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Yoga Chudamani Upanishad: Crown Jewel of Yoga

Book Review: Yoga Chudamani Upanishad: Crown Jewel of Yoga
commentary by Swami Satyadharma (Yoga Publications Trust 2003)

This is a Tantric treatise on kundalini yoga from the quite late Yoga Upanishads of medieval times in India. Swami Satyadharma is a student of Swami Satyananda Saraswati who was a student of the famed Swami Sivananda. This text translation and commentary are published in cooperation  with the Bihar School of Yoga in India. The commentary is from Vedantic perspective.

I found this book to be very practical and filled with interesting tidbits of information as well as technique. It is every bit as informative as the Hatha Yoga Pradapika but has very little hatha yoga and is an earlier text. The introductory chapter notes the traditional organization of the Vedas and the Upanishads and some variations where there are different numbers of Upanishads. The word – upanishad – means to – sit near – referring to learning spiritual knowledge and technique by sitting near the master, or guru.

The Yoga Chudamani Upanishad is thought to have been composed between 700 AD and 1000 AD although the authors are unknown. It is a concise text of about 121 mantras, or short statements with traditional commentaries enhanced by Swami Satyadharmas commentary and info. The subject is the esoteric kundalini yoga of the prana, nadi, and bindu – or the winds, channels, and drops.

First described are the shatanga – or six-limbed yoga. Basically this is the same as Patanjali’s ashtanga – or eight-limbed yoga without the yama and niyama as preliminary conditions. So we have Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (holding the concentration on an object), Dhyana (stabilized concentration), and Samadhi (integrated non-dual meditative stability). Asana is used to regulate the prana and Pranayama is used to expand the prana. Dhyana is also called spontaneous meditation or contemplation and Samadhi is also referred to as the transcendental state of equanimity. There is some interesting info in the commentaries about the five akashas of the Vedas and the three akashas of the yogic tradition. These refer to the etheric planes. In yoga they are: 1) Chidakasha – infinite consciousness in head region or ajna chakra. Consciousness is said to become more refined as it rises up through the chakras so here it is most subtle. 2) Hridayakasha – the experience of personality transformation after awakening the energy within associated with the heart region or the anahata chakra. 3) Daharakasha – the psychic dimension of the manifest universe – the deep etheric plane – chakras and elements.

There is some very good detailed information on the chakras and how one meditates on them and what happens as the kundalini rises through them. Kundalini-shakti in dormant state is said to be coiled at the base of the spine at the root chakra (mooladhara). When it is awakened it may rise up through the swadhisthana chakra but may then fall back down. When it rises to the level of the manipura chakra it is said to be irreversible so for this reason it is sometimes said to begin its journey upward here. Of the 72,000 channels in the body there are three main ones in importance – the Ida, Pingala, and Shushumna. Shushumna is the central channel and in most of these yogic systems the method is to gather energy into the central channel and also to remove obstacles and knots in the other two – the lunar and solar channels. There is information about the panchavayus – or five pranas and mention also of the five secondary pranas. Straight from the text translation:

“The vital airs are named prana, apana, samana, vyana, udana, ....” “Prana is located in the heart and apana is always in the lower regions. Samana is located in the navel region and udana in the throat region. Vyana moves in the entire body....” The five secondary pranas – or upa-pranas are related as well to specific bodily functions: naga is the energy that controls belching, vomiting, or spitting. Koorma controls the flickering of the eyelids. Krikara controls sneezing. Devadatta controls yawning. The all-pervading dhananjaya stays with the body for a time after death. i am pretty sure that these secondary pranas can also be considered aspects of the respective primary pranas.

Jiva – the individual soul (or Jiva Atman – the spark of divinity as yet unrecognized) is said to move with the breath and prana. Breath itself represents entry into the dualistic universe of the duality of inhalation and exhalation. Jiva moves with prana, the upward-moving active aspect of breath as inhalation and with apana, the downward-moving passive aspect of breath as exhalation. Jiva is also said to move through Ida and Pingala nadis at the speed of light and difficult to detect but since these nadis terminate at the nostrils one may control this flow through pranayama, or breath awareness and control. Breath itself is aid to be the mantra Hamsa (or HamSo or SoHam). Since this is automatic and without deliberate sound it is called ajapa gayatri – or spontaneous mantra. Ha is associated with Shiva/Purusa and Sa is associated with Shakti/Prakriti.

The knower through experience of prana and kundalini-shakti may access the eight siddhis, or magical powers: 1) the ability to infinitely small 2) infinitely large 3) infinitely heavy 4) infinitely light 5) ability to fulfill wishes 6) ability to fulfill desires 7) ability to subjugate others 8) attainment of absolute supremacy. These refer to the eight coils of kundalini although some texts refer to three coils sometimes equated to Nada – the primal sound, Bindu – the primal point source and Bija – the seed of creation. Others say the three coils represent the three aspects of shakti: will, action, and knowledge necessary to create the world of name, form, and idea. Other say omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.

Kundalini in dormant state as the sleeping coiled serpent is said to block the Door of Brahma (access to Shushumna that leads to knowledge of the Infinite). It is said in the text translation that: “She can be awakened (through) the mind along with the prana by the fire of yoga.”

Next there is explanation of the bhandas, or yogic locks and other information regarding diet and discipline. The Jalandhara Bhanda, or throat lock is explained. The Moola Bhanda, or pelvic/anal lock is explained as is the Uddiyana Bhanda, or pulling up and in the abdomen into a lock. These are means to work prana and their benefits to the yogi are given. As for diet the recommendations are soft, sweet, and milky and to avoid harsh and pungent foods and to keep sexual abstinence for best results.

The subject of the Khechari Mudra is explained. This is a rather strange mudra where one attempts to place the tongue as far up into the sinus cavity from the throat as is possible. It is said that yogis will hang weights and otherwise try to stretch their tongues over long periods of time in order to do this mudra. Parts of the tongue and inner mouth may be cut in a gradual fashion to help affect the changes. This should be considered the external form of khechari mudra according to hatha yoga. According to raja yoga method one just attempts to get the tongue along the upper palate as best one can towards the nasal cavity. The gaze is fixed at the eyebrows – at the ajna chakra, or third eye. That is where the effect is said to be observed. This practice is said to keep the nectar that drips from the bindu (point) at the top back of the head from going down below the throat chakra and is said to free the yogi from the effects of (and need for) sleep and food. The yogi is freed from karmic effects and overcomes death.

The bindu (drop, or point) is said to be the source point of the human body and may have a few different meanings: 1) Bindu chakra at the top back of the head important in kundalini yoga; 2) Drop of nectar/ambrosia which falls down from bindu chakra to empower the whole bodily systems; 3) Semen, or Seed Potential in humans; 4) Vital Energy which creates and sustains the physical.

If the bindu (ambrosial drops) do fall down they can be brought back up through the yoni mudra. If it falls down to the manipura chakra it may be burnt in gastric or metabolic fire. The yoni mudra is said to prevent this. This practice is similar to the Shanmukhi mudra where the seven apertures of the head are closed with the thumb and fingers (as in the method for pratyahara), the breath is held, and the attention is placed on the bindu point in the head. This is the method for bringing the fallen drops of nectar back up.

Next we come to the merging of the red bindu and the white bindu. I am familiar with this process as interpreted in the Buddhist Tantric Texts where it is said that at death they merge at the heart before the most subtle consciousness leaves the bodily abode. The yoga to merge them while living is very similar to the kundalini yoga described here. The red bindu is at the manipura (solar chakra) and is associated with the female reproductive cycle (menstuum) and also with the guna of rajas – dynamic activity. It is the prana shakti. The white bindu is associated with the male sperm within the seminal fluid and is situated either at the swadhisthana chakra (at genitals) or at the bindu visarga – also referred to as the place of the moon - in the top back of the head – depending on context. It is the citta shakti – or consciousness energy. This merger is said to be exceedingly difficult and is referred to as a gateway to divinity. I have heard Buddhist teachers refer to this as the physical basis of enlightenment. Here is a related quote given in the book from the Shiva Samhita, “Know that the seminal fluid is the moon and the menstrual fluid is the sun. It is necessary to unite the two within one’s own body. In fact,  I (Shiva) am the seminal fluid and the menstrual fluid is Shakti. When the two are united in the body of a yogi, he attains a divine body.” This union can be seen as a more detailed basis of the goal of yoga as the union of jivatma – the individual soul – with the paramatma – the universal soul of divinity.

Next is given instruction in the method called maha mudra and maha bhedra mudra. This practice involves khechari mudra, shambhavi focus on third eye center, and all three bhandas – moola, uddiyana, and jalandhara. It is done in utthanpadasana, or a forward fold posture with one foot tucked back under the perineum to apply pressure at the mooladhara chakra. In both forms the breath is retained. One benefit of the practice is that it is said to make all foods equally digestible as it greatly increases the digestive power – this awakens the agni mandala. The lower chakras then assist in reversing the bindu nectar-energy back upward. It is even said that at this level of digestive functioning that one could even consume poison without harm. The fall of the bindu is said to be responsible for the onset of aging and of all diseases. It is said that disease can be prevented or removed by reversing this process. The method is said to be very good for men especially. The method is also said here in the text to best be kept secret. The author being female goes on to explain the difference between the genders in this regard: “The nature of the female system differs in this respect. It relates with rajas, the red bindu, which is established in the lower centers and associated with the reproductive system and the menstrual cycle. Rajas is united with the Sun at manipura, which means that the natural tendency of women is to create and support life. Women do not need to transcend the material world in order to undergo spiritual experience. Their inner receptivity is enhanced through the natural processes of life, especially the production of children, resulting in direct experience of higher reality. Therefore, in the past women generally did not seek to perform practices to derive spiritual awakening and powers. However, should a woman choose to rechannel her force to the higher centres, she can undergo a more powerful awakening than a man because rajas is stronger than shukla, especially in the lower centres. This is why a female countertpart was often sought in the tradition of Tantra.”

Next covered is the meditation posture of padmasana, or lotus posture. The eyes gaze on the tip of the nose – nasikagra drishti - and one chants the mantra AUM. The nature of AUM as Brahman is covered as well and commented on according to the Mandukya Upanishad of much older vintage. The four states: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the 4th, or turiya state of Brahman are equated to the four matras, or meters of AUM – the last being the silent integrated whole. In the commentary the author states that,
“Therefore, the goal of yoga is to transcend the modifications and associations of the mind. This can only be achieved through realization that the entire manifest existence, in all of its change and complexity, is the projection of the unmanifest reality. Behind the world of name and form there abides one eternal reality, symbolized by AUM.” The experience of AUM in the heart center – or anahata – is described as the anahad nada – or unstruck sound which leads the yogi upwards into unmanifest reality. In nada yoga there are four classes of sound – audible, whispered, mental, and transcendental. One may practice mantra audibly, whisper, mentally hearing the sound, or one may experience the transcendental mantra if one is so inclined – as the unstruck sound. The powers of AUM are given as will, action, knowledge, creation, maintenance, and destruction.

The subject of pranayama is covered as well in the text – often re-iterating the benefits of controlling the prana. Prerequisite to pranayama is clearing the channels with the practice of nadi shodhana – alternate nostril breathing which includes chandra bheda and surya bheda which are simply breathing in from each nostril and holding the breath while visualizing the luminous white moon at bindu while retaining inhalation from the left nostril and visualizing a fiery sun at anahata (although I have heard also at manipura) while retaining inhalation from the right nostril. The benefits are said to be good health, activation of the fire, and hearing of the inner sound.

As regards kumbhaka, or breath retention, it is stated that it should be held in the confines of the region of prana in the heart space, or hridayakasha, moving up and down within its confines. That way it would not be burned up in the agni fire in the manipura region. Inhalation, retention, and exhalation are equated to A, U, and M of the pranava. The ratio for the Omkara Pranayama is 12:16:10 rather than the typical ratio of 1: 4:2 in other pranayamas. Omkara Pranayama is done while focusing on AUM symbol and sound. Three levels of pranayama effects are given: sweating, trembling, and stability.  The kundalini practice is to close the 9 gates (seven of the head with the mudra) as well as the anal sphincter (with moola bhanda) and urinary tract (with vajroli mudra). Then the kundalini-shakti is drawn up through shushumna nadi. This practice is the Shaktichalini Mudra that leads to the union of Shiva and Shakti, Consciousness and Energy, at the Sahasrara, or Crown Chakra.

Asanas destroy disease and pranayama destroys unskillful karma. Pratyahara removes mental impurities. The process of purifying the mind through pratyahara is said to be gradual and one improves with practice. Eventually one observes the arising of thoughts and discards them by not attaching to them and purity increases.

This is a wonderful book for a yogi, more detailed and useful than the Hatha Yoga Pradapika, but also a great companion to it. Technique is emphasized as well as expected results and benefits of practicing. Highly useful text and commentary.

Yoga for Magick: Build Physical and Mental Strength for Your Practice

Book review: (The Weiser Concise Guide to) Yoga for Magick: Build Physical and Mental Strength for Your Practice  by Nancy Wasserman (Weiser Books 2007)

This is a nice introductory yoga book specifically geared toward those who practice the Western forms of esotericism. It is more particularly suited for Qabalists, occultists, Thelemites, and magicians, as well as for Wiccans and Pagans.

There are sections on the origins of yoga, physical discipline, diet, and the Ashtanga – or eight-limbed yoga extolled by Patanjali. The section on the chakras has some nice simple tattwas (picto-glyphs) for visualization that can be painted. Each has the Sanskrit letter representing the seed syllable (bija mantra) for each respective chakra. The author suggests that these can be drawn and painted for added power of visualization.

In the section on Asana they give four asanas recommended by Aleister Crowley in Liber E vel Exercitiorum. Crowley was a practitioner of yoga and wrote a couple of books regarding yoga: Book Four and Eight Lectures on Yoga. Anyway these asanas refer to four postures- the god, the ibis, the thunderbolt, and the dragon. Pictures of them are given. I am not sure the origin of these postures but I suspect Crowley may have developed them himself or adapted them perhaps from the Golden Dawn or some other hermetic order. Throughout this book there are comparisons of the yoga of the east to the western esoteric traditions. It is not always easy to make these comparisons. Sometimes one can merely note similarities and differences.

The section on pranayama gives quick instructions for nadi shodhana and kapalabhati although it is more ideal to get those instructions in person preferably from an accomplished yogi.

The section on mantra yoga gives a selection of mantras from several traditions including the Egyptian form of a mantra from Crowley’s channeled Book of the Law (Liber Al vel Legis):

A ka dua. Tuf ur biu. Bi aa chefu. Dudu ner af an nuteru.

(Unity uttermost showed!
       I adore the might of Thy breath,
Supreme and terrible God,
       Who makest the gods and death
To tremble before Thee: -
I, I adore Thee!)

Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, is traditionally said to take many years to perfect. It is prerequisite to the Samyana practices of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. The author states that, “Pratyahara helps to minimize and eliminate unwilled thoughts.” The author also recommends another of Crowley’s works: Liber III vel Jugorum. Therein are experimental methods for monitoring and controlling one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. Some of these include altering one’s use of language by avoiding the use of certain letters, pronouns, adjectives, or conjunctions – for Speech. Suggestions for Action include such things as avoiding crossing the legs or lifting the left arm above the shoulder for a prescribed amount of time. For Thought he suggested that one attempt to avoid thinking of  a subject that one frequently encounters in conversations and interactions and another is to experiment with creating dual personalities in oneself that may develop differing habits. The reason for these exercises is to strengthen one’s will and to become less controlled by the common and frequent distractions of the senses. In traditional yoga one method to practice Pratyahara is to cover the sense receptors with one’s hands and fingers – the thumbs block the ears and the other fingers block the eyes nose and mouth. She notes this as the Sanmukhi mudra. This is often referred to as the mudra of closing the seven gates, or apertures.

Next are the more advanced meditation practices referred to as Samyama - the act or flow of meditation. These are the last three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga:  Dharana – holding the focus single-pointedly on an object; Dhyana – “the ability to see the underlying truth of the object of meditation”; Samadhi – the total merging of the ego version of self with the meditation object. There are many methods of dharana. Some involve looking at pictures, letters, syllables, points or dots, or deities. Others may involve focusing on a sound or other sensory object. One may look down the end of the nose or focus on a specific part of the body. One may focus on the breath as Buddha recommended. After one has a little experience with external objects one may focus on visualized objects and sensations. Crowley recommended in Liber 5 to focus on the five tattwas: black oval, blue disk, silver crescent, yellow square, and red triangle - then to combine the tattwas such one inside another - then to proceed to simple moving objects such as a pendulum swinging – then to combinations of objects such as pistons moving up and down while a pendulum is swinging – then to imagine living objects such as a friend – and also to imagine sounds, smells, and tastes as meditation focus. One classic yogic method is to sound the AUM mantra while visually focusing on its symbol.

Again according to Crowley, “The normal mind is a candle in a darkened room. Throw open the shutters, and the sunlight makes the flame invisible. That is a fair image of Dhyana.”

Dhyana is said to happen or occur rather than to be practiced. It is said to be perfect contemplation and discerning the truth of the object and the contrast between observer and observed. Dhyana is like a breakthrough or crossing over that occurs after much long regular meditation practice and familiarization with object through repeatedly applying the method.

Samadhi means – to bring together, to merge. Subject and object merge to a situation of inseparability. According to Swami Sivananda, “the meditator and the meditated, thinker and though become one in perfect absorption of the mind.”  Here is a quote from the author: “Patanjali stated that Samadhi was an experience that anyone that anyone is capable of at any time in their lives. Acceptance of Patanjali’s belief is an affirmation of the inherent divinity in each of us. We all have the potential to become fully conscious beings.” She seems to equate attaining the experience of Samadhi with the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in the Western Esoteric Traditions. I don’t think I agree with that since as it is associated with the heart and Tiphareth on the Tree of Life I think is more synonymous with the Anahata Chakra and perhaps with the experience of Dhyana but it is difficult to make such assertions without true and deep experience of such states.

There are two appendixes in the book. The first is a description of the Qabalistic Middle Pillar exercise given by Isreal Regardie in his book, The Golden Dawn. This involves visualizing energy rising up and down mainly through the central spheres of the Qabalistic Tree of Life – Malkuth – Yesod- Tiphareth- Kether. These may be equated with the root, solar, heart, and crown chakras. Hebrew magickal words are intoned during this practice. There is more detail than this but this is the gist of it.

The last appendix is a way to integrate Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) with Liber Resh vel Helios – adorations to the four daily stations of the Sun according to ancient Egyptian notions.

Overall, this is a good introductory book and as the title says it is concise. It would probably be most applicable to Thelemites and others who practice Crowley’s magickal systems. In any case, I would recommend it to magickal practitioners of any system.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Medicine of the Cherokee: The Way of Right Relationship

Book Review: Medicine of the Cherokee: The Way of Right Relationship
by J.T Garrett and Michael Garrett   (Bear & Co/Inner Traditions 1996)

This is a book about the Good Medicine Path of Harmony and Balance – according to the Native American tradition of the Cherokee. The book is filled with stories and personal anecdotes relative to training in the world view of relationship and interconnectedness.

Simple practices and observations of nature are emphasized such as finding special objects for one’s personal medicine bundle. Also emphasized is the development of a reciprocal relationship to the natural world – so when one draws energy from the environment – one returns that energy in another form back to the environment.

The authors tell a few of the Cherokee mythical stories such as the boys who were pulled to the sky vault to become the Pleides. The seventh boy was said to have been retrieved by the mother but hit so hard that he went into the earth and emerged later as a tall pine tree reaching for the heavens to play with his brothers. It is said that if you listen to the sound of pine trees in the wind you might hear messages from the spirits of the boys.

The gist of these teachings regards the Medicine Wheel of the four cardinal directions and the center of the universal circle. Harmonizing one’s relationships in life – and particularly to the natural world are referred to here as the practice of Indian Medicine, or the path of Good Medicine. As well as the four directions and the fire in the center of the universal circle there is also the Sun – the above world – and the Mother Earth below. These are the Sacred Seven.

The four energies associated to the four directions are – physical, mental, natural, and spiritual. The Cherokee and many native tribes see themselves as keepers of the Earth – this destiny then becomes the focus of spiritual practices.

Correspondences for the Cherokee Medicine Wheel are as follows:

South – natural energy; peace path; white; play and be a child; “the key is innocence.”

West – physical energy; introspection path; black; dance and compete; “the key is to help those less fortunate.”

North – mental energy; quiet path; blue or blue-white; learn and share; “the key is sharing and teaching.’

East – spiritual energy; sun path; red; kindness, harmony; prayer/ceremony; “the key is coming together and honoring the Elders.”

The authors give specific herbs and foods related to each direction as well as animal powers and healing styles of each direction with some suggested practices and contemplations. A big part of this book is an emphasis on choices one makes and listening to the hidden voices of nature to guide one in making healthy choices. Keeping a reverent attitude toward the natural world is encouraged over the idea of dominion over nature. One practice given is done when crossing a bridge over a stream. The idea is to try to determine which of the four directions bids you to come in order to balance and heal one’s relationships to nature. The practice is to touch the water then mindfully cross the bridge noting feelings such as whether you are drawn upstream or downstream or whether you feel more contented at the beginning of crossing (which means keep to your current path) or at the end of crossing (which indicates end of a phase and time for a change).

There is an interesting section about the Sacred Fire. Symbolically the fire is in the center of the Universal Circle and is built on the Earth Mother and the light and smoke reaches up to the Star People to remind and renew the connection to the above world of origin and perhaps destination. Cedar wood was considered a special fire wood. They used fleabane – the fire-maker weed and special blends of tobacco. Each spring there was a new-fire ceremony not so unlike the Beltaine Fire rites of some Europeans – where a new fire was kindled by rubbing sticks and lighting golden rod and ashes from last year’s fire. Then all the hearth fires were lit from this fire. The mythic origin of fire is that the Red Thunder beings from the East (direction of the spiritual) first ignited fire through the lightning strikes.

There are some interesting comments about the Bear and the Deer. The bear it is said came down in several forms – black, white, etc – to help the fledgling humans. The bear due to his slowness and laziness somehow got caught between the worlds of animal and human spirits – so it is said the humans and bears share a kinship. An Elder notes that a skinned bear looks like a human with claws. He explains the mind-body connection as it was explained to him by an Elder, “The deer is a cunning animal, considered sacred, because it is the mind of the universe. It hears and sees all things, and you can talk to the deer. The bear, on the other hand, likes to sleep and eat when hungry. The bear is the body of the universe, just doing what comes naturally, without regard to anything or anybody, except for the messages received. Each cell of the body has the messages and memory of all time. We can condition our bodies to listen and to receive those messages as the sacred deer does for Mental Healing.”

The crystal is associated with vision – particularly with the discovery of one’s spiritual purpose. Crystals are said to be spirit beings with sun-energy. so the Crystal Vision refers to finding ones purpose through experience. He mentions an ancient practice where the light of the sunrise was observed through a positioned quartz crystal. The light reflected through the crystal would pass over the people – thus clearing them till the next moon cycle. The Cherokee also say that the crystal energy is connected to the star spirits. There are methods of “clearing” crystals by placing them in unpolluted water for seven days so the spirits within them can better heal. He also describes a healing form similar to reiki where the healers hands were warmed over a sacred fire and then raised toward the sky to receive help from the above world. Then the hands were moved in a circular motion about seven inches from the patient’s body in order to stir or unblock natural energy. Other methods were drumming, smudging, and song/chant.

Part 2 of the book is by the author’s son and is called – To walk in Beauty: The Way of Right Relationship. The power of relation is to see all life and things of nature as relatives. There are the four-legged brothers, the winged brothers, the stone people, the star people, etc. The four stages of life in Cherokee tradition are: first presence of mind symbolized by a child’s first smile; adolescence where we explore and develop talents, strengths, and abilities; adulthood where we have the means to assist family, clan, tribe, and community; Elder-hood where we become keepers of wisdom and come to understand relationships and energy. He tells some traditional stories to illustrate the importance of relationship and interconnectedness. The world is family: the earth is Mother, the sky is Father, the moon is Grandmother, the sun is Grandfather. According to Chief Seattle, “The perfumed flowers are our sisters ..... The rivers are our brothers.....” Since the ashes of the ancestors merge with the land and water it is as if their flesh and blood are part of the land and waters.

He describes the – Harmony Ethic: 1) a non-aggressive and noncompetitive approach to life. 2) the use of intermediaries, or a neutral third person, as away of minimizing face-to-face hostility and disharmony in interpersonal relations. 3) Reciprocity and the practice of generosity --- “It is the act of giving and of receiving that makes the Circle turn.” 4) a belief in immanent justice – this is thought to reduce the perceived need for control and punishment. There is also suggested a practice of – non-interference – or allowing people to make their own mistakes and learn from them (good only to a point methinks). Non-interference can also mean respecting the natural world through being mindful and aware of how one affects it. Humility, patience, and sharing are other valued attitudes.

There is an interesting little section about Squirrel Medicine – that has to do with gathering and our relationships with stuff and supplies. Squirrel Medicine is about finding the balance between gathering and letting go. Too much stuff may weigh us down or scatter us while inadequate preparation may leave us struggling.

This was an easy book to read with some useful practical advice and worthwhile stories and anecdotes. Most of us would do well to keep mindful of our relationship to the world around us.