Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Way of Mystery: Magick, Mysticism, and Self-Transcendence

Book Review: The Way of Mystery: Magick, Mysticism, and Self-Transcendence by Nema (Llewellyn Publications 2003)

This is a thoughtful and wonderful book with insights into human nature and both the goal and the journey that is Mystery. Nema is well-known in the Thelemic magickal community as a purveyor of mystical writings and practical ideas concern the Mysteries of Maat and the Magick of Maat. Ma’at is the ancient Egyptian goddess of truth, balance, and justice.  Nema was also influenced in her early days by Catholic mystics and Manichean gnostics. Later she began communing with nature and self in Wiccan, Thelemic, and Hindu Yogic forms. She seems to be good at coining interesting and memorable terms and phrases.  She gives one of the Maxims of Maat: “All that is, lives; all that lives is intelligent.” This is an interesting way of looking at matter and the life that emerges from it. It accords with the views expressed in the Vedas and Upanishads. Regarding the Magick of Maat, one can discern that the search for ‘truth’ is certainly synonymous with the mystical journey. She notes the similarities between Crowley’s system of Thelema (Greek for Will) as a magickal system and Maat as the mystical side in that it is more a will towards truth/balance/honesty/justice. She also notes Maat as the daughter principle in the four-fold family structure of the Hermetic Egyptian form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton. She gives the three major aims of Maat Magick as: 1) personal transformation, 2) taking the human race into its next stage of development, and 3) preparing us for communication with nonhuman intelligence. She suggests that we attend to these tasks with a child-like sense of awe and wonder.

She sort of defines magick and mysticism as two sides of the same coin. Magick is more to do with causing change with will while mystery is more to do with closely watching the universe in the quest to understand it. As for her own summary of the meaning of the book she offers: “It’s as simple an account as I could make it, written to encourage you to find your way to the truth of things. For me, it’s an act of enlightened self-interest; for you, I hope it’s a new understanding of “enlightened,” of “self,” and of “interest.” Nema seems to pervade the book with ideas from cutting edge science like - the anthropic principle - which suggests that the laws of quantum mechanics are as they are because humans are around to observe and discover. She considers the values and nuances of the views of science, philosophy, and art in the search for meaning and mystery. These, she reminds us, are all ways of knowing.

One chapter covers her notion of –The Forgotten Ones – referring to our bio-genetic survival urges. She divides this ‘programming’ into eight different urges which she interestingly loosely correlates with the chakras of yoga. These Forgotten Ones are: hunger, sex, fight-or-flight, clanning, communication, curiosity, altruism, and God-hunger (the urge for transcendence). Interestingly, she talks of learning these things (perhaps mystically and/or metaphorically) during “conversations with the astral pattern of the human DNA molecule.” These Forgotten Ones are our basic drives and the relationship to the bodily parts of the chakras is rather intuitive. There is a meditation on the chakras given as a simple way to familiarize with them.

There is a chapter that surveys the whole idea of ‘divine inspiration’ from the writings of prophets to the insights of science. She gives the principle of holography and chaos science as examples of the microcosm/macrocosm similarity principle of Hermes Trismegistus – as above, so below. Another interesting insight she shares is her idea of the Universal Pattern of Consciousness. Examples of this are, “the elegance of physical laws, the kinship we recognize with all forms of life, and the wonder of stars in their galaxies and clusters..... This pattern is based on the tendency for simplicity to seek complexity, and on the forces that arise from the relationships of parts in a whole.” The contemplation of nature and the human situation are the function and domain of the mystic and spiritual seeker.

There is a short chapter on working with emotions. She suggests examining one’s emotional sensitivities and assessing overall psychological health before embarking on the mystical path. Keeping a journal is recommended as is self-honesty. She suggests pranayama (yogic breath control), mantra, and relaxing music as methods to stabilize emotions. Suggestions for regular meditation and ritual are also given. Several banishing rituals are given, both traditional and improvised. She recommends classifying and exploring according to the Qabalistic schemes. There are sections as well on Mantram and Sigils as ways to practice.

Chapters about – Signs of Progress – and – Unlearned Knowledge – are very interesting. Unusual manifestations are discussed as are strange insights into natural phenomena that seem to just appear. She gives a few examples about her unusual insights into the nature of various stars. She suggests caution and further evaluation in determining how meaningful various insights can be. She suggests further examining some of your – unlearned knowledge – through the use of Gematria, in order to glean further insights into the nature of your experiences. In another chapter is described the astral planes and the illusory-type experiences ‘there.’ Like many mages she divides the astral into the lower astral, where ‘entities’ and experiences are more tricky and less reliable – and the upper astral where more reliable information and experiences can be had, including knowledge of personal and racial history along the lines of the idea of accessing the Akashic Records.  She suggests familiarizing with the astral realms as much as possible without getting too caught up in one’s experiences. She makes an interesting suggestion that familiarity with the astral realms can help us to properly dispose of our astral body at death – typically through dispersal into the essence of the elements. The interactions between Intellect and Intuition are explored in other chapters. There are some investigations as well into the nature of ‘Self.’ One is a traditional eastern method of investigating what is the self by asking if it is this or that – memories, instincts, tendencies, thoughts, etc. Sincere and regular contemplation of this nature is a facet of several spiritual systems. She describes binding one’s sub-selves according to the tradition of Abremelin the Mage – after attaining to the Knowledge and Conversation of one’s Holy Guardian Angel – a notion of a Higher Self, or Integrated Self – discovered through a prolonged quest through fasting, ablution, prayer, ritual, and concentration.

In a chapter called – Shadow Mirror – she investigates the Mystery of Evil – and also the Mystery of the Hidden and the Unknown – that religionists often associate with evil. She notes that so-called ‘evil’ can be seen as imbalances in our programming – our bio-genetic urges, previously mentioned as – The Forgotten Ones. One useful reason to practice magick and/or mystery is to re-balance and re-integrate these bio-urges so that our psycho-spiritual health is enhanced as is our ability to transform or evolve.

Next the nature and relationship between illusion and reality are investigated. “What is the point, or the value, of making a distinction between illusion and reality? ... We need dualism to navigate the open passages of mystery, to provide contrast, consonance, drama, and decisions in art, and to make the currents of manifestation flow.” Really if one thinks about it the Truth as non-dualism can only really be described in dualistic (conceptual) terms so one can only describe reality in the terminology of illusion since reality is beyond the convention of terminology.

Dealing with a return to mundane life after epiphanic mystical experiences is an important consideration, she notes. As mystic states are states of heightened awareness with access to deep levels of mind, there can be crossover into madness if one is psychologically or emotionally imbalanced. The ability to ground and practice being comfortable with whatever state appears is very important.

There is a chapter devoted to the notion of – The Dark Night of the Soul – described by St. John of the Cross. This is all about letting go of the ego, the old self, and ‘crossing the Abyss’ that leads to true change. This is the notion of self-sacrifice, or slaying the ego. She goes through some of Crowley’s terminology of this process that can be described as Thelemic Mysticism. The so-called Black Brother is one who resists change and grasps onto shards of ego due to fear and imbalance and potentially causing trouble for others.
After one successfully re-emerges beyond egocentricity there is only left to practice continuing authenticity and assisting others.

In another chapter she examines the nature and dynamics of associating with other spiritual practitioners. She notes again that there are many levels and sublevels of the various so-called attainments and partial attainments and it is not always easy to discern where one is, let alone where others are along the continuum. People may have very profound experiences and then revert back to immature behavior under the influence of certain emotional or psychological stimuli. People have different tolerances to various behaviors as well. But it is true that gauging the overall progress of oneself and others is no easy task.

Finally she investigates the expansion of the idea of ‘Self’ to include the universe at-large. She notes her intuitive communication with a being called N’Aton which she thinks represents our next species level of consciousness. She sees it as a species-wide mutation where groups of consciousnesses become connected intuitively into a double-consciousness of sorts. This may be a greater integration of the idea of the Jungian Racial Unconscious or somehow related. The details are quite unmanifested. She suggests the idea of God/DNA – sort of an innate intelligence that guides us and upgrades our programming when we are ready for it. N’Aton has been compared to Pierre Teilhard de Chardon’s idea of the Omega Point where humanity as a whole will transcend the physical plane.

In an Appendix she gives her inspired text , Liber Pennae Praenumbra – (the Book of the Foreshadowing of the Feather) which she wrote – or rather was written through her by a manifestation of the goddess Maat – in 1974 after a Time Travel Magickal Working in Cincinnati. She also gives a commentary on this text called – Feathersong. It is a very interesting text which gives some magickal ideas of how to develop the so-called double consciousness as well as ideas for connecting with the Aeon of Maat, or the Current of Maat – the numerical representation of the Maat Current is 696. The Magickal word is IPSOS. There is much more to this text and other interesting symbolisms. Also there is much more to ponder in The Way of Mystery but overall it is a wonderful overview of a vast and profound subject, a subject that is vastness and profundity itself. Also, if I did not mention it already, I am intrigued by her notion of mystically communicating with stars and stellar objects. She mentions familiarizing with them through pictures from such sources as the Hubble telescope. Makes me want to go out and stargaze as soon as the weather warms up! 

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