The Non-Secular Mystery School
One afternoon at a shop stocked with imitation Egyptian antiquities, I was prattling perhaps too passionately about them to the lady behind the counter. She said, “Somebody interested in the old ways, then, should talk to you?” I was a little shocked, but it helped me to formulate an important clarification: that if someone loves the gods, he or she may talk to me. I understood that to sound officious around strangers when it comes to obscure beliefs would be missing the mark. Those with or without their own convictions will be bored or annoyed.
If you find applied anthropology to be filled with promise, then you have surely gone beyond pondering why, and started investigating methods fitting your own purposes. If involved in an occupation that enthusiastically serves the common good without viciously exploiting it, you likely have at least a shelf or two of religious and/or self-help books. If you know who Mr. Crowley was, then you probably have an entire case or wall devoted to tomes on ancient history, the symbolism of mysterious beliefs, and explanations of the benefits of established ritual systems by those who continue to experiment and build with them.
Eclecticism has value in the search for meaning or the practice of psychiatry. With a religion that has deep roots, however, it is necessary to explore the literature that zooms right in on the advantages of the paradigm, itself. For a new flowering of an old tradition, we do well to study the original writings of its teachers, for the gods and masters organize their curricula around these expressions of core values and shared insights. This places a more definite responsibility on the student while relieving strain in other areas.
If your collection includes several dozen or several hundred works exploring the physical and intellectual legacy of ancient Egypt, then the common foundation of at least western mysticism has found a home in yours or the incunabulum of your fraternity. If you have a stash of cherished volumes that purport to reconstruct the ideological heritage the land of the pharaohs, or have found pleasure in the contemplation of the supernatural technologies reputed to its sages, you may wish to read further. If you believe that the sacred activities of the ancient brotherhoods are rightly destined for resumption and some of their benefits deserving of reverent appreciation, then it is my hope to arouse your interest in some the ongoing inquiries discussed in these pages. As the makers of the Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner noticed, the future looks curiously like the past.
In a moment of reflection, we might envision the religion of the ancient Egyptians to be like a western branch of Hinduism. Indian intellectuals who have examined the ceremonies of Egypt or visited the temples have commented upon the numerous similarities. There were forty two nomic (provincial) denominations, as well as other private and national ones. Each had its own deities and more or less specialized mission in the greater scheme. But, this would be something of an oversimplification, and repel many a reader with some form of bias. Yet, the manner in which the numerous bodies harmonized while holding different beliefs was a phenomenon with parallels more easily found in the East.
Though only Taoism is officially sanctioned in China, today, most established faiths have gardens at their rebuilt sanctuaries. People of all persuasions meet friends and neighbors for philosophical discussion at whichever of these is close to home. The tolerance factor amongst cults of Pharaonic religion was similar to this. So, let’s examine the kinds of people who might benefit from or support the establishment of a neutral corner in an American city for shamans, wizards and witches; Sufis, Tantrikas, and Druids; or Hermetists, Vedantists, and Cabbalists: that is, the candidate for what we describe as the Mystery School. Though we could talk much about the parallels in approaches to metaphysics (and the wealth of materials available today permits this) if that is ones inclination, in the search for solutions, one has to narrow the parameters. Yet, I do not intend to restrict our consideration of the shared experiences of investigators in the supernatural, only of the beliefs people sometimes adopt uncritically.
I once knew a man from an Iroquois family who remarked, “For a shaman, ambition is kind of a dirty word.” A citizen of the spirit world who walks the earth is usually a healer by trade, as his tribe perceives him according to its own needs. Saruman seems less of a wizard than Gandalf, because he adopted an egotistical agenda. In any profession, however, competence is an essential strength, and this usually takes the form of an ability to make at least some things appear differently from how they actually are, if only for the purposes of safety. Great sorcerers are shape shifters, themselves. Most users of magick cause things around them to change at least in relationship, along beauty’s lines as they see them.
A football coach once ran the ball the way his team now does. Yet, age having had a say in the strength of his body, his contribution is now one of recalling his experience and tailoring it to new situations. There are other positions in a militia than front line infantry, other roles in a motion picture than leading man. Specialization can take curious turns. I once had a friend who was a reincarnated Egyptian priest; shaven head, house full of exotica, and all. He said that he’d once been manager of a chess club. I asked him how well he played. He said he’d never learned the game, but just liked being around chess players. I thought and realized this to be a beautiful expression of seeking out desires in life without becoming encumbered by arbitrary competitiveness.
Clarity and imagination usually determine ones role in a pattern of creative cooperation. But, much can also depend upon firmness of purpose and fidelity to principle. Piety is more mystical than magickal, but it does have a bearing on ones ability to form useful associations, recruit properly cooperative intelligences, and perform necessary actions. Praying to a god who really wants to help you is an act of magick (itself a synthesis of art and science), as is stirring the attention of one who was indifferent. It is often productive when the boundaries between mysticism and magick can be softened, especially as in an esoteric tradition. When the talent pool becomes broader and deeper, specialization can make great strides. Not every wine drinker likes to imbibe the same amount at a party. Not every wizard has to be a Grand Poobah. Many a worker of miracles has maintained a reserved posture, thriving on vicarious pleasure.
If you want to see all sides of a pyramid at once, you climb to the top. Let us, then, take a look at the overlap between magick and mysticism as (in the areas where these are confluent) there are a lot of ways that each can shed light on the other. It’s true; the simultaneous study of both can slow ones progress in each, but it can also increase the overall measure of fun and safety. Modern pagan paths combine them for authenticity’s sake and out of necessity for growth and survival, so we might as well try to see how this can muddy the perceptual waters as well as set the stage for clearing them up.
The faithful student of the supernatural is a many varied breed: from the silver haired aristocrat leisurely but carefully perusing the works of Krishnamurti and the academic investigator of obscure sects of Shamanism, to the nose-ringed aficionado of vampire role playing games bellowing necromantic poetry in a basement full of intoxicated cronies, or the reflective student of ethnic ancestral teachings. Is there something about such folk that should stir the curiosity? Should we look for common ground amongst them? So many writers have made a case that mankind as a whole must evolve, urging that all within the sound of his or her voice must share in an obligation to put personal shoulder to moral plow. In this age, nearly anyone who can help in this effort has already formed an intention at some level. Then it becomes time to, as Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.”
The concept of universalism can feel nebulous or decompressive to a benign, stylized religious fanatic like myself. I rarely find it possible to productively discuss a matter involving more than two traditions at a time. A single language of symbolism is more than most people master in a lifetime, and I personally have to translate everything I encounter into an Egyptian concept before I can understand it. Feeling at home amongst the gods of Egypt, I still try to communicate with the transcendental thinkers of many other modes, but not in any promiscuous or ecumenical fashion.
Long ago, I knew a priest of Artemis who had spent many years in efforts to use mage craft to help his brethren. Having “fought the good fight”, as it were, he’d become somewhat exhausted physically and psychically. When I began thinking aloud of a god house for Thoth and library for the Lord’s friends, he predicted that the pagan community might benefit much from a place where we could meditate in a shielded environment. My first priest of Osiris, a friend of his, had become interested in the idea for said center for intellectual and social reasons (though he was involved in secret Egyptian-derived lodges), but also pointed out that many serious travelers of inner paths down in New Orleans exposed themselves to risks arising from centuries of various predatory and parasitic practices by workers of the black arts.
I finally realized that if you get a handful or a horde of people to agree that a course is worthy of action, each individual has his or her own take on things or investment in the outcome. The only genuinely level foundation for cooperation, then, is respect: as we find that many who patronize a particular viewpoint end up slacking off or selling out, to the detriment of those who’d had a more sincere agenda, because they simply had not sufficient regard for themselves, care for their associates, or patience toward the ideas being put to use.
Some time later, on a visit to the area’s largest New Age bookstore, both the son of the shop’s owner and the most noted of their yoga teachers together considered my pitch for a temple. They nodded to each other and then to me with smiles like they were contemplating something joyous. The look on their faces was one I have longed to duplicate, should the project ever come within my reach to manifest. When I told my local Thoth priestess I thought that a Ma’at Center or Chapel of Nuit Chantry in our city maybe ought to resemble Pee Wee’s Playhouse with a Tim Burton Makeover, she indicated that might be “getting warm” with regard to the overall feel.