20 March 2010

Inside - Out, part II, or, A Tale of Two Martins.

The interior method:  meditation, introspection, quietism and the Way of the Heart.

The exterior method:  ceremony, ritual, invocation and the path of magick.

Any esoteric practitioner worth her salt will, if you push hard enough, admit that both have the same goal and ultimately both are effective, but you may have to push really hard.  Most esotericists or occultists will privilege one over the other, even if it's just in terms of their own work.  Even while admitting that the other path "might work for some people," they'll tell you that their experience clearly demonstrates the superiority of one over the other.  I frankly have no idea how the lines are drawn.  Personally, I've encountered more who prioritise the interior method, but I have no idea how representative is that experience.

The relationship between the two is one that is more than a little problematic, and I've worked to puzzle it out for myself for a long time.  I won't insult anyone's intelligence by suggesting that I've come to anything like an answer, but I will say that I value both.  Which one I privilege might vary on a daily, even hourly, basis.

On the one hand, the interior method works on precisely the thing which should be the object of all of our work:  our own souls.  We can see the changes that take place in ourselves as a result of even a few days of regular meditation.  Say the Jesus Prayer a hundred times and you're damn right you feel a little more holy. When we think of those who have attained the heights of spiritual advancement, we think of the monk, the hermit, and the saint.  After all, are we really going to waste our time drawing ridiculous circles on our floors and reciting long winded invocations to spirits that we don't really believe exist?  Louis Claude de Saint-Martin was not unversed in ceremonial theurgy but turned away from it toward the mystical practises that make up the Way of the Heart. The path to reintegration is one that leads inward, to the very soul of a human being.  If anything, the exterior method is a kind of crutch.  The symbols, the incense, the weird incantations all serve to put us in a state wherein we get a glimpse of what the interior work does.  Eventually, we "graduate," as Saint-Martin did and we don't need to training wheels of ceremonial anymore.

On the other hand, the exterior method has a long and honoured tradition and it seems reasonable that we should, in our state of separation, have recourse to those beings who care closer to the source than we are.  Great and wise men and women have prayed to the angels and saints, and for many of us there can be no greater spiritual operation than the celebration of the sacraments.  The high ceremonial of ecclesiastical practise is a central spiritual experience many, and it is hard to deny the power of such ritual.  Breathing into our navel is great, but really that's just acting on the physical plane, and never moves us out of our own space. Martinez de Pasqually was the great teacher of Saint-Martin, and it was through the ceremonial methods of Martinez that Saint-Martin came to have a glimpse into the nature and purpose of the human soul.  Our journey to reintegration is one that leads outward, to our origin, to the source of our being.  If anything, the interior method is preparatory.  The physical calm, the breathing exercises, the mental focus all serve to equip us to call upon the messengers of God.  Eventually, these things become a natural consequence of stepping into the temple and drawing the circle, and we begin to do the real and often dangerous work of exorcism and conjuration.

On the third hand, what the hell do I know?  And why do I have three hands?  I don't have a good answer.  I know that for the most part, I have always been drawn to the exterior path, and I admit that I find the interior work more difficult and less rewarding.  At least today.  Martinism in its various forms seems to recognise the value of both means without elevating either one to an end in itself.  This, after all, is the real danger:  that the practise becomes the goal, and we lose sight of why we practise.  No conjuration, no pranayama, no liturgy and no quiet prayer will do us any good if we forget that our goal is to elevate ourselves and recover the divinity which we have obscured from ourselves.

Inside - Out

Recently, I was asked in a group setting what practises were most important for contemporary Gnostics.  Several colleagues and friends offered intelligent and useful suggestions regarding their own work, and I think the asker was well satisfied.  But something bothered me.  There seemed to be a real emphasis on interior practise (meditation, centering prayer, Hesychasm) to the exclusion of theurgical practises. 

Let me say that I have nothing against those interior practises, and consider them to be an important part of the spiritual toolkit of any working esotericist:  γνῶθι σεαυτόν.

I am enough of an Idealist, though, to believe that the "external" world has something to do with ourselves and our spiritual development to suggest that the turn outward is as much a turn inward as these introspective practises. The invocation of the celestial and angelic intelligences that is a significant part of the continental theurgical tradition is a path toward the divine just as much as meditation and mysticism.  While I think that the division between magic and mysticism or the inward and outward path is deeply fraught, I also would suggest that it is often useful.  So long as we remember that it is one perspective and not the perspective on spiritual work, we can deploy it in order to ensure that we are not blinkered in our own work.

When we invoke an angel, a spirit, or an intelligence and treat it as something other than ourselves, we acknowledge our own limitations and seek to overcome them.  We turn to the universe for guidance and assistance and admit our own frailty in the face of the All.  Many modern "occultists" object to this attitude, preferring instead the assumption of the authority of God.  Admittedly, it can smack of the self-flagellating "oh-my-dear-God-I-suck-so-much-let-me-tell-you-how-full-of-suck-I-am" kind of self-debasement that makes up a significant portion of that to which esotericists object in exoteric religion.  I am a vessel for the Sacred Flame, the divine burns within me and my birthright is my spiritual homeland, the Pleroma.  But can't I affirm this and at the same time admit that I'm not there yet and that there are forces and powers that surpass my own that could be of help?

"As above, so below."  We hear this all the time.  But often we fail to really take it to heart, and dismiss out of hand as "magick" or "superstition" or "thaumaturgy" those practises which seem to point to the existence of powerful forces outside of ourselves.  As I said, I have a strong Idealist streak (I wrote my dissertation on Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin after all) and I would suggest that as much as those forces are outside of ourselves they are within us as well.  I'm not willing to go down the psychologist route that suggests that angels, demons and intelligences are simply aspects of our own consciousness, but at the same time I'm not willing to say that there isn't something to such an approach. 

So when we want to develop our own spirituality, and forge our path back to God, let's not ignore the possibility that we can do with a little help from our friends.