20 March 2010

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.

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