4. When asked, “If the building was on fire, what book, if you could only save one, would you save?” Frater Albertus famously replied “The Golden Chain of Homer” … What about you – in similar circumstances, what book would you save?
REPLY: I have not studied this question well enough to give an earth-shattering answer. I can only say that the book I would save now may not be the one I would save later, as the choice would really reflect my personal level of realization at the moment, rather than some great understanding of what constitutes the finest text in all the alchemical kingdom. So to this, I will default on the wisdom of others and say that it would be The Golden Chain of Homer, because so many others have felt it was worth saving.
5. The Language of the Birds has been described as “the language which teaches the mystery of things and unveils the most hidden truths.” What do you understand of this Language of the Gods? Has phonetic cabala played any role in your alchemical work?
REPLY: The symbolism of the bird as messenger of spiritual or intuitive messages is common across many cultures and dates back to the earliest shamanic periods. The raven is just as important in Vajrayana Buddhism as it is in alchemy, suggesting a possible common source in the Middle East, as Dr. Herbert Guenther postulates in his book The Life and Teachings of Padmasambhava and several other writings. Various birds have different meanings, but are essentially symbols of the soul – of consciousness – of awareness and direct perception itself. We see this in Egyptian as well as Christian iconography and, in fact, anything with wings is something given to the realm of the psychic or spiritual. Dream revelation is very important, but it also requires training, as does any form of communication. This communication is from “Self to self,” as some Rosicrucian groups say. It is from the inner to the outer. In fact, this kind of practice is critical, as it is foundational to the survival of one’s consciousness after death. Some of the methods of inducing dreams – and lucid dreams should arise naturally as a part of working with meditation as well as spagyrics – have been discussed in The Path of Alchemy: Energetic Healing and the World of Natural Magic. There is a sample dream in there with how it was interpreted and why that method was used. The problem is that esotericism in general and alchemy in particular are incredibly idiosyncratic! Words and symbols appear again and again, but can have different meanings – not only from manuscript to manuscript, but also within the same text. To uncover these subtle nuances can make all the difference in one’s Work.
The transition of one’s consciousness along the Tree of Life can easily be seen as follows: objective and sensory consciousness of the moment is Malkuth; interior thinking, feeling, and imagination is Yesod. Now right here we see that there is no clear distinction until we are asleep, and even then we are open to influences from the physical world on our dreams – a cold draft and suddenly we are dreaming of a snow storm. Then there is lucid dreaming, or knowing that one is in a dream – this is Hod; and the capacity to control the dream and move from place to place or manipulate the dream consciously is Netzach. This last part is very difficult, and that is why the path between Hod and Netzach is also difficult. Finally, there is direct intuitive perception: that is Tiphareth. Pure perception of the entire mental (and therefore psychic and physical) process of creation can be had from here as well, and more directly understood via the path to Kether. Of course this can also take place on several levels, and this model is one applicable to Kabbalah as well. In clearer language, we go from sensory awareness to dreams, or being in our own unconscious; from there we move to being aware that we are in our own unconscious, or awake to the fact that we are dreaming; then we move to being able to control our own thoughts and emotions consciously as they manifest in our own mind – that is the dream state; we then are able to exteriorize this conscious dream state objectively, giving rise to the ability to “travel” to various states of material and psychic consciousness and to obtain verifiable information; finally, we get glimpses and full awareness of the Light of Nature – ultimate reality itself.
We must initially work with symbols, be consistent in which symbols we work with and what we expect to get out of them, and then move beyond them into direct perception. This requires that we discipline ourselves to a particular path and set of specific practices. Hence we are Disciples and not dilettantes. Symbols are also traps as well, and we must be careful of this. Gematria is a perfect example of this, and Dubuis spoke a little on this problem of spending a lot of time getting nowhere as we seek mysteries in endless symbolic permutations. We then get lost in our own mind, and this is why certain practices can be very dangerous without a “true friend and guide.” This has been detailed in Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism, and anyone wishing to work with the Language of the Birds will find this book of particular value. We have also provided a great deal of information on these methods in VOXHERMES, our newsletter.
This progression of consciousness cannot be overstated. Without its progressive unfoldment, interior initiation cannot take place – rather, is not taking place, as they are one and the same. Secondly, it is this ability to be awake within ourselves that constitutes self-awareness. The ability to manipulate this awareness is inner freedom that will manifest in exterior freedom as well. Finally, full and complete illumination takes place when we see the Light of Nature for what it, and we, are – everything and nothing, or whatever it is we want to Be.
On a practical level, this also manifests in our Thoughts, Words, and Deeds having greater effectiveness and interconnectedness. Our thoughts manifest more quickly, our deeds or actions have psychological and spiritual impact, and our words affect both the inner state of mind as well as physical reality. What was once separate is now increasingly a singular expression, and thus full and complete awareness simultaneously manifests in physical immortality as well; at this point, there is no difference between mind and body, macrocosm and microcosm, spiritual and mundane, or the absolute and the relative truths of Nature.
6. Describe your current (or most recent) laboratory. Feel free to also describe earlier laboratory spaces, if you wish – or planned / anticipated lab spaces, for that matter.
REPLY: My laboratory is nothing special in terms of appearance or equipment. What is most interesting is how I came about acquiring most of the supplies it contains. In May of 1998, while I was working with a small amount of glassware that I had purchased, I was also running a newly formed esoteric group, The Wyoming Valley Society for Esoteric Studies, which would later be the foundation for the Institute for Hermetic Studies of which I am the current Director of Studies. At that time, we met regularly in rented temple space that was in the third floor of a renovated factory. There was, and still is, this huge clock tower that doubled as a stairwell that we had to walk up to get to the temple, and our neighbors on the other side of the wall were an evangelical church who met at the same time on Sundays that we did. So there was a lot of inexpensive space with no heat! Let me tell you, everyone wants to practice magic or study alchemy in a castle until it is winter time! Occasionally, we used a gas-powered space heater to warm up a section of the room before we started. Of course, it would disperse after a few minutes, but it was better than nothing.
During one of the warmer months, we were performing Pathworking. It is this very Pathworking that years later would get me contacted by a former student and author – Paul Bowersox in 2006 – that helped to bring about publishing both The Path of Alchemy and Kabbalah for Health and Wellness in 2007.Sometime around May of 1998, our group performed rituals for the 31st Path and, a few weeks later, the 30th Path, both of which end in Hod, or the sphere of the Tree of Life that rules Mercury.A few days after the first Pathworking, my wife (who holds a PhD in Molecular Biology from Brown University, and teaches biology and chemistry) asked me to accompany her to work on a Sunday afternoon, as she did not want to be there alone. Walking down the hallway, I noticed a beautiful brass and copper steam distillation machine and asked if they were getting rid of it. She replied yes, everything was being replaced. So I took that, along with several boxes of new and like-new glassware that was otherwise headed for the dumpster. I later obtained a massive amount of glassware that was being disposed of as well, much of it in the original boxes, when a friend of mine who was a chemist at a Massachusetts university called me up and asked me if I wanted any of it. Here again Hermes comes into play, as we knew each other having met at the PON conference.
My point is simple, in that magic, alchemy, and astrology have the same goal: to understand the workings of nature. The underlying principle that sets them apart from so-called mundane sciences of psychology, physics, and astronomy is the cosmological assumption of thought, or mind, being the First Cause or mover – and therefore shaper – of our experiences. I say “shaper” not just of perception, as some schools of spirituality would limit it, but also that which literally shapes the opportunities and actual physical experiences that become available to us. It also demonstrates that nature takes the path of least resistance.
So, the more connected we are to others, in a healthy and positive way, the more we can avail ourselves of the fundamental interconnectedness that underlies the cosmos. There is a time and a place for isolation and Silence, and a time and a place for being with others.