Introduction to Year Two –
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
– The Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
In addressing the “question of reality” we are constantly faced with seeking to understand not only the role of myths, storytelling, and ritual in traditional societies, but also their expression – one could even say their corruption and mutation – in modern technological societies. Whereas the book and pen were once the keys to secret knowledge, now it appears that there are no secrets, and everything is revealed on the Internet, with YouTube being the most common vessel of revelation.
However, media has always been a means of preserving, veiling, revealing, and transmitting ancient truths. In fact, the only limitation has been that of the media in question and not its content. We can only imagine what minds like Bruno, Lull, Dee, or others would have told us if they had even the most primitive cinematic technology, let alone the creative possibilities of the average computer.
As demonstration of this, consider the movie Prospero’s Books (1991). Directed by Peter Greenaway and starring John Gielgud, this amazing visionary representation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is visually stunning in its dreamlike qualities as well as its revelations of the nature of magic and its dangers – to be lost on a sea of dreams and to forget the world in which one lives being one of them.
While The Tempest is rooted in an understanding of magic from the Renaissance perspective and conveys its message to both learned and ignorant alike, the same can be said of modern “mystery plays” broadcast across the airwaves and channeled through high-speed data transmission cables of various sorts in the shape of television shows and movies. Here, modern occult mythology comes into full bloom as virtual worlds are created, inhabited, and even sire offspring in the form of series spin-offs and movie sequels. These fantasy landscapes are so extensive that the term “universe” is used to describe them by their creators and fans alike.
Yet, despite complex mythologies (to the point of becoming cultural forces shaping the metaphysical views of generations), each of these media-created “universes” is woefully incomplete. In itself this is unimportant, but when we consider that media portrayals of the supernatural are increasingly the primary source of inspiration (and often sole source of information) many have regarding metaphysics, this becomes a true esoteric handicap.
It comes as no surprise that some of the leading authors of fiction were involved to varying degrees in esotericism. How could it be otherwise? Good fiction requires addressing the great existential crises of human existence. Yet, while the Harry Potter books have inspired an entire generation of aspiring alchemists and magicians, in itself they do not provide sufficient coherency to be a means of self-realization: inspiration, yes; deep awakening, no.
In his essay, “Trafficking with Elementals: Kenneth Grant and Arthur Machen” (2008), Christopher Josiffe makes several important points regarding Kenneth Grant’s (1924-2011) use of fiction as a magical device and basis for occult rituals. Grant’s status in British post-war occultism is well known. He was one of the few people to have had personal relationships with Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, and Austin Osman Spare. However, it is through his use of “magically inspired” fiction (notably the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen) that he is best remembered.
At the risk of gross over-simplification, Grant argues that from the earliest stages of humanity, humans (and their predecessors) have been in communication (or, as he puts it, have been “trafficking”) with transmundane intelligences. Most recently, in the twentieth century, such contact had been re-established by Crowley (the channelled “Book of the Law” transmitted by the discarnate entity Aiwass, whom Crowley believed to have originated in Sumer) and, later, by Grant himself. Related to this, he regards the fiction of Lovecraft and Machen – especially those stories which allude to the existence on Earth of prehuman or suprahuman beings – as having an underlying truth. Thus, in Outside the Circles of Time:[I]
In modern fictional fantasies designed ostensibly to while away a few hours, certain adepts have approached more closely the real secret of magick and of creative consciousness…some of which Western science has but recently re-discovered. One such adept was the writer, Arthur Machen.
In his Cults of the Shadow, Grant writes:
Machen, Blackwood, Crowley, Lovecraft, Fortune and others frequently used as a theme for their writings the influx of extra-terrestrial powers which have been moulding the history of our planet since time began; that is, since time began for us, for we are only too prone to suppose that we were here first and that we alone are here now, whereas the most ancient occult traditions affirm that we were neither the first nor are we the only ones to people the earth; the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods find echoes in the myths and legends of all peoples.[ii]
What makes this most peculiar is that Lovecraft, whose writings have been more popular and influential in actual occultism in the decades following his death, affirmed belief in a rational and atheistic worldview. He denied belief in the supernatural. Grant’s response to Lovecraft’s denial was that the creative process was an unconscious one, and that the dreams (nightmares really) that Lovecraft drew upon as his inspiration were in fact his accessing a different reality.
Surely, it would seem far more likely that in some previous existence Lovecraft was well acquainted with the Necronomicon and…the nightmares from which he suffered came, as he himself suspected, as a result of crimes perpetrated in a former incarnation in which he practised black and abysmal sorceries.[iii]
We are left with the question about the purpose of Grant’s writing, which clearly is of mixed value when it comes to historical accuracy. But occultism is not linear, nor are its experiences. The associations Grant makes – though at times ridiculous from a historical viewpoint – are perfectly acceptable as an “association” from the occult or even psychological perspective. The free association of Freud or dream analysis of Jung are based on the same principle of non-linear connectivity, as is the gematria and notarikon of Kabbalah and other heavily symbolic systems of esotericism.
While critics have been guilty of admiring Grant while dismissing him, Grant himself stated that the purpose of his writings is “to prepare people for encounters with unfamiliar states of consciousness.”[iv] Thus, reading Grant is a magical experience preparing us for even more profound and possibly disturbing encounters with reality. As Alan Moore wrote in his review of Against the Light,[v] “Kenneth Grant’s books, despite or possibly because of their forays into dementia, have more genuine occult power than works produced by more conventionally coherent authors, and are certainly a more engrossing read.”[vi]
A more recent author’s use of fiction as a means of conveying (or at least suggesting) deep truths is well documented in the case of the “Simon” Necromonicon and its registered copyright holder Peter Levenda. Levenda has made a writing career out of suggesting, intimating, and “connecting the dots” on a variety of occult-political theories, and while his most recent novel suggests that it is revealing truths about deep conspiracies, little that is not readily available is actually found within its pages. Dr. Jacques Vallée, on the other hand, makes no such suggestion that he is writing anything other than fiction, and it is widely believed that he is in fact revealing through this medium deep truths about contemporary UFO and paranormal research.
In this manner, the writings of Grant, Machen – and to a different degree even Levenda and Vallée – share a part of the inspirational current that runs through Shakespeare. In fact, Vallée comes closest to the Renaissance ideal by being open to all areas of study and experience, freely moving between material reality and highly esoteric philosophical speculations. As Dame Francis Yates points out in Shakespeare’s Last Plays,
To define the opposition as Protestant versus Catholic would be a misleading and much too narrow interpretation. On the one hand there is a “Rosicrucian” type of culture, inheriting the traditions of Renaissance magic as expanded by alchemical and Paracelsist influence, an exoteric approach to religion involving tolerant and kindly attitudes to religious differences, and a hope of reconciliation through the younger generation. This is Shakespeare in The Tempest and in the Last Plays generally. On the other hand, there is a dislike and contempt for all such influences. This is Jonson in The Alchemist.
Or, if one thinks of the attitudes in both plays to the type of “occult philosophy” taught by Agrippa, Shakespeare in The Tempest makes a positive use of this, to deepen and expand religious consciousness though a magical approach reaching into what is vaguely called the esoteric sphere. For Jonson, this is anathema, and all “occult philosophy” is a cheat and a delusion.[vii]
To read the above and think we understand the meaning of “religion” or religious tolerance in the context of the Renaissance would be foolish. The worldview of the period is so far from us that it is merely a shadowing, both intellectually and psychologically, of what was. As Professor Yates points out, we have taken the “path” or philosophical view presented by Jonson in The Alchemist, rather than the “path” of Shakespeare presented in The Tempest.
This chosen path, the path of Jonson, is very much a repression of the invisible, imaginative, and various psychic (both mental as well as paranormal) forces resident within each of us and the world around us. It is a purely intellectual and material path, and therefore one of examining effects rather than causes. It is comforting as much as it is narrowing. It reveals while at the same time keeping us hidden and safe from how the cosmos works rather than how it appears. It is the world view of the Age of Enlightenment and gave us the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions – revolutions that in turn would give birth to psychology and parapsychology as an attempt to remedy (in very different and often conflicting ways) the repression of the totality of being that they nearly inevitably required.
Those who contend that people of the Renaissance felt, thought and acted like us are greatly mistaken. On the contrary, we have the time-honored custom of seeking within ourselves the world image of the Renaissance person, to such an extent that he is confused with our own “unconscious,” with what we have learned to uproot and mutilate within ourselves. He is a sickly colleague that we still harbor within ourselves because we cannot rid ourselves of him. For lack of reaching a friendly understanding, we must learn to gaze at him without too much condescension. For we have lost that which he had and he lacks what we have mastered. When all is said and done, these quantities are equal. And, if we have accomplished some of the most burning wishes of his imagination, we must not forget that we have destroyed just as many others, which may prove to be irretrievable.[viii]
― Ioan Petru Culianu , Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
But not everyone has forgotten the imagination and its effect on the human mind. Some remember, and without the vision of the Magus, the integrated being that Prospero represents at the end of the play, knowledge of the mind and the powers of imagination easily become tools of deception and oppression rather than illumination and liberation. To easily understand this, all we need to examine is the twentieth century and the rise of mass media and the shaping of public opinion.
The Big Lie: Propaganda and You
While manipulation of the basic needs and desires of the human psyche has been part and parcel of organized societies since their inception, it is in the early twentieth century that it takes on its most insidious and ubiquitous expression in the person of Edward Bernays, the man who united early psychoanalysis (his uncle was Sigmund Freud), early print and radio mass media, and politics (he was an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson). The writings of Bernays would become the “bible” of Nazi propaganda leading up to and during the Second World War. After the war its theories and techniques would fuel the post-war consumer and advertising boom that typified the growth of the “American Dream.”
It was not until 1915 that governments first systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent. Here was an extraordinary state accomplishment: mass enthusiasm at the prospect of a global brawl that otherwise would mystify those very masses, one that shattered most of those who actually took part in it. The Anglo-American drive to demonize “the Hun,” and to cast the war as a transcendent clash between Atlantic “civilization” and Prussian “barbarism,” made so powerful an impression on so many that the worlds of government and business were forever changed.[ix]
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, articles and books appeared discussing the role of subliminal suggestion – hidden symbols – in advertising. Government military and intelligence agencies would begin researching various methods of mind control, manipulation, and even psychic abilities. Some of this would come to light in the 1970s and become the focus of many conspiracy theories, both legitimate and delusional.
In recent years surrounding the 2017 United States Presidential election the term ‘fake news’ became a household phrase wherein the entire truth of what was being presented as ‘impartial news’ was called into widespread question. Herein, we enter into the notion of not only mass deception and psychological manipulation, but also the domain of metaphysics.
When does our fiction become fact? What is fact? What is reality?
Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1922), Crystalizing Public Opinion (1923), Public Relations (1952)
Walter Lippman, Public Opinion (1921)
Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders (1959) and The People Shapers (1977)
Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)
Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1973)
The Man Behind the Curtain
- Frank Baum (1856 – 1919) the author of the classic story of fantasy and adventure, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), gave us many phrases that have made their way into the popular lexicon. The yellow brick road, tin man, there’s no place like home, and are you a good witch or a bad witch, are but a few. Possible the most famous is, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Like Lovecraft, Baum suffered from nightmares as a child and these made their way into his writing, particularly in the character of Scarecrow. Much of the story is built around deception, reality not being as it appears, and the role of belief in one’s self. The brains given to Scarecrow are but pins and needles. The heart given the Tinman is made of silk and stuffed with sawdust. Finally, Cowardly Lion is given a “potion” of courage. All of are dependent on their faith in the ‘the Wizard.’ Thus, one of the fundamental messages of the story is not only faith in one’s self, but also how activities in the world are often not as they appear. His writings covered a host of mythical themes, as well as foreshadowing several communication and media technological developments decades before their appearance. Baum was also, not surprisingly, a member of The Theosophical Society, joining in 1892, while sending his children to a non-religious ‘ethical Sunday School’ in Chicago.
It is in this phrase, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” a green curtain in fact, that the message of the entire Twentieth Century and, increasingly, the Twenty-First Century is summarized: stay blissfully ignorant of cause and effect or of who or what is in charge of your life, as well as how and why it is. If the truth is known, then, the control is lost, as “the great and terrible Wizard of Oz” may not be so powerful after all. Or rather, your learn that behind the veil of appearances there is a ‘machinery’ in place and that you can begin to pull your own levers, rather than allowing others to pull them for you. It is no surprise that the color green or ‘emerald’ plays such a significant role in the story. According to some legends, emerald was the stone that fell from Lucifer’s head, was carved into the Holy Grail, and as the color of nature, reveals to us the hidden light that takes us ‘home.’ When this is done, we no longer see the world in the simplicity of ‘black and white’ with shades of dull grey dominating, but we see it in a wide spectrum of ‘colors’ or energies as it is. We see achieve a direct understanding of reality, a direct perception of things as they really are, rather than filtered through the ‘goggles’ of belief.
While the symbolism in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been ignored, praised, and condemned, the book was a commercial success upon its release along with a musical to promote it. By 1938 two-million copies had been sold and it was the 1939 film adaptation in Technicolor that solidified its status as a cultural phenomenon.
To better understand the importance of thoughts and ideas, particularly those which are held in an uncritical manner and agreed upon by a social group, be it large or small, is more easily understood when examined from the perspective of classical esotericism, or magic. In his essay, We Are All Magi, French alchemist Jean Dubuis states something that is critical to understanding the interrelationship between mind and matter and its effect on space-time. We have reproduced the essay in its entirety. (The writings of Jean Dubuis can be found in French and English at: http://www.portaelucis.fr/.)
“We Are All Magi” by Jean Dubuis
Qabala and Alchemy agree that the universe consists of a group of 10 levels of different and growing densities. 10 levels of energy and consciousness, each one constituting a world. Ours, the 10th, is the densest; and the other 9, above, are less and less dense, and are normally invisible. But what we must still remember is that these invisible worlds have an energy that increases even as their density decreases. Therefore World 9 has a power much higher than that of World 10, World 8 has a higher energy than World 9, and so on until 1. So World 1 supplies power to World 2, which in turn powers 3, and onward down to 10, our World. In our case, it is the existing structures of World 9 that continuously determine material or other structures of our plane.
Not talked about because little known is that our thinking is not of our World. Our thoughts, or the animation of our consciousness, is an energy of World 9 [italic added for emphasis]. This is also a general rule. Thought of World 9 is the energy of World 8, thought of level 8 is the energy of 7 and so on. So when we evolve in World 9 after having definitively left our material realm, our thinking and our consciousness will then be the energy of World 8.
If we understand that in the 10 Worlds energy is inversely proportional to density, we are able to understand the mechanisms of magic. As a result, we have two kinds of beings on this Earth, those who know the nature of thought and, therefore, know how to use it as a tool of power, whatever its application. They are aware mages. Others, who use thought without knowing its occult practices, are unaware mages, which almost all of us are since our childhood.
Thought has the same creative power for all. If, using our ability to think, we are building a mental vision of the subject or the object at the same time, gradually in the Astral a structure will be created consistent with our visualization. And sooner or later this image is physically realized in the visible world of Earth. Obviously, mere thought does not readily set images in the Astral, visualization and repetition are necessary to obtain the crystallization.
We insist, as this is a major rule in magic that everything existing in our world (10) comes from the Astral (9), supplying us with energy, and allowing the coagulation of its matter in ours. Said differently, the structure created in the Astral acts as a mold for matter or for the action of energy in our world.
Each World is governed by its own laws, and every living being in a World is subject to its laws. We cannot escape this rule and in the case of the thoughts we emit, they follow the process outlined above. We have to decide the orientation we want to give our thoughts. We know we have a tendency to “bitch.” Undoubtedly, this proceeds from an intense need to denounce what is unbearable as well as to reject what bothers us.
In doing so, we erroneously feed the Astral of World 9, in which, we repeat, the matrixes of our World are created. Therefore, negative thoughts which are gradually fixed in the Astral will accumulate to grow misfortunes and difficulties in our world.
Fortunately, living in a dual system, we have the power to feed the Astral in the opposite manner. So … think positively and:
Peace on earth to men of good will.
Another way to examine this idea of our thoughts and who we are can be seen in the theory of “The Eighth Consciousness” of Tibetan Buddhism. The first five are the physical senses and our awareness of sensory input from them. If our physical senses are damaged OR something (such as hypnosis) impedes our processing of the information then that ‘consciousness’ is not functioning. The Sixth Consciousness is ‘mind’ and is primary function is to analyze the data from the senses and can think in terms of past, present, and future. The Seventh Consciousness is our emotions. It is here that we encounter our problems as it is the emotions which create attachments, fears, aversions, and in general our ignorance and suffering. Finally, there is the Eighth Consciousness is our Alaya, or ‘ground of mind.’
The first six consciousnesses are neutral and rational, it is the emotions wherein we enter into problems in life, and yet, all of these types of awareness are based upon the Eighth Consciousness or Alaya.
All seven of these minds are based upon an eighth consciousness which is known as ‘kungzhi’ in Tibetan, the ground of mind. It is sometimes translated as ‘subconsious storehouse.’ In Sanskrit, it is called ‘alaya.’ The nature of the eight consciousness is neither positive nor negative; it is neutral. Alaya retains every basic habit pattern of individuals. Everything is stored there; our good karma, bad karma, and neutral karma. All kinds of habits and whatever actions we perform during our lifetimes are registered there. This is why it is known as a ‘storehouse.’ Alaya is a consciousness, but it is very subtle.
When the Eight Consciousnesses are transmuted or transformed, they become the Five Wisdoms.
The article goes on to say:
The eighth consciousness is the alaya. It has two parts: the storehouse consciousness, where habits and karmic imprints are stored, and the ground awareness of sparkling energy. It is also present-moment awareness. All thoughts arise from and go back to this state. This level of consciousness is very subtle and vast like an ocean. (p. 7) – “The Three Kayas” by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, Pema Mandala Magazine, Fall/Winter 2005.
For this reason it is important to think of the spheres of the Tree of Life as styles of perception or awareness, and not as fixed or specific loci of consciousness. That is, one should not assign the ego or sense of self to Yesod or Tiphareth, but realize the ego is whatever we are identifying with at the moment. Herein, Alaya has the functions given to Yesod (storehouse and habit patterns), but also Kether (vast like an ocean, sparking, pure perception of reality as it is), and Tiphareth (the awareness of now, of the moment, undistracted). This is very important in relation to many schools of traditional and modern thought and we will come back to it in the future.
Now, these thoughts in and of themselves would be irrelevant if it were not for the possibility of them being combined with the ‘thoughts’ or more accurately, emotionally charged fantasies and imaginings of others, to form a single collective desire. This desire, or ‘thought form’ then having the possibility of coming into being either as a material reality or more abstract social force. These collective creations are often known as ‘egregores’ and according to classical theurgy, can become the ‘body’ or vehicles of non-human intelligences that may or may not have our best interests at heart. Herein the nightmares of Lovecraft take on a new meaning, as does the ‘music of the spheres’ as heard by Pythagoras. The visible world is a very large part of what we believe we know, but just a small part of what actually exists in the cosmos.
Conclusion – The Razor’s Edge
“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to ‘enlightenment’ is hard.” – Katha Upanishad, epigraph to The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
The message or, more accurately, the warning in this essay is simple: reality is rarely what we think it is and separating fact from fiction can be not only difficult, but at times impossible from the view of our daily lives. To overcome this self-imposed limitation we must learn to understand ourselves or someone, or something, will understand us better and we will be little more than its slave in a gilded cage waiting to become its next meal, or sacrifice. In short, we will either have the courage to look behind the curtain of reality and see who or what is in charge and risk all that comes with such knowledge and power, or we will choose to remain ignorant and at the mercy of ‘invisible forces.’
The symbolism of the curtain should be of no surprise to students of esotericism. Not only it is commonly seen in alchemical engravings, Masonic illustrations, but also is critical in Hermetic qabala. There is the first “veil” obscuring the energetic forces behind material phenomena (the 32nd Path); the second “veil” obscuring the ideas and forms (archetypes) behind the energetic world of Yetzirah (the Paroketh); and the “veil” obscuring eternity from duality (the Abyss).
Yet, the journey inward is not without tremendous risks. We must ever be attentive to the world around us, as well as the world within, or we risk like Prosopero, being overthrown by our ‘brother’ and losing our material kingdom and being set adrift on the ocean of the imagination. In the modern world this imagination, if well disciplined, may lead us to heavenly heights; or, if left to its own devices take into the realms of foolish fantasy and delusion, or paranoia and madness.
The real lesson, the deepest of truths – in fact the only one that matters and is so difficult to grasp is the often stated obvious reality – “Kether and Malkuth are the same.” Or as it is said in both Indian and Tibetan philosophy, “Samsara [duality/suffering] and nirvana [eternity/enlightenment] are of the same taste.”
The Hermetic axiom is “That which is above, comes from that which is below; and that which is below comes from that which is above, to accomplish the work of the One Thing.” The ‘below’ is the true mirror of the above, and we must keep our feet firmly planted on it or we will not only get lost in the clouds, we may also find too late that we are in fact consumed by them.
At this point we cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny (Inner Traditions, 2018) and giving serious consideration to the influence various associations and ideas have in directing, even determining your thoughts and behaviours so that you may free yourself from any unwanted influences.
In closing, maybe there is no better quote than from Dion Fortune’s book Psychic Self-Defense, “I well remember it being said to me by an occultist of great experience that two things are necessary for safety in occultism, right motives and right associates.”
[i] Kenneth Grant, Outside the Circles of Time (London: Starfire, 2008) 24-25.
[ii] Kenneth Grant, Cults of the Shadow (London: Skoob, 1994) 196.
[iii] Kenneth Grant, Outside the Circles of Time (London: Starfire, 2008) 167.
[iv] “Kenneth Grant talks to Skoob.” Occult Review. 3 Autumn 1990. (pps. 5-7).
[v] Kenneth Grant, Against the Light: A Nightside Narrative (London: Starfire, 1997).
[vi] Alan Moore. “Beyond our Ken.” Kaos. (pps.155-162) http://www.biroco.com/kaos/kaos.pdf [Accessed 05/09/2008]
[vii] Francis A. Yates, Shakespeare’s Last Plays (New York: Routledge, 1975) 118.
[viii] Ioan P. Couliano (trans. Margaret Cook), Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 184.
[ix] Mark Crispin Miller, Introduction to Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda (Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, 2005 ) 11-12.
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