The theme for this month’s teaching is “deliver us from evil.” Here we most easily think of evil as something to be feared, as if evil were some great cosmic force that can act upon us without our conscious or unconscious participation. To better grasp this, we need to look at what evil actually is, and what it is not.
For far too long evil in the Christian traditions was viewed as an absolute and powerful force from which we needed to be protected. By the mid-twentieth century this way of thinking began to wane and even the belief in evil as an absolute shifted to that of a relative evil. By this we mean that evil was increasingly seen, like sin, its fruit, to be relative to the individual and their circumstances, their state of mind, and not something that was easily defined by previous ethical and moral standards. In many ways this was a significant improvement over the old notion of Satan lurking around waiting to catch sinners and pull them to hell for all eternity, but at the same time it was deceptive in that it began to weaken the notion of evil existing at all. In short, it was an effort by the Churches to modernize and also, whether they knew it or not, to present a more initiatic view of evil to laity. The only problem was the laity was generally unprepared.
Yet, it is terribly difficult to speak of the absence of evil or its relative nature when we see so much suffering in the world. So for many, this small step forward in the teachings of the Christian churches was denounced as potentially leading to chaos. You see, the mandate of the Church is to provide moral and ethical teachings that reduce the role of sin and suffering, the fruit of evil, in the lives of individuals and communities. Without a standard where would we be?
However, reduction is not elimination, as elimination is not possible. In the Nicene Creed we hear that Jesus Christ “descended into hell” to preach to the Fallen Spirits and redeem those who would listen. He could not redeem them all. Even in the most dramatic of magical operations, those involving the evocation of demonic beings, evil is never eliminated, it is simply used to a better end. Herein we get a clue about the nature of evil, or at least of what we have come to believe is and is not evil, and how we address it in our daily lives. It is sufficient to say that the ideas around what is sinful, or what drives us away from God and into the waiting hands of Satan, is a difficult and confusing topic – one made worse by some excessive moralizing. However, at the end of the day, evil does exist, as does hell. Too many modern esotericists prefer to ignore these points.
So, for the sake of our meditations, let us consider the following:
In the exoteric teachings, evil exists as a semi-independent force, entity, or intelligence that preys upon individual weakness. We have little ability on our own to overcome evil and so must call upon the powers of God the Father to protect us throughout the days of our life. To avoid evil we avoid those ideas and actions that would put us in a state of temptation. Strict moral and ethical codes are adhered to so that this will not happen or can be successfully dealt with when it does.
From the view of religious mysticism, the first of the esoteric levels, evil is more personal than general, even if prophetic or semi-prophetic visions are experienced. We say more personal because it is within the mind of the devotee that these ideas are experienced – such as during prayer or meditation – or simply realized. It is deeply personal. The various scriptures and hagiographies of devotees, saints, and students of the Mysteries are filled with examples of this kind of experience: St. Anthony, the desert hermit; Padre Pio, whom many adore; along with nearly every Roman Catholic saint. However, we also have many shamanic encounters with the invisible that are less than pleasant, and if we look at many of the religious practices around the world we see that the role of exorcist, that of one who delivers others from evil, is a critical role in the health and well being of the community. Here we begin to see that absolute evil may exist, but its power is not absolute. The negative ideas that lead to destructive actions can be overcome – with the help of the invisible in the form of angels, with the help of the saints, and with the help of the devoted and faithful appealing for assistance. For the practicing qabalist, the line “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer is an effective exorcism or purification of our personal sphere of Yesod on the Tree of Life. It is Yesod, our own unconscious, wherein we must wrestle to overcome those things which tempt us.
Intitiatically, evil is very relative, as even the demons are fallen angels, just as a vice is a virtue used to an extreme. That is, appreciation of the good and the beautiful and a general openness to a variety of life’s experiences can easily lead to gluttony, sloth, and debauchery. We are able to convert our vices into virtues because they are two sides of the same coin. However, do we not also hear of demons having powers similar to those of angels? One cannot exist without the other. Here we also realize that the ‘powers of the earth’ are indeed the same as the ‘powers of heaven’ and that it is our perceptions that define good and evil rather than their being something absolute. The criminal acts in a manner that is destructive, but believes it to be in his or her own best interest to do so; the victim or injured party feels quite the opposite! But who makes the laws? What standard do we use? To this, the only laws that can apply are the two commandments given by Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself and the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”. Yet, as simple as this sounds, even a few minutes of contemplation on it will demonstrate how difficult and even individualistic it will be in practice. It is the principal of karma, cause and result, that Jesus is reminding us of here. Karma is the absolute law of the cosmos, and that is clearly realized in initiatic practices. It was to this end that we offered you “Khamael’s Spear” so that you might have some meditations available to you to begin this path of general transformation for yourself and others.
Possibly the most famous of these transformative practices in Western occultism is the magical retreat as set down by Abramelin the Mage, wherein, after realization of his Holy Guardian Angel he proceeds to command the Kings of Hell and their legions and extract obedience from them. Here we see the meaning of “Order out of chaos”. Previously powerful and destructive forces no longer affect us negatively, but it is we who have control over them and even benefit from their previously ill-used or understood strengths. For more information on understanding this level of work, see the works of William G. Gray: Ritual Magic Methods (final chapter), Tree of Evil, and Between Good and Evil – Polarities of Power. Gray’s writings are those of direct and personal experience, often neglected by modern occultists in favor of other writers whose prose is more appetizing, but content less filling.
From the view of the Supreme level, or Direct Experience, evil is a willful and conscious decision to do that which is injurious to others and ourselves, to know that it is such, and to do it regardless. There is no ambiguity here. Nor is there a sense that evil can be eliminated on some cosmic scale because it can only be overcome by each of us individually. “Just say no,” is the answer or, as Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Satan, the Opposition, is essential, and in fact is not evil, any more than the Angel Michael is good. It is how we respond to situations that decide our destiny, our salvation or damnation, not absolutes. How often have we not heard from the great mystics such as Swedenborg, Boehme, and Blake that it is we who “make a heaven out of hell, or a hell out of heaven”? The cycles of life necessitate duality for us to learn, and it is here, that we stand outside the cycles of time, even if only for a moment, and know the role and power of all of the divine forces within us. This is the cosmos, the whole; this is cosmic consciousness.
For additional information see:
Pathology of the Sublime – Problems and Solutions on the Spiritual Journey
Ritual Purification, Exorcism and Defensive Magic
Studies in Poltergeists, Obsession, and Possession
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