Israel Regardie and the Theory and Practice of the Middle Pillar Exercise
by Mark Stavish, M.A.
19 June 2014
Presented at the Fifth Annual Conference for the Association for the Study of Esotericism, Colgate University (Hamilton, New York)
If we look at today’s self-help marketplace, we can come to several conclusions, one of which is that many of the ideas that are the stock and trade of the self-improvement movement, psychotherapy, and modern magic are for better or worse intermingled with one another, and almost hopelessly so.
Now, it has been suggested that one of the individual’s responsible for this intermingling of modern magic with modern psychology is Dr. Francis Israel Regardie.[i] Regardie was a student and secretary of Aleister Crowley, as well as a therapist trained in Freudian analysis, Wilhelm Reich’s therapeutic methods, and chiropractic medicine. During the Second World War he assisted servicemen with what we now refer to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But it was before the war, in the 1930s, when Regardie took his ideas on therapy and combined them with magic in general, and the practice known as The Middle Pillar in particular. The Middle Pillar is a practice found within the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but it was Regardie’s who took the very basic technique and expanded it into the full-blown methods we know today. His first book to explore this topic was The Art of True Healing published in 1933. In 1938 he published The Middle Pillar, wherein the basic ideas presented were expanded upon, including references to Freudian and Jungian psychology and Chinese meditation practices involving the circulation of a chi, or a psycho-physical energy throughout the body. These ideas came from Richard Wilhelm translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower – A Chinese Book of Life, a book which contained commentary by Carl Jung.
In addition, it is in his book, The Middle Pillar, whose full title is – The Middle Pillar: A Co-Relation of the Principles of Analytical Psychology and the Elementary Techniques of Magic – wherein the link between The Middle Pillar practice and the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is most strongly made, and where Regardie sees ritual magic and its attendant visualization practices as not only a means of creating and sustaining health, but also as a means of destabilizing a weak or easily influenced personality. In various editions of his cornerstone work on the teachings and rituals of the Golden Dawn[ii] he firmly states that students of magic should first undergo a period of psychotherapy to avoid potential mental health issues as a result of their magical training – thus, magic, in Regardie’s eyes – could both heal and make one mad.
Magic and Psycho-Somatic Healing
In magic we are told there are a host of psychic centers within our body. Teachings state these centers have relationships with the nervous and endocrine systems, as well as symbolic relationships with stones, plants, animals, even planets, zodiacal signs, and invisible beings. Thus, these psychic centers are gateways to both external dimensions and phenomena, as well as inner, highly subjective states of consciousness. The Middle Pillar uses five major centers which have a corresponding relationship to the Elements and to the five spheres on the central pillar of The Tree of Life.
In general, esotericism sees illness as being a result of energy disruptions, wherein subtle energy imbalances results in symptoms of a physical or mental nature. According to “generally accepted occult principles (GAOP)”, everything begins and ends in the mind. It is even the same for physical illness as some form of false belief in the mind of the patient, results in an emotional knot or complex that can manifest as a physical or mental illness or both. As such, all disease is seen as rooted in a malfunction of one or more of the psychic centers that regulate our energy flow, and thereby our consciousness. If we can identify the centers involved and adjust their functioning, then we can restore health to the individual. For this, we have the Middle Pillar, wherein, the mind becomes its own healer by synchronizing the thoughts, imagination, emotions, and body of the practitioner.
The Middle Pillar allows us to work with five of the major psychic functions, or clusters, without having to have an extensive esoteric background. Now there is theory one needs to understand, but in its simplest practice, it has a healing effect of getting the client in-touch with their own body – something important in itself as the stronger the mental illness, the less aware many can be with their body and their environment. Practice of the Middle Pillar also has a simultaneously relaxing, and yet stimulating effect as energy knots, or tensions in the mind and their corresponding relations in the body are made aware and released. This release of tension can create a tremendous feeling of exultation, joy, and physical arousal, and with it of course a sense of enthusiasm, wellness, and confidence. This makes it easier to identify and distance one’s self from, and address underlying psychological issues.
It was a Thursday around noontime, after having spent three hours earlier that morning as a guest on the radio show Coast to Coast (C2C) from 2AM until 5AM I was contacted by a friend of the family on their behalf. He explained to me the situation and at the end asked me if there was anything I or anyone could do. As the family history unfolded it became clear to me that this was either a young man acting out, or a serious issue that standard psychiatric talk therapy and medication might not be able to address.
This is an intelligent, successful, high-income group of individuals who at their wits end were concerned that the client was experiencing some form of spirit attachment or worse, demonic assault or possession and were looking for someone to fix it.
I later spoke separately with the boy’s father and his mother, and in about a week’s time I had put in 12 hours in interviews including a close family friend who oddly added a made for television movie twist to the story – the suicide of her husband, a clergyman, after having baptized the boy 16 years earlier. It was only after getting background from people involved that I spoke with the client.
Our client is a 16 year old male diagnosed with possible psychosis and on a daily regime of prescribed psychiatric medication. The young man is intelligent, creative, socially involved, sings in several choirs, and is popular. In his mother’s words, he ‘tends to hyper focus on things’. According to his mother he is very intellectual, as well as critical of others, and believes that the educational system is flawed, and therefore he should not have to participate, and can be snobbish about others at times. However what makes his case different is that he is not the first person in the family to experience spontaneous and traumatic visions, nor the only one at times as a younger sibling was beginning to exhibit similar behaviors.
After his ‘meltdown’ – as the family call it – in 2012 he underwent a seven day hospitalization for observation, was prescribed Abilify which is prescribed for depression and bi-polar disorder, but according to his mother he had negative reaction to it. He had neurological and educational tests all of which came back clean. He participated in sleep studies and underwent testing for seven weeks at Yale Psychiatric hospital.
Schizophrenia was ruled out but was still prescribed Olanzapine – an anti-psychotic medication – starting at the standard dose of 5 milligrams and increasing to 15 milligrams which is within the normal range for daily use. His parents were strongly against medication, as was the client, but he begged for an increase in dosage if it would stop the visions.
The parents were both working professionals, and while the visions were a part of his maternal history, it now became a question of identifying what was occurring, and it came down to four possibilities: either the psychic visions are (1) real, non-organic and being diagnosed as a psychiatric issue; (2) are a psychiatric issue; or (3) faked behavior by the boy.
The Visions and The Meltdown
His mother estimates that the first vision she remembers the client having was when he was around the age of three and that they escalated around the age of six.
However, he was not the first in the family to have them, only his were the most sever. There was the imaginary friend of his older sister who stopped appearing to her when her brother – the client – was born. His maternal uncle had visions as well.
Communications from the Family
In an email, his mother stated, “At 6 he saw the fox more than a couple of times a year and started seeing snakes. The snakes would come out of the walls and wrap themselves around people….things started to get pretty regular with snakes all the time within the last year. On the night he had his melt down he heard a voice it didn’t say anything but it growled and laughed. At this point he was starting to have walking dreams, like [multiple] dimensions concurrent[ly].
The visions included being engulfed in walls of flame or water while walking down the hallway at school. Nightmares wherein beings and men in black would come and try to grab onto the boy, along with a recurring portal would open up on the wall opposite the foot of his bed and these same beings would try to pull him through it.
Before he was hospitalized he walked out of his bedroom and collapsed seizure like, choking on saliva and spitting up mucous. He was scratching at the baseboard and door, his body flaying around while on his right side in a semi-fetal position, he rolled to his left side and he became more coherent but obviously not himself, the scratching motion continued pretty aggressively but less than when he started. He was calling out to Lucy apologizing that he couldn’t save her or help her and to run because he was coming and a wolf or fox was also, he sobbed for her, this went on for quite some time, at least 40 to 60 minutes, he then seemed to calm down, stayed lying on the hallway floor for 15 minutes then crawled into his mom’s bedroom closet. The mysterious Lucy is a young girl who appears frequently in the visions but has no known existence to the client or his family members. His father helped him up and assisted him into his sister’s bedroom where he said he saw arms reaching for him from the outside wall. He uncharacteristically left the house at 8pm and wasn’t heard from him for over 2 hours, having walked 10 miles to a nearby railroad station. A homeless man called used the client’s phone to contact the family. He states he remembers hardly any of the walk except for bits and pieces.
In the hospital he stated that a woman was following him, she progressed through her life over a week and died. Being the intelligent literary type that his is, he compared it to the rhyme about Solomon Grundy.
Post-hospitalization his sleep habits were interfered with as he was continually haunted by the swirling vortex. Something changed on December 21st 2012 which his mother described as “it is like many dimensions all happening at once, he has to concentrate very hard to stay focus on this reality. He feels at times that he can look at things and taste them, or touch them and know what they smell like. He states that he has all his senses connected with the other dimensions. I asked him if he heard voices, he does heard voices speaking in a “different language” he doesn’t know what they are saying.”
The client had to agree to want the visions to either stop or be managed and understood, they could not allowed to continue as they were. Thus, dream work later also became part of the practice, and interpreting symbols. But it was the work with the Middle Pillar that allowed everything to come to a place of mental and emotional stability, health, and happiness for the young man, and his family.
Despite having an additional diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, after three months of regular meditative practices, along with one-hour weekly session via telephone with me, including relaxation and controlled breathing, some light esoteric reading, co-operation from his mother in performing a morning prayer and ritual, a light nighttime practice similar to Dream Yoga, and daily practice of The Middle Pillar by the identified patient, significant progress was made, and after six months I was told by his mother, “I have my son back. He is his old self again.”
For myself, I always thought that the girl’s name – Lucy – or “as of Light, or shiny” was telling. This hints at Jung’s theory of the Anima, which I have yet to explore with the client. The images of spiraling vortexes are similar to cross-cultural descriptions of psychic centers when they are perceived in their various states of function. Snakes and foxes are also part of the archetypes of hidden knowledge coming to the surface. The fetal position, crawling into his mother’s closet, his sister’s bedroom all are highly suggestive of the womb as well as death and rebirth, or the trauma of coming of age – of sexual and psychic maturity. Practices such as the Middle Pillar, under the guidance of someone experienced in them, can be powerful tools for bringing into conscious awareness of this inner energy, and directing it to its naturally creative – if not always understood – ends. It goes from being a demon to an angel – a true source of Light, Life, and Love in our lives.
So, in conclusion, I find this young man’s journey from the edge of insanity to wholeness an intriguing, and yet not particularly exceptional tale – it is everyone’s story to some degree, and by looking at the various crises we experience in life from a viewpoint that includes – and dare I say it – the initiatic aspects of human existence – we can better understand the causes and conditions of our suffering as well as our joy, and our potential.
[i]For more information on Regardie, see: Israel Regardie & The Philosopher’s Stone: The Alchemical Arts Brought Down to Earth by Joseph C. Lisiewski, Ph.D., Introduction by Mark Stavish. The Original Falcon Press, Tempe, AZ. 2008.
[ii]The Golden Dawn, first published in four volumes by Aries Press, Chicago between 1937 and 1940, with later editions by Llewellyn Publishing, New Falcon Press, and Original Falcon Press.
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