Fra Josemaria M. Barbin on The Temptation of the Istari

The following essay has been writing for this blog by one of our seminarians, Fra Josemaria M. Barbin.  I agree with it in its entirely.

Some say that J. R. R. Tolkien is a black-and-white thinker who just pits the force of good against that of evil. However, his characters prove how Tolkien’s writing does not fall readily into such simple categories. The Istari (also known as wizards), for instance, reveal that in Middle-earth things are no so black-and-white. Tolkien’s wizards illustrate how one may do evil even with the best of intentions, when one is seduced by the temptation to use an evil means to a good end. Continue reading

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Enchantment vs. Magic in Tolkien’s Myth

The following is a reply to David Llewellyn Dodds who has been very generous in his comments on my previous Tolkien post.  This reply fits here and if you are interested you can follow the flow of thought in comment section of the previous post.

In Letter 155 Tolkien takes the traditional distinction between magia (wisdom) and goeteia (sorcery) and for the purposes of his tale distinguishes between magia that has actual effect (machine, technology) and geoteia that is artistic (enchantment).  Both forms can be used for good or ill depending on intention.  Tolkien is more suspicious of the machine, though he in no way discounts that art can be used to deceive. Continue reading

Frodo and the Machine

I have tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger. Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

Love, sacrifice and the primacy of the ordinary life, enjoyed as the fruit of freedom, are the beginning and end of The Lord of the Rings.  The story begins with the microcosm of the ordinary, the Shire, among Hobbits who have little knowledge or care for the bigger and darker currents swirling around their little world.  The story ends with a bewildered Sam arriving back at his home, just having concluded a long hero’s journey, bearing all the tragedy and loss that it entailed, saying:  “Well, I’m back.”

Although the conflict arising from the logic of power, symbolized by the Ring, dominates the story, Tolkien said that LOTR is really about love, sacrifice and the struggle for happiness that arises out of the limitations of our mortality.  Frodo is an icon of those limitations.  Small in stature, he was made even smaller in the comparison to his quest, the accomplishment of which Gandalf himself claimed was based only on a “fool’s hope.”  That the Shire might be saved Frodo has to give up everything, including any rational hope of succeeding.  And in the end it is precisely in his failure that he succeeds.  In Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, which some argue had a significant influence on Tolkien, Our Lady tells the Frodo-like figure of King Albert, whom She sends on a fools quest:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

Continue reading

Lumen Christi

I

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
O King of Israel:
Hosanna in the Highest! (Antiphon, Palm Sunday, cf. Mt 21:9;).

Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying:  This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me (Mt 15:7).

The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same.  Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy.  In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.

Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy.  Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed.  Of course, the patristic analogy is fine.  It is the agenda with which I have a problem.   Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst.  It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.

Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.”  “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.

Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level.  Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).

The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology.  Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.

Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic.  The Angelic Doctor made distinctions.  The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions.  His eros is never the impure kind:  “The lumen Christi takes care of that.  Just think sublimely, mystically.  Spiritual marriage is never impure.”  In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.

But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962.  The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated.  The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise.  The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain.  Why should the liturgy not be painful?  We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.

The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama.  The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live.  He is not a monk.  He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist.  He just wants to go to Mass.  He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook.  He is just trying to make it through the week.  He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.

True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will.   The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and incalcitrant will.  There is a big difference.  Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given.  Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed.  But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator.  Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.

Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road.  It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery.  Our passion play is reality.  “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths.  It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point.  It is a harsh reality we need to face:

I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).

Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7).  Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open.  Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician.  The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo.  We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.

II

A new commandment I give to unto you:
That you love one another,
As I have loved you,
Saith the Lord. (Antiphon, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Last Supper, cf. Jn 13:34).

Where charity and love are, there is God (Antiphon, Ibid.).

The small band of apostles in the upper room was not a narrow sect united by an ideology or by a personality.  Our Lord was neither.  The Word of Truth that lived and breathed was the Incarnate Son of God.

He comes among us a one who serves:  and He serves lepers.  He bends down and washes our filthy feet.  He kisses our sores.

He did it more truly in His passion in the Garden and on the Cross, but during the Last Supper He did it ceremonially as an example to His priests, and by way of them to the rest of us.

The ceremony is symbolic.  There are much worse things than dirty feet.  There is not one among us that is not a moral leper.  If we think otherwise we will not leave the Sacred Triduum justified (cf. Lk 18:14).

We do not need to wait for others to get it.  Those who go to the Novus Ordo Mass should not be presumed to be ignorant and backwards.  This is such a huge presumption that reveals a profound ignorance of the reality of human perfection and defect.  It is a calculation that is facile, narrow and conveniently isolated in spiritual fantasy.  We have not gotten it yet if we are convinced the real problem is someone or something else.

We too easily write off those we do not understand, or who, in one way or another, do not measure up to our ideal, and yet this is one of the faults Our Lord most often corrected.  He at with sinners and gave the Pharisees a hard time.   There are silent sufferers who have been making daily communions since before the Second Vatican Council, and they are presumed to be backwards by the liturgical know-it-alls because they don’t understand and do not want a Latin Mass?  One can be too pastoral it is true.  But one can also be too academic.

Truth is objective.  The Sacred Triduum and the liturgy in general enshrine real history—objective revelation and dogma.  We need to fight for the truth, to be sure.  Many are rightly wearied of the fatherless Church.  The problem is that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is also the Lamb that was slain.  The objective truth is that our militancy must be Christ-like, even if the Church is a mess.

The ideal of the Christian Knight is the One seated on the White Horse, who is called Faithful and True, whose eyes are flames of fire, who wields a double-edged sword from his mouth and rules the nations with an iron rod (Apoc 19:11-15).  Historical chivalry is a poor substitute for the paradox that is the redemptive Incarnation.  The ideal was one thing, the reality another.  Literary chivalry was never entirely Christian.  It was laced with the same erotic Gnosticism that is repackaged today under the title of Theology of the Body (not a criticism of the soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II, but rather of some of his self-proclaimed disciples).  Military chivalry had the function, and still does, of making a bad situation less bad.  The military vocation is a fine and noble calling, but try making a profession out of killing people, and then see how many of those who wield the sword remain knights in shining armor.  This is not to denigrate the honorable service of our heroes, only to note that military honor is not an easy matter, especially when the ideal is Christ Himself.

This is why in the end, St. Francis, who had sought after nobility with such avidity, rejected status and power.  He got off his horse and gave away his armor to a poor knight.  And then he got off his horse again to kiss a leper.  Christ the Knight is Christ the Leper: Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted (Isaias 53:4).

How many of us have experienced the paradox of a real Christ in our life, who loves in truth and speaks the truth in love?  There is no magic wand for bringing all souls into the embrace of Holy Mother Church.  The only problem with the Church is its members.  And so, we lepers must remember that He says to us:  as I have done to you, so you do also (Jn 13:15).  There is no missal or grimoire that will make that happen.  Sacramental life is a far more ascetical reality.

III

Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world (Good Friday, Adoration of the Cross).

O my people, what have I done to thee? Or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me. (Reproaches, Ibid.).

Public Scandal is a horrible thing.  A sacrilegious communion piled on top has the makings of hell on earth. Advocacy for child murder and the re-crucifixion of Jesus in a sacrilegious communion is the “matter and form” of a potent curse.  It has been pronounced over our country countless times.  Piled onto to this is the even worse scandal and plague of the abuse of children by priests.  St Christina the Astonishing is reported to have attended Holy Mass many times a day, and upon perceiving a priest in the state of sin approaching the altar, would levitate from the choir loft to the sanctuary and beat him back into the sacristy.

Good Friday is both a curse and a blessing.  The Pharisees made a religious procession of their denial of Christ and consummated it with human sacrifice—indeed with deicide.   It was a pagan execution orchestrated by Satan and given religious significance by the guardians of the law.  He was made a curse for us (for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree) that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that we may receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal 3:13-14).

How many of those who reviled the Lord on Good Friday had made themselves Satan’s puppets, his acolytes in the unholy rites of hell.  But the foundations of the netherworld itself were rent asunder by the inversion of sin, crafted by our Savior.  The curse became a blessing.  The sign of death became the sacrament of life—the exorcism of the world, the regeneration of souls.

In Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter, the main character, Scobie, slowly but surely spirals into moral depravity, all the while experiencing remorse without true repentance.  He eventually finds himself approaching the altar rail for Holy Communion in the state of sin because he is not prepared to deal with the deception in which he finds himself.  Not having the heart to look up he sees only the skirt of the priest’s cassock “like the skirt of the medieval warhorse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet: the charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from ambush . . .”  But God does not intervene and Scobie receives the Eucharist sacrilegiously.  He prays that his damnation will, through his offering, be the salvation of others.

In the light of this power, the great and small, the sinner and saint process down the aisle to eat and drink unto life or condemnation.  We put our trust in the power, but we also sometimes presume on it, as though Christ will turn our indifferent Communions into grace.  It is absurd to offer up our damnation.  How awful it is that we can be so eager to deceive ourselves.

Our Lord at the altar does not discriminate.  He remains silent under the form of bread and wine.  We bring upon ourselves a blessing or a curse.  He is the “hound of heaven” or the “warhorse bearing down.”

Public sacrilege is a curse upon the Church for which those responsible, and those responsible for allowing it to continue, will render an account.  Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh (Mt 18:7).

But the dirty little secret is that the Church does not need pro-abortion politicians or pedophile priests to profane the house of God.  The Lord has long suffered betrayal from his friends.  St. Margaret Mary asked him why thorns surrounded His Sacred Heart.  He replied: “My enemies put a crown of thorns around My head, and my friends have put a crown of thorns around My Heart.”

Reparation for sins committed against the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is particularly necessary for the outrage of sacrilegious Communions.  On Good Friday the liturgical order is reduced to a state of desolation:  a bare altar, and empty tabernacle, adoration of the Cross, communion without a consecration.  We are desolate without Jesus.

The priest prostrates and begs forgiveness for his sins and those of the people.  We own Good Friday.  We own the desolation.  It is what our sins deserve.

“For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”  We cry for mercy.  The Precious Blood pleads on our behalf.

It is never a public scandal to refrain from Holy Communion.  What is a scandal is cueing up for Holy Communion and neglecting the Sacrament of Penance.  The door of mercy is always open.  The Good Shepherd welcomes back the lost sheep.

The state of a person’s soul is between him or her and God.  If someone refrains from receiving Holy Communion, cast your eyes down and keep your mouth shut—even if it is your own child.  You don’t know what is going on and you don’t need to know.  Let the Holy Spirit do his job and never allow yourself to facilitate a sacrilegious communion.

IV

Christ yesterday and today,
The Beginning and the End,

The Alpha and Omega,

All times are His,
And all the ages.
To Him be glory and dominion,
Through all ages of eternity.
Amen (Easter Vigil, Blessing of the Paschal Candle).

May the Virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font,
And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration (Easter Vigil, Blessing of Baptismal Water).

The incorruptible flesh of Christ cannot be bound by death.  The Virgin born escapes the tomb without breaking the seal.  The Fathers of the Church speak of the incorruptible Virginity of Mary as unprecedented miracle of Divinity of Christ.  The incorruption of the Resurrection is the unprecedented miracle of the Redemption:  Incorruption is not the expected outcome of Good Friday, and it is for this reason that we experience a kind of bliss at Easter.

Some object to referring to the “incorruption” of virginity as though it implied that marriage and motherhood were something dirty.  But that is to miss the point entirely.  A woman is not corrupted by marriage, but her virginity is.  And the virginal state is a value unto itself, both before marriage and especially when it is consecrated to God for life.   Its joy is the inverse of what the world expects, or what the human mind may calculate.

Both motherhood and virginity are values, different and mutually exclusive values.  Only in one case were both values realized, namely, in the person of the Blessed Virgin, but this includes the Church as well.  Mary as archetype of the Church, and the Church, of which Mary is the preeminent member, are both Virgin and Mother.  Neither Mary, nor the Church is impregnated.  They conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is a miraculous power that shakes the foundations of the earth and changes history forever.

The Virgin Born who is also the First Born of the Dead breaks the incomprehensible blackness of sin, pride and calculation, “bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night” (Easter Praeconium).  Carried aloft, His truth brings about a conformation of our lives to His death, so that His life might overcome our death.  This is power is beyond the will or manipulation of man.  It is the cause of our joy.

Baptism is a virginal mystery, precisely because it belongs to the order of the Incarnation and Resurrection, precisely because, like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, it accomplishes a miracle of the first order.  It makes a child of wrath a child of God.  There can be nothing more fundamental to the origin of our relationship to God than our divine filiation.  Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration.  The fundamental metaphor is rebirth, not marriage, because this birth is not a function of marriage but of virginity.

Drawing a comparison between the Easter Vigil and pagan fertility rites is to prefer magic to sacrament.  They are not the same.  The unfortunate association of paganism with this Feast by means of “Pascha” having been englished “Easter,” only underscores the struggle between light and darkness, just as the Feast of All Saints becomes associated with the Druidic witchcraft and struggles, so to speak, to maintain its identity.

Magic is based on the presumed relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, between the larger world of cosmos and spirit and the little world of man.  Sacred Marriage in the pagan tradition is power because by it man wills to align the psychic energy of ecstasy with the world spirits to produce some effect in the world or the soul.

Sex is not a sacrament, even if a non-consummated marriage can be, in certain cases, dissolved.  It does not produce a sacramental effect.   Sacraments are not based on an alignment of our psychic experience with God, but on the alignment of matter and form with intent to do with the Church intends in celebrating the sacraments.  It is the will of God and His power, His infinite power that effects sacramental grace.  It is a covenant, not a biological process or a psychic experience that accomplishes the sacramental transformation, because in Christ we are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).  The efficacy of the sacraments would not be expected except that God has willed it so.

Christian marriage is not natural marriage.  Grace builds on nature, but it also transcends it.  There is no return to the Garden.  Grace is supernature, not preternature.  There is and will be no earthly paradise during our time of trial.  Chastity is supernatural, an unexpected turn from the natural course of a fallen world.

During the Wedding Feast of the Lamb we find the Bridegroom on His White Horse, with fiery eyes and the sword of His word.   The matrimonial ritual is a resistance to opposition, the casting down of the beast and the false prophet and the slaying of the enemies by the sword of him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceedeth out of his mouth (Apoc 19: 7-9, 11-15, 19-21).  It is not exactly parallel to earthly experiences.  Our experience points up and its meaning is informed by the mysteries we celebrate.  But natural ecstatic experience elevated by knowledge, what Renaissance philosophers called “natural magic,” is not an experience of grace.

The power of Easter is entirely unexpected, not the function of a predetermined process.  It is a turn of the tide, a “eucatastrophe,” as Tolkien has written:

it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief (On Fairy Stories).

The joy of Easter is tied precisely to its character of being unexpected.  No one expects a virgin to become a mother.  No one expects a crucified man to rise from the dead.  No one expects one who deserves hell to be reborn into innocence.  No one expects the fallen to be chaste.

The signs of the Knight of the White Horse and the Woman in Travail and Clothed with the Sun are the signs of the “high tide and the turn.”  The passion of the Church is a night “thrice over us,” and sometimes the thunderclouds of vicissitude are like an “iron cope,” that shuts out the light of heaven.  But Christ is yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega. 

He is the Light of the World, in a world that needs an illumination.  At the Vigil the new fire and the light of the Paschal Candle will cause a visual illumination that corresponds to an enlightened regard for the meaning of Our Lord’s suffering and death.

We must choose death to see God.  St. Bonaventure says:  “My soul chooseth hanging, and my bones, death.  He who loves this death can see God, for it is absolutely true that Man shall not see me and live.”  We must pass through the Passion of the Church.  We rightly say in liturgical language:  “Say the black.  Do the red.”  But Catholic life cannot be reduced to rubricism or magic formulas.  We must wait in patience for the “high tide and the turn,” the “wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto.”

Lumen Christi.  Deo Gratias.

Alternate States of Unreality

As I have mentioned before, I have been researching the subject of the occult with a special focus on the Christian esotericism of the Renaissance.  Before I started the research, I really was not aware how syncretistic historical magicians have been.  I assumed they were mostly self-proclaimed apostates, or simply hid their occultism behind the shear underclothing of Christian trappings in order to hide their real intent.  The reality is more complex, but not less diabolical.

Christian Occultism?

The origins of Western occultism are largely connected with the Christian Gnostic writings pseudonymously attributed to a pre-Christian magician by the name of Hermes Trismegestus.  The writings are largely mythological and philosophically connected with neoplatonism, an amalgamation of both Christian and pagan ideas.

The context of my research is the formulation of a critique of the Harry Potter series, a matter about which I have thought for more than ten years.  During that time I have been reading the books, and, for reasons I will mention in my own book on the subject, have until now remained silent.

One of the principle defenses of the Harry Potter series by Christians who are thoughtful readers is based on J.K. Rowling’s assertion that her own research for Harry Potter concerned, not magic, but alchemy.  This defense goes on to assert that alchemy was not principally about the transmutation of metals or the acquisition of the Elixir of Life, but about the purification and transformation of the soul.  According to this argument, the alchemical transformational process is consistent with Christian mysticism.  I do not accept this argument and will explain why in my book.

Magic and Mysticism

The specific matter of this present post is the modern non-Christian approach to mysticism, which is not really modern at all and shares much in common with Eastern forms of pagan mysticism.  The fact is that Eastern meditation, New Age attempts to acquire altered states of consciousness, and classic Western occultism are bosom buddies.  It may indeed be that the magical tradition of the West is only thinly veiled with Christianity, meaning, that it only has the benefit of Christian trappings. However, this tradition is longstanding and deep veined.

I have been reading a particular occultist take on Harry Potter that relates alchemical, mystical transformation to the tradition of shamanism. The word “shaman” is of Turkic origin, the original meaning of which is not clear.  It has been assumed into the English language as an anthropological term that refers to the practitioner of communication with the spiritual world.   The term “shaman” is of universal connotation, that is, it is a general term that refers to the spiritual leaders of many different cultures and religions, such as those belonging to Native American tribes, African and Asian cultures, and even, as some claim to Celtic tradition.

The word “shaman” is generally used to identify a member of the priestly cast of various pagan cultures who act as intermediaries between men and the spiritual world in order to obtain guidance, solutions to community problems and healing.  Shamans can also use their powers to obtain knowledge of the future, and to adversely affect targeted individuals.  They perform these functions by means of their ability to contact the spiritual world through a trance or an altered state of consciousness.

In other words shamanism is a form of witchcraft that operates by means of a state of consciousness through which the shaman is an open channel to occult powers.  From this we come to understand that spiritual channeling is the substance of pagan mysticism.

Hipster Spirituality

In postmodern Western society, which has largely rejected the dogmatic approach to morality and spirituality, and which has been spiritually starved for two generations, this approach has a great deal of appeal.  Postmodern society has rejected ultimate meaning and metanarratives that attempt to explain origins and destinies in terms of doctrines and laws.  It has also rejected the whole concept of spiritual authority.  Not only has authority become the universal enemy, but so has the adult.  Adolescent rebellion against authority epitomized in the ideals of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll is the philosophy of postmodernism.  The geriatric, burned-out icons of rock culture, such as Ozzy Osbourne, proclaim the triumph of the philosophy of Peter Pan.   In this context the mysticism of the altered state of consciousness, induced variously by drugs, sex, the occult, and various combinations of the three, is the preferred short-order spirituality of postmodernism.

But, as I have said this is nothing new.  It is in fact the tradition of shamanism, rooted in pre-Christian societies and dolled-up in the form of Renaissance Christian esotericism.  What might actually be new is the fact that the Rule of Esotericism, that is, the practice of keeping the arcane hidden, is no longer needed to protect the “great mysteries” from the prying eyes of the unworthy.  Secrets are always fun for their characteristic ability of supplying ambiance and mystique.  However, postmodernism is incapable of attributing enough meaning to something so as to consider it sacred or worthy of keeping it hidden.  No, our society throws everything to the swine.  We strip mysticism down to its raw, tender and sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly nakedness, exploit it for all its worth and throw the rest in the compost heap.

Fringe

The particular occultist take on Harry Potter mentioned above, as I said, relates alchemical transformation to shamanism.  Indeed, alchemy, as a spiritual process of purification and transmutation, is an alignment of spiritual, psychic and material powers, of which the alchemist is the mediator.  The particular author I am referring to prefers to identify this psychic state as an “alternate state of consciousness,” rather than an “altered state of consciousness.”  The latter expression implies that the mystical state is other than normal, whereas the former implies nothing concerning normality, nor does it provide a point of reference.  This is because, for the author, the mystical state involves neither knowing nor willing, but “awareness.”  The author refrains from using any more specific term, like “contemplation,” “trance,” or “ecstasy,” because the practitioner alone is able to both find the way and attach meaning to the experience.

As a side note, my research has brought me to a number of sources, including the specific one mentioned here, that make reference to modern science, especially, quantum physics.  It seems to be a popular brand of secular spirituality and hinges on the idea that the universe is not explainable except through imperfect models, and that the observer of the universe is as much a giver of meaning as the things observed themselves.  I do not pretend to understand quantum physics.  But associated with it, in the opinion of some, is the existence of parallel or alternate universes in which the same persons and things can exist simultaneously under different circumstances and with different outcomes.  In this connection, alternate states of consciousness are in part movement between universes.

Awareness as an alternate state of consciousness, and one opposed to knowing and willing, is posited on the basis of the rejection of any radical distinction between the knower and the known.  What is common to Eastern spirituality, shamanism and Western witchcraft is the rejection of objective thinking in respect to spirituality, that is, the rejection of dogma.  The shaman, the witch, wizard or alchemist is an open channel to the universe and has tuned himself or herself to the spiritual powers that will to communicate.  In other words the occult mystic is an open door the hidden powers of the universe.

It really makes no difference what nature the shaman attributes to the spirits.  Definitions are counterproductive.  I well believe that the vast majority of occultists consider the discussion about what is and is not satanic to be irrelevant.  Marilyn Manson, for example, believes he is bigger and badder than Satan and has no commitment to any particular form of the occult, even though he is a high priest of the Church of Satan (content warning).  I honestly doubt that most satanists and occultists have embraced enough metanarrative to draw any stable conclusions about much of anything.  They are lost, quite contentedly, in a maze of perpetual ambiguity.  They are seekers, not finders, who repudiate definitions and points of departure.  They live in various states of consciousness, all of them alternate and none of them normal.

Magicians

Another interesting connection to the occult and alternate states of consciousness is the prevalence of sex magick within various traditions that seek mystical transformation through psychic experience.  Recently, I became aware that Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage) made famous by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code is the most important of all the rites in Wiccan witchcraft.  In Wicca Hieros Gamos is known as The Great Rite.

For those of you who spared themselves of Dan Brown’s potboiler, Hieros Gamos is a kind of “sacred” play in which a high priest and high priestess act out the union between god and goddess, by means of sexual intercourse, and symbolize the coincidence of opposites, as in alchemy and psychology.  In Wicca the Great Rite may be performed “in token,” that is symbolically by means of the penetration of chalice by a blade, or “in truth” through the actual commerce of the high priest and priestess.

Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca casts The Great Rite in terms of a heightened and magical state of consciousness that is not focused on sex but on the intended object of transformation.  It is, according to him, an aid to “The Great Work,” that is, whatever transformation is the object of Wiccan magic (ultimately wisdom and personal transformation).  Gardner writes that the mind of the participants in The Great Rite “must seize and mold the power generated, and redirect it to the desired end with all the force and frenzy of the imagination.”  So this is sex as mysticism and personal transformation via a sex induced alternate state of consciousness.

Interestingly, the term “The Great Work” is also a Hermetic/alchemic expression for the transmutation of metals and most especially, the transmutation of the soul.   This alchemical process is conceived as a marriage of opposites.  The fundamental alchemical text is named Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz.  Alchemy and sex magick are familiar bedfellows, so to speak.

Aleister Crowley, who is also defended from accusations of Satanism, was a pioneer of modern sex magick, as well as an experimenter in recreational drugs.  He placed a special emphasis on working with prostitutes and considered in the highest form of magick to be achieved by means of homosexual acts.  Crowley, the Great Beast himself, inducted the founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, into the former’s Ordo Templi Orientis, shortly before Crowley died.  Gardner took up the torch and carried the flame.

Kumbaya

Also interesting to note is that the only critique of Dan Brown’s work to draw out the Wiccan connection to Hieros Gamos, is that of Steve Kellmeyer.  Carl Olsen’s and Sandra Meisel’s The Da Vinci Hoax, says surprisingly little about Hieros Gamos, even though in the novel its full revelation by Robert Langdon to Sophie Neveu is also the full revelation of the “Holy Grail” to the reader of the novel.  It is kind of the whole point.

Even more interesting is Sandra Meisel’s rather soft critique of Wicca, which seems to be me more ecumenical than warranted.  There she is careful to distinguish the ancient “fertility rites” antecedent to Wicca from Satanism and to hold Christianity responsible for misinterpreting pagan intentions.  And while she touches upon the sexual license of Wiccans, Meisel never mentions The Great Rite at all, and instead recommends sexualized method to evangelize them:

Catholic responses to paganism would be stronger if we could recover that sense of incarnational “bodiliness” the Middle Ages knew. The common perception that Catholicism itself is somehow puritanical — to say nothing of the sad fact that some Catholics are puritanical — needs to be addressed. On the positive side, the late-Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body offers a bold new understanding of human sexuality that would startle pagans, especially in its popular exposition by Christopher West.

In fact, in his first edition of audio recordings, Naked without Shame, Christopher West referred to the Catholic Easter Vigil as a “fertility rite.”  I have not heard that language from him since he made that series more than a decade ago.  However, the substance of his presentation has not changed with respect to the phallic interpretation of the Easter Candle.

BTW, what the “hell” is this image taken from subliminal soft-pornographic flash animation on Father Loya’s Theology of the Body site:

There is something genuinely creepy about all this.

Playing with Fire

Sex as mysticism is an inherently dangerous idea, not because sex has no orthodox theological meaning, but because eroticism and sexual ecstasy are simply not the same thing as prayer.  It really can only be identified with the contemplative life by means of the inversion involved with occultism.  It is true that grace builds on nature, and that the sexual experience is a sign.  But nature and grace are not identical.  Sex is not prayer.

In respect to this particular problem, the Theology of the Body popularizers would do well to remember that in the domain of sexuality, when compared to the Prince of this World, they are amateurs.  The Old Boy has been at it for a long time.

It is good to avoid prudery, but as one writer points out:

the danger lies in stripping us of the inhibitions and sublimations that occasionally protect us from harm.  Insofar as [Christopher West] and [Hugh] Hefner recommend to us more “exposure” both are misguided.  Between the beautiful and the demonic there is no clinically neutral middle.  Our sexuality is anything but “harmless.”  As Donald Keefe has said, there is no common ground between yes and no. Sexual love in marriage, he would note, is the occasion for blissful joy, not simply the elements of fun.  Any attempts by West or Hefner to domesticate the beautiful, to make the holy into something manipulable, even manageable, will be about as successful as rap music has been in lowering the crime rate.

I have posed several questions to the Theology of the Body gurus that have remained unanswered for a long time (Under the heading “Looking for Answers”).  Perhaps the popularizers are insulted by the questions or otherwise do not take the questions seriously.  But I am dead serious.  I think they are very good questions and they need to be answered.  I really want to know how I am to distinguish Christopher West  & Co.’s defense of shamelessness from advocacy for liturgical sexuality.

Knowing and Loving

Personal transformation via alternate states of consciousness is not Christian mysticism.  It is not the goal of the contemplative life to make oneself a channel of the spiritual, but rather to converse with God.  Knowing and willing, objective thought and personal love must never be abandoned, though if one clings to Christ and his Word (objective truth) the Shepherd may open the Sheep’s Gate so that the soul can pasture in the fields planted by His own hand (cf. Jn 10:9).  In the Catholic tradition, contemplative knowing and loving does at times presuppose a suspension of the ordinary functioning of the faculties of the soul, but this is never a generic awareness, something other than knowing and willing.  Contemplatives should never make it their goal to induce alternate states of consciousness or to make themselves open channels to the spiritual world for the sake some experience of the transcendent.

What can and cannot be formally identified as Satanism is of little importance when compared with the satanic elements that run clean through every form of the occult.  Satan uses both ambiguity and overly fine distinctions imbed himself in peoples consciousness.

Beautiful Lies

Satanic alternate realities are being sold to us as an aesthetic experiment and marketing ploy.  Ozzy is recast as a pious God-invoking do-gooder who just happens to adopt dark, gothic outer clothing.  In his melodic “Dreamer,” his honest yearnings are sanctified with the presence of angels, albeit dark, gothic, child angels:

Your higher power may be God or Jesus Christ
It doesn’t really matter much to me
Without each others help there ain’t no hope for us
I’m living in a dream of fantasy
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah

If only we could all just find serenity
It would be nice if we could live as one
When will all this anger, hate and bigotry …
Be gone?

I’m just a dreamer
I dream my life away
Today
I’m just a dreamer
Who dreams of better days
Okay
I’m just a dreamer
Who’s searching for the way . . .

Yes, Ozzie is “living in a dream of fantasy.”  He is a searcher and a dreamer, a drug-driven shaman, singing into the great void for an end of hatred and bigotry.  It is generic “awareness” that summons up the conviction that what we need is an end to the equally generic “hatred and bigotry.”  What the occult urges us to do is to open our minds ever wider to subjectivity and embrace universal brotherhood, without conviction in a metanarrative like the one connected to “God or Jesus Christ.”  Christ condemns sin by name and closes the door to it.  But alternate states of consciousness encourage us to open the door wide to alternate realities and alternative lifestyles.

There actually is a normal state of consciousness, and this is not it.  Wicca and gothic, postmodern, occult culture is not in the least harmless.  Good faith has nothing to do with it.  The question of overt Satanism has little to do with it either.  The choice for Christ is not compatible with contemplative experimentation and Christian esotericism, because the light is not compatible with the darkness, and Christ can have no concord with Belial (cf.2 Corinthians 6:15).  We have allowed the bruised egos of the likes of  Ozzie Osbourne and Marilyn Manson to keep us making the most refined distinctions in regard to what actually belongs to the satanic.  This is the reasoning championed by Freemasonry, because the Craft is essentially militant occultism in a popular form.  Satan is king of the convoluted.

Just for the record, I have chosen not to draw any conclusions here with respect to Harry Potter.  That will come in due time along the lines of a reasoned argument which is not the burden of this post.  For now we can just say that Rowling deals with these issues and she takes them seriously.  Harry Potter is a serious work and not just a cartoon-like children’s story.  The issues at hand are about life and death.  May we all choose life and close the door to the spirits of darkness.

Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train

Recently, the Theology of the Body Institute conducted its first national congress, during which the triumphal march of the new chastity catechesis pressed forward–in spite of the fact that the movement’s avatar, Christopher West, was absent, presumably to reflect upon his method of presenting the Theology of the Body.  Perhaps I was naïve, but I thought West’s sabbatical meant that his critics had made some headway.  Such progress, unfortunately, did not seem to be reflected at the congress.  Dr. Janet Smith, for example, stated the following:

The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker.

Am I quoting out of context?  I would like to know in what context the comparison of God to a pathological sexual deviant would be appropriate.  Please note that the above statement was published as a tweet by the congress organizers themselves.  So this is what they themselves decided to feed the public. Continue reading