A Vision into the Great Work
Recently we looked at the rise of the Nazi Regime in 1933 through the lens of a Jewish-German magician - and his rallying call to examine ourselves in the here and now. What really stuck with me were Leonardo’s words about the importance of remembering the Whereto:
“We have to be conscious about the Whereto! Whoever is suffocated by everyday life, whoever passively follows the stream of life, is already lost. Not lost to the world itself as for this they might still provide soil or sacrifice. Yet most people have lost themselves in such a way. It is their own path that they have squandered.” (read full article)
In magic this question about the Whereto often is answered with a cipher, a substitute, a placeholder in the end that basically serves to avoid the actual question. The most casually and frequently used of such common places amongst magicians, mystics and alchemists has been the idea of 'the Great Work’.
Yet, I am not sure Brother Leonardo would have allowed us to escape the daunting nature of his essential question so easily? During the rise of the Nazi regime right in front of your doorstep it was obvious that such a question required a more tangible and concrete answer. An answer that would affect one’s life more radically. In a world where for many of us such instant threat - of our lives, values, practices and social communities - has vanished finding an answer that can truly fill the space of the question about the Whereto may be even harder? Just as in the former scenario fear and basic needs of survival might stop us from pursuing a meaningful answer, so might complacency with the status quo and narcissistic matters of identity-decoration in the latter, our current daily reality in the West.
So what happens if we cut out all rhetoric phrases, if we carve out all placeholders and common places from our language? Can we truly state the Whereto of our journey? Can we even articulate the journey itself - without necessarily knowing whereto it leads? Well, I clearly couldn’t. Which is why over recent months I worked with a circle of spirit priests to ask for sound advise. Advise ideally sound enough to make not only my mind, but my whole body, my heart, my eyes and hands resound with presence and meaning. Advise that allowed me to tune my actions towards this one goal that so often remains elusive and esoteric, instead of rock solidly grounded into our everyday lives.
Unsurprisingly that is of course not what they had in store for me - and then still it was. So let me share a bit of the journey they took me on - before we return to exploring more about the nature of the ‘Great Work’ as we all might be pursuing it in our magic and lives.
A Vision into the Great Work
First, the spirit priests taught me how to use my body and mind as a threshold. A threshold I could use to either walk from my side into their world and presence or - alternatively and much less practiced in the Western Occult tradition - for them to step over the threshold of my mind and body into this world. Such unconditional opening to the spirit world can certainly be considered a basic inventory in our magical or shamanic toolbox. Yet, what made it so special in this case for me was (1) the intensity of energy and direction that they brought with them as well (2) the simple fact that they were four spirits at once. Which in return meant my mind and spiritual body split and took four distinct places at once - a practice that came with a funny echo effect, but worked surprisingly smooth aside from that.
Secondly, in pursuit of my question ‘What is my Great Work?’ they took me to a sacred space that I don’t have access to under normal circumstances. In this place my spiritual body was extremely fluid and only confined by the actions of the spirit priests. That is - without their protection and shielding I couldn’t exist in this space. In fact they maintained and consciously adjusted the nature of my spiritual being by writing upon the periphery of my body. This taught me a lot about the deeper meaning and application of ‘angelic scripts’. It also opened my eyes to a better understanding of phenomenas that I had observed when engaging with my HGA, yet never truly questioned or understood.
When we finally got down to business I asked them the question I had brought with me all the way from my physical body resting in the middle of my physical temple up into this strange, bright space, deeply and securely shielded from the outer world: ‘What is my Great Work’. They immediately answered: ‘To Be.’ I kind of frowned - well, think of this as a metaphorical frown as at this point I didn’t really have a face - and repeated my question: ‘But once I am, what is my Great Work’? They were persistent: ‘To be. You cannot not be. You cannot not work on your Great Work.’ It dawned on me that this conversation would be a difficult - one of the many where I felt like a complete idiot. An idiot that is not only punching leagues above his own weight, but also keeping important people from doing other important stuff. I hate to waste people’s time. But then I hadn’t travelled so far to give up easily. I really needed to test if there was no way to dismantle this common place a little further - with the completely inappropriate tool that I had brought with me, called my untrained, fumbling mind. So I asked: ‘Okay, I get it. But isn’t there anything I can do to accelerate this journey?’ They were silent for a very long time. Then they answered: ‘You can become our mother.’
The moment I heard the word ‘mother’ it immediately clicked with me. In fact, it didn’t click but it hit me like a sledge-hammer. It hit me like a sound so deep and resonating that you can feel it vibrating strong and sustained through your entire body. A sound so all embracing that for a short moment I lost consciousness of what was me and what was not… ‘You can become our mother.’ Immediately I understood what they had been trying to teach me earlier when they were using my body and mind as a threshold. Immediately I understood what it meant to take true responsibilities for my actions - as they were the thin membrane through which new life, new beings constantly streamed into this world. It hit me, that being a mother didn’t necessarily mean to protect and nurture, but equally to be prepared to bring something into this life that was essentially different from oneself. It meant to use oneself as a threshold, to give new life to this world and to be non-judgemental about the life that needed to pass through. It meant to be courageous enough to open one’s body to foreign seed and foreign life and foreign consciousness. It meant to give from one’s own body to create new skin and new life and new blood - and then release all of this into the world without judgement, but with pain and commitment to sustain it. It hit me like a hammer as I suddenly glimpsed at the lap of the Great Mother. This is what so many priestesses had sacrificed themselves to? This was what every woman was experiencing, consciously or unconsciously, when being pregnant and giving birth. This was the nature of the courage, the daringness, the selflessness it took to disappear - and to give space to something else.
During the same ritual vision I went into the Inner Library and asked for support on how to become a ‘good mother’. I was introduced to a contact of immense female power whom it took less than a minute to resolve my need. She placed a geometrical pattern within my body - and then told me off for asking to be anything more or different from who I am. She said: ‘Look, I sit at this huge loom and weave. It’s all I do and it takes all my effort, focus and attention, yet I am a hugely powerful contact upholding large parts of this inner world. How can you ask to be anything different or more than a mother? Focus on it with all your being just as I focus on the threads that I am weaving.’
On the Significance of Ethics in the Great Work
“The Great Work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will.” (Eliphas Levi)
See, after having gone through the vision above and many years of magical practice, I agree and equally disagree with Levi’s statement. The ability to create, that is to shape and form ourselves is hugely dependent on the power and freedom of our will. So to emancipate our mental, emotional and spiritual capacities from the many automatisms and interdependencies they are subject to and to be able to unite them - whenever needed - under the banner of our conscious will is a pre-requirement to do any great work. And yet, in my eyes it is rather a precondition than the actual nature or circumference of our Great Work. In more traditional terms we could say: What Levi describes is the journey from Malkuth to Chesed and towards crossing the Abyss. Yet, I’d suggest this is where the more mature phases of the Great Work only start to begin.
The simple fact that we live in a time and culture where approaching the Abyss towards the upper triad takes most of us the majority of our lives certainly doesn’t imply that this is the major part of the journey itself. Only because it takes us really long to get to a certain point doesn’t make a statement about the vastness, the hugeness and size of the world we have been born into. Quite the opposite: it makes a statement about our means of traveling.
So once we have fine-tuned, trained and strengthened the magical and spiritual faculties that make up the human being - what is the Great Work we are meant to do? How do we contribute beyond ourselves? And what then is the path that we need to keep ourselves from squandering? The spirit priests’ answer was painfully simple: ‘Just be. Be yourself and be a mother to us.’
What I take from their advise is that I had heavily over-rated the question of What I am engaged in during my everyday life - and heavily under-rated the matter of How I am engaged in it. Wether I sit and meditate, wether I prepare a ritual, create a talisman, or wether I walk my dog, prepare breakfast with friends or simply go after my day job - it matters only gradually with regards to the pacing of my Great Work. What matters essentially each time, however, is how I perform each of these tasks. Let me explain this better - as there is a risk of misunderstanding this as a common place. It certainly isn’t to me.
See, a rock is a perfect rock because it has no choice but to express its own nature in a completely pure and undistorted way. The same is true for any plant. All the way from seed to returning to soil a plant is a perfect expression of its species at any stage, wether sick or healthy, strong or small. The same is true for rivers running through the land, for animals tamed or untamed, for the grass on our front lawn and even the electrical light in our offices. Nature is constantly engaged in the Great Work. Nature radiates its own perfection, purely by following its assigned path. Biologists might call the place where this path is encoded ‘DNA’, religious people might call it God’s will, mathematicians might call it the beauty of mathematics (for an example of the latter see video below). The angle from which we look at this phenomena doesn’t really matter. What we always find is that all things and beings which aren’t man-made will bring through perfection purely by being themselves. As Josephine mentioned it so well to me: ‘They are still in the Garden.’
Unfortunately we humans are not. We have left the Garden to receive the gift of choice instead. Often we look at this choice as a matter of action and deeds - the choice to do or not to do certain things. Yet, its impact reaches far beyond what we do and much deeper into ourselves. In a unique way for us humans it affects how we choose to be present in the world. A tree while unfolding itself from seed to crown leaves nothing of its potential unexpressed. In one long smooth, uninterrupted movement that evolves over decades, from birth to death, each tree unfolds all of its potential. At no point does it need to worry to become ‘a better version of itself’ because its path to perfection is still engrained in its being. The world around us pursues alchemy by nature, not by intent. And this is the one huge difference to man.
There are only few living species on this planet who need ethics to rediscover their true way of being - and man is one of them. The reason for this is because we have a choice; and the way we apply our choices is what we call ethics. And the way we choose to apply our ethics in life is what determines our life-path. Now, the ultimate marker for how we choose to bring our ethics to life are our deeds - not necessarily our intent or motivation. It is what we do that defines us as a part of this world orientated towards expression and expansion. However, the place where true beauty, true perfection of any act is determined is not the outside, but our insides. It is the place from where it emerges within us that determines the beauty of any act.
Let’s look at two pretty straight forward everyday examples:
- When I prepare breakfast for my friends I can perform the exact same actions - of setting the table, cooking eggs, frying bacon, etc. - in a huge variety of qualities. They way my friends will experience this morning will equally depend on what I am doing for them as well as how I am doing it… See, sometimes when I set the table early in the morning on a weekend my wife simply sits in a chair next to our fire place and does nothing. Well, of course she does something: she strokes our dog, watches me working or surfs the internet. But what fills the entire room with presence and beauty is just how she is with me on these mornings. It’s the quality of her being that outshines everything else.
- When I take a walk through the woods with my dog one could argue I am simply taking a walk with my dog - nothing else. However, the quality with which I am present will of course determine my experience of this walk. Not only because it will determine how well rested and renewed I'll return home. Yet, as a magician my quality of presence will also determine wether I am able to create contact with all the forest-beings that will surround me on this walk. On the inside my mind becomes the filter to how I engage with the world - while I am simply walking my dog on the outside. Such differentiation between inner and outer states is exactly what we will never encounter in the plant kingdom or the spirit realm.
Many more examples could be given of course - from how children constantly are exposed to their parents' inner states due to their unfiltered quality of being, to how our inner state often dominates the outcome of conflicts we engage in. Examples in the realm of magic are abundant yet so obvious that I won't go into them.
The way we choose to be present and the way in which this presence guides and colours all of our actions forms the true Art of Ethics. It is little understood and even less practiced in Western magic. Instead we decided to come up with black and white terminologies and a religion filled with judgement. Yet, the original idea that so quickly got distorted in the concept of Sin actually is quite simple: As humans it is incredibly hard work to ‘just be’ at our best. Because we have the choice and freedom to also be at our worst. Unlike any other being in the mineral or vegetal realm we carry the burden to form and create ourselves. Learning to use our choices wisely and appropriately is called ‘growing up’ initially. If we choose to pursue it further for many decades it might ultimately be called 'the Great Work’.
The poet Gertrude Stein once famously said: 'A rose is a rose is a rose.' How beautiful and true that is for all plants, animals, rocks and rivers and the entire world around us. Yet, man isn't man isn't man. The difference of being lies in our choices.
“Where do we find rescue from the demons of the current affairs? Initially in every single human being itself, in increasing the polarity of the individual in order to withdraw from the enormous suggestions. Each individual shall become a source of power and radiate and by this create a high quality cellular structure. (…) Just like in nature atoms gather together to form groups of atoms and further unite to cellular structures, this is how the cells will begin to form organs. (…) And this is how one assumes one’s place in the eternal work of the Earth spirit. (…) Man grows with the work he sets out for himself. He grows with the reach of his knowledge of the world.” (BLFAOL 1951, Der Magische Mensch und Sein Wirken, translation by Frater Acher)