Exploring Ancient Christian Mysticism
As a practicing magician, writing about Christianity is not only a difficult, but possibly a rather dangerous undertaking. At least that is what I am learning. Currently I am exploring aspects of the mystical tradition of the Christian path from 190 CE to 1900 CE for a future book. Anybody undertaking such an expedition quickly finds themselves wading through the bones, blood and ashes of their own magical ancestors. And yet, at the same time they will also find themselves confronted with beauty and genuine practice, with true grace and deep spiritual power.
For me, the attempt to see the world through the eyes of Christian mystics from many different centuries is an attempt to shine a light on the flame they carried forward. And yet, I find my heart filled with dissonance and tension when walking in their shoes. For it seems, they all carried both - one hand holding the flame, the other clutching on to darkness.
Strangely, this tension seems to increase the further we walk back in time. Once we arrive in the early centuries of Christianity it is hardly bearable. Maybe that is because the actual humans have been lost, behind the thick veil of time separating us from them? All we hear now is the echo of the echo of their words. Or maybe it is because the fanatical extremism that guided the Egyptian Desert Fathers was a magical sword pulled from its scabbard? Just as easy as it cuts through the veil of the world, it also cuts through what makes us essentially human.
Either way, excavating and exposing some of the powerful techniques practiced by our ancestors will be a tightrope act. For immersing oneself in their way of thinking, living and working, always bears the risk of forgetting where we stand ourselves. Attempting to view e.g. Origen's view of Jesus Christ not from the vantage point how we would judge it today, but how he possibly perceived it at his own time, requires the objectivity of an anthropologist. How did Origen truly think about the world? How did he create coherence in his world view? How did he forge the foundations of what would come to be one of the world's most powerful paradigms? -- In our field work, we have to leave our own values and filters at home, in order to truly encounter the Other. And yet, abandoning one's own values - even for short moments in time - always bears the risk of losing one's integrity altogether.
This also bears the question, for whom is this book intended for? Well, at least to this I have a clear answer: it is for you. You and I will be going on an expedition together, travelling from grave to grave, from country to country, century to century. It will be a long journey indeed, out into foreign lands, always bearing the risk of not allowing us to return to the people we once were. For seeing through the eyes of the Other, for becoming a seeker of understanding changes us, and changes everything.
Now, my presumption on this expedition will be that we both hold certain essential travelling skills: (1) To willingly manoeuvre our hearts into a silent, non-judgemental space; (2) to realise the Other for what it is, rather than seeing our own projections in it (may these be fears or desires); and (3) in our pursuit of discovery, to put things that are dear to us on the scales without knowing where the path will lead us. Most of all, however, I'll trust (4) your ability to debate within your own mind. That means, to hold conflicting truths in your minds eye, and not to close either of them out. To experience (cognitive and spiritual) dissonance and tension, in the pursuit of developing your capability to wrestle with a world that completely exceeds our ability to fully make sense of it. In short, I'll trust we both show up as grown ups.
Obviously these presumptions might be foolish. And I might lead us out on a journey that will reap more old misunderstandings than create new vantage points. I am deep in thought about this aspect of a writer's decision. How much can I trust the expertise of my audience - or how much should I presume, my words will land in the lap of a fourteen year old looking for ways of binding themselves to their soulmate? Once taken out of the earth and excavated, do all mysteries truly still protect themselves?
What I know for certain is this: As a magician, it is impossible to speak about Christian mystics, what they discovered, preserved and passed on - while not shuddering over the poison this gift contained. Today and for many centuries past, we see the outer effect of this poison when looking at the Catholic Church... It is a most dangerous threshold to cross - to walk into their inner library and to study the archive of their living practice. For it is easy to fall under their spell or to cast one upon them. To glorify or condemn their path. To drink from its poison or to break the flask.
Truly, to examine the Christian poison carefully, neither raising it to our lips, neither bedevilling the many hands that created it - that is a dangerous path indeed. And yet, isn't this what magicians should be doing best? To calmly stand at the crossroads. To calmly look the Other in the eyes. Neither falling for its exotic lure, nor enchaining what is beyond our own power or perception. Yet, to be fully present to the experience itself, free of the emotions of the gut, anchored in the flame of our heart. Seeking true understanding is a most dangerous undertaking. All books on the Faustian tradition teach us so much. I will be adding one more next year.