The Astral Body, the Chakras & The Magical Arts

by John L. Steadman

The relationship between the astral body, the chakras and the physical body is often misunderstood by novice magickal practitioners. What is meant by the term “astral” body, indeed, is subject to differing interpretations; occultists tend to associate the astral body with the etheric, which they envision as a plane of invisible, subtle matter that serves, in turn, as a pattern or prototype for the physical word, and they use such terms as the Etheric Double, or the Body of Light interchangeably with the Astral Body; all of this tends to create obfuscation rather than clarity. Likewise, occultists, seeking to explain exactly what the chakras are, offer definitions that end up confusing the novice; they speak of the chakras (rightly) as linked to actual physical nerve plexi and glands, and yet, they assert that these chakras are “potent energy sources” in themselves, and thus, beyond the physical.  Again, obfuscation rather than clarity is the result.

In attempting to explain the connection between the astral body, the chakras and the physical body, then, I think that it is important initially to recognize and to accept two basic premises.  First, the human mind is not “in” the brain, nor is it “in” the body; instead, the reverse is true; the brain and the body are “in” the mind.  The mind, thus, exists equally independent from the rarified activity known as cognition as well as the basic, often distasteful rag and bone shop of horrors that characterizes human emotions and instinctive human activity.  Second, the sole, genuine power of the mind is the Imagination.  As the root word “image” suggests, the Imagination makes images.  Even more importantly, it creates images.  Most of these images are anchored in the familiar word that we are born into and are imprisoned in by our perceptions.  But a fraction of these images are separate from the physical world, and these latter images exist, like the mind itself, behind or apart from the physical world.  The mind, as it imagines, then, is very much like the God of Abraham, spoken of in the first book of the Old Testament, a free, creative spirit that moves upon the face of a great void and then simply does what it is in its nature to do, to create.

Given these two premises, it is possible to examine the elements of the individual human being.  Following the eastern esoteric tradition, which begins its analysis from the lower, material levels to the spiritual, we will move from the less subtle to the subtler. The most basic element of the human being is the physical body and this is – well – the physical body.  It gives the impression of being real, so much so, in fact, that most non-occultists think that it is real.  But this body isn’t physical at the subatomic level; as Quantum Physics suggests, it is, if anything, nothing more than a probabilistic pattern of particles in a constant state of flux held together by our pre-conditioning and perception.  After a time, perception proves to be too weak to keep the body together and it dissipates.   The reason for this can be found in the first premise articulated above: the brain & the body are “in” the mind.  The mind, therefore, exists outside the physical. It may be, for convenience, linked to perception, which is the mind’s most inconsequential power. But there is not any real link.   Accordingly, as the body declines, the powers of perception decline as well, and ultimately, the mind ends up unable (or unwilling) to prevent the dissipation and the body dies.

The second element of the individual human being are the chakras. The chakras are associated with the nerve plexi and the glandular centers of the human being.  There are seven of them: the crown of the head (sahasrara-padma); the brow (ajna), throat (visuddha), heart (anahata), solar plexus (manipura), sacrum or navel (svadhishana), and spine (muladhara).  It is not accurate to directly attribute the chakras to these physical centers of the body; they are best understood as invisible, unmeasurable, energy- sources, which, in turn, can be channeled at the nerve points.  The chakras, thus, are arguably etheric meridians, as some occultists will have it.   And yet, the charkas are still indissolvably linked to these physical areas of the body.  In fact, they really cannot function without the physical links in place.  The chakras cannot even be understood or comprehended separate from the physical links.  Thus, as the body ages and grows weaker, and as the hold of the mind on the body weakens as well via the declining powers of perception, the chakras grow weaker and their energies decline.  Again, it is worth remembering: the brain & the body are “in” the mind.  Therefore, we observe the same situation expressed before with regard to the body & the brain; the mind stands back, inviolate, as the brain and the body slowly dissipate; and the chakras, correspondingly, dissipate as well.  And when the body eventually dies, the chakras die along with it, their energies dispersed as readily as the life force of any merely physical thing.

The third element of the individual human being, the astral body, is radically different than the physical body and the chakras.   There are those occultists who refer to the astral body as the “second” body, and they like to assert that the astral body is the invisible double of the physical body and that it, likewise, serves as a kind of pattern upon which the physical body is built.  These occultists, in short, equate the astral body with the etheric. Many of these occultists, in fact, even go as far as to claim the etheric body is actually a probability distribution that ultimately determines the shape and disposition of the human body.  In making such an argument, these occultists are literally imposing a neo-platonic paradigm on Quantum theory, which is, of course, unjustifiable.   J. H. Brennan, occultist and author, describes very accurately the difference between the astral body and the etheric and, in the process, highlights the confusion that often ensues when the astral body is mistakenly identified as etheric.

Your etheric body is your invisible double.   It interpenetrates your physical body and some schools of thought believe with the physicists it is essentially a pattern of force on which your physical body is built.  It is closer to matter than to mind…it seems to function as a link between your physical body and your mind… [But] your astral body is a step beyond the etheric.  And this step takes you into the realms of the psychic proper.  The astral body is composed of mind-stuff: or more accurately, imagination stuff. [i]

The imagination, as I have suggested previously, is the mind’s primary, creative power.  Furthermore, I think that it is safe to assert that the astral body, as a product of the imagination, is the mind’s most essential creation.  It is important to note, however, is that the creation, in this case, shares the same quality as the creator; that is, the astral body, like the mind itself, stands apart from the body & the brain.  The astral body can be perceived, as can the physical body and the chakras.  But when the body & the brain decay, and when perception declines and weakens, neither the mind nor the astral body are affected.  For, indeed, the mind and the astral body are not “in” the body or the brain; they are separate.  They are inviolate, not subject to dissipation, decay and death.

When it comes to the practice of the magickal arts, particularly the “high” magickal arts, the astral body is of utmost importance.   Among occultists, there is a distinction between “high” and “low” magick.  Low magick involves the use of magick for physical, psychological, or emotional purposes.  A good example of low magick would be cleansing the chakras; this procedure tends to promote the physical well-being of an individual.  Another example of a low magickal operation would be casting a spell to attract a lover; the purpose here is twofold: part physical gratification, part emotional satisfaction.  Low magickal goals are best handed by a simple generation of magickal force.  As described in the terms of chakra mythology, magickal force results when the kundalini at the base of the muladhara chakra is stimulated via the use of magickal techniques; the energy then rises throughout the body, stimulating the other chakras as well as it moves up the body and then ultimately emerges in the physical world.  This process does not involve the astral body at all, unless the magickal practitioner sees a need to bring the astral body into the mix.  In contrast, the practice of high magick – i.e. evocation, invocation & conjuration- is best accomplished by the astral body.  A magickal practitioner performs high magick for two purposes: knowledge and/or power.  The rites themselves invariably involve the full use of the elements of magickal practice.  The magickal practitioner makes use of symbolic objects- the customary wand, cup, sword, and pentacle.  The practitioner, also, starts out her working in a stylized setting, whether real-time, akashic or virtual.  Then, at some point, the magickal practitioner finds herself performing the rite in the astral body.  Here, the imagination has reached an apotheosis.  The experience becomes, in effect, pure mind and pure perception.

[i] Brennan, J. H. Magick for Beginners: The Power to Change Your World. St Paul, MN, Llewellyn Publications, Inc., 1998, 68.


John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.

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Magickal & Virtual Egregores in the 21st Century

by John L. Steadman

The high tech, pyrotechnic sci-fi writer William Gibson, in his novel Idoru (1996) envisions a future in which a virtual media star, Rei Toei, or the “idol”, marries Rex, a rock star, and the two then create a virtual place to live in Tokyo, in an akashic-type locale known as The Walled City, constructed from inverted kill-file software codes.  Gibson describes the idoru as basically disembodied information, though her holographic persona is artificially intelligent and creative, and the presentation itself is beautiful in an otherworldly way, at least according to human standards of beauty.

If he [Laney, who works as a net-runner in the book] anticipated her at all, it had been as some industrial-strength synthesis of Japan’s last three dozen top female media faces…. the formula tended to be even more rigid, in the case of software agents- eigen-heads, their features algorithmically derived from some human mean of proven popularity.  [But] she was nothing like that.  Her black hair, rough-cut and shining, brushed pale bare shoulders as she turned her head.  She had no eyebrows, and both her lids and lashes seemed to have been dusted with something white, leaving her dark pupils in stark contrast…. the idoru smiled, lit from within…[i]

What is most fascinating about the idoru is that since she is a pure form of information, she affects the mind of the onlooker in different ways; one of the people at the table where she is sitting – a very basic, unimaginative man, to be sure-  sees her as only a big aluminum thermos bottle.  But Laney experiences a nodal vision which takes the form of a narrative; the narrative intensifies when he looks directly at her face.

He seemed to cross a line.  In the very structure of her face, in geometries of underlying bone, lay coded histories of dynastic flight, privation, terrible migrations.  He saw stone tombs in steep alpine meadows, their lintels traced with snow.  A line of shaggy pack ponies, their breath white with cold, followed a trail about a canyon.  The curves of the river below were strokes of distant silver.  Iron harness bells clanked in the blue dusk…Laney shivered.  In his mouth a taste of rotten metal.[ii]

Obviously, the idoru can affect all of the senses of the imaginative person who is in its presence; Laney sees a group of images that reflect historical events in the early dynasties of Japan; flight, privation and migration.  The description is very well developed visually.  And, additionally, Laney’s other senses are stimulated; he hears bells; he feels cold, and he has the unpleasant taste of “rotten metal” in his mouth (this is an interesting sensation; metal can rust, but it can’t really rot and so, there seems to be an almost organic quality to this taste).

For the magickal practitioner who is reading Gibson’s description, he or she will immediately think: egregore, and this is perfectly right.  Egregores are magickal constructs, “beings” if you will, usually created by magickal practitioners for specific purposes and then, deconstructed by the said practitioner when that purpose is accomplished.  However, it is important to understand two important facts about egregores: (1) these beings, once created, have an independent existence from the magickal practitioners who created them; and (2) over time, if the egregore is not deconstructed but rather, allowed to continue its existence, then it will grow stronger and more powerful.  In occult literature, this outcome is often perceived as undesirable, since the egregore will eventually reach a level of development where it can no longer be deconstructed; essentially, it ends up uncontrollable.  For example, Konstantinos, in Summoning Spirits (2005), argues: “Sometimes, creating an egregore can be dangerous…. the legend of the golem illustrates this possibility in an accurate, yet allegorical way…. I recommend…a very careful reading of the actual story before attempting this type of magickal creation.”[iii]   I would argue, however, that egregores do not necessarily become “bad” or “evil” entities, unless their creators are bad or evil men or women.  Indeed, I would contend that egregore can be more or less equivalent to the idoru that Gibson describes above, i.e. benign entities that are thoroughly real in every sense of the term except the physical, and which, in turn, evolve over time and actually “learn” and become more complex, viable beings.  In fact, these entities can ultimately become repositories of information which magickal practitioners, in turn, can access and experience, often as narrative, even though these latter practitioners did not create the entity and have no connection with it other than the basic connection of seeing or experiencing it.

As a case in point, consider H. P. Lovecraft’s Great Old One Cthulhu.  This is a fictional entity, created by Lovecraft in the tale “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926).  Over the years since Lovecraft’s death, Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones have achieved a level of independent existence and surely, they have grown in power and complexity, drawing energy not only from the countless fans and readers of sci-fi and horror and contemporary gaming culture, but also from a small but dedicated group of magickal practitioners who work with these entities in their magickal rites.  In the popular mind, Cthulhu is usually perceived as being “evil”; he is seen as a monstrous, humanoid creature with wings, sharp claws and teeth, and a face full of tentacles.  But is Cthulhu really a monster such as this?  And is he necessarily evil?  I am not so sure. Like the rest of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu is rarely interested in humans or human concerns; his interest in humanity is essentially no different than the interest that most humans have in lower, insignificant life forms such as insects.  This attitude might be considered “evil”, but only from a human perspective.  What I find most interesting about Cthulhu and his peers, however, is that they tend to appear differently depending on the perspective and the cognitive level of the person who “experiences” them.  In fact, like Gibson’s idoru, complex egregores such as the Great Old Ones are best understood as experiences, as nodal visions, and even, at times, as narratives that play out the individual minds and the psyches of the observers.  Lovecraft makes this clear right from the onset in “The Call of Cthulhu.”  When Cthulhu’s sunken city R’lyeh resurfaces due to a disturbance in the Pacific Ocean, Cthulhu, momentarily free, is perceived in different ways by a group of sailors: some of them see him as a monster, snatching them up in his claws; others see him as only a vague, overwhelming shape- “A mountain walked, or stumbled”, as Lovecraft puts it.  And one of the sailors perceives Cthulhu in geometrical terms, i.e. as an acute angle that behaves as if it were obtuse.

Clearly, the affinity between egregores and virtual entities such as Gibson’s idoru demonstrates just how close the line between magick and science is becoming in the 21st century.  Skilled magickal practitioners have always possessed the ability to create virtual beings; the presentation is akashic rather than electronic, but the principle is exactly the same.  Scientists, however, are only now in the process of learning how to do this.   This circumstance is a good thing, since it indicates that the two disciplines, science and magick, will eventually become one in a not so distant future, just as they were in a not so distant past.  And as technology finds ways to bridge- at least electronically- the gaps between different dimensions and the diversity of worlds inside and outside of our solar system, magick will have to be there to serve as a philosophical and metaphysical underpinning, helping the scientist/magickian to interpret and understand rightly the wondrous things that are waiting to be discovered.

[i] Gibson, William. Idoru. New York, Berkley Books, Inc., 229-30.

[ii] Ibid., 230.

[iii] Konstantinos. Summoning Spirits: The Art of Magical Evocation.  Woodbury, Minnesota. Llewellyn Publications, 2003, 5.


John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.

The Causes of Magickal Power: A Brief Essay

by John L. Steadman

Among occultists, there is some debate about the actual causes of magickal power. There are three schools of thought in play here.  First, there is the theory that the source of magickal power derives from the extra-terrestrial entities that are the target of magickal practice. This theory is certainly the earliest theory and can be considered as the “traditional” view.  The rituals used by magickal practitioners prior to the twentieth century were derived from the grimoires and magickal texts of the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries in western Europe, and these practitioners commonly assumed that the extraterrestrial entities, whether invoked or evoked, as the case might be, served as the “causes” of magickal power.  This is evident when we examine the texts of some of the actual grimoires, such as the Greater Key of Solomon, attributed to the historical King Solomon who lived in the 10th century B.C.E., but likely written by one of Solomon’s followers in the 12th or 13th centuries.

In these prototypical rites, the magickal practitioner not only exhorted the various demons or evil spirits to bring about the results he desires, but went so far as to offer prayers and supplications to angels, archangels and even God himself to compel the demons to do so.   As the medieval practitioner, did this, however, he believed that he was working with real, empirically-existent entities- as ontologically real, in fact, as he was himself.  This belief in the reality of the entities was, of course, held by the early church; the Holy Roman Catholic Church cited doctrine that “proved” God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the various angelic and demonic entities were actually in existence; Ephesians 6; Colossians 2:17; Job 4:18; Isiah 45:7.  Similarly, the Protestant sects, from the earliest times, accepted the ontological nature of angels and demons.  As a case in point, the great New England divine Cotton Mather, chief apologist for the Salem Witchcraft crisis of 1692, firmly believed that the afflicted girls were possessed by actual devils, and he himself had an encounter with what he saw as a “good angel when he was in his thirties. But Mather was very careful to state that the devils which afflicted the girls in Salem, though real devils, were allowed to do so only by the permission of God himself.  And likewise, Mather’s contact with his own angel was allowable only through God’s will.

The second school of thought about the source of magickal power is the “inner” explanation.  With the advent of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and psychiatry in the early 1900’s, many occultists shifted away from the strictly “outer” explanation towards the belief that magickal power originates in the mind and brain of human beings themselves.  Accordingly, or so these occultists argue, the extraterrestrial entities are not real, objectively existing beings, but rather, personifications of specific qualities and psychic predispositions that reside within each magickal practitioner. Thus, when a magickal practitioner evokes Metatron, for example, an archangel of the sphere of Kether, who manifests in a cloud of blinding white light- much like a conventional image (caricature?) of God, the Father- this being is only a mental construct and has no reality outside the mind of the magickal practitioner.  The practitioner is, in effect, “seeing things”.  In addition, Metatron would be entirely invisible to the physical eyes of any objective onlooker, even though the power of this entity can still be used by the practitioner for his or her own ends.  Therefore, the magickal power has its source in the mental, imaginative powers of the practitioner; the devices used in the ritual, the trappings, the image of the entity itself, etc., are only symbols that allow the practitioner to access inner reservoirs of psychic energy.

The third school of thought provides a compromise between the strictly “outer” and strictly “inner” positions, arguing that magickal power has both an outer and inner dimension. Kenneth Grant, one of the proponents of this third school of thought, acknowledges that there are objectively real extraterrestrial entities present in any successful magickal rite, but he focuses his attention on the inner aspect whenever he describes the generation of magickal power.  Drawing on his knowledge of the East Indian Tantric texts, particularly the texts of the Sri Vidya sect, which he adapted freely for his own use in the Typhonian O.T.O., Grant pictures the awakening of magickal power in terms of the rising of a red dragon, or fire snake, which resides inside the body of the magickal practitioner.  The fire snake, also known as the Kundalini, lies coiled at the base of the spine.  During the course of a given magickal working, the fire snake ascends the spine and charges the chakras, i.e. specific power zones located in the human body.   As the fire snake rises, bodily secretions occur at each of the seven main chakras, the Sahasrana, Ajna, Visduha, Anahata, Manipura, Svadisthana, and Muladhara, respectively, and these secretions then manifest as magickal power once the fire snake begins its descent.  If the magickal practitioner is a male and is performing an act of sex magick with a female practitioner, then there are subtle energy fields in the body of the female, known as kalas, which are also charged by the rite and contribute their own essence or effluvia to the secretions at the point of the chakras.  And this, in turn, tends to intensify the magickal power generated by the rite as a whole.  Grant describes the process in the following terms.

In order to transform sexual energy into magical energy (ojas), the dormant Fire Snake at the base of the spine is awakened…the chakras..the lesser lights glowing and pulsating like stars throughout the ganglionic network of nerves which constitutes the subtle anatomy of man…become fully energized only when the Fire Snake arrives at their several loci during Her ascent…When the Fire Snake emits its luminous venom, it gushes over and permeates the entire body.  The overflow contains ojas, the magical current that electrifies the cerebro-spinal fluid in the region of the sushumna (spinal canal)…Finally, She attains the calm purity of Her lunar-sattvic essence as She reaches the brain, above the visuddha power-zone.  It is on Her backward journey that She collects these essences into One Supreme Elixir and discharges it through the Secret Eye of the Priestess. [i]

 

The Elixir alluded to in this passage is the combined sexual fluids of the magickian and the priestess, and the “Secret Eye” is, of course, the vagina of the priestess. The fact that Grant’s emphasis here is on sex magick, however, does not mean that the awakening of the Fire Snake and the resultant development of magickal power is confined only to sex workings.  Grant, in Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God (1992), makes it clear that the Kundalini can be fully awakened by ritual magick and, interestingly enough, by other methods which may or may not have any connection with the practice of magick at all.[ii]   In fact, Grant provides a list of methods for generating magickal power which includes such activities as listening to certain types of music, getting high on drugs or alcohol, and even aesthetic rapture induced by the contemplation of art objects, as viable alternatives to magickal rites.

The magickal practitioners who do not engage in sex magick and yet, adhere to the “inner/outer” theory of magickal power, hold views similar to those articulated by Grant, though they usually don’t describe the generation of magick power in terms of the chakras, kalas, sexual secretions, etc.  On average, magickal practitioners still accept the traditional theory that magick works on three “planes.” I am not sure that I accept this theory at all; I tend to hold a Quantum Physics view of magick, which I have articulated in my two books: H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition: The Master of Horror’s Influence on Modern Occultism (2015) and H. P. Lovecraft’s Magickal Persona: The Evolution of an Occult Archetype (2016). Nevertheless, the theory of planes stipulates that there is a physical plane, an astral plane, and a mental plane.  According to this theory, human beings inhabit all three of these planes simultaneously.  In effect, the planes coexist around us, and we have three “bodies” that allow us to move between the planes. These are the physical body, the astral body (which is often equated with the “soul”) and the spirit itself- this “spirit”, presumably, is the purified body that returns to Heaven or to God after death.

Konstantinos, magickal practitioner and well-known author on occult subjects, elaborates on how a magickal evocation is enacted, at least in terms of the three planes, and how magickal power is generated.

In a magical evocation, your calling of the entity is done on the mental plane.  After it “hears” you, it either comes to the astral or physical planes, depending on the type of evocation you are performing.  The calling of the entity is performed on the mental plane because all magic begins in the mind, is powered by the will, and causes change.

Why do evocations work?  Why do entities feel compelled to come to the magician when called?  To answer this question…. When a magician stands in the center of the circle, he or she is able to invoke the power of Divine Providence.  In the Opening by Watchtower, a vortex of power descends upon the magician, which the magician can use to empower the ritual he or she is performing.  Since this power comes from God, the magician can in effect command Holy Energy, granting him or her Divine Authority.[iii]

This is a very interesting statement.  According to Konstantinos, the magickal practitioner calls the entity in his mind; this part of the theory conforms to the “inner” view regarding the causes of magickal power.  But then, the entity answers the call; this, in turn, conforms to the “outer” view.  The  entity, thus, is a real entity, since it can travel on its own volition between the astral plane and the physical plane,  and when the entity manifests, particularly on the physical plane, it’s ontological reality is confirmed.  Konstantinos’ discussion of the vortex of power and the “Holy Energy” is interesting as well; here, he rather sounds like Cotton Mather, essentially arguing that the power of magick is given, or “granted”, by God.  The medieval magickal practitioners, mentioned previously, would certainly concur with this view.

[i] Grant, Kenneth, Cults of the Shadow, New York, Samuel Weiser, 1976, 64-95.

[ii] Grant, Kenneth, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, London, Skoob Books, 1992, pp.97-8.

[iii] Konstantinos. Summoning Spirits: The Art of Magical Evocation. Woodbury, Minnesota, Llewellyn Publications, 2005, 111-112.


John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.

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John L. Steadman on H. P. Lovecraft

John L. Steadman, author of H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, goes into a bit more depth about the horror writer in the conversation below. Enjoy!


In your book, Lovecraft is associated specifically with the practice of black magick, as opposed to white magick, which has unpleasant connotations in the minds of some readers. Are you suggesting that Lovecraft or his works could be considered evil?

Determining whether or not a person or action is “evil” depends solely on the person or the action itself when judged in terms of behavior or effects. Certainly, a black magickian can be described as good as long as he or she acts ethically, while a white magickian can be considered evil if his or hers actions are harmful to others. In Lovecraft’s works, his view of the magickian is definitely black, but not necessarily evil. His magickal practioners perform their craft to either gain knowledge or power; the fact that some of the these practitioners end up becoming evil is besides the point.

Why do critics and readers refer to Lovecraft’s stories at Cthulhu Mythos?

The term “Cthulhu Mythos” was coined by August Derleth, a friend and colleague of Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself referred to his Mythos stories jocularly as “Yog-Sothothery” and he didn’t formally categorize his stories or divide them up into specific, disparate groups. It is correct that Cthulhu isn’t a major player in the Mythos stories; this Great Old One does only appear in The Call of Cthulhu (1926). But Derleth’s designation seems to have “stuck” in spite of this fact and is generally accepted by readers and critics.

Occult writers often link Lovecraft with Aleister Crowley. In fact, one of these occultists, Peter Levenda, argues that Lovecraft had ma naged to establish a link between himself and Crowley’s Holy Guardian Angel, Aiwass. Is this true?

In a letter written to Emil Petaja, dated March 6, 1935, Lovecraft associates Aleister Crowley with the English decadents of the 1890’s: “In the 1890’s the fashionable decadents liked to pretend that they belonged to all sorts of diabolic Black Mass cults & possessed all sorts of frightful occult information. The only specimen of this group still active is the rather over-advertised Aleister Crowley…” Lovecraft’s view of Crowley here is not surprising; in the mid 1920’s, Crowley and his disciples at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu were expelled from Italy by Mussolini and the newspapers in Europe and the US were full of accounts of the lurid rituals and practices that took place at the Abbey. Crowley was universally headlined as the “Wickedest Man in the World”, and labeled a Satanist; thus, Lovecraft’s view of Crowley necessarily reflected the negative press coverage. Other than this, however, there is no evidence that Lovecraft knew anything else about Crowley. Certainly, Lovecraft didn’t forge any link with Aiwass, or indeed, with any extra-terrestrial entity; he didn’t even know who or what Aiwass was, and Lovecraft had no knowledge of Crowley’s experiences on April 8, 9 and 10 in 1904 when Liber AL vel Legis was dictated to Crowley via Aiwass.


John L. Steadman is a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan. Visit him at www.johnlsteadman.com.

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H. P. Lovecraft: Juvenile Writer or Subtle Craftsman?

by John L. Steadman

The great American critic Edmund Wilson, in an article written for The New Yorker in 1945, argues that H. P. Lovecraft was a bad writer with bad taste and bad artistry. Wilson implies, also, that Lovecraft’s work is juvenile; in a comment about “The Shadow Out of Time”, Wilson makes this devastating remark:  “semi-invisible polypous monsters that uttered shrill whistling sounds and blasted their enemies with terrific winds.  Such creatures would look very well on the covers of the popular magazines, but they do not make good adult reading.”

Although Lovecraft’s reputation since the 40’s and well into the new millennium has managed to transcend such criticisms, nevertheless, the charge of juvenile themes and a less than adult treatment of those themes still persists in the minds of certain readers and critics.  Even more problematic, Lovecraft’s reputation hasn’t been exactly improved by the wholehearted embracing of his literary constructs by popular culture.  Artifacts such as graphic comic book versions of his stories and, of course, the innumerable role-playing games, and, particularly, the over-the-top films such as the Re-Animator series  and the lurid Stuart Gordon movie Dagon, present slimy, tentacled monstrosities that do tend to support Wilson’s charge of juvenilism.

However, when we examine closely Lovecraft’s actual tales, there is a plethora of evidence that indicates an opposite conclusion: that Lovecraft was, in fact, not only an adult writer writing for adults, but moreover, a very subtle, masterful writer indeed.

For example, in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), the focus is on a race of entities known as the Mi-Go (alternate names are the Outer Ones or the Fungi From Yuggoth), pinkish, crustaceous extra-terrestrial entities with membranous wings, articulated limbs and an advanced technology who have settled in the mountainous areas of Vermont to engage in clandestine mining operations.  Popular culture stresses the outré, rather childishly comic appearance of these entities and a reader might make the assumption that  the creator of such creatures is likely childish as well.  Yet, in the story itself, Lovecraft’s treatment of his  monsters is very restrained.

H. P. Lovecraft Juvenile Writer or Subtle Craftsman

Folklorist Albert N. Wilmarth, the main protagonist, from whose viewpoint the reader experiences the story, doesn’t ever see anything directly and thus, there is never any real empirical evidence for the existence of these entities.  Wilmarth reads rather dubious descriptions of  the entities in local papers such as the Arkham Advertiser when a few strange bodies are allegedly seen during a season of flooding; he corresponds with Henry Wentworth Akeley, who lives in a Vermont farmhouse and claims to have had first-hand encounters with these entities; he views some questionable photos of the entities’ footprints (the entities themselves do not appear on photographic plates, due to organic anomalities), but that is all.

Eventually, Wilmarth decides to visit  Akeley to gain some actual empirical evidence, but he ends up being unable to do so.  Previous to Wilmarth’s visit, Lovecraft implies that Akeley has been captured by the entities, his brain presumably  placed in a metal canister, forcing one of the aliens to masquerade as Akeley during Wilmarth’s stay.  When Wilmarth finally meets Akeley, the man is sitting in a dim room, wrapped up in a loose dressing gown and a yellow scarf-like hood, his face and hands strangely mask-like and artificial.  Superficially, this might be a confirmation that Lovecraft’s above implication is correct, but Lovecraft cleverly keeps it all ambiguous.

Later on, up in his room, Wilmarth is awake late and becomes aware that a conference is taking place in the room below.  He hears strange buzzing voices; he hears the clattering of entities moving about the room that suggests that their bodies are insectoid in design, but once again, nothing specific is seen.  And when Wilmarth finally becomes terrified enough to flee from Akeley’s farmhouse, a brief glance inside the room where he had met with Akeley reveals only an empty dressing gown and two artificial hands and a face, items which could support the argument that Wilmarth had been conversing with an alien, but also, the more sensible explanation that Akeley has been doing nothing more than playing an elaborate practical joke on Wilmarth.

Lovecraft’s two great stories, “The Thing on the Doorstep”  (1933) and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1931), likewise, are often cited as examples of Lovecraft’s penchant for juvenile, pulp-fiction mongering, since, after all, in the climax of the former story, a disgusting, decaying, re-animated corpse appears on the doorstep of his best friend, while in the latter story, the narrator finds him threatened by a whole village full of half human, half frog hybrid monsters.

But when we subject these stories to a close examination, we immediately become aware of Lovecraft’s nearly impeccable sense of subtlety and restraint.  The actual “thing” that shows up on the doorstep of his best friend Dan is Edward Derby, who has been forced to inhabit the dead body of his wife Asenath.  Admittedly, the body smells fairly bad (Asenath has been dead for over three months, after all), but Lovecraft presents a very tasteful monster; it is mostly concealed by a large overcoat, the hands covered, the head concealed by a low, slouch hat and the face swathed up in a black silk muffler.

The only horrible thing about it at all is that it makes a long, protracted “glub…glub…glub sound, though even this unpleasantness is rather brief, since the thing soon dissolves into bones.  As for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, the narrator, visiting Innsmouth, encounters quite a few Innsmouth locals that have the “Innsmouth” look, i.e. bulging, staring eyes and scaly skin, but he never gets a definite look at any actual monstrosity.  The narrator is forced to spend the night in the town and the hybrids, afraid that he knows too much, try to capture him in his room at the Gilman house.  But the narrator manages to escape and, in the last part of the book, Lovecraft gives us a very exciting, cat-and-mouse chase scene as the narrator flees from the inhabitants.  During the course of this pursuit, Lovecraft could have indulged himself in delineating the horrific shapes of the hybrids, but the glimpses that the narrator ends up getting are never too clear; he sees crowds of the hybrids mostly from large distances away.

Likewise, the narrator hears distant croaking and bleating sounds.  But when he is finally able to take a close look at some of the entities, the sight proves to be too much for his senses and he faints.

[For more discussion of Lovecraft’s fictional world of “gods and monsters”, so to speak (to paraphrase a line from The Bride of Frankenstein), as well as a full examination of Lovecraft’s connection with the great black magickal systems in the western world, the Vodou cults, the Wiccan religion, the Typhonian order, the Church of Satan and the Chaos Magick Pacts, please read H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, released by Weiser Books on September 1, 2015]


John L. Steadman is a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan. Visit him at www.johnlsteadman.com.

9781578635870

The Black & White Magickal Dichotomy

by John L. Steadman

In H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, I define black magick as simply magic performed for the purposes of gaining knowledge and/ or power, as opposed to white magick, which is centered on the goal of spiritual attainment.  It is scarcely necessary to observe that this distinction has no connection with any concepts of morality, or with simplistic notions of “good” or “evil”.  And certainly, black magick should not be understood as evil, nor should white magick be interpreted as good.  In Lovecraft’s fictional works, his view of the magickian is definitely black, but not necessarily evil.  Lovecraft’s magickal practitioners perform their craft either to gain knowledge or power; the fact that some of these practitioners end up becoming evil is largely beside the point.  For example, Joseph Curwen, in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927), performs necromancy to raise the spirits of dead persons; this activity is not inherently evil.  However, Curwen also commits wholesale murder; this, of course, classifies him as an evil man. Thus, the goodness or the wickedness of Curwen is based almost exclusively on his behavior and not on his beliefs.

Two prominent magickal practitioners have elaborated on the black/white dichotomy in magick and tried to widen the traditional views of magick by arguing that magickal practice should embrace the whole spectrum of colors.  The late Isaac Bonewits, founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein, the largest neopagain Druid organization in the world, in Real Magic (1993), Chapter Five, “Black Magic, White Magic, and Living Color,” argues that magickal practice can be defined to correspond to the psychic energies fields , or so-called auras, that are presumed to surround the human body. Bonewits’ system of correspondences introduces a variety of different “types” of magick: red magic, orange magic, yellow magic, green magic, blue magic, indigo magic, purple magic, ultraviolet magic (which he further identifies with traditional black magick), and brown magic.  But Bonewits himself rightly admits that magick, in itself, has no color and that his system is merely a series of associational devices.

The Black & White Magickal Dichotomy

As we examine the different types, it becomes apparent that such a classification is an unnecessary complication and elaboration, since each type of magick can be placed into the two categories that I identified in the previous paragraph.  Red magic, for example, involves blessings and curses; this is, obviously, magick performed for knowledge or power.  Indigo magic, on the other hand, is performed to control the weather, or to astral travel; again, this is magick performed for knowledge or power.  Blue magic, unlike the others, focuses on religion and spirituality in part, and thus, this type of magick could be interpreted as white magick.  After perusing all of the different types of magic articulated by Bonewits, it quickly becomes clear that such an elaboration is not necessary at all; the black/white dichotomy, as defined previously, is sufficient.

Peter J. Carroll, author of Liber Null & Psychonaut (1987) and Liber Kaos (1992), and Chancellor of Arcanorium College and Past Grandmaster of IOT Pact, posits a similar system in Liber Kaos, Part 2: The Psychonomicon, Chapter 4: Eight Magics.  Here, Carroll raises the issue of auric energy fields, just as Bonewits did, but then he sensibly drops this issue, seeing that auric fields are largely irrelevant to magickal practice, and argues instead that there are eight different types of “magics”, as he calls them, which can be attributed to the seven classical planets, plus Uranus, and which signify emotional states.  Carroll’s list is certainly creative: he gives us octarine magic (an instinctive drive toward magic); black magic (destruction and entropy), blue magic (material wealth); red magic (combat and aggression); yellow magic (changes to the ego or personality; illumination); green magic (love magic); orange magic (wit and intellect); and purple magic (sex magic).

All of these categories, however, can be placed into either the white or black categories and thus, Carroll’s system is, like Bonewits’ system, an are an unnecessary elaboration.  Yellow magick is clearly white magick, while the other seven colors are focused on black magick, i.e. on power, knowledge, or a combination of the two.

For more discussion of the black-white magickal dichotomy in Lovecraft’s work, as well as a full examination of Lovecraft’s connection with the great black magickal systems in the western world, the Vodou cults, the Wiccan religion, the Typhonian order, the Church of Satan and the Chaos Magick Pacts, please read H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, released by Weiser Books on September 1, 2015


John L. Steadman is the author of H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.