Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Put ALL the Gods...

A magician friend is going through the painstaking process of putting the gods of a particular pantheon onto the Golden Dawn Tree of Life, correlating the deities from the myths to the sephira. I couldn't resist giving her some good natured shit over the process, but it was all in fun.

I'm opposed in principle to the idea that you can take all the gods of any pantheon and plug them into the Tree of Life and come up with a one-for-one match up that is, on its own, a standalone meaningful thing. I don't like that kind of solipsistic eclecticism. You end up with stupid shit like "Celtic Thelema" when you try to do that kind of thing.

Back in the 80s and 90s, there was a boom in the pulp fiction occult publishing industry that was made up of basically taking one nationality's approach to divinity and plugging it into the GD-Ceremonial Magick-based template of Wicca. Crafting a Wiccan Tradition by Raven Grimassi comes instantly to mind, a "how to rip off a culture and still get mediocre results" handbook. We got his Book of the Holy Stregha (Italians gots Wicca!) that way, which stands right up there in my esteem with Dancing with Dragons (Dragons gots Wicca!) and Faery Wicca (Faeries gots Wicca!).

Now I'm sure some people have gotten great and incredible life changing awesome results using Faery Wicca or Dragon Wicca. Sweet! Good on ya!

But I think the traditions and lore would provide a more meaningful experience with the divine and its manifestations if it were approached from within its original context, or as close to it as you can get. I think the fey in particular are a tribe of spirits that need to be handled with a great deal more respect and protective eyewear than is generally recommended. And dragons... I mean, come on. There are no "dragons of the quarters".

That said, there is still a great deal of value in mapping out pantheons on the Tree of Life. I make fun of the GD a lot because most of it is shit, but there are things in the system that are marvelous. Take this post by Nick Farrell for example. I read through the first few paragraphs with my usual meh, more GD blah blah blah, but it's Nick, so at least it will be said well, and then about halfway through I'm sitting back going, "Oooooo, pretty!"

The Tree becomes your sorting system, a set of fixed definitions that you can compare to the deities of a culture to get insight into your own interpretation of them. As long as you remember that the correspondences you're mapping out are your interpretations based on your understanding, it's useful If you start saying "Cthulhu IS the Intelligence of Netzach!" you're in for some cognitive dissonance.

But the exercise itself makes you think about the entities you're mapping out, makes you consider them, contemplate them, and probably research them a lot more. You find things that reveal aspects of both the entities AND the Tree of Life that you might not have considered before. Aspects of deities that don't fit the apparent standard definitions of the sphere may be giving you clues to look for in other entities associated with the sphere. Cthulhu's propensity to eat cultists, for example, can give you insight into those aspects of Venus that relate to death and decay that get missed when you're focusing on the procreation aspects.

As a technique to get more information, more thought about the relationships between the gods and your own understanding, it's beautiful. It's like reading the Orphic Hymns to get an insight into the Planetary Intelligences. It doesn't mean the gods of the planets are the same thing as the Intelligences, but it grants you nuance in your own relationships with them that you might otherwise miss.


  1. Nice Hyperbole and a Half reference in the icon. For any other readers, do not attempt to read Hyperbole and a Half while drinking, or if you have a laughter induced heart condition.

    Simple Dog is my favorite.


  2. Good observations, man. I agree, the key is to remember that they are your own understandings, and not necessarily those of the culture the pantheon is from (assuming you weren't raised within that religious structure, of course). The whole "map is not the territory" deal. Shit, the map isn't even the Map, even it is illusory.

  3. Didn't like 'Celtic Thelema' eh? well, they can't all be gems. The good news is I didn't mean it very seriously... just some notes to get out of the notebook...

  4. Context, context, context. The texts upon which a system is based, the author(s) that created that system and your life context.

    I wish more people would consider these different contexts. What were the authors influences, what are yours, how are the ideas conveyed from the context of the text?

  5. I lolled at the pic, please do some more! ROFL

  6. As I have always critiziced in other forums: why westerners are always trying to make things fit to their taste? I don't like ATRs, but one thing I must admit to their favor, is that these people don't mess with their traditions. They do what they do with pride.

    When have you seen a Santero trying to see if LBRP fits in their practice?

    On the other hand, why westerners want to adapt pagan pantheons into a Hebrew-based system?

    You can find any reason to justify it and make it valid to your eyes, but it doesn't mean it's correct.

  7. "On the other hand, why westerners want to adapt pagan pantheons into a Hebrew-based system?"

    Well, Western culture has a history of synthesis and a background in both paganism and Judaic religious systems.

    Westerners are more likely to adopt elements from other cultures. It started with some of the Greeks adopting the Isis cult, and making it their own. It continues from there. No Western culture grows up in isolation.

    To this end, one could say that by trying to place a pagan pantheon in a Hebrew based system, Westerners ARE enacting their traditions.

  8. Great Post!

    I have not only witnessed misunderstanding based on this kind of 777ing, but magicians putting themselves in actual danger when invoking foreign gods with little knowledge based only on their kabbalistic interpretation.

    That said, while this kind of wild square peg in round hold type of nonsense is de rigueur for a certain type of occultist, it should not be used to judge any and all interaction, synchretising, and assimilation from tradition to tradition.

    To Frater VL: I actually know a fair amount of Santero's and they DO in fact take an interest in ceremonial magic, and I have in fact seen one use the LBRP in his work because he also works with angels. There is a small group of Palo/Santos in the Bronx that used to get a lecture every year in Tibetan Magic. If you head down to the Rampart Street Temple in NOLA you will see some correspondence charts on the wall that incorporate Tibetan figures as well into the Vodou that is practiced there.

    Tech is tech and when people see good tech and powerful spirits, they tend to want in.

    Why do people want to incorporate pagan gods into a hebrew based system? Why did the writers of Genesis 1 model it after the Ennuma Elish? Why did gods get made into Angels and Demons by the church?

    This idea that traditions pop out of an oven ready made and separate from all others is simply false.

    The world may be increasing in population, but it has also been made very small by jet travel and communications advances. THE Spiritual Gift of our age is that just about every tradition is now laid bare on the table for anyone to see. To ignore that fact seems even sillier than putting all the gods on the Kircher Tree.

    Which I agree is silly enough.

  9. Great post! Coming from a ceremonial magic background but also belonging to a particular Graeco-Egyptian Recon group I find it frustrating how, in the former, the Kircher Tree has become the procrustian bed of magical practice. Useful? Yes - very! But, as you mentioned not everything fits on the Tree. This goes further when you are working one on one with deities such as Dionysus who, depending on what angle you look at, could be represented variously in Tipareth, Malkuth, Chesed... essentially all over the place depending on which aspect one is working with. Again, I love the Tree but it's a synthetic model alluding to a greater schema of a schema.

  10. I know that I just met you, and I don't want to be rude, but as long as we're talking about sloppy syncretism, I think you need to re-evaluate your use of the phrase "Judeo-Christian" (which I found liberally scattered around your website) as if the two things were compatible. Christianity, with "catholic" universality at its core, is completely irreconcilable with a tribal religion like Judaism. In point of fact, "Christian Cabala" is no less ridiculous than "Celtic Thelema", and it's no less a way to "rip off a culture and get mediocre results" because the theft happened a long time ago.

  11. professor,

    I use it because it is an accurate term for the beliefs I'm referencing. Like Greco-Roman, it is meaningful. My beliefs are Hermetic-Judeo-Christian. Mostly Hermetic-Christian.

    Christian cabala is in fact, a real thing that has been developed. Celtic thelema is a real thing that has been developed. My opinion is it's bullshit. I respect those who find something useful in it. More power to them. I think it's stupid.

    But I'll use the phrase as I see fit.

  12. RO: That's certainly ok with me, but "I think the traditions and lore would provide a more meaningful experience with the divine and its manifestations if it were approached from within its original context, or as close to it as you can get." :)

  13. I believe it was Colin Low who recommended the use of the tree as an exercise (rather than a sorting system) to process ideas and groups of ideas. It was the process of making connections between the "sorted" ideas that caused a change in the way one thinks; the way the ideas themselves were sorted wasn't particularly important in the end.

    As you said, this would lead to stupid and dangerous ideas, like saying one god is another because they happened to be 777'd into the same category.

    (Also, I love "777'd" as a verb. Thanks Jason =)


Thanks for your comments, your opinions are valued, even if I disagree with them. Please feel free to criticize my ideas and arguments, question my observations, and push back if you disagree.