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BETWEEN the GATES
Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism
By Mark Stavish
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2008 Mark Stavish
All rights reserved.
Mansions of the Soul
The projection of consciousness has always been an integral part of Hermetic teachings. From the Merkavah (Chariot) Riders and their journeys to the starry Hekelot (Palaces) of the invisible world in primitive qabala, to the teachings of the Corpus Hermeticum—"Think of a place and you are there" of the early Christian era—to the practice of Traveling in Spirit Visions undertaken by the adepts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it would appear that the desire to experience the invisible world while still living in the material is an overwhelming human desire.
While a wide variety of approaches has been formulated to assist the disciples of these diverse schools, many of their techniques require an extensive amount of preparatory teachings, initiations, and ritual assistance. However, while the world has changed, human beings still want to "know"—to experience for themselves—and not just believe in the spiritual realms they were taught about as children—realms that have always been so slightly out of reach. Modern life, however, is much different than the life of our predecessors, even if our instinctual spiritual desires are the same. Time is divided into smaller and smaller units, and people are expected to achieve ever more and more in those microsections of time.
Many people say they have little time for spiritual studies, let alone to dedicate to a specific discipline. Others say that many of the traditional Western disciplines are too abstract and difficult to understand, let alone apply. Yet for those who have little or no knowledge of traditional tenth- to twelfth-century Merkavah doctrines, or no interest in learning the necessary signs, symbols, and invocations for Golden Dawn-style techniques and their "spin offs," yet who still want a Hermetic approach to their inner world, this book is the solution. The material presented is simple, direct, and does not require an extensive amount of visualization or creative imaging.
The methods herein are especially suitable for those who would like to have an "out-of-body experience" but who lack either the necessary visualization skills required for so many of the present techniques, or for those who have had violent experiences leaving their body and would like a gentler approach to the astral planes. The methods described in this treatise can be performed either by an experienced traveler or by a beginner with equal ease and similar results. If the techniques in this book are practiced regularly there is every reason to believe that everyone will be able to achieve some level of conscious experience of the invisible world. However, to accomplish this successfully and meaningfully, it is important that we first understand why we have this instinctual need for spiritual experiences in the first place—what it is that we are after, and why do we want, and seemingly need, to go there.
Consciousness exists on several levels, and it is the work of the occultist (one who practices esoteric methods) to experience all possible levels of consciousness, integrate them, and ultimately realize his or her oneness with the source of Being. To assist in this task, a variety of models or paradigms, as they are often called in material and social sciences, are constructed out of experiences of those who have traveled the road before us. These models are subject to a fair degree of change and even challenge as time goes on, but they are effective and necessary tools to get us where we want to be. They are, in effect, maps of consciousness, and like a road or topographical map, they are not the territory itself. Maps help us understand where we are and what lies before, behind, and around us, but no amount of studying a map can substitute for the experience of actually traveling the terrain. The map is a tool, not the territory. This important fact is often lost on students of contemporary and modern hermeticism, who come across extensive and detailed accounts of spiritual experiences under such headings as traveling in Spirit Vision, Rising on the Planes, astral projection, the Body of Light, pathworking, and skrying. To help clarify the work outlined in this book, it is helpful to understand the basic qabalistic-Hermetic cosmology and physiology and the various methods used to integrate them into a comprehensive and practical experience.
The Tree of Life and Levels of Being
The theoretical background behind the practices described herein are primarily qabalistic, and it is applicable to either the traditional Tree of Life (Golden Dawn) or the Palaces outlined in the Sepher Zohar. In short, any systematic outline of the interior body-world of humanity can be applied, as long as it has concise, easy-to-visualize symbols for the various planes of consciousness. This includes the numerous cosmological images produced during the Renaissance, particularly those dealing with alchemy.
The working assumption behind contemporary and modern Hermetico-qabalistic practices is that we as conscious beings originate in the Ain Soph Aur, or Limitless Mind of God. We incarnate through various stages of increasing density and matter into the present world in order to gain the experiences that will allow us to go from potential beings to self-actualized or self-created beings. In our journey of development we take on characteristics and "bodies" of various vibrations, and on our "return" we shed these bodies in exchange for increasingly subtle bodies and worlds of Light.
These worlds are categorized in the Gnostic, qabalistic, hermetic, and alchemical texts under different names and numbers, but share the same essential qualities and functions. That is, they go from the dense world of material earth to the subtle realms of Infinity, or the point of our origin, the Mind of the Creator.
Within our physical body we have various organs of psychic perception, called psycho-spiritual centers in modern Western esoteric nomenclature and chakras in Sanskrit. These centers correspond to several aspect of our physiology; one aspect is our nervous system and plexuses and another is our endocrine system of hormone secreting glands. Other correspondences exist as well, but for our purposes these are the ones most commonly and efficiently used.
Astral projection is often suggested by way of the psychic center located near the solar plexus, a major nerve center in the human body, but for many this can be an unnerving and unsettling experience. Other sources suggest visualizing your soul (or spirit) rising out of your body like a mist or appearing as a secondary body "of light" next to your physical body. It is said that advanced practitioners can project their consciousness at the time of their death through the upper psycho-spiritual centers, thus "dying consciously." The upper centers are those at the top and front of the head, or the crown and Third Eye centers, respectively, associated with the pineal and pituitary glands. Some even use the psychic center at the back of the head, the medulla oblongata, or brain stem.
In the Indian texts, each chakra is associated with a particular power (siddha), which is awakened in the aspirant and allows the student to then project his or her consciousness through the different psychic centers in increasing complexity and subtlety, until finally, the crown center is reached. In alchemy, these powers, or charism as they are referred to in the New Testament, are demonstrated and thereby proved through specific kinds of alchemical transmutations. The same is true in qabala, where, as each level of consciousness is experienced and integrated, various powers are awakened in the psyche as a result. In qabalistic practices, however, the centers are rarely used directly, but instead intense visualization of the ethereal worlds is undertaken, until these various worlds are progressively realized. Rituals combined with more generalized energizing of the psychic body are often used, alone or in conjunction with these visualized worlds. The modern variation of this practice of visualization involves the use of Tarot cards and is called pathworking, or the use of Hebrew letters. Eastern Orthodox monks have used intense visualization, in which the solar plexus is seen as a small sun, as a method of achieving exteriorization, and some schools use the heart center as a center of displacement. However, the previously mentioned methods are the most commonly used ones to date.
Alchemists use tinctures, or medicines, to assist in the projection of consciousness, but these should not be confused with hallucinogenic or psychoactive drugs. The effects of alchemical medicines generally occur when their user is relaxed, sleeping, or in meditation. They, in effect, assist the projection of consciousness—that is, the expansion of awareness—rather than induce or cause it directly. It is possible to take an alchemical medicine and drive a car unimpeded.
Astrology is not directly used as a means of achieving contact with spiritual dimensions; rather it is used as a means of recognizing the most optimum time for various operations, be it creation of an alchemical product or ritual for astral projection. It is no surprise that the moon plays a significant part in many of these experiences, and lunar cycles (along with planetary hours) are the main astrological tools that are used.
The Hermetic Path and Its Practices
Three Major Areas of Study in Western Esotericism
Alchemy: for understanding the relation of energy and consciousness to matter. This relationship is most easily understood within, but not limited to, modern schools of homeopathy, herbalism, and spagyrics.
Qabala: for understanding the relation of symbols to consciousness and matter. Today, this relation is most evident in, but not limited to, the modern schools of transpersonal psychology, psychosynthesis, and even medical hypnosis. Moreover, schools of practical occultism, particularly those derived from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Martinism, and Rosicrucianism, utilize qabala-based symbols in ritual formats for healing, manipulation of material events, and the expansion of consciousness into the spiritual realms.
Astrology: for understanding the relation of cycles to consciousness and matter. This is most easily understood in terms of, but not limited to, seasonal changes and biorhythms, as well as specialized areas of medical and horary astrology.
Combined, these three study areas form the primary disciplines of the hermetic arts and sciences. Astrology tells us who we are, qabala tells us where we are going, and alchemy provides us with the method of realization.
In this book the main focus is consciousness from the viewpoint of energy and symbolism, but to make it concrete we will weave in some of the more practical areas of alchemy and astrology that cross over with qabala. The techniques presented can also be seen as a form of inner alchemy, wherein the process of solve et coagula, or separating and recombining, is utilized as the chief tool.
The school of qabala we are discussing falls under the domain of the hermetic qabala. This is because it most closely resembles the qabalistic doctrines and practices that came out of the Renaissance, which were resurrected en force during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' occult revival periods. During the renaissance, hermeticism brought a sense of Classical dignity to qabalistic studies that elevated them from being a purely Jewish subject, as well as making them more philosophical and less religious in appearance. In turn, qabala brought a Biblical basis, even if a Jewish one, to hermeticism, as well as practical methods of working that were still understood, respected, and even feared, in a hostile, anti- Jewish, Catholic Europe. Thus, it is important to have an understanding of both traditional hermetic and qabalistic philosophy if we are to put it into practice.
Hermeticism is the study of the body of Greek texts appearing in Alexandria, Egypt, between the first and third centuries A.D. and attributed to Hermes Trismegistos, as well as variations of these writings, adaptations of them, and commentaries upon them written in all periods up to and including the current era. These commentaries include Alexandrian as well as neo-Alexandrian traditions. The traditions comprise core texts, commentaries on these texts, and specific practices designed to integrate the ideas into the practitioner's life. It is clear from the texts that communities were formed where members held communal meals, the kiss of peace was exchanged, and initiation into the sacred mysteries was performed. These traditions include a variety of Gnostic, Christian, Rosicrucian, and even Masonic writings grouped from the first century A.D., across the Renaissance, into and including orders and societies rising out of several modern and contemporary occult revivals.
Named after their attributed author, Hermes Trismegistos or "Hermes the Thrice Great," these writings are collectively called the "Hermetica." This body of texts is small and has been translated several times in recent decades. Its main themes are the creation of the material world and the soul's journey, ascent, and regeneration as it progresses through the celestial spheres.
It is important to note that the hermetic texts were composed in different time periods by different authors from different traditions. The influence of Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, and Gnostic thought is clearly present. What makes hermeticism unique is that despite these diverse influences, it manages to synthesize the ideas presented and create a distinct school of thought that goes beyond each of them individually. Names and ideas of one tradition are seamlessly intermingled and interpreted according to the ideas of another.
Alexandrian hermeticism and modern hermetic practices share four key points in common, including a synthetic philosophy that while utilizing the mythology of "fall and regeneration" avoids the pitfalls of dualism, and emphasizes concrete and common sense approaches to solving mundane as well as cosmological issues. Hermeticism encourages and embraces the notion of humanity and the divine existing harmoniously in and through the world. It is an exceedingly optimistic philosophy and, in this regard, very different from certain strains of Gnosticism, or even Vendantic studies, which see the world as an essential evil for the soul's growth or as a prison house and punishment for some distant and long forgotten transgression.
The eclectic nature of hermeticism is found in its fundamental premise that the desire for knowledge can be satisfied by consulting a variety of sources that find their roots in the philosophia perennis, or perennial philosophy. It is synthetic in that these diverse ideas are not only tolerated, but unified into a seamless whole.
Nous is "mind," and Hermes is informed by Nous (his Higher Self) to meditate on the nature of the universe being reflected in his own being, to extract the divine powers of nature and unite them with the powers of this soul. The universe is a text to be read—it is "the Book of Nature"—and through our divine intellect, we are able to unite with it and understand it.
The physical world is a good place and is essential to the unfolding of human consciousness. Hermeticism reaches the abstract through the concrete. The universe is met in the mineral salts of an herbal (spagyric) tincture; the psychic centers or "stars" are experienced through the influence of the planets on ones personal horoscope. Heremeticism is very specific, personal, and experiential, and yet it is continually transcending the limits of material life. This natural magic gives rise to natural philosophy, and the divine is seen incarnate everywhere and in everyone.
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes
True, without error, certain and most true; That which is above is that which is below, and that which is below is that which is above, for performing the miracle of the One Thing; and as all things were from one, by the mediation of the one, so all things arose from this one by adaptation; the father of it is the Sun, the Mother of it is the Moon; the wind carries it in its belly; the nurse thereof is the Earth.
This is the father of all perfection, of consummation of the whole world.
The power of it is integral, if it be turned into earth.
Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, gently with much wisdom;
It ascends from earth to heaven, and again descends to earth; and received strength of the superiors and of the inferiors—so though has the glory of the whole world;
Therefore let all obscurity flee before thee.
This is the strong fortitude of all fortitudes, overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing.
So the world was created.
Hence were all wonderful adaptations of which this is the manner.
Therefore am I called "Thrice Great Hermes," have Three Parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
That which I have written is consummated concerning the operation of the Sun.
Excerpted from BETWEEN the GATES by Mark Stavish. Copyright © 2008 Mark Stavish. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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