work gnosis

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.”

-Alan Watts: The Supreme Identity

“The squaring of the circle” is one of the most important interpretations and definitions of the Great Work of Alchemy. The Circle represents Unity, the First Matter of our work, and the Square represents the Four Elements of Nature which emanate from and return to the Circle. In Alchemy it is asserted that the metals are composed of the Four Elements, which the ancient philosophers called Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. The actual differences between the metals are the result of the particular proportions in which the elements are combined in the metals. Gold itself is the natural result of a particular combination of the elements. The other metals of Alchemy are also combinations of the elements. By extracting and purifying the elements in the base metals, thereby reducing the metals to their pure state of Prima Materia, and then by skillfully converting the actual proportions in the combinations of the elements which constitute the life of the metals, the metals can be transformed into gold. By purifying an object of the Four Elements we are left with a fifth element which we call the Quintessence and the First Matter of our work. In WoMan this fifth element is called his/her Spirit. Now in Mystical Alchemy the elements represent the human senses. Fire is the sense of sight, Water is the sense of taste, Air is the sense of smell, Earth is the sense of touch, and Spirit is the sense of sound. The fifth element of Spirit, unlike the others, has a direct link with our True Self, which is the Crown of our alchemystical work. To attain this fifth element we must first purify or deprogram ourselves. Then must we recreate or reprogram ourselves in accordance with our True Will. When the True Self is attained through its so-called purification, or, in other words, when we rise above the elemental senses, it is then that we are able to properly recreate ourselves, to reprogram our systems, or to recombine the elements to fit in with our new perspective. But first we must purify our systems; only then are we truly fit and freely able to properly consecrate ourselves to the Great Work, to reprogram ourselves in accordance with our True Will, and to effect the Supreme Transmutation. To deprogram ourselves is not really an act of elimination but of purification. In this case the elemental senses are to be purified. The senses, as commonly applied in the world, are material in nature, causing an identification of consciousness with the material plane at the expense of the spiritual. But we cannot realize our True Self if our senses are bound to the material world; they must become the vehicles of our True Self.


Andrew Logan Montgomery’s
WALKING THE CROOKED PATH, some thoughts on Qutub.(2013)

Andrew D. Chumbley died suddenly, on his thirty-seventh birthday, of a severe asthma attack.  There is a qabbalistic irony in that I think he might have appreciated.  Thirty-seven is the number of the Perfected Man, the seven spheres of the tree of life below the abyss crowned by the divine triad above.  It is Adam before the Fall.  For a man who had so obviously mastered very deep arcana, departing the world after thirty-seven solar revolutions is an eerie coincidence.  This doesn’t mitigate the tragedy of losing him at such a young age; it would have been extraordinary to see what he might have produced next.

I never knew the man, but I knew his work, and would comfortably place him alongside Austin Spare or Aleister Crowley in the list of the 20th century’s greatest occultists.  This was not another self-help, mass market, Llewelyn New Ager.  Chumbley had tapped into very deep magic, terrific and terrifying, awesome and awful. His Azoetia is probably the first genuine grimoire written in centuries, and his second work,Qutub, is a black jewel.  Both are now nearly impossible to find, commanding prices of one to two thousand dollars when you do, despite being less than twenty-five years old.  It’s hard to imagine any occultist in possession of them being willing to let go.

Qutub is, like the Emerald Tablet or Crowley's Liber AL vel Legis, a work of extreme brevity but tremendous depth.  It’s seventy-two verses took a year to write and one could profitably spend ten times that puzzling them out.  As Crowley said in his “Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic,” the world of magic is a mirror, and Qutub explores this riddle in slowly spiraling mysteries.  Magic is both a mask and a mirror, a projection and reflection, a lie and the truth, and the point where these opposites merge into one.  That place is Qutub, the Arabic word for “point."  The verses of this meditation are designed to bring you there.

Qabbalistically speaking, "nothingness” or “zero” is a kind of code word for God (or “ultimate reality,” if you prefer).  God contains all things, and thus nothing is all that can be said of it.  It cannot be said to be “good” because that denies it “evil,” it cannot be said to be “male” because that denies it femininity, it cannot be said to be “light” because that denies it darkness.  This is why the Buddha called it nirvana, and why the Hebrews didn’t give it a name.  God must contain all opposites because it is the source of all opposites.  Aleister Crowley nicely summed this up as n + -n = 0.  If you take all opposites and add them together, they become nothingness, perfect, without definition or limits, eternal and unchanging.  Nothing lasts forever.  Nothing is perfect.  From the Qabbalistic perspective, by stripping God of its “darker” attributes and assigning them to Satan, the Christians are committing a very serious kind of blasphemy.  God must be the totality of being.  They are cutting it in half.  (I have always found useful here the notion of “nothing” as an empty sheet of paper…because it has nothing on it, it has the potential to become anything.  Once you start to write or draw on it, you start limiting it, defining it, and stripping that unlimited potential away)

The Point then is that first breath God took before it said “let there be light."  A point exists, but is without length or breadth; it is unity, but right on the very doorstep of being nothing itself.  After that breath, the moment God says "let there be light” we now have “Two,” the duality of light and darkness.  But that initial “One” is the very first stirring of creation before that happens.

Qutub then–which enumerates to 111, also the number of the Tarot Trump “The Fool,” symbolizing the beginning of the Journey–is the start and the finish, the initial step out the door and the moment of arrival, the alpha and the omega, if you will.  It is where something comes from Nothing and returns to Nothing.  This is the sense in which Chumbley uses it.  It is a cosmological code word for the ultimate mystical experience, the dissolution of the ego and the sense of becoming “one” (or Nothing) with everything, as well as the act of creation.

This is all pretty standard mysticism.  A Sufi, a Buddhist monk, a Hindu ascetic, and a devout Christian contemplative could all relate to it.  But Chumbley takes us there along the “crooked path,” a phrase which at once reminds us of both the Qabbala’s “lightning strike” of creation and something more sinister.  And by “sinister” I mean the Latin for “left-hand.”

The Left Hand Path (properlyvamamarga) is a Sanskrit concept that arises in some tantric practices.  Without getting side-tracked, what it amounts to is a “short-cut” to enlightenment through antinomian practices.  If the goal of the Right Hand Path is to overcome the Self through bhakti (love and faith) or karma(work and meditation), the Left Hand Path seeks to do the same through jnaya(knowledge and experience).  Byintentionally breaking taboos, not out of animal weakness or by accident, the seeker breaks down all barriers between him and the Infinite.  He overcomes the Self by dissolution.  Thus in India the tantric would do things like eat meat, drink wine, or engage in ritualized sexual activity with “unclean” women.  The point was not to party, but to unwind the Self and undo identity.

The term shows up in Western esotericism in a somewhat bastardized sense, but with some similar characteristics.  Here it takes on more Jungian dimensions; the merging with the Shadow.  It attempts to reach that essential state of Nothing by embracing the negative and darker characteristics of the personality as a lover; again, n + -n = 0.  The Seeker makes a bride of those things in himself he has been taught to reject.  This is in defiance of conventional religious law, which keeps the individual divided from himself, told to embrace only the “good” within him and reject the “bad."  The Left Hand seeker embraces both in an attempt to know the totality of experience and being, and from this vantage point sees opposites reconciled.

Thus Qutub invokes some very dark characters in its verses.  Chumbley himself says of it ”…this work treats the Arcanum of the Opposer, a magical formula of the Crooked Path concerning the Powers of Self-overcoming.“  That Opposer–again the Shadow–is encountered in the work at various turns as Lilith (the first wife of Adam from Jewish folklore who refused to obey and was replaced by Eve), Iblis (the Islamic satan), and Melek Taus (or Malik Tawas, the "Peacock Angel” of the Yezidi religion, believed to be a Lucifer that rebelled but was later forgiven and redeemed).  But this is where we must remember magic is a mirror…if you look into the darkness and see only evil and sin, that is because your brought them there with you.  As Chumbley says at the opening of the book, “he who is illuminated with the brightest light casts the darkest shadow."  This is precisely why the Peacock Angel is the epitome of transformative redemption.

The whole of Qutub has a very intentional Arabic, "Sufi-esque” vibe.  Indeed, one of the “non-dark” figures invoked by the poem is Khidir, a sort of Sufi “saint” or “boddhisatva” who appears in many guises to help people discover the Infinite.  Qutub is a shadowy reflection of the poet Rumi, who wrote of God as the Lover and the Other.  My old mentor, the Sufi and religious scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, often cited the Sufi teaching that there were many revelations and many paths, all leading to the same center.  This imagery is referenced again and again by Chumbley as the poem unfolds, as are many other images drawn from Arabic and Persian mysticism.  Looking for the center is like seeking an oasis in the desert.

And where does the poem lead?  What is the destination?  “The main purpose of magical practice,” Chumbley tells us in the poem’s commentary, “…is to refine, develop, and eventually to transmute the Entire Being of the Magician, this process being in accordance with his Will, Desire, and Belief.  It is to recreate oneself in a form aligned unto one’s True Nature.  …Although the (magickal) Current (which originates and flows from the center) affects all Nature, it has conscious direction through the Initiate, who, being possessed of the Gnosis, actively works to manifest this Current: to become Magick Incarnate.  This is the subject of the poem Qutub."  We seem to be seeing a variation here of Thelema and its doctrine of "True Will,” a concept far too large to properly enlarge here but which, in essence, states that all things in the universe have their own path or trajectory proper to them, determined by composition, position, and in the case of sentient beings, disposition.  It is not fate or destiny becomes it does not claim to know the end, but merely the proper direction one should head in.  For Thelema, the main thing is to discover your True Will and to do it, and thus you will have the “inertia of the universe behind you."  Chumbley’s own Arte Magickal seems to embrace a similar line, with the magician discovering his True Nature and embracing it, taking his rightful place in existence.  In doing so he becomes the current of magic flowing from the center of all things into the world, he becomes the very path he walks upon.  Those familiar with the Tao Te Ching or certain schools of Buddhism will recognize the concept.

But the question we are left with, is “doesQutub deliver?”  Can it actually help one discover himself and follow his path?  This is a valid question for any esoteric document, and the answer is always the same; “yes…and no.”  Chumbley is very up front with this in his commentary;

“…The mystical and symbolic language of the Poem is, in a literal sense, occult; it simultaneously conceals and reveals the sum of its meaning by way of cipher.  The eternal nature of Symbols is revealed facet by facet, moment by moment.  In being cast out before the Mind their timely significance is divined and, like a mirror, will reflect the Beholder.  Do not blame the mirror for that which it reflects.  Look Beyond–Look Within!”

In short, this is not one of those New Age works that crowd the shelves at Barnes & Noble.  This is not force-fed consumer illumination.  Qutub is challenging and will unlock only for the right people, something that can easily be said for theTao Te Ching, Liber AL vel Legis, or a thousand other esoteric works.  But it is a genuine work of esotericism, and a very powerful instrument for self-realization, something few modern books on the “occult” can actually claim.  For this reason I cannot but recommend it highly for the serious student.  With time and contmeplation, Qutub not only unlocks its doors, but yours.   

The struggle between Heru and Set is the struggle of every human being to control the mind with its erratic desires, longings, unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. This struggle is not avoidable by anyone who is not enlightened. Some people succumb under the weight of the lower self and its desires for fulfillment. This is a pathetic condition which those people have allowed to develop due to their own indulgence in the sensual desires of the body, and also due to their ignorance of their true divine nature which is buried deep within, under the weight of the egoistic thoughts and unconscious ignorant feelings.
—  Muata Ashby

I keep thinking about spirits. place-spirits, land-wights, call them what you will. and in particular city spirits.

see, the thing is [and I can’t pretend to know quite how this compares to rural areas, because I am at heart and by lifestyle a city girl] there are just so many of them. you can’t just say ‘the spirit of London’ and have done with it - there is I think a spirit of London in its entirety, but that’s too massive and complex and so very Other and I can’t communicate with it directly - because it’s not that simple.

there’s neighbourhood spirits. and they interlock and intermingle with one another in webs I’m only starting to get a feel for. and they are separate - or at least if not wholly separate from then not wholly the same as - the spirits of the land itself. of the soil and the rock and the grass and the sky. the spirits of the trees. the flora and the fauna. the rivers. the lakes. the ancestors. the Dead, whether resting or restless or merry or glorious.

and then there’s the house-wights, the spirits of houses and offices and businesses. the hearth-spirits. spirits that are half-inherent and half-created - growing and evolving with the history and inhabitants of their Place. and the spirits that are organisations, institutions, in their individual characters, more than the sum of their parts, that may reside in a certain place but are not defined by it. my old college had a spirit, as does each line and each station of the Underground.

I suppose I feel there’s a kind of reductionist, human-centric view of the spirit world that says, one place has one spirit. that London would have this one London-spirit and that is that. all done and dusted. but I don’t think the spirit world can be mapped like that. it’s an infinite regress of complexity, more and more wherever you look. the more I understand, the less I am sure I know.

spirits are multitudinous and complex and they are individuals and also interlinked - as we are all of us interlinked. humans and spirits exist in symbiosis, co-evolution, whether we are conscious of it or no. and if we’re going to understand one another, if we as humans are going to engage with the spirit world, we need to appreciate that. appreciate that to say 'spirit’, as though the spirit of London and the spirit of the Northern line and the spirits that inhabit the cracks and crannies of Mornington Crescent station and the spirit of the earth it’s built in and upon are all the same class of being, is fundamentally flawed. appreciate the multi-dimensional nature of that world. come to that world on its own terms. with a little humility and respect for the enormity and complexity of the beings we share our world with.

we as humans are only a tiny part of the equation. it’s good to remember that.

Your greatest need is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters your mind. You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life, work on controlling your mind. In most cases, that’s the only thing you should be trying to control.
—  Marc Chernoff
In the earlier days of his training an initiate goes through an exceedingly strict discipline, and every departure from the law of the Path meets with immediate and severe punishment. There is but one way of safety for him, and that is a way as narrow as the blade of a sword and as straight as its edge. No human hand metes out this discipline to him; his teacher, the adept under whom he works as an apprentice, does all in his power by example and advice to save him from error, but he cannot constrain him, any more than he can avert the consequences of a broken cosmic law. Action and reaction are equal and opposite upon the Path as elsewhere, and the neophyte has to receive the reaction of the forces his every thought sets in motion. By these forces he is uplifted or bruised as the case may be.
After this section of the Path has been passed, the way opens out, and the initiate may then safely take up again those things which he laid upon the altar of sacrifice which stands before the gate. The more richly endowed he is, the more he has to bring to his work. But after the discipline of the straight and narrow way he will never again become attached to external things as he was before; he will always be their master, able to use them without becoming obsessed by them; so that, being free from the bondage of things, he can use and enjoy them to the enriching of consciousness. But the preliminary discipline, the cautery of freedom, is essential.
—  Dion Fortune

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)

Salvador Dali, 1954.

The Great Work

The true Mason is not creed-bound. He realizes with the divine illumination of his lodge that as Mason his religion must be universal: Christ, Buddha or Mohammed, the name means little, for he recognizes only the light and not the bearer. He worships at every shrine, bows before every altar, whether in temple, mosque or cathedral, realizing with his truer understanding the oneness of all spiritual truth. All true Masons know that they only are heathen who, having great ideals, do not live up to them. They know that all religions are but one story told in divers ways for peoples whose ideals differ but whose great purpose is in harmony with Masonic ideals. North, east, south and west stretch the diversities of human thought, and while the ideals of man apparently differ, when all is said and the crystallization of form with its false concepts is swept away, one basic truth remains: all existing things are Temple Builders, laboring for a single end. No true Mason can be narrow, for his Lodge is the divine expression of all broadness.

There is no place for little minds in a great work. Man’s status in the natural world is determined, therefore, by the quality of his thinking. We can only escape from the world by outgrowing the world. Death may take man out of the world but only wisdom can take the world out of the man. As long as the human being is obsessed by worldliness, he will suffer from the Karmic consequences of false allegiances. When however, worldliness is transmuted into Spiritual Integrity he is free, even though he still dwells physically among worldly things.

—Manly P. Hall

Many people are estranged from the occultist because love is not his outstanding characteristic. The difference between his attitude and that of the lover of humanity may be likened to the difference between the person who keeps animals as pets and the one who breeds them for show purposes. The latter sets out to bring the species to the highest degree of perfection of which it is capable, and with that end in view, he is ruthless with the individual. The standard of training in the higher degrees is very exacting and few achieve it; these few are those whom tradition regards as super-human. But they are not super-human, they are human beings developed to the highest pitch of which the human vehicle is capable. Such excellence in any walk of life is obtained only as the reward of arduous labours, and these leave their mark on the adept. He travels too fast for the average humanity, and they resent it; but of those souls who delight in great adventure he is the chosen companion and beloved friend.
—  The Training and Work of an Initiate, Dion Fortune

The Power of Continuity

The candidate must understand the importance of continuity. The curse of the modern world is its inability to finish the enterprises which it begins. As a child starts several things but completes none of them, so the child-mind in man vacillates from one activity to another. Failure to achieve is the result of scattering the power of the mind over too great an area of endeavor. Man can cultivate no quality more essential to his spiritual well being than that of finishing what he begins. Success can never be achieved in the material world without at least a reasonable development of the power of continuity. In matters pertaining to occultism, the same is true.

A person who studies several lines of philosophy may call himself broad minded, but if he carried none of these lines to a successful culmination, he is in reality “scatter brained.” Again and again such a person turns off and tries a new road, when just a few more steps upon the old one might have brought him within sight of achievement.

Manly P. Hall, Spiritual Centers of Man

Image Credit- Alchemy by Heretic-azz

The initiate may accept his lot with a calmness which amazes men whose impulse it is to curse or pray according to their nature, but his acceptance does not necessarily imply passivity. To accept one’s fate without murmuring does not pledge one to make no effort to better it. Knowing the power of concentrated thought, the initiate makes use of it in all the problems of life. His method, however, is not that of direct attack in which he “wills” the change of the unpleasant condition, but is directed to bring about certain changes in his own consciousness, for he knows that it is his own temperament which is the real instrument of karma. It is only through those factors in his own nature which react that karma can affect him. He knows that certain conditions come to him in order that they may provoke certain reactions in his own nature, and according to his handling of these reactions will be his karma, even in the present life. When he has harmonised these reactions, he has worked out his karma.
He knows, therefore that although he cannot determine the conditions under which his life must be lived, he can determine his reaction to those conditions. It is this fact which he bears constantly in mind in all his dealings. It is this realisation which enables him to raise his head above a sea of troubles and view them from the standpoint of cosmic law and spiritual principles. Although he cannot command the conditions to which he awakens from the sleep of birth, he is nevertheless the master of his fate, for he can manipulate those conditions in such a way that they shall bear him whithersoever he will, just as a ship can tack against a head-wind; and the worse the conditions and the stronger the wind, the swifter his progress.
—  The Training and Work of an Initiate, Dion Fortune