Chöd and Hekate

“That which is called 'devil' is not some actual great big black thing that scares and petrifies whomever sees it. A devil is anything that obstructs the achievement of freedom. . . . Most of all, there is no greater devil than this fixation to a self. So until this ego-fixation is cut off, all the devils wait with open mouths. For that reason, you need to exert yourself at a skillful method to sever the devil of ego-fixation” - Machig Lobdron (quoted from Harding)

I don’t recall exactly when it happened… after a night of 3 am fires in my little temple, creating green flames with absinthe in an offering cauldron. The clean smell of purely burnt offerings brought the familiar feeling of snakeskin against mine, the Fear creeping up my spine as Her darkness gathered about me. My nostrils filled with the subtle manure smell; organically processed grasses mixed with toxins dispelled. This is how I know it is Her and not another, my Titaness cannot be replicated by other mocking spirits. One word came through...a word I was not familiar with and one that would take me on an amazing journey over the next 5 years: Chöd.

In thoughts She speaks to my inner mind, the place which one can barely grasp once it is seen. From afar, Her message comes in one or two words sometimes, or reflective images as surface water. In the very first vision She showed how to cover my head, although I never felt “right” doing it...so it became one of those negotiated requests Gods sometimes offer us. Instead, I always include a special ring. But this theme of “heads” is recurring in my life and is very important to the rest of this story.

  1. My body has never suffered injury, except to only my head (rock thrown at me, concussion from car accident).
  2. When I took an undergraduate class in Ancient Philosophy, I decided the ideal state of being was for me to be a floating head...no body to drag around, but the intellectual and imaginative mind was free to be. Maybe it was the report I wrote on Hedonism, or maybe it was from watching “The Adventures of Baron Muncheusen”, but I became convinced it is the seat of the Soul.
  3. I used to sculpt Goddesses, and nearly all of them had trouble with their heads staying on. I also had a tendency to rip the heads off my Barbies as a girl, which you should know makes it SUPER hard to put back on.
  4. Once I went to a ritual for Yeshe Tsogyal...the central statue was one which I also had bought on clearance at Target (of all places). A tall wooden dakini, this generic ‘world’ art became the seat for a Bodhisattva in my own home, who unfortunately became beheaded during a move by my husband. I mentioned this after the ritual, for which was told how in one story of Yeshe Tsogyal she is beheaded and walks around holding her own head.

As if these weren’t enough connections (I am hard headed), it was the recurring dreams that lead me to my teacher, and the topic of Chöd came up. After a year of attending Dark Moon devotionals to Hermes and Hekate, our Priest offered an afternoon workshop transmitting a Pagan Chöd with Hekate as the guide. My head nearly exploded. I realized after all this time, when I was trying to find a Buddhist group to learn from or a corpse garden to go sit and meditate in (yes, I was willing to go there), this was what She had meant.

The build up to the workshop was fervent. My gut was completely inflamed with anxiety, spent by my IBS. I placed my cushion as close to the bathroom as I could...in case I vomited or shit myself. He handed out the papers and we spent the next 30 minutes receiving instruction...but the ACTUAL practice only took 6 minutes or so. I was kinda disappointed. I went through so much, got myself worked up and excited for some big elaborate ritual that was going to catapult my spiritual life onto some new level...or something like this, in my mind. But we did the practice, I became Hekate and severed my head from my body, chopped up my body to put in the flipped over skull like a cauldron, then used my femur to stir the pot. I called to demons, ghosts, animals, to any and all sentient or wandering and suffering beings who were hungry, to come and partake. And they came in swarms, swiftly and without notice to each other. I maintained the visualization, trying not to be distracted by the other demons, my own, which pulled at my hair and toes trying to keep me from feeding the hungry spirits. PHAT!

machig_labdron

Afterwards I returned to my Self, but before I could begin reflecting on the experience we performed it again, and a third time. Afterwards, I ate a little food to remind my head and body they were united, feeling almost speechless for the first time in my life. It was subtle, this profoundness...I sat with it for a week when finally I saw the effects. Two people in our group had their partners leave them. I was sad for them, but glad for being spared whatever effects were rippling in the aftermath of Chöd. A few weeks later I decided to try performing the ritual myself, maybe even starting a daily practice. Shortly after, the two people whose partners left them had a huge falling out with enormous repercussions; this also included the majority of our budding Priesthood to abandon their oaths and group. I was absolutely shocked and swore not to do the Chöd practice again, just in case.

Months passed when I decided my spirit was strong enough to really break through my Fear and do the practice. On New Year’s Eve, I made the commitment to myself and my Queen, to begin a daily practice of the Chöd for 40 days. I got 4 days into the practice when my husband started fighting with me. I pushed through until day 8 when he lost his job. I stopped immediately...the Fear had won. My life, at that point, had been exactly what I always wanted: working in a library, husband working from home and doing his thing, living in the country and having enough money to live comfortably. We were even shopping around for our first home to buy. This sudden change had a domino effect: my husband had to move back to the city for work, our marriage took a huge strain and we’ve since relocated back to the Bay Area.

What happened? Where is all the merit I accumulated from this practice? Do I continue the practice? Well, I gave it away...emptied my Self of all karma. My actual Fear was manifested before me… causing unhappiness for so many, including my Self. This is not a safe practice and something I will return to again over time. These demons and spirits, even if viewed through the psychological lens of one’s own personal demons, manifested from our subconscious… they still have to be dealt with, regardless.

I obviously have some connection to it on a soul level, but as I researched this practice the relevancy became much more apparent. This practice is one of the only ones to develop in Tibet and migrate to India...usually Buddhist practice is the opposite. Also, Chöd was first taught by a woman ; Machig Lobdron was consort to a holy man, had children and STILL pursued spiritual advancement successfully. She had been the tantrika Yeshe Tsongel in a former life with guru Padmasambhava; both incarnated together. Many others who had shared lives with Yeshe Tsongel and Padmasambhava followed them into the next lifetime, where they were married and householders. Machig (pronounced, ironically, like ‘magic’) was an unusual woman who in her younger years had learned to read and worked as a liturgy or holy scripture reader for an otherwise illiterate community. Machig was well known for her very quick readings; fitting several stops a day before going home to Her own chores and meditations. Families who heard the readings were blessed for being within earshot and also accumulated merit, or what we might call ‘good karma’, for sponsoring the recitation of the Prajnaparamita (Heart Sutra)... the more times it is read, the greater the benefit.  Her multitasking confounds me, as can be demonstrated by the complete ritual; a double-sided drum in one hand, bell in the other whilst singing the chants and songs...at one point a bone flute is also played to lure hungry ghosts to the spiritual feast. The traditional Chöd practitioners are akin to the Aghori of India; wearing cast off clothing, eating/drinking from skulls and living in graveyards.

For me, Machig is a reminder that some Buddhas and Bodhisattvas came from humble, ordinary places in life. Enlightened beings find their way back to each other, to continue the work they could not complete in one lifetime. Perhaps this is my time, now… to go and sit in a place of Fear, to call demons and to dance with them. Confronting the four demons which arise from this practice: one which blocks the senses, another that distracts the mind,the third lures away one from discipline with promises of pleasure, and the final demon of ego. I see how they have manifested in my life, and how I have had to battle them… and badly at that. But I am managing to hang on to my head, even if it is hanging from the neck.

“Without hope, Chöd practitioners are freed from the limits of hope and fear; having cut the ropes of grasping, definitely enlightened, where does one go?” - Machig Lobdron (quoted from Sorensen)

 

Sarah Harding, Machik's Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd. Snow Lion Publications. 2003.

Michelle Janet Sorensen. Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Tradition. Columbia University Academic Commons. 2013.

Liminal Book Review: Ritual Offerings

Ritual Offerings: Feeding Your Spirits – Empowering Your Magick. Edited by Aaron Leitch; 2014. Nephilim Press. 274 pages. Copy 629/1000.

My magick really went into overdrive when I started making offerings. Always a theist of some kind, I was trained early in the techniques of Buddhist meditation and mantra. Part of that practice included giving to the Buddhas water, flowers, fruit and devotional time. At first I thought it was just an external expression of focus, a kind of eye candy trigger to get myself present. It wasn't until later, when I started doing Druidry, that it became much clearer in the subtlety of what was happening: relationships were being formed and alliances made with Deity. The Indo-European concept of 'ghost-i', a reciprocity of “I give so that you may give”, just never sat right with my compassionate sensibilities. I give because I am generous or wish to alleviate suffering, not so I can build up a karmic reserve....a cosmic bank account from which to draw upon when needed. But I have also seen the results in the form of phenomenal spiritual experiences, blessings and small miracles.

 

The anthology Ritual Offerings  covers the many complexities involved in the conversation of devotion between polytheist, occult and Deity-centered magickal traditions ranging from Wicca to hoodoo, Golden Dawn to Tibetan Buddhism. A very practical collection of essays, this anthology includes many well-known and respected authors from the occult world: Sam Webster, Brother Moloch, Frater Ashen Chassen, Jason Miller, Nick Farrell to name the ones I recognized and why it was initially purchased. The book itself is an incredible work of art. This hardbound cover is half oxblood and half leathery black, with an embossed sigil covering most of the front and part of the back, wrapping around the spine. The turn in page has a most beautiful image of an illustrated altar with offerings and other arcane symbolism, in the front and back of the book. It also includes a satiny page marker sewn into the endband, which is very convenient and user friendly.

By far my favourite essay included in this anthology was Brother Moloch's “Ancestors & Offerings”. The practice of ancestor worship in the West has been a long forgotten , Brother Moloch gets right into the nit and grit. Details and suggestions for beginning a ritual practice involving ones' Dead, the essay breaks it down describing what and why to offer, how much/often, where to make offerings and working for results. This very frank and practical piece gave me some ideas on how to persuade them to work with me. As someone with a lot of Christianity in their family, I have found they are not always cooperative with what I want to accomplish...Brother Moloch draws upon his various spiritual lineages to explain ways in to maneuver around these kinds of obstacles. For example there are certain things nearly all Ancestors seem to like such as coffee, clean water and a simple white candle. He mentions a few things I had not thought to try before such as the naming of all my family lineage as a way to connect the dots with them all, or listing off all my blessings so they know how thankful I am for it all.

In “Offerings in Iamblichan Theurgy” Sam Webster breaks down the levels of offerings made and how they perpetuate our magick. One of the most compelling parts of the essay goes into the age old argument of “The Gods need our offerings because....”. According to Iamblichus, the Gods, in fact, do NOT need our affectionate attentions in order to survive. The Gods are deathless, unchanging and slightly self absorbed. If it makes no impression on the Gods, WHY do we make offerings then? Sacrifice is not made with expectations of reciprocity, but given out of love for Deity. In the making of offerings, the materials used are charged with the 'Word' or names of Deity, which are their essence. “Each thing in the world instantiates a complex union of the Words of a number of the Gods...we offer back to a God that which has a part of its constitution the Word of the God. As Iamblichus notes, Creators most love their creations” (p.215). For example, I often offer to Hekate graveyard dirt as this is a place She especially enjoys, it resonates with the chthonic aspect of Her as a guide of the Dead.

A few pieces in the anthology were shorter than I would have liked; less than 10 pages which really would be more of an article than an essay. Although packed with information, Jason Miller's essay “Severed Head Cakes and Clouds of Dancing Girls: Offerings in Tibetan Buddhism” felt as if only the very surface of this subject was scratched at. My training in chod gave me an insight many Western practitioners may be missing in this piece, but Miller still does a great job of explaining without going too deeply into the practical applications. One example he gave as an offering are the making of tormas, clay-like cakes which can be molded into various shapes and used in place of a blood sacrifice; “mar-chod, the 'red offering' of sacrificed animals and humans that Buddhists do not practice” (p.184). He also mentions a practice I find to be missing in Western traditions, the feeding of Demons and other 'lesser' beings. This is a difficult thing for Western practitioners to understand, as they generally see the feeding of demons as a way of encouraging their presence to be near. In Buddhism it is believed all beings, everywhere, suffer. These demons and other harmful spirits are intensely miserable which is why the act of offering tormas or other objects which are pleasing is a way of easing that suffering; it is an act of complete compassion.

This is a book any serious magician should have on their bookshelf, if not for the wealth of information contained within, but for the beauty without. Not often will I pay over $50 for a book that is not a textbook, but this was an especially wonderful exception I do not regret. I think it will also increase in value over time, as the authors are all five-star practitioners and the limited prints will ensure it's rarity.

The Liminality of Bardo

"The time hath now come for thee to seek the Path [in reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience it in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself; and abide in that state. I, too, at this time, am setting thee face to face." - Tibetan Book of the Dead

As I read the newsfeeds, headlines and reports these days, all I see are religious groups struggling for power...either over themselves or each other. Nothing new to humans... we've been doing this since the beginning. Ebola, Israel/Gaza, ISIS, Religious Freedom/Persecution used as a shield for questionable ethics and ignorance...it is enough to make one long for a better world. And there are, but like many other ideologies and mythologies we know it is beyond this mundane realm and, for some, only accessible through the process of Death. This is no argument in favor of suicide, although I believe in each individual's right to live or die (more on that later). As a matter of fact, in order to properly navigate the Otherworld(s) we need to stay alive and accumulate the necessary tools. At least, this is what the Tibetan Buddhists believe. Similar to the Egyptian Book of the Dead (“The Book of Coming Forth By Day” or rw nw prt m hrw), the 'Bardo Thodol' is a guide through the afterlife, translated as “The Great Liberation through Hearing of the Bardo". The “book” is actually a series of sutras and texts compiled over a long period of time, but is believed to have first been initially composed by legendary master magician Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche ). The process of dying and death is taken very seriously in Tibetan culture, and in some ways it's a welcome transition in general Buddhism. Unlike the Christian belief of resurrection, the laws of reincarnation and karma play a much more significant role in the recently departed. There is no waiting around for some Bodhisattva to come and liberate them; the work of the Buddhist consists of preparing for this final “test” so an individual can free themselves. Customarily, if one can afford it, holy men come to the deathbed and chant these sutras, giving directions and encouragement for the soul to reach it's final destination, whether through an incarnating physical body or settling into one of the many other realms of existence. The instructions are read over a 49-day period, the time it generally takes a soul to reach it's destination; depending on spiritual pursuits and meditation they did in life, some souls will take less time than others to move through the bardos. It is much more complicated than this simple explanation, but is essentially how I have come to understand it.

The term Bardo is essentially the combining of 'bar' (in between) and 'do' (island or mark)...it is a “place” between the various realms of existence, a crossroads of the soul. Whilst there is only three Bardos described in the Book of the Dead, there are multiple layers within each. Each is a threshold and opportunity for the departed to reconcile their karmic debt, and can be quite frightening to the unprepared. The first bardo is entered upon right before the MOMENT physical death occurs. Hovering between life and death, the individual realizes they are about to disappear into the next world. In the Shambhala Dragon Edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, there is a great passage in the commentary section which describes this process as an elementary releasing:

“Physically, you feel heavy when the earth element dissolves into water; and when water dissolves into fire you find that the circulation begins to cease functioning. When fire dissolves into air, any feeling of warmth or growth begins to dissolve; and when air dissolves into space you last the last feeling of contact with the physical world. Finally, when space or consciousness dissolves into the central nadi, there is a sense of internal luminousity, an inner glow, when everything has become completely introverted” (p.4).

Once death hastens the process and allows the 'self' to release the body, so does the biggest journey begin. The series of bardos that follow are opportunities for the soul to receive enlightenment, to get final chances at realizations the individual may not have practiced or pursued in life. This happens through a series of visions and travels through the different realms. If there had been a true connection made with deities or Buddhas, this is the time when they appear as guides for us to move forward. If this does not occur, the soul moves on into the next phase.

The Six Realms of Existence are states of Samsara (cycles of rebirth) which become available in the second bardo. The realms resonate a bright guiding light and unless focused on the task at hand, the soul is like a moth blindly following illusion. Now, pay attention because this part is kinda important: Our mundane human existence is located somewhere in the middle of this hierarchy, our karma was pretty good if we are now humans. And really, this is a very advantageous place to be because we can go either way: ascending into the realms of the demigods and Gods, or descending into the hellish realms of hungry ghosts and animals.

The Six Realms of Existence.
The Six Realms of Existence.

At the very lowest realm of hell, all intensity is expressed. Anger and loneliness are the dominating tortures in this world, which very much resembles Dante's Inferno: areas of complete freezing cold, rivers of magma, and the skies a fiery blaze. For those who escape or serve out time, the next realm is not much more pleasant as it is inhabited by the pretas, or Hungry Ghosts: beings who experience over and over the desires they attached themselves to in previous lifetimes. “Want” is the big theme here, feelings of greed are prevalent. In classical art they are portrayed as beings with very large bellies, but tiny necks and mouths, sitting before large plates of food they cannot manage to get at. This is an illusion, as they cannot see the food is spoiled and filled with the ravenous poisons they cultivated.

The next realm is that of Animals and whilst we, as humans, tend to like the idea of coming back as a housecat, this is just another illusion. Animals are sentient beings in their innocence...but really, that is just a nice way of describing their “dumbness”. Animals lack a sense of humor, are in a constant state of survival and have no time or intelligence to comprehend the dharma. They act solely on instinct, violence and death are not contemplations but ways of living. Some people are on the borderlands of this realm,I think, succumbing to bodily cravings and destruction for their own 'survival'. Humans are just above this realm, as we have evolved from this primal state of action and turn to the research of potentiality.

As we progress through the realms, just above the humans are the Jealous Gods, or Asuras; envy and suspicion reign supreme here. The beings here are demi-gods... not really good enough to become a fully realized being because they have these attachments of intrigue to work through. They are so busy looking at the shiny pretty details they are missing the bigger picture. It is the distractions of mind, spirituality wrapped up in theories so the soul does not progress but rather becomes “stuck”.

The next realm is that of the Gods: those who have built whole worlds, within their physical bodies, working towards apotheosis as an elevated being of the cosmos. Really, it doesn't sound so bad; a playground of the Devas in which pleasure is maintained and “rewarded” for all their hard work in previous lives. It is still illusion though, as Ego drives the motivation in this realm. The attainment of prideful worship and eternal pats on the back does not help to escape from the cycles of rebirth; which really is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. Even here, the impermanence of the Universe is Law and the heavenly realms are subject to the evolutionary progression of the soul.

Now, depending on how one acts and reacts through the second bardo will determine where they end up. Rejection, fear or attachment to other realms can become the cementing force slowing down the soul's progress....which is why it is important to develop these skills now whilst we still have time, being that it's relative. We can also pray for those who are still trapped in these realms. Making offerings and requests for karmic debt to be eliminated on their behalf, whilst also accepting that karma for ourselves, is a win-win. If all else has failed and the soul does not accept any of the options placed in front of them, the final bardo is crossed into and a “judgment” takes place. This is not unlike the “final boss” experienced in the afterlife of many other religions; the Egyptians face Ma'at where their heart is weighed against the feather of Truth. Facing this Truth is the most important part of the entire journey, facing what we truly ARE and not hiding behind all the falsities of our previous existences. If liberation is not achieved, rebirth is necessary. It is at this point potential parents or lifetimes are presented, with bright lights drawing the soul towards the most favorable womb. So, in essence, we chose this lifetime we are in now. We DID select our parents in this realm and gave ourselves another opportunity to achieve liberation.

All we can really do to avoid such suffering in the afterlife, is to try living a good life, be compassionate and kind-hearted. It seems, according to the Book of the Dead, even this is not enough as we should strive to become virtuous in spiritual pursuits. Our aim is to take advantage of opportunities and privileges for learning meditation, mantra and visualization; all skills we take with us after this lifetime.

"There being several turning-points, liberation should be obtained at one or other of them through recognizing. But those of very weak karmic connexions, whose mass of obscuration is great [because of] evil actions, have to wander downwards and downwards to the Sidpa Bardo. Yet since there are, like the rungs of a ladder, many kinds of settings-face-to-face [or remindings], liberation should have been obtained at one or at another by recognizing. But those of the weakest karmic connexions, by not recognizing, fall under the influence of awe and terror. [For them] there are various graded teachings for closing the womb-door and for selecting the womb-door; and, at one or other of these, they should have apprehended the method of visualization and [applied] the illimitable virtues [thereof] for exalting one's own condition. Even the lowest of them, resembling the brute order, will have been able -- in virtue of the application of the Refuge -- to turn from entering into misery; and, [obtaining] the great [boon] of a perfectly endowed and freed human body, will, in the next birth, meeting with a guru who is a virtuous friend, obtain the [saving] vows."

PBP: “Y” is for Yod He Vau He(יהוה)

The first mantra I recognized as 'not prayer' was given to me at 18. A budding Buddhist playing with the feminized witchcrafts of Starhawk, Ffiona Morgan, Zsusanna Budapest, and even Scott Cunningham; all I had read were warm fuzzies of magick and meditations. My teacher/mentor/father-figure 'A' challenged me to meditate with him after a meeting with our journalism department. I had no clue he was a meditation teacher and master of invocation, but thought the strange little German man was putting me on at first. So I tread carefully forward. We went for a walk in the woods behind the junior college campus. The jogging trails were full of the late summer's poison oak and the large oaks were just starting to turn brown. My cynical, youthful mind thought it was boring, but might be a good place for a meditation teaching he promised. I look back and think how young, naïve and stupid it was to go into the woods with a man in his 50's I barely knew except as an editor of the college paper I wrote for. Being very good at investigative reporting, I had checked with our professor at first to make sure A was legit... and I was assured, even encouraged, to learn what I could from the man.

As we walked along the trail, A and I came to what at first appeared to be a man-made pond, but turned out to be a cesspool. The early, clean morning air immediately was swallowed by the stench of excrement and urine and whatever else was floating around out there. I suggested we turn around and go another way, but A insisted we go forward. I was so grossed out... I was going to vomit, but needed to be confident more. In his thick German accent, A asked me “What are these theengs there? Flouting in the vater?” I looked closer at what he was talking about. “They are tampons A. Used, nasty tampons floating on ponds of shit. Can't you see?” He turned to me and asked “So, how do you meditate?” I was stunned... no clue what to say. We went from talking about the toxic sludge that surrounded us to sitting on the ground and staring out at the ponds.

“Show me what you do”. So I sat... and he stopped me. “No, no... not here. Over there!” and A's finger pointed to a 'deck' of sorts built off from a narrow pier,  jutted out into the middle of the pond. I looked at him and asked “Are you serious? You want me to go sit out there, in the middle of all this shit, and meditate?” I really thought the red, hairy, almost Santa looking man was joking... A always had laughter in his eyes, a smile on his lips, and a loud booming voice to match the belly. At this moment, he was not smiling. He was not laughing as he looked me seriously in the eye and told me “Go show me how you meditate”.

I humored the old man and walked out there. . The planks leading to the deck did not feel sturdy and all I could imagine was slipping, falling into the pools of waste. The poo smell was stronger out there... the sun was shining on my back and glistening off the melting frost. I sat with my legs crossed in full lotus on the cold concrete slab. I took a few deep breaths and thought vomiting might be better; an acidic burp mixed with my morning chai was all I could muster. I closed my eyes only the find my sense of smell more heightened. I tried breathing through my mouth and could taste the acrid air. “What are you trying to prove here old man?” I asked aloud, with my fingers still numbing and breath hanging in the mists of dung. I tried to concentrate but no matter what I did the place was toxic and invading my every thought.

Frustrated and nauseated, I stood up, walked back to the bank and sat next to A. He was in meditation and just gazing at the black waters with the strange fuzzy fish. We sat there in silence for what seemed like hours. After fighting the smells, the boredom, and finally the cold...it became suddenly still. I didn't notice the smell, or my breath, or the damp grasses under my behind making my corduroy jeans wet. Nothing was heard within or without, except my breath. And in that silence was the peace I never thought possible: my mind went completely empty. I didn't have to try, just be.

Some time had passed before A roused me, asked how I felt and if I could see the difference between trying to meditate and actually doing it. I told him yes, but didn't understand the purpose of meditating in front of a pit of bio-hazardous waste. He asked me to contemplate and meditate on it... which I did. I understood the purpose of this first lesson: Meditation is mutually exclusive of everything else. It doesn't matter where you are, what kind of conditions you are in, the state of your physicality...there is no limit to what the spirit is capable of experiencing.

It was this answer my mentor wanted from me... and also the focus. I made the pilgrimage up to the mountain Shasta (where he lived) and spent an intensive weekend learning the art of mantra. I woke each morning early to chai tea and sitting meditation. We'd walk and talk, then more meditation and invocation, dinner and evening meditation. It was on the second night I received the thunderbolt...and my perspective of Deity was changed forever. But this is not what I wanted to share about this week... it was the mantra assignment A gave to me that shook me up in a more lasting way.

Narcissus by Caravaggio (1573–1610)

 

So when A gave to me a mantra for my own practice to go home with, I was ecstatic, on fire and ready for whatever challenge he deemed good for my soul. Being of the magickal persuasion, he knew I'd want some thing uber powerful and impressive. And I was surprised with Yod He Vau He. I had no clue it was the Hebrew name of God, and much more. It is a magickal formulae, just as Sanskrit mantras or barbarous words. 'Yod' is the Father of creation, who comes together with 'He', the cosmic Mother. The union producing their offspring, the 'Vau' Son and a Daughter obviously named after her mother, another 'He'. For me, this was the most sexist formulae I could have received...why is the feminine energy of the universe, no matter how many daughters She produces, always just named the same? Why does the patriarchal line continue to evolve and change in it's essence, but the matriarchal remain the same? It is only years later, when I come back to this formulae for greater workings (LBRP) that re-examining it with mature, educated eyes can I see the secret lying within.

Man is the mutant and Woman is the more perfect of the species. Their extra chromosome turned the womb and vaginal cave inside-out, forgetting to erase nipples. The spirit works similarly.... there can be no evolution without the base remaining, the Terra Firma which churns and turns and burns the refuse in Her cauldron. She is the chaos, which in it's ever-changing is never-changing. 'He' is from a very primal place... it come from the womb, sounding deep within “hay”. It is the breath, warm and melting; moist condensation and sweat of tears. She is the buffer between 'Yod' and 'Vau', as Mothers are the eternal peacemakers. The interjection of 'He' assures me that Yahweh is even effected by the instability and ecstatic energies of a chaotic, and sometimes uncaring, Multiverse.

PBP: “W” is for Water

We are elemental creatures, whether we like it or not. Chemistry, Alchemy, Physics, Metaphysics... it is like blind men describing an elephant. Of the many different things which we are made of though, almost 80% of our matter contains water. We might have even come from water, an evolutionary path out of the primordial ooze. It is a precious thing, water... coming in many forms: vapor, solid and liquid. It is adaptable, destructive, nourishing, cleansing, vibrational; water is a universal element, a current and nourisher of spirit. Water is healing, above all else. When people are in hysterics or stressed often a hot bath is suggested to soothe nerves. Hot herbal teas release comfort not just in the medicines released but the warmth given too. Our ancestors knew water for the resource it is, some still do worship at sacred springs, rivers, falls and lakes. The ocean is often considered Mother and we, Her children, do not treat Her as such...for if we did half the things to our actual mothers as we do unto the world's oceans and lakes, well it would be considered a shameful abuse.

Naga women, source from http://www.tendrel.za.pl/klasy.htm

The spirits of water are not always the cute little sylphs and sprites often shown in fairy tale books. They are not just lovely mermaids combing their hair on boulders and rocks, singing songs to sailors. They can also be immense like dragons, watery serpents who hide wealth and hold back disease. Several years ago a mentor of mine challenged me to connect with these spirits as a remedy for my own depression... as a way to cope with a close friend who was suffering from lymphoma... as a blessing to the genus loci, local land spirits who inhabit the environment surrounding the waterways of Northern California. Every dark moon, I visited a local running creek, grotto, waterfall... I went everywhere I could think or that was convenient to give prayers to the Naga King, who rules them all. Milk and honey, poured out with a mantra (received from both His Holiness Serkong Rinpoche and Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, not transmitted personally):

TAYATHA OM TATHAGATA BHAGAVAN NAGA RANDZE SHORA

ADHISHTHANA ADHISHTITE SOHA

I did this for 2 years consecutively, even when a Wiccan lady freaked out saying I was feeding 'demons' or random dis-incarnated spirits. Even when I was accused and trash talked, I knew in my heart of practice it didn't matter. If there were suffering Be-ings floating by who partook of these offerings, so be it. The merit was passed on to them all through the act of heartfelt giving and the intention of alleviating suffering for all, including myself.

Time went on and I abandoned the practice, becoming busy in my new motherhood and graduate studies. Earlier this year I began a water practice that was similar, an on-going global ritual Mother of the New Time; every full moon blessed and charged water that I partake of as well, then pour into a jar collected over the year. On New Year's Day 2014, I will release this into one of the nearby bays. With the moon risen high and the cold clouds forming a halo, tonight I stepped out and performed my ritual with thoughts of a familiar challenge.

Just in the past few days, my mentor from years ago has called me to take up this challenge again and I accept with loving gratitude. Instead of only a few spiritual workers we are now integrating more on a global level; the project has been translated into French and soon Japanese. Our Oceans have been calling us and I hope many of you will take up the mantle of protector and answer the challenge as well: Our Ocean Project.

PBP: “T” is for Tantra

Soon after attending regular Dark Moon devotionals to Hermes and Hekate at The Sacred Well , I began reading a book by our Hermetic Priest, Sam Webster , called Tantric Thelema. New to Thelemic thought, I am taking my time (so far 6 months) with this very dense, short book. It's funny, but although intentions were quite the opposite surely, I am learning about Thelema (in general) through Webster's application of eastern tantric methodology to the Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis . This topic is one which many Neo-Pagan and New Age communities have the wrong impression of... if they truly understood the genuine techniques and value of Tantra, their whole attitude about the good/evil dichotomy would change forever. Instead most Westerners think of it only in relation to sacred sexuality, specific breathing/touching techniques, and delayed orgasms... which is all true as well, but not what Tantra is ALL about. From the Sanskrit root meaning 'looms' or 'weaving', Tantra essentially means the sharing of revelatory teachings or group of lessons from a guru, often from a mystical perspective. As Webster points out, Liber AL is a perfect example of a Tantra and offers a simple definition which I think might be more understandable from a Western perspective:

“Tantras tend to have the characteristics of presenting a theory and goal of practice, a means or vehicle of practice and a divine form that embodies the practice and its successful outcome” (Webster, xiii).

It is easy to understand how this word can be thrown around; after all, there are two cultures which use it in some similar contexts, Hindu and Buddhist. In ancient India, Tantra essentially had 4 branches: Action, Performance, Yoga, and Highest Yoga. This stratification is a way of describing the path to Vedic enlightenment and escaping samsara (cycles of rebirth). Some other Westerners seem to think it's COOL in having past lives... they brag about how many famous people they have been, when in reality they should be ashamed. If you were so great, why are you still HERE and not off in the seven realms of heaven/hell (another topic for another day)?  I digress, only to come back to how these four descriptions help in understanding Tantra.

It begins with taking on Action Tantra: trying to pursue knowledge as one seeks a lover... a thirst and desire which rises upon first glimpsing a grimoire, sutra, or an illustration which teaches and touches. We share in our Performance Tantra: giving attention and fawning over to satisfy Self and the object of our affections... this is a place of creation. Offering of gifts, establishing a shrine or altar space, enticing and delighting the Deity/Lover creates an inviting space. Using sly moves, the physicality involved in Yoga Tantra is sleek and smooths out the 'hand-holding' process... we are now at second base, so to speak. Beginning a practice, we are also forming a personal cult to touch and caress whatever is laid before us. It is when we are able to embrace and become One with Deity/Lover in the act of either physical sex or intense meditation... there is no third base as the ball is hit out of the park, so to speak. Devotional workings, prayers, offerings, disciplined meditation eventually pay off in Union with the Divine.

“The desire born from sexual passion can be used to destroy the desire that binds beings in samsara, like using a thorn to remove a thorn” (Lopez, p. 228).

On the flip side of the tantric coin, there are meditations of death called chod, a short-cut through to completely destroying the ego; the goal of Vajrayana Buddhism. Tantra, in this way, is about killing demons of attachment. More about this aspect in another future post.

This is a lot for Western thinkers to take on, and it is also why this practice is not suited for everyone. For those who are willing to  engage in meaningful and often challenging growth spurts of spiritual grace... the tantric path is waiting for you.

 

References

Webster, Sam. Tantric Thelema. Richmond, California: Concrescent Press, 2010.

Lopez, George. The Story of Buddhism: A concise guide to its history and teaching. San Francisco, California: HarperCollins, 2001.