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.

30 Days of Hermes: Helpful Hermes

Day 24: A time when this deity has helped you

Known as the 'helpful' God, Hermes has been there for so many deities and heroes. He is like Ganesha, removes obstacles and brings luck in it's stead. As already shared at the beginning of this project, Hermes helped me in an attempt to finish my Master's capstone project. Granted I did not PASS, He and I kept our agreement for the rest of the year. Since then there was a ritual working I participated with my Hermetikoi in... to remove obstacles blocking from my True Will. Whilst the working itself cannot be shared with, it did include the construction of a mandala, with charcoal, salt and number of other alchemical ingredients empowered then tossed into a fire. It released whatever poisonous connections there were into the creation of my distractions: untied, cut, burned and torn by the 4 arms of Hermes Pantos Apolytos.

Since then I have lost some meaningful friendships, realized many parts about myself which were so much stronger than I ever thought, and the tolerance for bullshit has really dropped. I do not allow anyone into my life who carries bad luck, ill intentions or just plain drama. As a matter of fact, since this working I run at the first hints of it in a new friendship or situation. It is not what I anticipated, this brutal honesty with my Self from the Lord of Liars...my petition for liberation surprised me with it's results and that is something rare.

Hermes, off to work!
Hermes, off to work!

30 Days of Hermes: Modern Worship

Day 14: Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?

“Hermes, Hermes
The great sea foamed,
Gnashed its teeth about me;
But you have waited,
Where sea-grass tangles with
Shore-grass.” ("Hermes of the Ways", by Hilda (Doolittle) Aldington )

Aside from the occasional sacrificed sheep and BBQ, Hermes is pretty much worshiped in the same context as He was in ancient times; albeit not as frequently or in mass numbers. His devotees try to stay on daily routines with Hermes, making offerings or simple prayers to Him regularly encourages the relationship and flow of blessings. In my praxis, several forms of worship are combined, specifically those of Tantric Thelema with a hellenic polytheism. I make both physical offerings along with empowering invocations every Wednesday. Copal is offered with a golden ale, some fresh/dried fruit and flowers. Whilst my practice only takes about 10-20 minutes now, it took quite sometime to learn the internal processes and visualizations...something I don't think they did in the Hellenic world, polytheistic worship used to be much more visceral I imagine. My shrine sits on a 8-sided mirror someone stole from the Grand Ol' Opry Hotel for me decades ago. On it are items such as a 20-sided die, compass and the caduceus pin I received upon oath-taking (good catholic girl habits never die, as I wear it close to my heart, pinned to the inside of my bra).

Hermes, Swift-footed and Golden One.
Hermes, Swift-footed and Golden One.

The real question is, does it matter if worship has changed? Hermes is very much an evolutionary God, shapeshifter extrodinaire. His form changes with each culture, adapting and assimilating with technologies and ideologies is certainly the enduring strength of Hermes. Some modern devotees offer gifts such as chocolate, coffee, Red Bull, trail mix (traveling food). I gave Him a banana once, thinking Hermes would appreciate the humour of the phallic, yellow fruit. He accepts it all with the gladness offered from the heart of the gifter; Hermes, like the other Olympians, do not appreciate half-ass. They are like modern celebrities...and we 'the fans' are clamoring for their attention. Nobody plays this role better than Hermes, but once His attentions are caught the approach becomes easier.

PBP: “A” is for ABRAHADABRA

Last March I began attending a public dark moon devotional in honor of Hekate and Hermes. Now, anyone who has been reading my blog for ANY length of time already knows I am very partial to Our Lady of the Crossroads. Except for the occasional Luciferian consort, my work with Hekate has developed into sort of henotheistic path (who was a hard polytheist and became commited to working with only one Deity) with dystheistic tendencies (deity is not entirely good...and maybe even evil). Not that I think Hekate is evil, but She is a sinister Titaness that really can sway either way: Her benevolence is saved only for the most worthy and wrath of justice enacted for Her devotees. The service has been carried out for over a decade already and is only now being shared with the public. Pan and Syrinx, François Boucher (ca. 1762)

Our priest, Sam Webster , has incorporated elements of High Ceremonial ritual (Golden Dawn & Thelema) with those of Tantric Buddhism into our devotional service. The chant we use for praise and calling forth of Hermes; until recently it was used also for Hekate but soon replaced with another composed by YeShe Rabbit Matthews. Working with these two Deities was nothing I planned...and they are an extremely compatible couple! One psychopomp leads the Dead into the Underworld (Hermes) and the other out of Hades (Hekate); an energy coming down and another other going up. These two forces can be seen from many perspectives according to each person's Pagan experience. For me it is the Masculine, solar energies of Hermes pulsing down and meeting with the chthonic Femininity of Hekate, which is carried up through lunar magnetism. This energy meets in my heart, renewing and re-booting until the next dark moon.

The chant starts with some seed syllables: HAD, RA, NU. This is not foreign in my own practice, as mantras are already heavily present. The trouble I had was with introducing the formulae of ABRAHADABRA. Having some working knowledge of occult history, the familiar ABRACADABRA was closely related; I became a little confused and investigated further for clarification. I should have known Uncle Al would be behind this sudden appearance in my practice...it was like having sex and he did the “accidental anal divergance” maneuver. It isn't just about sex or union with Godhead, or Gnosis or any of that other stuff we think as spiritual occultists we are striving for. It is not about becoming perfection, but the end result of the journey.

“ABRAHADABRA is a word to be studied in Equinox I, V.,“The Temple of Solomon the King”. It represents the Great Work complete, and it is therefore an archetype of all lesser magical operations. It is in a way too perfect to be applied in advance to any of them… the formula of Abrahadabra concerns us, as men, principally because each of us represents the pentagram or microcosm; and our equilibration must therefore be with the hexagram or macrocosm." -from “Magick in Theory and Practice” by Aleister Crowley

Resonating these words, contemplation had arisen with questions of what it means to become like the Middle Pillar, the Axis Mundi, to draw upon the Two Powers (in reference to ADF's meditation exercise)? It is not simply starlight and green energy from within the Earth Herself; to access these higher Be-ings of self is to empower and activate evolutionary progress within. The realms of Hekate and Hermes, the Land, Sky and Sea...kingdoms of the Dead and Immortals become increasingly available for information. It is a key to the New Aeon, a unifying force pushing and pulling at the conflicting sides of myself.

I seek balance and peace. My spiritual life is completely satisfying, my sexual life full and my family happy, healthy and without want. I am finishing my Master's degree this year. I have everything I asked and worked for, essentially. Now what? I have never been interested in money and things, so buying a house is not really a motivating factor to finding work, but in the current economic climate I don't want a JOB....I want an INCOME. I have no wish to become rich and famous, although getting more readers to my blog would nice. But having enough to sustain my spiritual explorations, experiments and pay the student loans is a goal worth having. The great merging of these two realms of my life which have always been at odds are coming together; the fusion is painful and long. The divide of doubt disappears into the Abyss as I generate the potentiality within myself and those around me. If it is my True Will, let it come.

PBP: “A” is for Apotheosis

We are already becoming more of our true Selves each and every day. But why not go a step further and deify? Whilst the path of spirituality and religion for most people is about becoming closer to Deity, it is my mission to be AS Deity... to elevate my soul and metaprogram what DNA, culture and the Universe has dealt me. Why should this status only be reserved for celebrities and noteworthy persons... fuck that. On the astral, I'm a superstar of Lady Gaga proportions. This may seem delusional to some... hell, even in the occult community there are less narcissistic tendencies. Some might even say this goal is ego-driven and empowered by grasping; to that I say 'nay'... Bodhisattvas reject this elevated state in order to free others, turning from a God-like realm in the Otherworld. Yes, it is still part of Samsara and the cycles of rebirth; but at least the choice is being made consciously instead from out of ignorance. "Apotheosis"

There are several paths which embrace the apotheosis paradigm, and not just obscure occultic philosophies. Aspiring Buddha-hood or entrance into the Pure Land are common motives for meditation and prayer advancement in several forms of Buddhism. Ancient Hellenic cultures placed rulers on pedestals and created state religions centered around these national ancestors; the same thing occurs in Asian religions like Shinto with royal lineages linked to deities. Even after death, canonized Catholic Saints are still attributed to miracles associated with reliquary worship and incorruptible corpses.

Realizing and cultivating our God potential really isn't as hard as one would imagine. By making spiritual life motivated towards the end result in deification, everything else is simply by-products, or added bonus points. Sure we can amass followers, establish a temple to receive donations and funding for various projects or write books for royalties...but this would all require effort away from the ultimate goal. In realizing our true nature of Deity, letting that Luciferian flame spark and ignite, we inspire our True Will to shine...our Buddha nature. I am already perfection in what I am; ascending FURTHER above that is my Will. My body is the temple for God-self to arise in...it must be purified, cleaned and kept sacred.

PBP: “V” is for Voice

I have a loud voice. And not just in a spiritual sense... more on that later. I mean physically it 'carries', is slightly raspy and has been this way since I was a young kid. They thought at first I was hard of hearing, when that was shown to not be the issue I was sent to a throat specialist. I remember the feeling of a hot, extended mirror going down the back of my neck and them seeing the effects of my talkative nature: calluses on vocal chords. I saw a speech therapist after that and went back for regular follow-ups to keep an eye on the per-cancerous nodules. Didn't help in the long run and I never got cancer; but I learned how to say all kinds of wonderful tongue twisters, diaphragm-controlled breathing and beautiful diction. I participated in choir at both my elementary school and church (seasonally) and for a number of years, harmonizing my bass tone to the otherwise cherubic sounds coming from other children. I had private singing lessons, drama, jazz dance, various wind instruments all to learn control over my growing body and feed my nerdy love of the humanities. As I got older, so did the power of my voice become more noticeable. I could talk over other people, get a room's attention...and this all spilled over into my spiritual life. Whilst parents, boyfriends, teachers and everyone else who thought they could control my voice kept trying to do so, it was mutating and becoming something so much more than I ever realized. When I performed my first invocation, spirits, Gods, elementals... all came. It's like, they couldn't resist. Even ones I didn't know were showing up as my intonations and cosmic vibrations refined into skill. It was a perfect match when I found mantra yoga, Tibetan Buddhism and practiced chanting every day. My vernacular speech became much more intentional, I found power in the words I spoke. Freudian slips and slurred words of accidental repetition. Coven mates feared an occasional teasing which might otherwise ensue a period of chaos in all communications, especially when Mercury would go retrograde.

It was somewhere during my undergraduate years I wanted to challenge this on a new level. I was in a relationship with an older man for several years and we were having the normal couple issues. The biggest one I felt was that my boyfriend did not see me as an equal... so I set out to find an example I could emulate as the perfect consort. It was in the Hindu story of Siva and Shakti was the potentiality for what a good relationship could be. And so I began the work with Siva, although not necessarily in the way I had planned.

Lord Shiva from the Mahabharata

I started with buying a golden dancing Siva statue, some plain Nag Champa and a simple candle in blue. The mantra was chosen and I began to intone it 108 times or more daily, over a 40 day discipline. At first everything was going well: om namah shivaya in my head, day and night. I would hear it when walking around campus, shelving books in the library, it was everywhere I went. This was, in my experience, a good sign. Until one morning I sat down in front of Siva and began my chant: om namah shivaya. By the time I got to the 30th bead on my mala, my voice creaked and choked. It almost felt like my throat was dry, so I drank some water, gargled and swallowed. Taking a few breaths, I picked up on the last mala and started where I left off. About three more of om namah shivaya and it happened again. I repeated the gargle and tried again, but this time I could only get as far as om namah. So, counting the remaining mantras in my head I finished my daily ritual and set about getting ready for the rest of the day, which was uneventful. The same thing happened the next day, and the next day... with the effects of my voicelessness being drawn out for longer periods of time.

I finished my 40 day discipline, with most of the prayers coming from within a still throat. I could not say this prayer no matter how hard I tried. Then one night, my boyfriend and I were making love. The room was candlelit and a great image of Ram with Sita hung over my bed... the divine couple I hoped to emulate. Whilst I looked up to see Ram, my eyes turned down to my lover and was shocked to see my lover had blue skin also! He was a complete Atheist, cynic, developing prestidigitator and sometimes even made fun of my spiritual practices. But he had turned into Siva!

I didn't know what to do. being mid-coitus and having a God appear between my thighs. I wasn't some experienced Tantrika and did the only thing I found to be natural, I kept going. He smiled as the body He rode in stiffened up like a corpse. I could see a frightened look trying to express through the mask of Siva. But I climbed higher in ecstasy and as the energy pulsated and rose through, my body arched and my mouth opened up, and the mantra came out...loudly, quickly and without waver. It flowed out of my essence like honey, drowning my Self, my lover, and all else in the room. The pressure built up and His energy flowed up into me, exploding out the top of my head. I collapsed, sweating and shaking but with a huge smile on my face. When I came too, I noticed my boyfriend was trembling a little and seemed disoriented. This was very out of character and worried him. I consoled him, but never told what REALLY happened.

That was when I knew this was not an ordinary skill, talent, or otherwise mystical gift. This was a powerful weapon which has spilled over into the manifestation of words on paper, in print and online. Facebook statuses manifest easily, spoken spells hardly need much else except a candle and word. I have yet to evoke or invoke a Deity who will not appear. Yes, I am a special snowflake and my voice will not be stifled from saying so.

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.