Dr Who and the problem of immortality

immortality
Dr Who and the problem of immortality

Last night’s episode of Dr Who got me thinking about the nature of immortality and humanity’s relationship with Gods.
In the “Girl who Lived,” the Doctor created an immortal girl Ashildr (Maisie Williams). She had to write down stuff because soon her memories became overloaded, she forgot about the many lives she had lived and called herself “me”. Immortality changed her making her care less about other humans. Bored, she spent her time robbing people for a modicum of excitement.

Immortality kills off feelings like love, desire and right and wrong. It is the “mayflies” as the Doctor calls them which have life correct because they hang onto every bit of life they have.

The problem of immortality was first noticed by the Greek writer Homer who is credited for inventing the Greek gods as we know them. But according to Peter Ahrensdorf in his book “Homer on the Gods and Human Virtue” humanity consistently missed the point about Homer’s Gods. Rather than being the embodiment of virtue and upholders of justice, the Gods are fickle and appear to be playing games of their own.

It was one of those moments were two streams of thought collide and I had a realisation which surprised me. Humanity ever since it started worshipping Gods always assumed that they were looking out for them. Yet the evidence suggests that none of them really did. From the most primitive to the more recent consumer cults, the Gods have a habit of not helping, or even helping the wrong side.

It struck me that this is a side effect of immortality. A god is always stuck with looking at the bigger picture which may involve squashing a few of your favourite mayflies. We might like to think, for example that Jesus is a loving god, but he really has messed with people’s heads by not showing up for nearly 2000 years after he promised. YHVH really has put his chosen people through the mill by siting their “Promised Land” right at the crossroads were other major powers have to go over to get to somewhere more important. Until the Zionists, the Jews never did anything to anyone and yet their God seemed to spend his time with it in for them.

But this is a direct result of immortality and it is worthwhile to note when you use a lot of Godforms in magic. You are invoking them as assuming they care, that they feel your sense of Justice. But they don’t.

One of my teachers said “There is no point trusting the universe about something like this… it is simply too big to care.” At the time I thought this was pessimistic and not life affirming at all, but now I start to realise she is right.

Masks of Immortality

How humanity has managed to survive with its gods is by creating shells for them. Masks which make them more palatable and enable us to relate to them better. It is an effective technique. The modern versions of the Ancient Gods are a lot more amendable to what they were in Homer’s day. They might at heart be the same forces, but the masks humans have given them mean they behave slightly better. In other words the divine forces need humans to become better. They learn from us concepts which only have meanings if you have short lives – love, justice, truth, wisdom and above all the importance of life. When we feel those things when dealing with Gods what we are actually feeling the collective human reactions to those indifferent and impersonal forces we are touching the mask.

Without his assistants, the Doctor would become very dark indeed. In fact he turned down Ashildr’s request to travel with him in the Tardis, because he was worried that he would lose his tentative touch with the Mayflies. She would also become darker because she would reflect his own immortality.

So let’s take this a stage further. If these gods are the action of the One Thing moving within its creation that “over God” must be even more removed from humanity than the Gods. The God which can only be defined by what it isn’t certainly cannot be Good or Evil. It runs by rules even the Gods would not understand.

But rather than this being pessimistic it is extraordinarily life affirming. The Gods need us to learn, just as the One Thing needs us. Our short lives mean that we have to pack them with meaning in a way that an immortal cannot. We have to be heroes who teach the Gods the lessons they need.

Also, if a part of us truly is immortal of the divine then our humanity is acting like an assistant to the “Dr Who” spark. When that spark returns to the One Thing after this short life, it learns something new.

Sharing real occult information with everyone is impossible

I appear to have created a stir with this blog in which I said I had a series of realisations lately and suddenly lost the urge to try sharing serious occult information outside my group. The move prompted claims that I was either making it up, or that there was something wrong with me for not wanting to share. I was being arrogant. But really it has become too difficult.

lunch-swappingSharing has been a big part of my life. When I was at primary school I was more or less suspended as a ring leader of a lunch swapping racket. Kids coming to school who were bored with what their mothers made for them could swap elements of their lunch for someone else’s. The kids thought it was great, the school administration thought it was wrong. At the age of five I was banned from the school grounds during lunch break and had to go to my sister’s kindergarten for lunch.

My life as a journalist has been about sharing stories and information. My first occult group Builders of the Adytum blocked my advancement into its Chapter because the leader Will Chesterman was frightened that I might share the order’s secrets because I was a journalist. As a technology journalist I was a big fan of open source against the proprietary Apple and Microsoft. My books have all been about sharing ideas that I had about various forms of occult technology. All this was to a point that I believed sharing my occult discoveries was my remit. Instinctively I still feel that way, but it is clear that I was wrong.

Occult realisations

Realisations are like rainwater on stone. They are harmless until they freeze and crystalise and shatter the rock which was once their home. I have been working on Greek and Roman magic and Theurgy. I was chatting to someone about it and suddenly I realised that I not only believed something I was actually living it. Other occult ideas followed.

My instinct was to write about it and share. Detail how I got to that point and what changes it was making. I started to put out some notes and found myself shouted done by the usual internet clowns. This was par for the course and I normally expected it. But this time it was different.

This occult information was too personal to go through that particular trial by fire. I did not want to argue such life changing magical visions and experiences with those who really only wanted to assert their own intellectual superiority. It was not that I thought my ideas were right, or better than theirs – they just were and they didn’t need defending.

But this meant not sharing occult information, or at least sharing it with those who would not play those games or wanted to learn how to get to the same place. There was little chance that those who listened to my description would have been particularly excited by it. In fact intellectually there was little to it, but there was certainly a reality to it. It would be understandable for someone to say “you put yourself through all that for THAT how does that help humanity?” The only answer to that is “if you have an experience which is like that you would know.” The whole sharing system breaks down because communication fails. It is not because there is a big occult secret it is because it requires two people to be able to meet half-way.

Within my own group where people have worked on similar lines for a while and know where I am coming from, that is possible. But a general sharing is not. Someone like me cannot articulate what it is about something that makes it so important. It is like an emotion, a memory and a colour and powered by an image. But it does something – something very personal which cannot be shared.HomerTroy

Once you realise that there are some occult things which can’t be shared, you realise that some of the material which gets you to that place should not be either. Again, it is not because it is secret, it is because it is irrelevant to those whose spiritual path is not yours. What is the point of finding something important about Homer’s Iliad if someone thinks their spiritual path is about summoning a Christian demon? How important are Ancient Greek mantras to those who masturbate on homemade sigils? What use is it to talk about changing nature of the Western Magic to someone who shouts loudly that they were all copied from a superior Indian spiritual culture?

It is not saying that there is anything wrong with these paths or ideas, just that they don’t need my material. They will get their own realisations in their own way.

It is sad, but it is inevitable. It does not mean I stop writing about magic and the occult. It just means that sharing is only of a certain type. Sure it might have an edge caused by my experiences and they will reflect in my writing. But it is impossible to exchange occult information like I used to share my hundreds and thousands sandwiches.

WHY OCCULT FUNDAMENTALISM FAILS

Since the 20th century we have seen the rise of fundamentalism in the religious world – the idea that you can only understand God through a literal interpretation of what has been written down in religious texts.

Fundamentalism offers a form of stability. The follower does not have to think, they just do what they are told and read the text. Often, they don’t even have to study, just rely on someone else’s interpretation of the sacred text.

Since the 1990s a similar trend has arisen in occultism. It is not as overtly religious but it is based on a similar principle. Namely that there is an occult text, teaching, or statement which must be taken literally and followed to the letter.fundi girls

This means that there is a “RIGHT WAY” based on a document and a “WRONG WAY” which is based on whatever those who do not follow the document use. If you follow the RIGHT WAY then your brand of Golden Dawn, Solomonic system, OTO, Thelma is more pure than the others.

This is not the same thing as using the documents to correct a technique or a flaw in knowledge, particularly when a document is universal within a particular flavour of occultism (such as the Ritual of the Pentagram in the Golden Dawn).

Like the religious fundamentalism, Occult fundamentalism is favoured by those who are not the brightest. It is easy to read a text and quote from it knowledgably, it is a lot harder to understand why the text says that and what it is banging on about.

It also assumes that the person who wrote the text intended for it to become a bible and frozen for all time. Magicians are notorious for changing their minds as they start to understand something better, or focus on different things. I have written lots of material which I have had to upgrade over time. Sometimes it has been to correct mistakes such as typos, other times I have had a realisation and stopped believing in something completely. Until 10 years ago I thought the Kybalion was useful for example.

This leads to another issue, and it is particularly important within the Golden Dawn. Often a group has a set of core documents, but over the years were changed and adapted. Sometimes the changes were minor, other times they were radically altered. These changes were for the better in a lot of cases an example within the Golden Dawn was the portal ritual which, as first penned by Mathers was a disappointment, but must have been redone around the time of the split. Mathers never used it, presumably because he would not use something that had been drafted by the rebels, and religiously kept his old rite.

This means that if you look at the Golden Dawn corpus you have a mixture of expanded, contracted, expanded again, reformatted papers. There is nothing you can be fundamentalist about. You might quote a paper in the Yeats collection but find that it is contradicted by another paper in the Westcott collection.

Then there is another factor which is ignored within many groups – how much emphasis was put on written material anyway? A huge chunk of Golden Dawn material was never committed to paper and this should be obvious to anyone who has actually read all the material. While Golden Dawn books look quite big, the actual information within them is not that much. There is very little “how to” material contained in it either.

The reason for this is that additional information was provided by senior GD people who took promising students under their wing. Some of them would have taught some very unusual side-lines to the material, but that was how people trained. Other leaders used to specialise in particular subjects and if you wanted to know something about that subject you would ask them. Ewan Campbell was the master of Enochian within Whare Ra. He taught all sorts of things that you will not find written down in any papers, and these were detailed and well thought out. A fundamentalist would have to ignore Campbell’s contribution as being not canon and refuse to use the Angels of the Benorum (for example).

evolutionFinally, and most importantly, fundamentalism within the occult fails because teaching has to develop. Freezing it in a particular time, perhaps by declaring this as the “golden age,” fails to take into account the development of knowledge. There are things that we know much better now than the 19th Century. Occultism is supposed to be a science, where you can test things and get results. If you are fundamentally freezing ideas around a particular set of papers you cannot test ideas outside those papers. What appears to be a boost to older magicians becomes a ball and chain to modern thinkers. There were a huge number of occultists who bought into the racist eugenics of Madam Blavastski including later teachers like Dion Fortune. Even into the 1980s I heard one teacher spit that Maori spiritual systems were backward and Lumerian!

These things are meant to change with time. This does not mean that we can’t learn from studying the papers in our tradition, but there is nothing to be gained by making them holy texts. The next stage from that is to make the founders of the tradition into Gods and there are few that are worthy of that crown.