Transformation Versus Illumination

Edited version of my talk at Transformations — the Illuminates of Thanateros British Isles Open Moot, London July 2017.

Siblings, friends and allies,

I’m going to talk about the difference between Transformation and Illumination. It’s not an easy topic, so please bear with me. It’s difficult for a chaos magician to talk convincingly about Illumination, mostly because of the expected chorus of criticism. There’s the dismissive Pope Petes on the one hand — “When I hear the word ‘spirituality’ I tend to reach for a loaded wand.” On the other hand there’s the precious little yoghurt-botherers — “I’ve been working towards Enlightenment for years. How dare you claim you can actually get it? ” And in front of me, perhaps a huge blurting raspberry from you who know just as well as — and possibly better than — I do. But here goes. Smoke me a kipper.

For the sake of argument, let’s consider Transformation the arena of Ego Magic, improving yourself; making yourself more as you would like to become. Illumination, on the other hand, is about getting over your self, and the proper arena is based not in who or what you are, but in that you are.

In terms of the Chaostar and its Colours of Magic, in the Yellow, Solar ray, Ego Magic strengthens the boundaries of self. This, rather than in the Green Venusian Love Magic ray, is where I would expect to deal with health issues for example. And as Metamorphosis it extends the boundaries of self, enabling you to become what you were not.

The tools of Transformation can be described as Enchantment, or casting spells upon yourself; Divination, or discovering yourself; Evocation, partnering those who can assist you; and Invocation, stretching the tee shirt of self by letting a god wear it until you’re more god-shaped.

In the opposite, Octarine Ouranian ray, Pure Magic, we can expect more than mere magical theory (as Pete Carroll proposed) but to learn to cross the boundaries of self freely. The tool for this I call ‘contemplation.’ Whether your vehicle suggests bhakti yoga, vipassana, theoria, theurgic practice, ‘centering prayer’ or getting a well-timed whack on the head from a Zen master.

The Chaostar, by colours.

This happens within an initiatory process. While Transformation is best approached with a plan of campaign, however subject to change, Illumination unfolds spontaneously. There is no plan, although there appear to be some identifiable landmarks on the various maps that are not the territory.

Unfortunately, while occult groups have many models of initiation, they tend to confuse grading criteria with the initiatory process. The criteria — merit, privilege, degree of involvement — address advance within the organization rather than the actual initiatory process. The only one that does is the set of varieties that today I’m calling the ‘mystical journey’ model.

In this model the grades represent stages of mystical progress. And I accept initiatory ritual in one or other of two functions: either to bring about a crisis and its resolving insight in the Initiate (see below), or for existing Initiates to retrospectively acknowledge that the candidate before them is as much an Initiate as they are.

There is no consensus of what the stages are. The world-view or system — the vehicle — you start from may well determine them. Theravada Buddhism typically has a long and detailed list of stages to go through, while Taoists like old Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi) couldn’t give a wet slap for all that: the nearest you get to a sequence is progressive forgetting of things which turn out not to be one’s innate nature anyway. So, mileage will vary depending on the vehicle.

The first stage you might call Awakening, or Quickening, or First Conversion. It’s often remembered with words like “I had this big experience, right …” after which our fairly nominal involvement in spirituality or philosophical matters turns into a fully switched-on enthusiasm for whatever it was that set us off. It can be a little like falling in love for the first time, and can lead us to believe that we are already fully Illuminated.

We are of course wrong.

Awakening has several features. One is that we didn’t do it. It happened. And this is par for the course from now on. As a shaman might say, the spirits choose and initiate. A Christian mystic might call it ‘grace,’ the arbitrary action of the Spirit of God. The process is not ours to control, and if we’re wise we’ll interfere with it as little as possible. After all, we have absolutely no idea what’s coming. That’s the point.

Another thing is that from now on it’s a one-way trip. The Theravada Buddhists say “Better not to start. Once started, better to finish.” Christian mystics talk about ‘the hounds of God’ and how they can’t get away from their contemplative vocation no matter how much they feel like chucking it in. There’s no going back. There are no brakes on this bobsleigh, and if you try to stop you’ll crash.

Awakening biases towards either the internal, personal gnosis or towards the external, cosmic consciousness. Eventually we’ll have to integrate these (as above, so below?) but typically one arises first. And as with the system within which you had your Awakening, you never forget your first.

That said, some have an Awakening outside any system whatsoever, and they are particularly unlucky there because they have no framework to guide them through what’s about to happen to them. That apparently includes occultists. I’ve never met an occultist who talked in these terms. The lack of a proper initiatory framework or the expertise to apply it probably accounts for many of the spectacular magician meltdowns of which we have so many stories.

In the next stages, we alternate between solve et coagula. As we continue in whatever practice our vehicle proposes, the first flush fades and we seem to dry up. If we had a bit of beginner’s luck in our spells, that too disappears, probably because we’ve been trying to ‘improve’ on it.

More importantly, it seems that as we learn to cease to identify with status, social roles, possessions, personal history and so forth we inadvertently undermine our justifications for a sense of meaning, beliefs and values, social norms, even self-identity. This is the solve, known sometimes as Purification.

On the one hand the sense of liberation this affords is quite heady, and it was necessary for the Buddha, Saint Paul and anyone who’s ever run a monastery to lay down some ground rules so that our new-found freedom to Do What Thou Wilt doesn’t get us locked up or run out of town.

On the other hand the loss of these personal foundations is profoundly disorienting and it can be a really bad trip and it doesn’t really end. We can struggle to find any point in doing anything, because we’ve dissociated ourselves from our meaning, our purpose in life. Life goes flat and colourless, resembling symptoms of depression.

There’s a heavy-duty version of this known sometimes as the Night of the Senses. The things that made life worth living turn out to be hollow and there is as yet nothing to replace them. It can be quite unpleasant, and is often the point at which people make poor decisions, like trying to give up. Your life can feel like it’s got the builders in. All the floorboards are up, your clothes are in bags, you’re bathing in a washbowl, cooking on a calor gas stove and nobody’s seen the cat for a fortnight. And you’ve got to go to work with all this going on.

Now is not the time to be making dramatic, life-changing decisions. Instead, do these:

  • keep your partner, your friends, your job, even if you can’t currently understand why you should;
  • have faith in what you’re doing;
  • continue your practice;
  • take fewer risks for now;
  • go gently over the speed bumps.

This is where having a sangha, a community of understanding fellow-travellers, is worth their collective weight in gold.

This is also when we learn to rely on our spirit allies, as it were. The initiating spirits, power animal, fylgia, Holy Guardian Angel, Holy Spirit — whatever your vehicle, there is usually a source of inner guidance helping you to stay on mission and which may be the source of the crucial insight that turns the Night of the Senses around.

That said, at this point when the integrity of the ego is most wobbly it is tempting to go all-out on works of Transformation. However, if we have identified the solve, the Purification phase correctly, we should perhaps go easy on the Ego Magic: it’s actually counter-productive to try to shore up something that is in the process of being taken down.

As we persevere, the breakdown that is the Night of the Senses gives way to an insight. Now ‘insight’ just isn’t a big enough word for the crucial change which occurs here. But whatever you call it, it creates a reintegration, like a planet coagulating from a cloud of gas. You’ve got floors again, the water’s back on, you can find your shit; even the cat’s come home. This phase is sometimes called Illumination.

However, that which coagulates is not just another set of beliefs, values, norms and so forth. This time the self no longer exerts a vice-like grip on us: its spell is broken.

At this point the tools of Transformation — Ego Magic — can help with the rebuild. You the magician may direct your formation, with the support of your sangha, your community of allies.

It’s not over yet. This simplistic overview does no justice to the freaking chaotic non-linear nature of the initiatory process. It’s messy, and it doesn’t all get done at once. Evelyn Underhill describes it as “a living process which knows no rest,” and the cycle of solve et coagula repeats at varying intensities, of which the ultimate is known as the Night of the Spirit.

The outcome of that is complete consciousness of union. And that’s what it’s all for. Union. Behind that bland little word is the life-changing realization that we are not lonely ghosts in meat suits, ignorant and lost in a world that may not even be real, but instead are by nature totally joined up with the rest of Universe, that we belong here, and to sport and play in this Universe is what we were born to do.

Siblings, friends and allies, I thank you for your attention. May there be good will between you and me and amongst us all, for the pursuit of the Great Work of Magic.

Now can I get a huge blurting raspberry?


for more info about the Transformations IOT Open Moot, see the IOTBIS blog

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