Ive been observing that a lot of the medieval and renaissance grimoires basically boil down to angel magic. Whether we’re talking Kabbalistic, Solomonic, Enochian, or other systems it’s much the same: it’s about summoning and seeking the aid of a plethora of angels by the power of the One who is above all. This gets me thinking about Christopaganism. Rather than locating female-male polarity at the level of divinity, which necessitates a shift to duotheism at the very least, I’m finding an alternative way to integrate Christianity and Paganism is to explore gender polarities at the angelic level whilst continuing to walk an essentially monotheistic path. In a number of systems Michael and Gabriel are correlated to sun and moon, fire and water respectively. I see no reason why they can’t also be correlated with the god and the goddess of the various Pagan traditions, whilst affirming the One who is above all, whom the Hebrews call YHWH, is essentially beyond gender and whilst being the source of ALL gender.
One of the crucial differences between magic and prayer, I find, is where the will fits into it all. In magic the aim is to transform the world through the will. In prayer the aim is the transformation of the will, from self will to God’s will. Through this our world is transformed.
These are some of the most common symbols in Alchemy and consequently the ones you’ll most likely encounter, if you keep your eyes open. In my experience they come up, not only in explicitly magickal contexts, but also in movies, gaming, music videos, and other expressions of pop culture. It is worth noting that the symbols for the planets & metals are all actually composites of sun (gold), moon (silver) and earth (elemental) symbolism. This gives you a hint as to their hidden meanings within the Alchemical tradition and of their relationship to the transformative process of crafting the philosopher’s stone. And it’s worth noting that in Alchemy’s heyday Christians frequently associated the philosopher’s stone and alchemical gold with the risen Christ and silver with the soul.
Here’s an interesting perspective from Evelyn Underhill (Mysticism, 12th ed, p.70-71): “The fundamental difference between the two is this: magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give —immortal and antagonistic attitudes, which turn up under one disguise or another in every age of thought. Both magic and mysticism in their full development bring the whole mental machinery, conscious and unconscious, to bear on their undertaking: both claim that they give their initiates powers unknown to ordinary men. But the centre round which that machinery is grouped, the reasons of that undertaking, and the ends to which those powers are applied differ enormously. In mysticism the will is united with the emotions in an impassioned desire to transcend the sense-world, in order that the self may be joined by love to the one eternal and ultimate Object of love; whose existence is intuitively perceived by that which we used to call the soul, but now find it easier to refer to as the “cosmic” or “transcendental” sense. This is the poetic and religious temperament acting upon the plane of reality. In magic, the will unites with the intellect in an impassioned desire for supersensible knowledge. This is the intellectual, aggressive, and scientific temperament trying to extend its field of consciousness, until it includes the supersensual world: obviously the antithesis of mysticism, though often adopting its title and style.” I am not sure I agree with everything stated here. Nevertheless I find Evelyn Underhill’s perspective thought provoking.
Here is a summary from the Encyclopedia of Religion.
ESOTERICISM. Esotericism has several meanings. After presenting a list of them, this article deals with the use of the term in scholarly parlance and with the various approaches toward this academic speciality in religious studies.
A VARIETY OF MEANINGS. The substantive esotericism seems to have first appeared in French (l’esoterisme) in Jacques Matter’s Histoire critique du Gnosticisme et de son influence (A Critical History of Gnosticism and Its Influence), published in 1828. Along with its adjective form esoteric, esotericism until the early twenty-first century has carried different meanings that overlap only in part:
- Booksellers and publishers tend to group under this heading (or under that of the occult or even metaphysics) a plethora of domains concerned with the paranormal, exotic and particularly Eastern wisdom traditions, New Age literature, and magical literature.
- Esoteric is used to designate teachings or doctrines that are purposely kept secret, generally with a view to distinguish between initiates and noninitiates (the former are supposed to respect the so-called discipline of the arcane).
- Esoteric refers to the hidden meanings of apparent reality (i.e., of nature, history, and mythical narratives) and to the deeper, inner mysteries of religion as opposed to its merely external or exoteric dimensions. In this understanding, esotericism tends to designate the ways likely to provide an access to these deeper meanings. Here gnosis is often used as a synonym of esotericism.
- Within the so-called perennialist discourses, notably those of the traditionalist school of religious studies (e.g., in Rene Guenon’s and Frtijof Schon’s works), “esoterism” (used rather than esotericism) is the doctrine according to which there is a transcendental unity of religions— sometimes called the primordial tradition—and the ways to try to recover it.
- The term is often used in a rather broad sense as a near synonym of (again) gno￣sis, understood as a mode of knowing that emphasizes the experiential, the mythical, and the symbolic rather than the dogmatic and discursive forms of expression.
- Mainly since the beginning of the 1990s, esotericism, or rather Western esotericism, has been used in academic parlance to designate (from a strictly historical perspective) a speciality covering a number of currents and traditions that present some obvious similarities. Western here refers to the medieval and modern Greco-Latin world in which the religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity have coexisted for centuries, visited by those of Islam. In an even stricter sense, this speciality has developed into modern Western esotericism. This expression was chosen by scholars among other available ones (e.g., hermeticism or hermetic philosophy, which some other scholars conveniently use, but they do so in the same sense). It was a matter of choosing a term to designate a historical field. This latter corresponds to a specific phenomenon that appeared at the beginning of the early modern period (i.e., of the Renaissance) and is represented by a number of specific spiritual currents.
It is in this latter, stricter sense that esotericism is intended in the present article. It is to be understood as a historical construct, not as a type of religion but as a general label for some currents in Western culture that display certain similarities and are historically related. Although there is still some debate about the definition and the demarcation of this domain, notably of its historical scope, a widespread consensus has been reached about the main currents that form its core.
They are mainly of the following ones (the list is not exhaustive):
- the Renaissance revival of hermetism (i.e., the literature bearing witness to an intense, renewed interest in the Greek hermetica of late antiquity, in particular in the Corpus Hermeticum attributed to the legendary Hermes Trismegistus);
- Christian Qabbalah of the Renaissance and post-Christian Qabbalah;
- the so-called occult philosophy of the Renaissance (see, for example, Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia, 1533) and its later developments;
- alchemy of the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, understood as a spiritual form of meditation and practice;
- astrology (in its speculative more than its divinatory form);
- Paracelsism (the philosophy of Paracelsus in the first half of the sixteenth century) and that of his followers bent upon giving a chemical or alchemical interpretation of nature;
- Rosicrucianism, which began to flourish at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and its numerous varieties until the early twenty-first century;
- theosophy (the current that began to flourish with Jacob Bohme) in the seventeenth century but also the history of the Theosophical Society since the end of the nineteenth century;
- the so-called illuminist current (c. 1750 to 1820);
- the occultist current (mid–nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century) and its related developments.
ACADEMIC APPROACHES: 1964–1990. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964) by Frances A. Yates has been instrumental in calling attention to the importance and significance of hermetism in the history of the Renaissance and consequently to that of the esoteric currents that flourished at that time and later. Yates’s book caused a flurry of debates over what Wouter J. Hanegraaff has felicitously called “the Yates paradigm” (Hanegraaff, 2001, p. 5). Indeed Yates has created a grand narrative, as it were, based on two main assumptions. First is the existence of what she called “the Hermetic Tradition,” in which she saw a more or less covert reaction against both Christianity and the rise of scientific worldviews. Second, however paradoxical it may seem, is the claim that the essential tradition of magic—which Yates considered essentially nonprogressive—was an important factor in the development of the scientific revolution. Neither of these two tenets has proved resistant to close scrutiny, but this work paved the way for an ongoing academic recognition and institutionalization of modern Western esoteric currents as a specialty in their own right.
Even within the pale of academic scholarship, the Yates paradigm was used by a number of authors with a more or less religionist-esoteric persuasion within the intellectual climate of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed they were prone to consider esoteric currrents in general as a form of counterculture, just as Yates’s narrative portrayed the Renaissance magus as a rebel against the dogmas of the established churches and later against the claims of mechanistic science. Such an interpretation is illustrated, for example, by many scholars associated with the Eranos group, like Carl Gustav Jung, Mircea Eliade, Henry Corbin, Ernst Benz, or Joseph Campbell (see Wasserstrom, 1999; Hakl, 2001). Therefore, on the one hand, the Eranosian production was viewed with suspicion by scholars of a strictly historical persuasion; on the other hand and more importantly, the study of Western esotericism found in Eranos a place in which precedence was given to a “phenomenological” even apologetical approach.
What seems to be the first methodological attempt proper was proposed in 1990 by Pierre Riffard. Starting from the idea that there is a universal esotericism, this scholar attempted to find what its invariables might be. He found seven: author’s impersonality, distinction between the profane and the initiated, correspondences, the subtle, arithmology (the esoteric science of numbers), occult arts, and initiation. Given its universalizing aspect in terms of areas and eras, that is, its lack of precise anchoring in history, such a position evinces a tendency toward essentialism and religionism.
Nevertheless it is not devoid of interest insofar as it is likely to be appropriable by anthropology and psychology.
ACADEMIC APPROACHES: 1991–EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. Not until as late as the beginning of the 1990s did the study of modern Western esotericism begin to be seriously recognized as an academic field of study in its own right. In these years the Yates paradigm as well as its religionist interpretation from a countercultural perspective were challenged by a different paradigm introduced by Antoine Faivre that can be seen as encompassing the entire period from the Renaissance to the early twenty-first century while still clearly demarcating the field from nonesoteric currents. As a result during the 1990s Faivre’s approach was adopted by many other scholars and tended to replace Yates’s grand narrative as the major paradigm in the field.
In a number of publications in the 1990s, Faivre submitted an academic construct based on empirical observations (i.e., not on an essentialist or religionist position claiming to deal with the essence of esotericism, which he considered problematic). He proposed calling esotericism in the modern West a form of thought identifiable by the presence of six characteristics distributed in varying proportions. Four are intrinsic in that their simultaneous presence is supposed to be a necessary and sufficient condition for a discourse to be identified as esoteric (although of course no discourse turns out to be that only). With them are joined two others, which he calls secondary, that is, not intrinsic, but whose presence is frequent next to the four others. That said, it is clear that none of the six characteristics belongs to esotericism alone.
The four intrinsic characteristics are:
- The idea of correspondences. There exist invisible and noncausal correspondences between all visible and invisible dimensions of the cosmos. This is illustrated, for example, by the old notion of macrocosm and microcosm and the principle of universal relationships between all things within the universe. The latter is a theater of mirrors, a mosaic of hieroglyphs to be decoded. Everything in nature is a sign, and the least object is hiding a secret. Occult relationships govern the metals, the planets, and the parts of the human body. There are also correspondences between nature and history on the one hand and the revealed texts (the myths of foundation or origin) on the other hand.
- Living nature. The cosmos is not merely complex or plural, nor can it be reduced to a network of correspondences. It is also alive. Viewed as a seat of sympathies and antipathies, it is palpitating in all its parts, permeated and animated by a spiritual presence, a life force, or a light—a hidden fire that circulates through it.
- Imagination and mediations. These two notions are complementary. Rituals, man:d: alas, symbols charged with polysemia, and intermediate beings (like angels) are mediators that allow the various levels of reality to be (re)connected to one another. And imagination is understood here as a specific faculty (a magical one, as it were) of the human mind to use these intermediaries, symbols, and images for acquiring a higher knowledge. Imagination (often compared here with magnet, mageia, imago) is the tool of knowledge of the self, of the world, of myth—it is the “eyes of fire” that makes visible the invisible.
- The experience of transmutation. This fourth element comes in to complete the first three. It adds to them the dimension of a living experience. It may be the transmutation of oneself through an illuminated knowledge that favors a second birth but also of a part of nature itself (such is the case of course in alchemy).
The two secondary characteristics include, first, the idea of concordance, which posits the existence of common denominators (a fundamental concordance) between several or all spiritual traditions, then studies these by comparing them, in the hopes of bringing out the forgotten hidden trunk of which each particular one would be only one visible branch. Second is transmission, which has become rather common since the eighteenth century. Transmission emphasizes the importance of channels; for example, transmission from master to disciple or initiatory societies (one cannot initiate oneself). Some insist on the authenticity of the regularity of the channels of filiation supposed to transmit what could not be obtained without them.
Some aspects and implications of Faivre’s construct have been challenged. Hanegraaff (1996, 2004) has cogently argued that it applies mostly to the Renaissance occult philosophy and to the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century illuminist and Romantic contexts but fails to fully account for developments within the spiritualist pietist context since the seventeenth century and the secularization of esotericism over the long period of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Kocku von Stuckrad (2004) has suggested that the limitations of Faivre’s concept of a form of thought could be overcome by a discursive approach. Furthermore the relation of Western esotericism to Christianity and to the other religions of the book lends itself to ongoing debates (Hanegraaff, 1995, 2004; Neugebauer-Wolk, 2003; Stuckrad, 2004). It seems likely that such discussions, which are already operating in several directions, will contribute to further developments in the study of Western esotericism.
THE ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF ESOTERICISM: A SHORT OVERVIEW. This long-neglected domain has been increasingly recognized in the early twenty-first century as an area of academic research and has gained a foothold in academia. It has been instrumental in bringing about a reappraisal of the understanding of Western culture in general and of its religious history in particular. Indeed even before methodological questions were seriously raised, the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Religieuses (Paris, Sorbonne), created in 1964 the chair History of Christian Esotericism, which became in 1979 the History of the Esoteric and Mystical Currents in Contemporary Europe (in 2001 the adjective mystical was deleted). The University of Amsterdam in 1999 created a chair of the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents from the Renaissance to the Present, which encompasses a full academic curriculum, from the undergraduate to the doctorate levels. In Lampeter, United Kingdom, in 2001 another was established, History of the Western Esoteric Tradition. Within the American Academy of Religion, a program unit functioned from 1986 to 2000 under several titles, the latest one being Western Esotericism since the Early Modern Period. The International Association for the History of Religions held a conference in Mexico City in 2000, “Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion” (see Faivre and Hanegraaff, 1998), and another one in Durban in 2000, “Western Esotericism and Jewish Mysticism.” Other similar examples could be adduced.
SEE ALSO Alchemy; Astrology; Hermetism; Nature; Theosophical Society.
Broek, Roelof van den, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds. Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times. Albany, N.Y., 1998.
Caron, Richard, Joscelyn Godwin, Wouter. J. Hanegraaff, and Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron, eds. Esoterisme, Gnoses, et Imaginaire symbolique: Melanges offerts a Antoine Faivre. Louvain, 2001.
Faivre, Antoine. Access to Western Esotericism. Albany, N.Y., 1994. Includes a detailed bibliography of scholarly studies devoted to specific modern Western esoteric currents, pp. 297–348.
Faivre, Antoine. Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism. Albany, N.Y., 2000. Includes a detailed bibliography of scholarly studies devoted to specific modern Western esoteric currents, pp. 248–259.
Faivre, Antoine. L’esoterisme. Rev. and enlarged ed. Paris, 2002.
Faivre, Antoine, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion. Louvain, 1998.
Hakl, Hans Thomas. Der verborgene Geist von Eranos:Unbekannte Begegnungen von Wissenschaft und Esoterik; Eine alternative Geistesgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Bretten, Germany, 2001.
Hammer, Olav. Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age. Leiden, 2001.
Hammer, Olav. “Esotericism in New Religious Movements.” In The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, edited by James R. Lewis, pp. 445–465. Oxford, 2004.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. “Empirical Method in the Study of Esotericism.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 7, no. 2 (1995): 99–129.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden, 1996; reprint, Albany, N.Y., 1998.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. “On the Construction of ‘Esoteric Traditions.’” In Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, edited by Antoine Faivre and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, pp. 11–61. Louvain, 1998.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. “Beyond the Yates Paradigm: The Study of Western Esotericism between Counterculture and New Complexity.” Aries 1, no. 1 (2001): 5–37.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. “The Study of Western Esotericism: New Approaches to Christian and Secular Culture.” In New Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Peter Antes, Armin W. Geertz, and Randi Warne. Berlin and New York, 2004.
Introvigne, Massimo. Il cappello del mago. Milan, 1990.
Laurant, Jean-Pierre. L’esoterisme chretien en France au XIXe siecle. Lausanne, 1992.
Laurant, Jean-Pierre. L’esoterisme. Paris, 1993. Matter, Jacques. Histoire critique du Gnosticisme et de son influence. Paris, 1828.
Neugebauer-Wolk, Monika. “Esoterik und Christentum vor 1800: Prolegomena zu einer Bestimmung ihrer Differenz.” Aries 3, no. 2 (2003): 127–165.
Neugebauer-Wolk, Monika, ed. Aufklarung und Esoterik. Hamburg, 1999.
Riffard, Pierre A. L’esoterisme: Qu’est-ce que l’esoterisme? Anthologie de l’esoterisme occidental. Paris, 1990.
Servier, Jean, ed. Dictionnaire critique de l’esoterisme. Paris, 1998.
Stuckrad, Kocku von. Was ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen Wissens. Munich, 2004.
Wasserstrom, Steven M. Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton, N.J., 1999.
Yates, Frances Amelia. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. London, 1964.
ANTOINE FAIVRE (1987 AND 2005)
This definition from Wise Geek explains it fairly succinctly:
Invocation and evocation are English words that are often used interchangeably. They are both derived from the Latin word vocare, which means to call forth. Both words can deal with summoning interaction with non-human entities. Yet, many people, especially those with knowledge of the occult, believe there are differences. These are generally based on how an entity is summoned and which entities are being dealt with.
The first notable difference between evocation and invocation involves the distance between the entity that is being called forth and the person who is doing the calling. With an evocation, a non-human entity is summoned, but is not linked to the caller. The entity remains in an outer area. The energy that is used to summon the entity is also believed to be derived from outside of the caller.
With an invocation, the caller becomes a medium. The entity that she summons is meant to come forth within her. This person is generally believed to use inner resources or energies to allow this to happen.
Several years ago, evangelical author Gerald McDermott wrote a superb book entitled, “Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?” The text explored the ways theologians of the likes of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin had historically engaged with Pagan philosophers of the likes of Plato and Aristotle and asked what a similar exercise might look like today. In the process McDermott explored aspects of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Islam that Christians, evangelicals included, could profit from … even if only to rediscover forgotten aspects of their own tradition.
Now, I would like to broaden question. Can evangelicals learn, not only from world religions, but from new religious movements and underground traditions as well? McDermott explored aspects of eastern mysticism. I would suggest it is equally urgent to engage with western esotericism. Or to put it more bluntly, I would assert that there are aspects (note this is a limited statement) of astrology, alchemy, qabalah, ceremonial magic and tarot that a Christian – yes even an evangelical Christian – can learn from.
Now, I know this will sound unsound to some. Given the misunderstandings towards the other on both sides of the evangelical-occult divide this is only to be expected. I only ask that you refrain from shooting first and asking questions later, and like, ask first.
If any of you would be interested in an engagement with the Hermetic Qabalah from a critical but sympathetic Christian perspective I would recommend “The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic” by Anthony Duncan as a fine place to start. Here are a few comments that struck me while reading the book:
Light and fire feature very prominently in the imagery of the Merkabah mystics
[The Qabalists believed] the world [was] created through the language of god: Hebrew
Evelyn Underhill has expressed the difference aptly by stating that ‘magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give’.
The mystic seeks God. The magician seeks the things of God. The magician uses his intellect, the mystic uses his heart.
Mysticism seeks only ‘to be’. Magic seeks ‘to know’.
Our Lord will not fit into the Tree of Life; it must fit into him!
It is, alas, only too manifestly true that the faith and devotion of much of the Western Church has seemed to stop short at the crucifixion.
The Qabalist cannot really grasp the understanding that the Christ has transcended and fulfilled every symbol that the tree contains.
Recognizing the Qabalah for what it is, a pattern of symbols and archetypes, a guide to the structure of both the macrocosmic collective unconscious and the microcosmic individual unconscious, the Christian can probably make considerable use of it. In the detachment which is possible to him because he is in the Christ and a partaker of his Life, he is able to accept the monism of the Qabalah because he is not committed to it as theology. It is merely an understanding of the relationship between the one and the whole within the created order.
Doubts and questionings must always precede a newer, deeper understanding; the believer who has never doubted has never really believed; the ‘dark nights’ have a wider application than mere individual spirituality.
Prayer is an exercise of will; the self-surrender of the will to God in love.
Christian prayer is a dialogue of wills. The time of prayer is a time of giving the undivided attention of the will to God.
It is the opinion of the writer that nothing is likely to be more daunting to the occultist who seeks to become a Christian and to follow the Christian way of prayer than the utter lack of ‘experience’, the total absence of ‘results’ that is exceedingly likely to attend his attempts to pray.
The realm of the demonic is the collective unconscious.
Surely one of the most useful definitions of Western esotericism I have ever come across (also Western occult tradition, Western hermetic tradition, Western mystery tradition) is that of Antoine Faivre, the first to define Western esotericism as a field of interdisciplinary academic study.
In his book Western Esotericism, Faivre listed six characteristics, four which he found fundamental, two which he found often in close association. The four fundamental characteristics are as follows:
1. The idea of universal correspondences. Non-“causal” correspondences operate between all the levels of reality of the universe, which is a sort of theater of mirrors inhabited and animated by invisible forces. For example, there would exist relationships between the heavens (macrocosm) and the human being (microcosm), between the planets and the parts of the human body, between the revealed texts of religions (the Bible, principally) and what Nature shows us, between these texts and the History of humanity.
2. The idea of living Nature. The cosmos is not only a series of correspondences. Permeated with invisible but active forces, the whole of Nature, considered as a living organism, as a person, has a history, connected with that of the human being and of the divine world. To that are often added interpretations, heavy with implications, of the passage from Romans 7:19–22 according to which suffering Nature, subject to the exile and to vanity, also awaits its deliverance.
3. The role of mediations and of the imagination. These two notions are mutually complementary. Rituals, symbols charged with multiple meanings (mandala, Tarot cards, biblical verse, etc.), and intermediary spirits (hence, angels) appear as so many mediations. These have the capacity to provide passages between different levels of reality, when the “active” imagination (the “creative” or “magical” imagination—a specific, but generally dormant faculty of the human mind), exercised on these mediations, makes them a tool of knowledge (gnosis), indeed, of “magical action on the real.”
4. The experience of transmutation. This characteristic comes to complete the three preceding ones by conferring an “experiential” character on them. It is the transformation of oneself, which can be a “second birth”; and as a corollary that of a part of Nature (e.g., in a number of alchemical texts).
As far as the two so-called secondary characteristics are concerned, they are, on the one hand, a practice of concordance:It is a matter of positing a priori that common denominators can exist among several different traditions, indeed among all of them, and then of undertaking to compare them with a view to finding a higher truth that overhangs them. And it is, on the other hand, the emphasis put on the idea of transmission: Widespread in these esoteric currents especially since the eighteenth century, it consists in insisting on the importance of “channels of transmission”; for example, “transmission” from master to disciple, from the initiator to the “initiable” (self-initiation is not possible). To be valuable or valid, this transmission is often considered necessarily to belong to an affiliation whose authenticity (“regularity”) is considered genuine. This aspect concerns the Western esoteric currents especially starting at the time when they began to give birth to initiatic societies (i.e., starting from the mid-eighteenth century).
In practice I have found this definition a useful aid to understanding various occult traditions (including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Theosophy, Thelema, Wicca, etc) and symbolic correspondence systems (including Astrology, Alchemy, Astrology, Qabalah, Tarot, etc). Conversely, although this should go without saying, it is also helpful for identifying where Western religious movements are not properly identified as belonging to the Western occult tradition (for instance Christian mysticism, spiritualist churches, the paranormal research community, etc). It is also helpful for understanding those who, although not occultists per se, are nevertheless culturally endebted to occulture.
The image to your left is of the Ace of Cups in the Rider Waite Tarot Deck.
If you reflect on the symbolism you may observe that the cup or chalice is being held by a divine hand, usually representative of God or one of God’s angelic messengers. Above it is a dove, symbolic of the Spirit of God, holding a communion wafer marked with a cross. From the cup flows living water, symbolising eternal life.
This is the grail, the cup of Christ. What is offered here is the life of Christ, which is life without limit. These waters never run out.
Who is the High Priestess of the Tarot? As surprising as it sounds, you can find the answer for yourself in the Old and New Testaments. Just read these passages:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1-6)
Not convinced yet? Keep reading:
King Solomon sent to Tyre and brought Huram … Huram was filled with wisdom, with understanding and with knowledge to do all kinds of bronze work … He cast two bronze pillars … He made pomegranates in two rows encircling each network to decorate the capitals on top of the pillars … He erected the pillars at the portico of the temple. The pillar to the south he named Jakin and the one to the north Boaz. The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies. And so the work on the pillars was completed. (1 Kings 13-21)
- The moon under her feet
- The two pillars, named (B)oaz and (J)akin
- Their lily carvings on the capitals
- The multitude of pomegranites in the background
- She holds the Torah, though it is not fully disclosed yet
- She wears a cross
Oh, and the crown of twelve stars? Simply move from card II to card III, the next Major Arcana, The Empress, where she is again decorated with pomegranites, a fruit of many seeds, and is surrounded by wheat, ripe for the harvest.
Guessed it yet? Last hint, the next Revelation.
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)