Friday, August 16, 2013

The Balancing Act


 Some of the discussions about certain practices over the last year have raised alarm bells for my fellow compatriots and occultists. In particular, I have seen – again and again – complaints that reading “traditional” (i.e. long held in esteem – which is how I see the pattern, but others may feel otherwise) material and focusing on it will lead to an over-abundance of “occult archivists.”

I have always found this idea somewhat amusing. It is certainly a danger, but not one I really foresee happening. While there are certainly individuals who isolate themselves to “traditional only” materials, the fact of the matter is that this isolation often to be along the lines of a thin selection of texts and ideas. To a certain degree, my thoughts on time and practice are simple explanations for this factor. Most occultists, neo-pagans, and witches have real-world obligations that keep them from having the resources (time, and money especially) from exploring a wide variety of subjects. Not only is this understandable: it is also a rather pragmatic state of affairs.

At the same time, there are others of us in different situations. And some of us not only have the capacity to continue research, but the desire to do so. Of course all of this research is somewhat meaningless if it isn't balanced against actual action in some form or fashion. From where I sit the end result doesn't matter whether it revolves around rituals (which may or may not work), or the creation of art. Both of these more or less fulfill the necessity of activity.

At the same time, the reservations still amuse me in light of my experiences. So, I will briefly say something I've held back on for a long time:


A few years ago, while reading Wagner's Tannhauser opera, I had the rather “funny” or “quaint” inspiration to re-enact elements of what were going on in the story (which I already knew was built out of older tales) “on the astral,” and then seeing what happened.

I found myself “taking the form” of the Minnesinger,
and traveling through the depths of the caverns at the Sibyl's Mount – I also already knew, from Earnest Newman's The Tannhauser Operas, that it was located in Italy – as torchlight allowed progress. Fossilized bones (of “dinosaurs,” or as I considered during the experience “dragons”) lined the walls as wetter areas became increasingly filled with stalagmites and stalactites jutted from the ceiling and floor. And finally, I entered an immense room filled with roseate light... At the center of which were individuals and groups similar to those that Carlo Ginzburg describes in The Night Battles and Ecstacies.

And of course, there was the Goddess. We chatted, and I asked what I could do to show homage for both the inspiration of the visit and the moment of meeting. It was indicated that I could “rewrite” scenes from the Opera that had (along with the other works mentioned above, all of the sources of which were either in my hands or fell into them as I made my plans) with a slightly less puritanical Romantic tone.

I did so, and it appeared on another, now defunct blog. It wasn't perfect, but I honestly tried very hard to produce something worthwhile.

The feedback I got, mostly in private discussions, was largely negative. I was partially to blame, as I'd encased the narrative that I'd worked out in a longer piece bitching about Pauline doctrines about women, which detracted from the overall message. Nonetheless, one of the recurrent points made to me was that:
1. There was no proof this had been done “traditionally” (and being fair, I had not yet begun sharing my sources).
2. There was no 'classical' basis for a “Chthonic Venus.”
3. “Fucking Chaos Magicians masquerading as witches.”

The last my was favorite comment, and has been particularly inspirational in the days since.

As such, I had some moments where I honestly greatly doubted the validity of the experience. I assumed that I was simply crazy, and that it didn't really matter. Sometimes
experience, in and of itself, is valid enough. You may not be able to explain it to someone else, but you did something with it, and gained a positive experience.

Nonetheless I got quite a shock when I was reading Mr. Stratton-Kent's
Geosophia, and he began exploring Norcean (“folk”?) traditions regarding the Sibyl and necromancy. In fact in a single sentence he links those traditions to the Venusberg.* He even mentions the trial – I believe – of Diel Breull, where Breull admitted that he'd been to the Venusberg and met “Frau Holte,” who is was becoming synonymous with Venus (and the Sibyl, of course, of Norcea). There are numerous other groups, however, who seem to have matched these claims and put on Trial. Ginzburg notes:
“At any rate, groups of clerici vagantes who claimed to have been on the Venusberg appeared at Lucerne in 1576... and again in 1599 and 1600. A similar group, belonging to an association called Johannesbruderschaft, was tried at L'vov in 1694: like their Swabian fellows of a century and a half before, these clerici vagantes searched for treasures, claimed to have seen the souls of the dead on the Venusberg and tried to call them forth.” (p.55-56)

As it turns out, there may be even more information lurking in the depths of German witch trials, as Philip Stephen Bardo notes multiple sources of information in his
Tannhauser and the Venusberg:
“The most frequent methods by which it is reached are shown in Sachsenheim 1453, Sachs 1517, 1545, 1559, Zimmerische Chronik 1565, Rotenburg 1608, Hessische Hexenprocessacten 1628. By means of a potion, by flying through the air upon some sort of steed - nightmare, goat, or calf - by lying down to sleep, by falling into a trance, and usually at night, these are the ways by which the Venusberg has been reached and all point to the fact the place is not of this earth.”
Despite my attempts to track down these texts, translated or not, I haven't made much headway. Nonetheless, as it turns out, there is plenty of “tradition” in the act. And some of the complaints are navigated by balancing them against the reality of the situation, which is that entrenched mythological figures were being shifted all over the European landscape, and even incorporated into each other. I believe Mr. Stratton-Kent's rather excellent term for the matter is “mythic fluidity,” which is exactly what my digging has shown. The traditional walls between cultures were breaking down; new elements were seeping in, and entirely new structures of myth were being “born.” Not long before the Venusburg tales appear, as Mr. Bardo's book comments on, King Arthur appears in Germany. But in these tales and stories he is not connected as much to Avalon, as he is the hollow-hills of Germanic fairy-lore. Thus while Venus is not necessarily “classically involved with Chthonic mysteries,” by the 14th – 16th centuries she is taking on elements of Frau Holte, the Sibyl of Norcea, and whatnot.

And it turns out, at least from my experience, that despite all this... attempting to visit still works. Although we can certainly argue that certain rituals in Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft are... probably safer than my madcap joyride into the Otherworld with nothing more than a collection of books and old maps behind me.

Despite all this... I wouldn't be able to point to these things if I didn't both read a lot and act.

The occult world, particularly what we call the “astral” or “otherworld” is a weird place. Sometimes it helps to just stretch out your hand. And sometimes it helps to read “old books” and spend some time as an “archivist.”

And I do take offense feel mild annoyance with the idea that people are going to emulate any of this, as they really haven't bothered in most cases so far. If anything, I've learned to take certain thoughts with a grain of salt. Because you never know what kind've wankery is or isn't propelling such statements.

Be seeing you,
Jack.


*
Geosophia, Volume One. P. 58.

1 comment:

Br Christopher said...

This makes me want to look into other operas with mythological themes and supernatural events.