Translated by Smaragd, Polyhymnia & Silvaeon
“But if you (…) agree to the word Neophyte, you are cooked, my boy, and there is no return from it. Trials and temptations to your faith will shower on you first of all. (Remember my 7 years preliminary initiation, trials, dangers and fighting with all the Incarnated Evils and legions of Devils and think before you accept.)
A letter to H.S. Olcott, 1875
– H.P. Blavatsky
Three Groups of Occultism
The trials of an occultist can be divided into three parts: ethical, psychological, and magical. These three departments of trials correspond to the worlds of spirit (ethical), soul (psychological), and the corporeal (magical). Here I use the word ”magical” in a narrow sense to signify how the physical world’s intensive structure of correspondences starts to affect the neophyte ie. a human being who is truly devoted to occult life. With psychological I mean the machinery inside the mind in its relation to its individual construction, i.e. the subconscious subordinance of a human to his past. With ethical I mean the comprehension of good and evil, and one’s own responsibility which forces a human to be an active agent between these two abstract pools.
The Star of Azazel represents “ascending” occultism. In this form of magic, all is seen as subordinate to practical oneness, which represents and requires spiritual growth and ethical conduct as its expression. There exist also other forms of occultism. “Downward” occultism either does not factually care about ethical questions or uses ethics that allow negative ”othering” of others. Forced to the shortest possible portrayal, the most fundamental factor of ascending occultism is striving for the most universal love and practical empathy, while the practitioner of the descending path experiences freedom to create one’s own norms as he wishes, changing them as he wishes, or leaving them thoroughly unrationalized no matter how it affects others.
Between these two extremes exists a motley crew of occult structures, which I call “lateral”. They do not strive for spiritual i.e. ethical perfection, neither do they denounce wholly the ethical obligation. The lateral school is usually the kind that seeks benefit and development primarily for a specific group of people and sees others as preventing this endeavour, who in turn are to be fought against, or who are to be manipulated. This characterization shows how ”lateral” occultism is often the most societal and closest to profane forms of party politics, but on the other hand, its emphasized relations to the societal domain can also show such a deep criticism of society that ”lateral” direction occultists are also those who are most often found from hermitages and groups valuing seclusion.
In none of these occult groups can the neophyte avoid any of the three above introduced trials from appearing. He can simply choose to ignore one of the types of trials, which has different kinds of consequences. If he ignores the spiritual ie. ethical trials, the ascending path closes from him. If he ignores psychological trials, he will remain walking in circles near the beginning of his path, because he won’t learn to see the barriers he, himself, has furtively built. But if he ignores the trials of magic, it would be for the better, because then all occult paths are closed from him, and he’ll return to the less tense and less painful state of the profane, and can continue concentrating his life wherever he will: adding up to the social status, gathering up money and the abstract security it represents, sensory pleasures, purely intellectual or religious level satisfaction, or something else. He can be very interested in the theoretical side of occultism without coming to its practical circle other than sporadically and ”when the time allows from all the other things”. This is a fair outcome, even though it would take nowhere near the truly essential change that is an initiation. 1
Trials of Magic
What do the “trials of magic” signify? How do they differ from psychological and ethical trials? The two latter ones are the kind which a non-occultist usually recognize as existing, often even meaningful. The “Magical” plane on the other hand represents the field of an occultist’s life, which is held as an error outside the hermetical worldview, and as such is seen as a delusional part of the psychological plane. As we all know, most from our upbringing and everyone from societal discussion around us, there are no synchronicities, but things happening by coincidence; no telepathy, but thoughts springing into mind by coincidence; no astral threats (those Blavatskian “legions of devils”), but coincidences which psychopathological factors and unfounded superstition make seem as threatening.
This sort of paradigm is valid protection for the profane folk. The trials with which I’m now dealing are indeed largely a result of a human being starting to seriously dissolve the surrounding shell, the factual meaning of which is largely in the protection of the individual. To do so wilfully, blindly, without understanding what one is about to embark into, is only childish, as the citation in the beginning expounds. We can divide the potential neophytes roughly into two groups. First, those who do not have any understanding of what they are about to embark on, but embark on the trial nonetheless, because deep inside they feel they have no other choice. From the first group there are practically three possible outcomes: 1) The neophyte fails in the trials without noticing it and drifts back into profane life. 2) The neophyte fails in the trials without noticing it and drifts to the downward path. This is the worst outcome. 3) The neophyte realises he is failing in his trials and returns to the profane life a bit shocked. This is the best outcome, for he can return later – in a later life– as another kind of neophyte.
What about the other group? This sort of aspirant takes seriously the warnings given, yet experiences that only spiritual, occult life can be meaningful for him. From somewhere, he brings with him the deep experience of the fact that there is a depth dimension in life, which in the end is the only meaningful depth, granting meaning also to the others. “If I will not reach that depth”, might the neophyte say to himself, “I might just as well live in the closet and eat rusks for the rest of my life, because that’s what ordinary life with its ordinary pleasures feels like next to that hunch of the magical, spiritual plane.” If he comes to the door of his aspiration with such an experience, he has a chance to succeed and to attain initiation. Then does the occultist step out of that “closet” of his, the above mentioned protective shell, inside which a profane human being lives the whole of his life.
The shell is partly psychological and ethical (planes of which we’ll expound later), but foremostly it is so-called astral. Thus far the human life – whether rather happy or miserable or some sort of mixture of these, as is usually the case – has been like a boat firmly attached to the dock. As the boat can now move in the open-waters, a spill of joy is often the first thing to emerge. The neophyte might experience some extraordinary phenomena, which are apt to support the newfound belief towards the magical worldview he has found. By stepping on the Path, right away he animates many different kinds of powers, some of which are set free, giving joy to him, like new views revealed to the passenger of a boat heading to open-waters; an alive and lucid relation to the familiar reality. “This is the sort of life I want to live, and deepen as much as possible!”, he quite surely exclaims.
But, next comes Work. There is no Path without Work, and vice versa. These two are one and the same. In the outer world, work is something where we get money and status. In an occult life we get neither – that is as outer things. Instead, inside, the inner correspondence is perfect. When we perform our Work consistently, diligently, seemingly un-endlessly, it will accumulate for us in the inner world the exact same things: the mysterious equivalent of money and status. What these equivalents are specifically is too long a sidetrack to be expounded here. I believe the reader to understand the idea. It’s about accumulation, dynamism, and the progression of energy. Work enables the progression on the Path.
In light of what is written above, the reader now has a chance to understand what the “magical trials” are. Namely: they are energy, to which has not been found an optimal way of discharge in the Work. The reasons for such problems are as many as there are human temperaments with their individual challenges. Whatever the reason for the magical (astral) energy not flowing with the right rhythm towards the right direction in each of its way of flowing – which are tormentingly many – the consequence is a demonic charge. The more a human avoids or minimizes his own striving, which is required holistically on all levels of magical working, the more he is accumulating into himself the negative tamas i.e. inertia, which breeds its own kind of very difficult kind of life. And the more he is working recklessly, without balance, harmony, and wise understanding, which includes patient tranquility and modesty, the more he is accumulating into himself the difficult rajas i.e. overly passionate dynamism. Both of these give birth to and call for their own kind of demonism, which, in “the trials of magic”, appear as the different forms of psychic pressure.
The problem is tormenting already because nobody can in any way dodge the presence of these black and red overcharges in his process more than a human cannot be born without being covered in mucus and blood. These things, and processing them, are an essential part of the Work, and this trial sustains its intensity easily the seven years mentioned by Blavatsky in her letter; not that the trials would end afterward. This “fight against the legions of the devil” usually means the kind of things like torturingly disgusting visions, dreams, and even hallucinations, in front of which a human being needs to stand before calm and without being frightened, and without blaming his condition on anyone else but himself. The “mucus” at birth is his own. Although the blood-soaked and gloomy karma of the world is shared by all, no witch, “dugpa” or legion of devils can harm a human being, who himself doesn’t have the inner disproportion for exactly that form of wounding or more correctly intimidation or harassing or discouraging; a wrong approach given birth to by oneself and raised by oneself. The magical trials will come, but if he fights them as if they’d be (only) external forces, he is lost. What follows is true psychopathology, illness of the mind, and/or one or the other above-mentioned failures: in the better case falling back to the profane state, or in the worst case moving towards such a form of magic, which dodges the real issues and seeks for benefits instead of the spirit. That kind of human being joins those devils without noticing himself and becomes a barrier in the work for truly evolving spirituality, although one may imagine attainments. But his parapsychological attainments are rather like the jingle of the astral bells, which one wiser would understand to be an alarming sound, and in the end, the kind of bonging of the church bells, which the bluntest nerved would understand to be the sounds of the forecourt of the death of the soul – hell.
The better part of the trial of magic is to become aware of the presence of such bell ringing in one’s own soul. If all goes well, a human being starts to develop the capability to hear the voice of silence; that inner experience which drives towards true striving, love, truthfulness, and will not allow forgetting these dynamic demands for a moment. There are hardships here, and the nervous system of the neophyte has to factually transform to be more flexible or willowy as it is getting more sensitive. Such alchemy of the physical and semi-physical planes is the fruit of lengthy and multifarious endeavours, but in the end, it helps in two ways in the trials of magic. First, his psychic sensitivity in its increase gains paradoxically solidity, for its foundation is in the experience of a higher plane. Second, in this Work and on this Path, the neophyte will grow in a way which elevates his consciousness to another sphere where there is no more the same spiky and poisonous world of blood and rust as before when his trials set him in contact with the lowest forms of the astral world. “Similar things attract each other”, and this law of astral attraction works as much better protection than numbing oneself – a method of the profane life and the downwards path. The latter is also a door open for a human being, and for as long as his body lives, he can build for himself an armour that is even heavier than before when coming to see what kind of dangers he may come to meet in his “boat” in the storming ocean. But the “boat” will dissolve in time, and then the armoured passenger is in great peril. Becoming separated from his protective body he arrives into an immensely challenging world, which is hidden from the profane, but which the one acquainted with occultism has opened for himself.
Trials of Psyche
The psychological trials are a journey in the inner world. Unfortunately, in a paradoxical manner, the more bound and blind we are in that world, the more we imagine being able to see, and the freer we may feel ourselves to be. It is a dreadful road to truly self-reflect and to find some of our own marionette strings, for they cannot be cut with any amount of strength, but only with deep insights.
Traditionalist occultists have accused C.G. Jung of flattening magic by identifying its cycles to his own doctrine of individuation, which does not require the belief in magic. If there exists a neophyte who reads only Jung, the blame might be valid. Otherwise, it is unreasonable, and we might just as well blame Patanjali for overlooking alchemy, or Paracelsus for not praising tantric ritualism enough. Jung is simply touching and teaching one extremely important facet of occultism and teaches this facet of the doctrine brilliantly. To say there is nothing else to occultism is a mistake, in which mostly those who read Jung through exclusively scientific glasses, and interpreters emphasizing the modern, fall.
From their hermeticism, the Jungians have understood a more essential plane than their judges. For the human mind is like machinery in a technical gadget: all that is happening inside affects its function. And if the gadget is as exceedingly powerful and dangerous as the psyche of an occultist, leaving the technical side of the insides of a soul outside of understanding, is, verily, the most dangerous mistake a human being can make. It is true; we can concentrate our powers for ethical striving with such devotion that, to some extent, they will help us overcome our deep ignorance of the mechanisms of our own mind. But ethics will become just a hobbyhorse to ride to this or that direction recklessly if we do not understand what makes us choose this or that “spiritual emphasis”. Let us recall for a moment the time in the war-ridden world, when the occultists of “universal brotherhood” (theosophists) argued all over the world against each other, whether their ”masters of wisdom and love” were more on the side of a) wisdom or b) love. In other words, to what extent was judging foreign brothers a matter of our own? If we do not understand our own inner constructions, especially in regards to our ethics, we can create such a slick tool for ourselves that nobody can catch us from fooling ourselves. Only oneself can catch oneself.
It is not possible nor necessary to handle the vast spectrum of problems of the psyche here, which opens to everyone capable of self-reflection, whether he is a neophyte of occultism or not. The most dazzling rainbow of mania, depression, hidden jealously and bitterness, early injured patterns of the psyche, Oedipal or Electral stances, and projecting our experiences of our parents and our needs towards our parents to every person imaginable, from the esoteric teachers to our partners in life. Theophanies blaze in the astral sky of every human being if he dares to look. If life has dealt us a fortunate hand, we can live with these complications without paralyzing problems, but usually, this is not the case. Instead, each of us suffers daily from different kinds of problems stemming from our own attitudes, when we would like, for the ease of it, to see only the problems of our loved ones, or the cruel fate that meets us by coincidence. An occultist should not and cannot think this way. He understands, he must understand, the spiritual, magical, and wholesome life of ours, our connection to all human and superhuman and subhuman classifications of entities, works solely through the complexes which our psyche creates with its dilemmas.
But for an occultist the work is even more challenging than for the profane, because sooner or later he will come to understand (a) the exceeding abstruseness in the separation of one’s inner and outer ”spirits”; and (b) the above mentioned abhorrent fact that these entities are not controlled by will power, but deep understanding. This cacophony of the human mind is well described in the phantasmagories of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The western reader must understand to read them as unorthodoxical and understand, mutatis mutandis, that a human who has learned from his surroundings a non-buddhist thematic sees in his inner disintegration formally different sorts of powers, but with an identical idea: his mind assumes the forms of the spirits, and the spirits assume the forms of his mind. These two ways of existence are not separable.
The expression of a psychological trial in the experience of the self is in a lousy behavioural pattern disguised as a good one. We forgive ourselves behavioural patterns, which we know in our hearts to be bad and harm others in an indirect – or direct – manner, because we err thinking ourselves to be in our base nature a certain kind of human being. Such an explanation is a lie; none of us are essentially a certain kind of human being, rather we are what we are as a marvellous knot of psychological structures intertwined as one. Going through and sorting out this entanglement is one of the most essential work of an occultist because it immediately affects all we do and how we do it. The words of the oracle to the neophyte are always and in all true schools: Gnothi seauton – know thyself! For the self can not be reigned by one who does not know oneself, and commanding the magical nature is impossible if one does not know the self, the amulet for commanding it. In other cases we only think we are commanding the spirits also in a success, but in reality we remain unconsciously as pawns of the powers.
Trials of Ethics
Ethical trials are central to the occultism of the Star of Azazel, for they are the highest ones that operate as keys for the lower ones. Ethics alone do not suffice, but because every human being knows this from their daily life, it need not be emphasized, but the priority of ethical striving must be.
Love is not mere empathy, let alone mere sympathy, which is too impudent to even consider. Love as an ethical obligation is about striving towards universal alleviation of suffering and perfection of all life towards their best possibilities by means which encounter the needs of a collective whole, as well as the particular needs of its parts. The little blessing for any encounter (benefico or benedico) found from The Key of Azazel suffices for recalling these matters, and analytical study of its brief contents might be beneficial.
Similarly, truthfulness is not merely the withholding of lies: it is active striving where relevant, helping, vital knowledge is mediated as much as possible, directly or indirectly, to the beings who can benefit from such information. As I have presented in my yet to be translated article, ’Truthfulness as a Spiritual Practice’, one accustomed to such a method of experiencing, living, and practicing, creates oneself to be the kind of chalice into which esoterical knowledge can be emanated from above. One who gives will be given to; one who seizes will be arrested in his own development.
In addition to the above mentioned, any other sort of striving as a separate principle is not needed, for these alone will lead a human being to live justly with both small and great challenges, which he will find in life surrounding him. Above, I presented Work to be synonymous to the Path, and that only a dynamic striving helps to tread it. In a meaningful spiritual practice, the feet treading the Path are these principles of truthfulness and love, of which the striving moves forward one after the other in concert. Reckless, passionate love alone will not lead to the final result, neither will the emphasis on intellectual truths: but these two, purified with each other, will.
When going further in the ethical praxis of the Star of Azazel, we arrive at the secondary virtues and “counter-virtues”. These I will discuss at a later time, separately, but they are not absolute for executing the Work of the fraternity. In regards to the aforementioned Triple Key: Without it, the fraternity is an empty and meaningless shell of metaphysical and magical formulas, which can be used as well with lateral and downward path praxes rather than in true ascending occultism.
Ethical trials are present in every life event, for there exists no outer or inner event unto which an unethical stance couldn’t be applied to. Understanding this is part of the awakening of the ethical plane, of which we can divide the ethical trials into four phases:
(1) In the first phase, a human being doesn’t even understand the problem. Unless he is grown in a certain kind of spiritual environment, he doesn’t have an inherent understanding of the idea of the categorical imperative (which is the continuous and consistent presence of ethical demand), but acts in different situations like protozoa: following the flow of direction offering the most obvious and easily attainable awards. From this state of the protozoa, an occultist must shake himself awake to ethical understanding and shake again and again until he stays awake. Unless a neophyte starts his practice at a young age, this effort will most likely require a jolt from some outer source to succeed.
(2) The next ethical fall is to imagine that ethical obligations can be ”crossed as done” in this life. A human being thinks he has done well in the matter X, so he can take it easy in the matters Y and Z. This is a natural follow-up to the first phase the neophyte is still studying himself out of.
(3) In the third phase, a human being has understood in a living way that every single one of his actions must be as ethical as the ones surrounding it, and this is not something one can take holidays from (nor free hours, minutes, or seconds). The next problem is of emphasis. Because we all have individual temperaments, the easy and the difficult facets, there also exists ethical action which is easier for our character, and the more difficult kind. Thus the latter is ready to be compensated with the former, and the more lacking in one area, the more emphasising of the other. I.e. if I have troubles in my striving, I’ll compensate this by over-valuing the loving compassion, or if I’m lacking love, I’ll start to speak a lot about the meaning of truthfulness: my ability to offend others can become validated by my want ”to be open and truthful”, etc. For the secondary virtues, these compensatory expressions are even more easily enacted: I’m lacking courage, thus I emphasize patience and self-reflection, or the other way around. I’m lacking self-control, thus I say to myself, “I’m very creative” – or the other way around.
(4) When the ”ethical machine” has been wholly built, it once more creates a problem. The human being errs imagining the world and every situation in the world can be reduced to a problem to which the best solution can be printed. No matter how accurate the machine is, it does not remove the individual’s responsibility – individuality – as the one who makes the choice. There exist many correct solutions even in one single event, and striving to outsource one’s own will for the corridor-like categorical imperative is not far from the profane believers want to outsource one’s will for the theological representatives and validators. Both are about the defence towards the pressure of one’s striving soul, and thus the whole four graded circle has been treaded back to the starting point, where the striving – now in a quite different form – forms once again a challenge. Ethical development proceeds in spirals as does everything else.
What is meant by the term initiation within our fraternity has been quite extensively presented in the essay, Adept. True initiation is a spiritual insight which, thoroughly penetrating a human being, will also thoroughly transform him. This change is substantial, energetic; “magical”. It is helped out from the human being by bodies presenting the initiation mystery – I am indeed speaking of celestial powers, or if the reader would rather say, God – and it is perfected by special helpers in another world, but the burdensome Work, as well as the glorious crown, are our own. The Master is a) a teacher and b) one who “empowers”, but initiation is rather a cataclysmic, permeated ability to embody and apply (that is to understand) the power, than a source of power per se. It will also be a power source for secondary reasons, but an initiation itself is formally an Insight. This Insight is specifically and foremost of wordless quality, and if a newly initiated casts into words his broadened understanding, what follows would be a “revelation” which the listener experiences as some sort of idealistic, self-evident information. For the initiate it is everything but: his spiritual cataclysm as an essential experience; the casting into words of which is doomed to fail like a poem mutilated in to a mathematical equation.
These Insights are those destinations to which our work direct, at the individual level, as well as in the collective. Towards them, we strive incessantly. If we believe in some kind of immortality of the life of the soul – and an initiate will come to believe this – we also understand that this immortality is conditional and is connected to these initiations. By simplifying, we could say that the eternal (our immortality) is in us to the extent we have become initiated. One sole, deep initiation is more precious to a human being than anything else, as he understands when he undergoes it or already longs for it in his heart, which hints of the ability to reach that mystery. An initiate is rara avis, a rare bird, and even more rare are those who have climbed these angelic ladders for two or more steps upward. That kind of human being is wise, strong-willed, tenderhearted, patient, deep, relentless in spirituality as the foundation of a temple, radiating and uplifting. These are those godlike attributes towards which we strive. A true neophyte grows to understand that the roots of these attributes run deeper and his canopy reaches higher than anything human: an initiation lifts a human being into the midst of high, natural forces. And precisely because this magical attainment is so unconditional and powerful, its trials are as intensive and multifaceted.
- Many magicians also of historical recognition belong to this group, for example, Eliphas Lévi according to his own words. ↩