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Oliver St. John is the author of fifteen books covering Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, the Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of the Thelemic Magical Collegium, Ordo Astri, and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Magical Yoga for Beginners

Yoga means “union”, and traditionally that means union between the person and God, or a God. In broader terms it means the union of the subject with the object. When the subject and object are united to the exclusion of all else, then an illuminated stream of knowledge or dhyana is experienced. Dhyana is the first sign that we are getting somewhere with yoga.

Hermetic Tantra-Yoga is sometimes termed the “Yoga of the West”, as the philosophical basis and practical method owes to the magical system of the Qabalah and its close companion, ritual or ceremonial magick. The best-known method, based on the Tree of Life, is called the Middle Pillar Exercise: 

1. The asana or meditation posture is to be seated like an Egyptian God, not cross-legged on the floor or in a 'lotus' mudra.

Egyptian Goddess Sekhet

2. The Breathing or pranayama is a continuous cycle, a full breath in and a full breath out. The cycle does not necessarily involve counting in fours, or holding the breath. The object is to induce deep relaxation combined with a state of mental alertness, while hyperventilation is definitely to be avoided.

3. In Eastern laya or kundalini yoga, one begins with the base chakra and works upward. In Hermetic Tantra-Yoga, one begins at the crown and then works downward to the base. Only then does one work upwards. ‘Light’, or magnetism, is brought upwards to the crown on the in-breath, then downwards and around the outside of the body on the out-breath, in a continuous fountain. To assist the creation of the chakras or sephiroth, corresponding divine and angelic names are sonorously sounded or vibrated and the various centres are seen to glow and pulsate with colour, as according to the Hermetic tables of correspondence.

The purpose of yogic union is to ‘know God’, or know Reality directly for oneself. There are now many schools of thought that claim yoga is to improve your sense of wellbeing, help you relax, or even improve your bank balance or standing in the world. New Age spirituality delights in self-indulgence—energy healing, special diets, special treatments, therapies, and courses in self-hypnotism. The focus is on the physical body, the emotions, and the endless quest to be psychologically better, healthier, wealthier and more powerful.

Let us assume that we are really serious about this. According to Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, we need correct motivation, study and intense aspiration. There is no use in doing the Middle Pillar Exercise without a philosophical basis, without knowledge of the Hermetic magical correspondences, and without appeal to the systematic use of ritual magick—which greatly accelerates progress. The beginner is often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of technical information associated with the Hermetic tradition. This does serve a practical purpose; while the mind is engaged with understanding complex layers of symbolism it is at least focussing on the subject and has less time for egotistical preoccupation. Broadly, there are two kinds of beginner, the one that studies and engages their mind intellectually with the matter of the work, and the one that does not afford the time for this. The lazy student will not get very far as the yoga practice needs to be supported by mental training. The structures of thought and reason require reorganisation to withstand the pressure that will be encountered when deeper levels of consciousness are plumbed. One must actively and energetically seek the Mysteries and dig deeper. It is not about getting ‘answers’ from a book or a guru that will satisfy a list of questions so it can all be put away in a box.

The four powers of the Sphinx need to be practiced and understood: To Know, to Dare, to Will and to keep Silence. The aspirant must overcome their natural inertia—the desire to watch television, develop their social life, listen to the random chatter of their own or other people’s thoughts, or simply go to sleep. They might also need to resist the temptation to foolishly broadcast their occult experiments on the Internet—the fourth power of the Sphinx does not only apply to the meditation itself. By managing to do all this, even the veriest beginner will very likely get some early results.

We are instructed to keep a diary Record on a strict daily basis, and to note down any sensations experienced, whether physical or otherwise. One of the first things the persistent practitioner will experience will be a sensation of tingling in the hands, feet, head or other parts of the body. So long as one is sitting properly and this is not a symptom of poor blood circulation, it is a sign of progress.

With continued practice the tingling or ‘electric’ sensations will begin to feel like muscular rigidity. The rigidity is a non-physical phenomenon. The sensations reflect the stirring of the Occult Force, Serpent Power or Kundalini as it is called in the Eastern traditions. The mind will translate entirely new sensations received from the nervous system into something it can understand, that it already knows. Therefore it often seems as though physical sensations are being encountered whereas in fact the phenomena owe to a plane other than the physical.

A person can go on for some time experiencing these peculiar sensations in the body – really, the subtle electromagnetic body of light or astrosome—and think that nothing at all is happening or changing in their consciousness. Quite often they will note down in their Record, “nothing experienced” or “no change”, when more than likely a great deal is going on at deep levels of the psyche. As the Occult Force stirs and begins to awaken at the base level, there is a stirring at the subconscious levels of the mind. Aggregates of thought, along with the emotional power that has been invested in them, rise to the surface much in the way that dredging a river brings up old bicycles, prams and all kinds of unwanted junk that has been thrown in there. If the practice is persisted in and there is a philosophical basis to the work involving study and meditation, the Occult Force will eventually break down these aggregates and release the energy that was held by them. If too much attention is paid to the aggregates, or they are mistakenly assumed to be something spiritual, meaningful or real, then there is a danger of obsession.

This is one good reason why magical safeguards are used, such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. The ritual will not, in itself, guarantee immunity from obsession. Published works often place far too much emphasis on the so-called ‘banishing’ form of the ritual. It is mistaken to assume the magician forms a circle about his or her self and then banishes everything outside that circle, including elemental spirits. If anything, it is the magician that needs to be banished. There is a warning about the Occult Force in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 26–27:

I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one. There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.

Consciousness can do two things, it can contract and it can expand. Both modes are required in magick and yoga. Concentration is the power of Saturn, and that means holding and fixing the attention on the desired object. Expansion and release is the power of Uranus, and is characterised by various mystical trances and ecstatic states. When contraction comes about involuntarily and through fear, then the “rapture of the earth” manifests as uncontrolled obsession, the demonic aspect of Saturn. When expansion comes about through magnification of a particular thought-form or aggregate, then megalomania and paranoia are the result. These are demonic aspects of the expansive power of Uranus.

Yoga for peace of mind? In due measure, perhaps—but according to every spiritual tradition, yoga involves encountering all the darkness of the soul at every step of the way. We need to face up to the facts of nature before we can even begin to comprehend the greater mysteries beyond life and death, good and evil. As it was put in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s Ceremony for the Initiation of a Neophyte:

Inheritor of a dying world, arise and enter the darkness!
—The Mother of Darkness hath blinded him with her hair.
The Father of Darkness hath hidden him under his wings.
—His limbs are still weary from the wars that were in heaven.

Spiritual or magical work is work, and to earn the right to do that work the aspirant must first be prepared to fight a war or two. The first battlefield is getting the meditation done. The opposing armies on that battlefield are the countless distractions and other demands on time and attention that must be overcome before even one foot is placed on the path.

References: This article was not intended to be a “how to” on the Middle Pillar Exercise. I wrote it to address the many questions that arise whenever anyone makes a serious start with Hermetic ritual and meditation. My book, Magical Theurgy—Rituals of the Tarot includes an in-depth analysis of key magical methods. Those interested in working with the guidance of a contacted magical Order should read my book for the Probationer grade, The Enterer of the Threshold.


© Oliver St. John 2014, 2016