It is often stated on our website that our school puts the greatest emphasis on actual practice and direct experience, instead of simply theoretical knowledge and the development of opinion. In the divine science of theurgy there is much to learn and study, it is true; but in the end, only direct experience can ever serve as the vehicle which carries the aspirant towards God. In order to create the proper conditions required to cause these experiences, spiritual practice (called “askesis”) is required.
Ideally, spiritual practices should be learned directly from a teacher who has accepted you as a student. Therefore, we must always strongly encourage our readers to seek tutelage under the guidance of an instructor, even if that guidance is not with us. No general course of instruction or list of techniques, no matter how great or thorough, is ever a replacement for a living teacher who can observe the progress of the student with spiritual eyes and the wisdom of personal experience. Even the basic course of practice to be given in this article is only a cornerstone, rough and unspecific. It is general enough that, for the majority of readers, it should work sufficiently. Each practice given here is foundational, and must be practiced in some form or another in any legitimate spiritual path. None the less there will be some who find it very difficult to pursue and maintain even so simple a routine without the direct guidance of a teacher.
The purpose of this article is not to replace a teacher. The purpose, instead, is to provide the reader with a beginning practice routine that will introduce him to the concept of daily meditation, and familiarize himself with the practices which are essential to any true path. That way, whether the reader should decide to pursue theurgy or some other system, the experience gained from these practices will assist him in producing results wherever he may go. In other words, these practices do not replace a teacher, but are meant instead to simply satisfy the would-be student and give him a valid means of making progress until a teacher can be obtained.
Preliminaries: The Altar and Meditation Seat
Before beginning the path of spiritual evolution, the earnest seeker should take the time to acquire what might be seen as the only two “preliminaries” to the practice of mysticism: an altar and a seat.
The altar, or “bomos,” is the “Place of Power.” It was traditionally also called the Hieron, or “Holy Place,” a term which could be applied to the altar, or to a place where meditation is done (the space surrounding the altar). The alter can be as small or large as one wishes, and as decorated or bare as is preferred. Upon it, the aspiring mystic will place a store of incense, some candles, and representations of the divine which synchronize with his understanding of God and the universe. If you are Christian, for example, a picture of Jesus should be put as the centerpiece of the altar, and should have the most prominent position (slightly raised above anything else on the altar, and with its view unobstructed). If you are Hindu, pictures of Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, etc, according to one’s sect. If Buddhist, then Gautama Buddha. Whatever the religion or theological preference, the main representative of divinity should be centered and raised. If one does not have a preferred name or image for God, then something considered a “formless” representation should be had, such as a lingam, an image of sacred geometry, the sun, etc. Something should be had, so that the mind can properly be trained. Without a depiction of some kind, the lower self will have a hard time following your will towards God.
Flanking the primary subject of the altar, one is at liberty to display what he pleases. Traditionally, images of saints and masters from one’s lineage would be upon the altar, in order to hone in on the evolutionary current which those adepts are still providing for mankind. Holy objects, relics, sacred offerings, and things which have been blessed can also be kept here, to help saturate the space with spiritualized energy. Take as much liberty with the creation and design of your altar as you want, and make it something meaningful to you, which is the most important thing. I might also add that any table or surface space can be made into an altar; there is no need to construct one from scratch.
With the bomos created, the student should see to setting up a kathedros or “seat of power.” Theurgists hold that this term has a double meaning, based on a hidden etymology. In the one sense, it is simply the place one sits down (“kata”) to take a seat (“hedros”). But by moving the “r” and introducing an “i” while still keeping the sound, it becomes the place where one purifies (“kathar”) his own spiritual image (“eidos”).
The kathedros will be the seat that the student will use for his meditations. It may be either a chair, or upon the floor; neither preference will make a great difference. Between the meditator and the chair or floor should be either cotton, linen, or silk cloth. If meditating in a chair, for example, drape silk over the seat and in front of it, so that while you are sitting in it, no part of you is directly touching the floor or chair. This will help insulate the energies of your meditations, which while not very relevant in the beginning, is a good habit to develop for later on. In time, just touching this piece of fabric will send a burst of spiritual energy into the body, putting the aspirant into a higher state of awareness. This cloth is, in truth, the kathedros itself. Wherever it is, the benefits of your past meditation will be also. Therefore keep it sacred, and out of the sight and reach of others. Those who are not practicing spirituality actively should neither see nor touch it. Those who are, may see it, but should not touch it.
The seat should be set up comfortably in front of the altar. The pictures or images of God and saints on the altar should be roughly head-level, neither too far low, nor high enough to obstruct your vision of it all. Do not worry about getting it all “perfect.” There is no single design which governs what the ideal altar should look like. From the most humble to the most elaborate, all are loved by God. What matters is, firstly, that the altar makes sense to you and your religious beliefs. Secondly, that you feel connected to it and what it represents.
The seat should be comfortable, but not so comfortable that it would encourage you to fall asleep. Ideally you should be supporting your own body weight as much as possible, meaning you are not sinking into a cushion or recliner or the likes. Having back support is perfectly fine, as long as you do not slouch significantly against it. The spine does not have to be perfectly straight, but good posture should be maintained as far as is comfortable. When sitting to meditate the hands should rest comfortably in the lap, or in some preferred hand gesture. The chin should be generally level, so that your neck is not slouching forwards, but neither should it be rigid. Stay relaxed. When sitting in your meditative posture, it is good to ride a line between comfort and attention. Be relaxed enough to be able to sink into a meditative state without being distracted by your body, but be alert and erect enough that you do not become drowsy or lean.
Starting the Day: The Secrets of the Sun
When first setting foot upon the spiritual path, the major obstacle which confronts the aspirant is a matter of self-perspective. The aspirant, who hitherto has been enamored by the world, and has been both in and of the world, must now define himself to be in it, but not of it. In other words, a paradigm shift is necessary. The spiritual seeker must do away with the image that he is a mundane person living in a mundane world, leading a mundane life. Instead, active steps must be taken towards realizing one’s self as a spiritual being temporarily encased within a body, whose life is much larger and greater than a physical lifespan. Realizing this, it will be absolutely natural for the student to devote great attention and the utmost care to the service of his immortal soul and divine spirit. Until this is experienced, however, the adjustment will be a difficult one for most people just starting out.
The masters of the true hermetic science have taught their disciples for millenia that the morning is, psychologically, of the greatest importance. Just as the aspirant is in the dawn of his spiritual path, so the dawn of the day holds great sway over his success. The sun is our immediate Archon or spiritual king, and oversees our development during our entire journey. In the dawn of our spiritual career, it is the morning sun in the East which holds the greatest power over us, and whose energies we must most carefully tend to. As we advance, the arc of the sun as it passes through the ceiling of the sky in the hours surrounding noon become relevant, where the accomplished aspirant begins to understand the sun’s impact on our lives, and the importance of its rays in spiritual evolution. Passing into the gates of initiation, the Initiate looks out at the sun in its setting in the West, the direction of the Heroes as the ancients revered it. The Initiate has passed into the sunset of his outer life, and prepares himself for the greater initiations which occur in the greatest secrecy, and hold the greatest power. Finally, when the sun dives beneath its horizon, the adept student of magic delves into the abyss of pure consciousness, achieving his liberation and unveiling the sparkling rays of the Midnight Sun. Yes indeed this is a metaphor, a parable handed down by our teachers containing higher teachings. However, in a literal sense, the student does eventually learn how to interact with the rays of the sun in its different stations as he advances, all the way until liberation is achieved and beyond.
We strongly recommend, in the beginning, that the student begins this psychological adjustment and prepares to meet the sun by rising out of bed earlier than he is probably used to. The hour before the moment of sunrise, and the hours immediately proceeding it, have always been sacred to the initiates of all mysteries in all places. It will therefore benefit the aspirant greatly to arise in the morning, an hour before the sun appears on the horizon, and join in the tradition of the mystics of all cultures and religions. In so doing, he should construct a suitable morning ritual for himself. This may be as simple as getting up from bed, stretching for a few moments, taking a shower, then sitting down in a personal prayer or meditation space. Those more inclined to do so may take this further and write a personal prayer for beginning the day, directed to whatever name you use for God. To make the task somewhat easier, I will provide a simple formula, which the reader is by no means confined to:
- Wake up, immediately taking a moment to sit up in bed, close the eyes, and spend a moment orienting one’s self to a spiritual life. The mind is rampant in the mornings, having been the subject of a night’s length of dreams. An extra moment to think about God and your desire for self realization will help train the mind in these highly impressionable first few moments of waking consciousness. What you think here can have a dramatic impact on your entire day.
- Cleanliness and purity have always been the attending maidens of spirituality. Arising from bed, the aspirant should evacuate the body of its wastes, should tend to all matters of hygiene, and should bathe. If your bathroom is to be a part of your morning ritual, as this step would make it, then you will naturally want to keep it clean. Analogy is always an aid.
- When the above is all taken care of, the spiritual seeker will prepare for the morning practice session. In ancient times, a small spoonful of honey was taken as the first thing to touch the aspirant’s lips and enter the body. A small amount of honey mixed in equal proportion with hot water creates a gentle salve for the throat and helps open the airways, preparing one for prayer or intonations. Aspirants who are initiated into the morning solar practices would often mix this drink with a small sprig of mint, or a drop of mint oil. This would cool the body’s energies, so that the nerves stayed calm when the solar energy flooded them. Those who do not know such practices may still find the effects of the mint very calming and soothing, while also chasing away drowsiness. This would all be part of the aspirant’s preparation of the body, which could include light stretching, simple physical postures, and/or the consumption of alchemical tinctures.
- With the body now emptied, cleansed, and opened, the student will turn attention to the care of the meditation space. Incense should be lit, and a small candle if the sun’s light is not yet coming in through the windows. The alter should be set in the east if possible, but this is not of great importance if it can not be done. The aspirant should perfume the entire meditation space with the incense of choice, but preferably frankincense or myrrh, or a combined fragrance using the two. The seat of meditation should be spread out and perfumed also, if it is not already out.
- Having done all of this, the aspirant should now open his meditation session with a prayer. Traditionally, one would first start with the opening prayer of his particular system or temple, and then move on to a hymn to the sun. In place of an opening prayer, it is perfectly fine simply to pray to God in the universal form, asking for guidance in your spiritual journey. This done, the attention should be turned to the sun. For greeting the sun, both arms are held out to the side, making a cross. The aspirant inhales deeply, feeling that the rays of the sun permeate him deeply, and then recites a prayer greeting and praising the sun. This hymn may be of the aspirant’s own construction, or, if preferred, may be a traditional hymn such as those provided in the Orphic Hymns. In the ancient times of this tradition, either before or after the prayer (or often times both), the mystic would salute the rising sun with “Ie Paean, Ie Paean, Ie Paean.” To do this threefold salutation at the beginning and end would create six repetitions, the mystic number of the sun. This phrase means “Hail, great Healer!” It invites the healing and woe-dissolving power of the sun into our lives, and specifies the solar rays we need as those which release us from suffering, unchain the clasps of ignorance and illusion, and heal our soul of the damage done to it by a life of material existence. When the prayer and salute are finished, bring the arms in and gently touch the sternum, at the apex of the solar plexus, and bow your head in reverence to God.
- Having thus cleansed the body, cleansed the meditation space, and connected to God through the visible light of the Sun, the aspirant will begin his meditations.
The above six-step formula for beginning the day is by no means necessary in its entirety. I do feel, however, that the aspirant will benefit from this process. It is time-tested, and its practice will unite you with the timeless current of power created by the many who have gone before you, that have begun their mornings the same way. Any aspect is of course changeable. If, for religious reasons, one does not want to use the solar praise “Ie Paean,” this will not detract from the experience. Simply employ a suitable salutation of your own creation. “Paean” was traditionally used because of its association with that part of the sun which cleanses us of darkness by rising in the morning, and heals us of the sorrows of a worldly life. Anything which captures this basic idea is interchangeable with it.
Four Points of Training: Thought, Emotion, Breath, and Body
This article is not intended to provide a full line of training, by any means. It is instead focused on preparing you for receiving actual mystical meditations, and for receiving a good teacher who will provide them. Therefore, what we must first focus on are those things which should be preliminary to any true spiritual pursuit. As I am writing this article from the perspective of the lineage I am a part of, and which I am making a piece of available to you, I will provide three points of training which are preliminary for all students of this school. For the most part, the following four exercises are the first techniques learned by a probationer to this school. Be that as it may, I am absolutely convinced that they will serve the student in his approach to any valid system of training and mystical initiation in the world. They are so simple, that their principles can not be based on anything other than the most fundamental and universal of laws which must be applied in all systems.
The practice of observing the thoughts, and the mechanisms of the mind in general, has been the first stepping stone towards spirituality since time immemorial. It is found in all cultures, in all forms of mysticism, which are rooted in truth. In our system, it is given the honored position of “the first and last meditation ever done.” In other words, it is said that the first meditation the aspirant will do when beginning the path towards enlightenment is thought observation, and that the last meditation he will be doing when he finally enters into enlightenment is thought observation. In a way, all other meditations in between are simply meant to compliment and enrich what occurs when we turn our minds inwards upon ourselves.
The activity itself is difficultly simple. In other words, it is so simple, that it will be one of the hardest things for most people to do. Sit down on your katheros and close your eyes, facing the altar. For a moment, just pay attention to the rhythmic pattern of your breath. This tends to have a hypnotic effect on the mind, and will help calm it down from the day (or, if in the morning, from the night’s dreams). After a minute or two, when your body feels relaxed, turn yourself inwards by trying to watch your thoughts.
This is a radical change in perspective for most people. Most of our lives, we are an internal watcher observing external things. Therefore, all of our mental energies have been trained to look outwards and engage the environment and the senses. Have you ever had a dream about the inside of your mind, where you were watching thoughts? Not likely. But have you had a dream where you were watching something external happen? Of course. Your mind is so trained to observe its environment, always looking outwards, that even in the obscurity of dreams it does not occur to look inwards upon itself. In the practice of thought observation we are turning the energies of our senses inwards and instead, are watching our internal mental processes.
Let the thoughts come and go. Take a passive attitude towards your mind; do not try to force thoughts out, or forcefully enter into a state of quietness, at first. Just watch. Thoughts will rise, and as they do, recognize them as their own separate things, and detach from them. Detach from the desires which were behind those thoughts, also. At first this will be difficult, because your senses and energies are not trained to inspect the mind. Therefore, you may initially feel like your mind is very quiet, or like no thoughts are being generated. It is just because you have not developed your introspective faculty enough yet. With practice, you will begin to be able to detect the waves of thoughts which stir in the mind.
As you go on in this way, watching the thoughts pass by, and detaching from them instead of being caught up in them, you will also notice that they will begin to subside and quiet. The thoughts will come less and less often. After fifteen or twenty minutes, you may even have comparative silence. When the silence comes, bask in it for as long as you wish. This will train your mind to understand mental silence, which it will naturally prefer to the normal noise. The entire practice session need only last ten minutes or so to see daily results, but it is good to try and extend the practice to twenty or thirty minutes, as one’s schedule permits. After several months of practice, you may begin to try and shorten the amount of time you spend watching thoughts, by gaining control of your mind and silencing it, and then sitting for an extended time in that silence.
In theurgy it is taught that our character is composed of the influences of many factors upon our souls. The rays of the planets and their relations to the stars produce peculiar influences upon us, as does the sun in relation to the constellations, the seasons, the waning and waxing of the moon, etc, to make mention of just a few esoteric factors. To this we must add the even more sizable influence of others around us, our friends and family, and those who have been role models, good or bad. Starting out, the aspirant is a melting pot of different emotional energies, thrown together by people and psychic forces alike, and sculpted by the passing of years and the activity of raw habit.
The ancients instructed that these collective emotional forces cloud our internal intellect, and our ability to access pure consciousness. Collectively, they were depicted as a great storm, always tossing and turning the waves of the ocean. Here the storm represents our passions, and the ocean represents our emotional nature as a whole. Because of the severity of the storm, tossing waves, kicking up dust, and stirring even the depths of the waters, we can not possibly understand the ocean itself. The aspirant, subjected to these many influences, and unconscious of his own emotional development over his lifetime, has little idea who he truly is. Or at least, little idea of who he would be if he acted as he chose, instead of acting according to habit and conditioning.
Therefore, one of the first things the aspirant must set out to do is know himself in the emotional context. In other words, to have an idea of his actual character. Most people, busy turning their energies outwards and examining others, have never thoroughly examined themselves. Though they could list off fifty things wrong about someone they don’t like, they could not come close to finding the same number of things wrong with themselves from an objective perspective. If you are desirous of a spiritual life, then one of the first things that must be done is to inspect yourself for a change.
For a lifetime you have let other people train you to be who they wish you to be, and act how they wish you to act. Now, you must make the choice to be who you want to be for a change, and train yourself to become who you want to become. If you wish to become a thief, then you will emulate the qualities of a thief, and eradicate those qualities which are contradictory, such as compassion and selflessness. If, however, you desire to become a sage and a true mystic, then you must target the noble virtues and character traits, and work on erasing those which contradict a spiritual lifestyle. Decide what you would be, and then do what you must.
In beginning this task, we have the practices of introspection and retrospection. Think about yourself. How do you act? What are your character traits? If you had no previous knowledge of yourself, but were then forced to spend a day with you, how would you describe yourself? What might be someone’s first impression, if that person was judgmental and critical? You must become your own critic. Write down on a piece of paper everything you find that is good about yourself, and everything you find which is bad. Break them down into specific qualities and sub-qualities if you can. If you notice that you are selfish, are you selfish as a general rule, or only in some particulars? Why might this be? Scribble this down in notes to yourself. It is not enough just to list virtues and vices; we must go the extra step to try and understand how they act within us.
Once you have a suitable list of at least fifty qualities when you add up both good and bad, then set yourself to slowly transforming bad into good. Gradually, aim to add one to your virtues, and remove one from your vices. This is a lifetime’s work! So do not hurry, or you will miss the goal. Pick a vice, and work on it steadily, whether it be weeks or years, until it is thoroughly under control, and you have acquired the opposing virtue. Gradually, you will sublimate your passions. By doing this, because virtues are inclined to noble and intellectual things, while vices are inclined to the sensual and worldly, your energies will take on a more spiritual character. The energies within your body will flow more smoothly and with greater purity. Your mind will become naturally quieted, because the storm of the passions will have subsided. In all areas of your life and your meditation, you will see progress and evolution. Slowly you will become what God wishes you to be, instead of what the world has made you into.
Breath and Body
Prior to beginning a spiritual life, breath seems to be one of the most easily forgotten parts of life. It happens virtually automatically, and so we never bother to think about it. After beginning true spiritual meditation, however, breath becomes one of the most important tools on the road to salvation.
Breath is the gateway to our internal energies, our organs, our nervous system, our brain, and via our blood to our entire body. By learning how to control and purify our breath, we purify the body and its energetic components. In ancient texts such as the Orphica, or in the teachings of ancient Eleusis, breath control practices were very complex. By purifying the breath, the initiates are able to hold their breaths for often incredible lengths of time, and therefore some traditional breathing techniques require ratios of time impossible for the average person. They teach that it is only the impurities of the organs and the blood which force us to breathe so much and so quickly, and that therefore as meditation progresses and the breath within us purifies, it becomes effortlessly extended.
In the mean time, it would be a good idea for the aspirant to begin to acquaint himself with the power of breath control. For this, a simple exercise is sufficient, and it is quite powerful in expanding the consciousness and calming the mind. Taking up the meditation posture on the seat, and facing the altar, close your eyes. With your back straight but comfortably relaxed, and your shoulders relaxed so that they are just slightly down and forward, rest your hands in your lap. At first, just concentrate on a basic breathing ratio. Inhale for six seconds, hold the breath for six seconds, and exhale for six seconds. There is no holding the breath between the exhale and the inhale – once you finish exhaling, go straight back to inhaling again. Six, to six, to six. For many people this will be surprisingly difficult at first, and that is perfectly fine. With practice, your breath will purify and your body will calm, so that the breathing becomes easier. Perform this three-fold even breath for just five minutes at first. As it becomes easier to do so, try to extend the breathing pattern gradually to 7-7-7, then 8-8-8, etc. When you can reach 12-12-12 comfortably, making for a thirty-six second long repetition, you have reached the ideal breath ratio. Again, for some this may be comparatively easy, for others quite hard. Do your best, and as the breathing becomes easier, also begin to extend how long you practice. Push the practice to ten or fifteen minutes, or longer even, as your schedule permits.
You will notice that your body will begin to sweat profusely, or will tingle all over. This is the added oxygenation of the blood warming the body and releasing more cellular energy, and therefore, more energy will be readily available for your cells and for your bodily processes. The brain will receive more oxygen, as will the muscles and organs. In short, your entire body benefits just from this simple breathing practice. In addition, after several minutes of practice, you will notice your mind beginning to calm down. The ancients taught that breath follows thought, and thought follows breath. When one becomes still, so does the other.
When you are comfortable with this practice, it is time you add a more directly spiritual dimension to it. As you inhale, imagine that you are inhaling all that which is divine. You do not have to visualize anything; just feel like the breath itself is charged with pure divinity and sacredness. When you hold the breath, have the feeling that this inhaled divinity is expunging your entire body of its negativities, including negative passions and emotions. Finally when you exhale, affirm to yourself that everything which is not divine is leaving. In other words, inhale God, and exhale not-God. This is as simple as true transmutation, as inner alchemy, gets. Yet do not be fooled by its simplicity: great beings have reached the gates of liberation using this exact same practice, just as you will be practicing it. With this, it is the quality of the understanding which will ensure success, not the length of the breath. Lengthening the breath, however, will help internal purification, which in turn will make it easier for the mind to grasp onto divine things and let go of the mundane.
This simple guide should be sufficient for the earnest aspirant who is seeking initiation and liberation, until such a time as he seeks out a teacher, or the universe provides one by some alternative means. Whosever dedicates themselves honestly to the practice of mysticism, the universe shall certainly protect and watch over. By pursuing daily practice, the message shall be sent out that the student is ready for a teacher to take them the rest of the way. No matter which school or tradition you may ultimately find yourself belonging to, these simple practices will assist you in developing the right state of mind for veritable success in your spiritual career.
These practices, though simple, should be the cornerstone of every aspirant’s practice until they are replaced by higher techniques later on. Indeed, once liberation is had, the adept shall likely muse that these simple approaches never actually left, but simply transformed, and were ultimately the impetus which ensured success.
Practice, practice, practice. Success shall be your proof.