Anti-Pavlov Rest

As Initiates, we tend to talk a lot about our Work. We talk a lot about our efforts at self-improvement. We talk about the friction we experience when we seek Xeper. We rightfully take pride in the consistency of our Work. Yet we talk very little about rest.

Rest from Initiatory pursuits seems counterproductive at first sight, a paradox. The worry may be: if I am not functioning at an optimal level of awareness, am I regressing, de-volving? If I take a break from my Work, am I falling back to sleep?

Yet rest, mindfully applied, can be a key to Initiatory success. Rest can be not just a fundamental asset to our Work – rest can be Work. (Another paradox!)

Here’s how.

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Guest Post: On the Wisdom of Getting Schooled… by Steve Dee

We’ve never done a guest post before in Sacred Solitude – there is always a first. Steve Dee is a magician from Devon, UK. How a School or Initiatory Organization can support the Left Hand Path Initiate seems to be a perennial theme for our blog, and we more than welcome Dee’s take on the topic. He’s the author of the books The Gnostic’s Process and The Heretic’s Journey, and co-author of the book Chaos Craft. Links to where to find these books, as well as more essays by Steve Dee, can be found over at The Blog of Baphomet.

But let his text speak for itself.

On the Wisdom of Getting Schooled

One of the central paradoxes faced by those of us seeking to follow a psyche-centric spiritual path relates to how we balance the pursuit of our unique self-awareness with the need for connection and support so that our journey is sustainable. For those of us who choose to walk the Left-Hand Path, while the initial flame of our inspiration may come from our sense of difference and separation from the norms and expectations of the tribes and cultures we are born into, for our transformation to gain both depth and intensity we need to find the others.

In seeking to work with this paradox, one of the books that I have kept coming back to is Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous. Now anyone who has had a go at engaging with this book’s densely typed 400 pages knows that it is hardly easy reading. Not only do we have Ouspensky’s own vivid struggle to develop a relationship with the teacher/ anti-hero G.I. Gurdjieff, but we also have to wrestle with the detailed explanation/obscuration of their rather “out there” Gnostic cosmology. Part of the reason that I keep returning both to this challenging tome and the “4th Way” teachings that it describes, is the way in which they seek to grapple with the nature of what awakening might mean and also how we do this collectively.

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Self-Images and Open Minds

Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865) was a Hungarian obstretician working in Vienna. In his time, fatal childbed fever was a common cause of death, though more common in some clinics than others. Semmelweis’ big discovery happened when he instituted a policy of washing hands between patients or between autopsies and patient care. Comparing mortality rates shortly after the policy, mortality rates at his clinic were down from a staggering 18,3% to 2,2%. He concluded that hand hygiene had been a cause of many unnecessary deaths.

Semmelweis’ discovery was ignored and/or ridiculed by his peers. Even his wife believed he was losing his mind. But why would educated, competent doctors ignore such staggering data? The philosopher Nomy Arpaly believes that this is because the doctors were lacking in open-mindedness. Open-mindedness, here, does not mean being egalitarian or accepting of other lifestyles. It simply means being receptible to new information.

Being able to receive new information can be hard, especially when that new information is contrary to our self-image. Imagine being a doctor in Semmelweis’ time – a good doctor, someone diligently invested in the well-being of his patients. You see yourself as a healer of great learning and skill. The symbols and rituals of medical practice, such as the Hippocratic oath, bolster this self-image, as does the way townspeople tip their hat to you in respect of that skill.

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Midsummer, or: the Magic of Tradition

Midsummer is the time of the year when the Nordic heathen tide runs highest. Swedes erect Midsummer poles, a variation of a Germanic maypole, while Finns, Danes, and Norwegians light huge bonfires by the water, adding a warm glow into the bleak light of the nightless night. By the pole or the bonfire, a raucous party is held, typically with dancing, swimming, a sauna, and copious amounts of alcohol.

All over Scandinavia, Midsummer is considered a time sizzling with magic. The old traditions survive, though few take them seriously anymore, choosing instead to partake for fun or out of a respect for tradition. It’s especially a time of fertility, romance, and even promiscuity. Magic reserved for unmarried women takes the center stage: most know how a maiden can use wildflowers in order to see her future husband in a dream, or enchant a crop so that bread made from it works as an aphrodisiac. But other magic is also done in midsummer, for wealth, good crops, healthy livestock, and for divination.

Finland was converted into Christianity fairly late, and even then, the new faith was mostly one for townsfolk. For a long while, the influence of Christianity was seeping into the old ways of the country folk rather than replacing them. Paradoxically, the thin layer of Christian frosting — calling Midsummer St. John’s day, for example — helped Finns preserve the old ways, at least partially, until the present day.

But why is a practitioner of the Left-Hand Path even rambling about traditions, pre-Christian or not? Aren’t we supposed to be Antinomian, discarding the bonfires erected by those around us in order for our inner truth to burn that much brighter?

In this post, I write about three good reasons to appreciate, and to make the most of, tradition. For Northern Europeans, Midsummer makes for an excellent case for each of them, but they can be applied to the traditions local to where you are. Continue reading

Going it Alone: Initiatory Groups and Solo Work

“I’m not one for group work,” says the earnest Seeker. “I’d rather go it alone. My tastes are too weird and quick to evolve for sustaining any cohesive group, plus, I mostly Work on my Self anyway.”

“The Left-Hand-Path and being a member of some group are antithetic to each other”, says the ardent Antinomian.

So when a Novice Magician says, “I need the support of a magical group for my self-development, but I have no idea what that support could be in practice”, the former two balk.

“You don’t need it”, the Seeker says, “you only need yourself”.

“Don’t do it”, says the Antinomian, “you’ll lose track of yourself”.

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KonMari like the Devil: how to find True Indulgence

Anyone who fancies themselves more authentic than the masses will concur that many people go through life never even knowing what they like. It’s banally true for the masses of guys on Tinder or Grindr who, when asked what they’re looking for, respond along the lines of “I’m open to a lot of things”. But let’s face it, “I’m open to a lot of things”, if not prefaced by “well, I’m especially keen on foot massages and movie dates, but”, is code for “I have no idea, please don’t reject me”.

But this reality becomes less of a banality when we admit that many of these people who are clueless about their own desires and dislikes are Initiates. This ignorance of desires is a reality for many people who genuinely seek after the mysteries of their own inner selves, including some for whom that search occurs within the Temple of Set.

Sometimes our desires and dislikes are hidden to us because we lack the confidence to state what our own preferences are. We maintain a cautious impartiality, as if looking at options — soup or salad? Suit or sweater? — from the sidelines… and withering away. At other times, our desires and dislikes are concealed by the norms of the society, including its subcultures. This is as true for the married evangelical Christian unable to admit to her own homosexual desires as it is for the jazz lover whose sense of self-worth is so hung up on his lofty musical tastes that he denies his love for Taylor Swift. The theme is present on all levels of likes and dislikes. “This sweater is almost new and the colour is a fashionable green” conceals “I hate it, that’s why I never wore it”. This level of likes and dislikes may seem trivial, but how do you profess to know something about your core Being if you can’t even tell if you like the sweater or not?

I offer a relatively simple antidote for this. Like all antidotes, it can only begin the process of reversing ignorance about our likes and dislikes. Like most, it involves a task that sounds tedious and is surprisingly fun. It draws from two major inspiring figures: Anton LaVey of Church of Satan fame, and queen of neat Marie Kondo.


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In League with the Devil

Smalltown Finland, mid-90’s. Evangelical Christians had imported the American Satanic Panic wholesale to the otherwise pretty secular Scandi mindscape Finns had. The idea that evil forces were in play in the hidden margins of society fit in surprisingly well with the general cultural background: while in the 90’s, the Finnish population was predominantly composed of secularized Protestants, the old ways weren’t that far into the past. Anthropologists had been able to track down wise men and women, who knew the words of creation and destruction as the last representatives of an oral tradition probably dating back to prehistoric times, up until the 1940’s. Everyone had a great-grandmother or great-great-granduncle rumoured to be a powerful witch (for photos, see here). In this folkloric tradition, nature spirits of great age and wisdom yet often malignant motives abounded, and devils of various sorts danced with outcast humans in the night, leaving changelings in the cradles of unsuspecting women, and seduced newlyweds on their wedding night like some primeval Dr. Frank’n’Furter…

Whether it was a result of the recentness of our folklore traditions or of the adamancy of the Evangelicals, otherwise nonreligious Finns found themselves fearful of tombstone-kicking Devil worshippers, and the curiosity of many a 90’s teen, myself included, was irrevocably piqued. Those in league with the Devil were described simultaneously as misinformed teens in want of better things to do, and as a fearsome force to be reckoned with. Most teens who wondered if there’s something to those rumors carried on as before. I wondered if there was something real that lie beyond the rumors spread by the Evangelicals. After all, the Evangelicals were busy tossing around exaggerated condemnations of all the other stuff I was into, from the Tarot to masturbation. I wished to research the topic, and did so with any materials even distantly related I could find at the local library, from the materials peddled by the Evangelicals (in which I hoped, in vain, to find nuggets of truth), to Nietzsche (which provided them). With great difficulty, I procured a copy of the Satanic Bible, which opened to me the vistas I had been looking for: a rational, deeply ethical approach to a quest for individual strength, indulgence, and recognition. The Satanic Bible was a big “I thought so!” moment for me: there was something real, heartfelt and profoundly rational behind all the far-fledged rumours.

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