Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An Astrological Interlude: Aries Ingress 2017

As mentioned several times in previous months, this month’s post here on The Well of Galabes is going to be devoted to a bit of practical astrology. Regular readers will recall that alongside natal or, to give it its fine old name, genethliacal astrology—the astrology of the birth chart—there are also several other branches of the astrological art, and that one of those is mundane astrology, the astrology of politics and public affairs. There are various ways to gauge astrological influences on a nation, say, but the most traditional and widely practiced is the ingress chart—a chart cast for one of certain significant moments for the location of the nation’s capital. That’s what we’ll be doing here.

The astrological year begins at the moment of the spring equinox, when the Sun as seen from Earth crosses the celestial equator on its way into the northern half of the heavens. In astrological terms, that point in the sky is the first point of Aries—the zodiacal sign Aries, not the constellation. (If you have trouble understanding the difference between those, please reread this post.) According to the theory of mundane astrology, the position of the luminaries (Sun and Moon) and the planets (Mercury through Neptune)* as seen from the capital city of a given nation at that moment predicts certain things about the way the politics of that nation will unfold for a certain period of time thereafter.

(*Yes, I know this doesn’t include Pluto. It also doesn’t include Sedna, Eris, or any of the other Kuiper belt objects; nor does it include Ceres, Pallas, or any of the other asteroid belt objects. More on this in an upcoming post.)

Other points in the astrological year, the autumn equinox and the summer and winter solstices, are also influential, but they’re secondary. Depending on the details of the spring equinox ingress chart, as we’ll see, the conditions covered by that chart may remain in place for three months, six months, or a year. There are also minor ingress charts cast for the new moon each lunar month, and much larger-scale charts cast for conjunctions of the outer planets that have effects reaching over decades, but the spring ingress chart is the bread and butter of mundane astrology, the tool that tracks political moods and their expressions in events most closely.

Why? Nobody knows. That’s the first thing that has to be grasped about astrology, and more generally about most of the occult sciences. We don’t know the causative mechanisms that underlie them. In some cases there are theories, more or less far-fetched, but by and large what we know is that they work, not why they work. That’s a valid kind of knowledge; Isaac Newton was able to explain precisely how gravity functions, even though he had no idea why—and in fact people had been perfectly well aware that rocks fall when dropped for countless millennia before Newton figured out how to say the same thing in numbers. (I like to imagine an early skeptic, circa one million BCE, who insisted to his fellow hominins that it was irrational to claim that rocks always fall when dropped unless they could tell him the reason why they fell, and kept insisting that until he was brained one day by a falling rock.)

In astrology, we’ve gotten beyond the falling-rock level of knowledge to something like the Newtonian level: a detailed quantitative model that allows us to predict certain regularities in phenomena.  That’s the level at which we’ll be working with the mundane chart shown here.

Those of my readers who don’t know their way around an astrological chart may benefit from some pointers. The chart is an abstract representation of the belt of sky through which the luminaries and planets move, as seen from a certain spot on the surface of the earth. The horizontal lines represent the points where that belt crosses the horizon; the one on the left is the ascendant, the section of the eastern horizon over which luminaries and planets rise, and the one on the right is the descendant, the section of the western horizon below which they set.

The not-quite-vertical line with an arrowhead on top connects the zenith, the point of the belt that rises highest above the southern horizon, with the nadir, the point of the belt that drops furthest below the northern horizon. (It’s not vertical for complex reasons having to do with the relationship of the ecliptic to the Earth’s curved surface.) The other dividing lines are the cusps (boundaries) of the twelve houses, which are divisions of the sky that relate to specific areas of human individual and collective life. The little symbols around the wheel are the luminaries and planets

Got it? Now let’s get into specifics.

In a mundane chart, as in any other chart, the two luminaries and the ascendant—the point of the zodiac that’s on the eastern horizon at the moment for which the chart is cast—are the most important features. These have different meanings in a mundane chart than they do in a natal chart, though. In a mundane chart, the Sun represents the person at the head of the government—the president, in this case—while the Moon represents the people of the nation, and in particular the more articulate and politically influential sector of the people. Their positions in the heavens and their relationships with one another and with the planets tell you a great deal about the way that the political leadership of a country will relate to the people and vice versa.

It will come as no news to anyone who’s been watching the US political scene that the relationship in question is one of intractable conflict. In this chart, the Moon and the Sun are in an applying square aspect. The square aspect is an angle of 90 degrees from the perspective of Earth; an aspect is applying when it’s close enough to have effect (“within orb” is the astrological jargon for this) but has not yet become exact, while it’s separating when it’s already passed the exact angle but is still within orb. The applying square aspect means that the two things thus indicated are at loggerheads, and it’s just going to get worse over the six months to come.

There’s a wrinkle to the conflict, though, and it has to do with the houses. In mundane astrology, the first house—the house immediately below the ascendant—is assigned to the people, and the tenth house—the house immediately to the left of the zenith—is assigned to the government. In this chart, though, the Sun is in the first house and the Moon is in the tenth! This means that the president speaks for, and is supported by, a significant though otherwise relatively inarticulate fraction of the population, while the institutions of government are allied with the more articulate and influential sector of the population and opposed to the president. Here again, this isn’t exactly a surprise, but it’s intriguing to see it expressed so clearly in the chart.

The ascendant is something else again. To begin with, it tells you how long the conditions covered by the mundane chart will remain in place. In this chart, Pisces is rising, and since Pisces is classified as a mutable sign—the signs of the Zodiac are categorized as cardinal, fixed, and mutable—this chart is good for six months, until the autumn equinox. Pisces, though, also has a character of its own: changeable, sensitive, idealistic, easily confused and deceived, drawn in conflicting directions. That character is going to pervade the next six months. Thus, at least for now, we’re not going to see a clean conflict fought out straightforwardly over the issues that matter; instead, confusion, deception, loudly proclaimed ideals poorly anchored to everyday reality, and the kind of intractable conflict where no one is ever quite clear about what they’re fighting for, or against, will be the order of the day.

This is squared, cubed, and in spades because of another factor in the chart: Neptune rising conjunct the ascendant. Neptune, to my mind, is underrated by many contemporary astrologers; the Lord of the Great Deep and the outermost of the planets, it is the planet of unity, ruling the highest aspects of human possibility—but when you bring so elevated an influence down into the grubby realities of everyday life on Earth, the experience of being one with everything can all too easily turn into a blur where everything is muddled together with everything else, and fantasy and outright hallucination supplant reality. It’s going to be a very confused and murky time.

Neptune, though, also has a traditional connection with popular movements—the unity of the masses as distinct from the focused interests of particular groups. Neptune rising predicts that the masses will have much more influence than usual over politics and the national life. Mass movements for change can be expected as the people seek power over their soi-disant betters in both parties; it will not be a pleasant six months for either Democratic or Republican party leaders, as the movers and shakers find themselves moved and shaken by the people they thought they could lead. The confusion inseparable from Pisces rising will make it difficult to see exactly what’s happening, but massive realignments will be taking place below the surface.

Let’s move on. The Sun and the Moon both have aspects with planets, and from these much can be understood. The most important of these is the relationship of both luminaries with Saturn, who is square the Sun and in very close conjunction (four minutes of arc) to the Moon. Sun square Saturn in a mundane chart predicts quarrels within the government, conflict between the administration and the civil service, and an endless string of obstacles, hindrances, and delays with which the president and his administration must contend. The Sun is benefited, on the other hand, by a distant but still effective applying conjunction with Venus. Sun conjunct Venus in a mundane chart predicts that the president and his administration will have relatively good relations with foreign countries. This aspect is particularly beneficial for the head of state, and predicts some notable success for him.

Moon conjunct Saturn is an even less promising aspect than Sun square Saturn.  It’s unfortunate for tax revenues and trade, and predicts disorder and economic contraction. An economic crisis of greater or lesser extent normally follows the appearance of this aspect in a mundane chart. The Moon and Saturn both get some benefit from their joint trine aspect with Uranus—a trine is an aspect of 120 degrees, and as favorable as a square is unfavorable—which predicts important reforms and changes in political life that will ultimately benefit the nation; both these aspects, though, traditionally bring increased power and popularity to the party in power, which will not be at all welcome to the groups signified by the Moon and Saturn.

Saturn in the tenth house generally is considered a dire omen, predicting crises and misfortunes for the nation. Its precise conjunction with the Moon, though, suggests that the largest share of these troubles will fall on the institutions of government and their supporters among the articulate classes, rather than on the administration or the head of state. One way or another, though, there will be serious difficulties, discord, and misfortune enough to go around.

Each of the other planets also has its story to tell. Mercury in the first house predicts that the next six months will be a time of ongoing political debates, witih meetings, rallies, political speeches and essays receiving much more attention than usual. The media will be full of discontent and recrimination. Mercury conjunct Venus is a favorable aspect predicting that all this excitement will lead to the settling of longstanding grievances. Mercury opposite Jupiter—opposition is an unfavorable aspect of 180 degrees—predicts serious trouble for the education industry, and much more public discord and division among religious bodies than usual.

Venus in the first house is a strong favorable influence, favorable for prosperity. Notice that this indication seems to contradict the ones given already. That’s common in astrology, and of course it’s just as common in everyday experience, in which different sectors of society benefit differentially from changes, and an economic crisis that brings serious trouble to one class can actually benefit another. The indication here is that the broader economic crisis predicted by Moon conjunct Saturn in the tenth house may actively benefit a significant fraction of the populace. (For example—and this is just an example, not a prediction—a serious real estate crash, which would batter the financial economy and cost a great many affluent people heavily, could benefit a great many people outside the circles of the affluent by forcing rents down from their current sky-high levels.)

Mars is in the second house of wealth and the national economy, and this is not a good indicator at all; combined with Saturn in the tenth conjunct Moon, it’s a pretty safe bet that the next six months are going to see some fairly sharp economic troubles. Mars in the second house is associated with declines in stock markets and bank failures, but also with high national expenditures and popular discontent over extravagant government spending. Mars’ only aspect is a minor one, a semisextile (30 degrees) with Mercury, and this reinforces the indication of a time of strong feelings and public excitement over political issues, with debate and discussion on public affairs taking center stage in society.

Jupiter stands all by itself late in the seventh house, predicting favorable relations with foreign powers and high-profile meetings with other heads of state. Jupiter is also within orb of the cusp of the eighth house, where it predicts the kind of celebrity death that produces widespread public reaction and stirs up a furor in the media. His only aspects are oppositions to Mercury and Uranus. We’ve already discussed the first of these; the second warns that new legislation will spend a long time bogged down in Congress and that foreign powers will gain in strength and influence relative to the United States.

Uranus, finally, stands at the very end of the first house, within orb of the cusp of the second. In the first house it predicts reforms and changes in political life, but also riots, strikes, and general discontent with the political order. Applying hard to the second, it provides another indication of economic turmoil and disruption. All of Uranus’ aspects have already been discussed.

That’s what the chart has to say. How should it be summed up?

To begin with, we’re facing six months of protracted political conflict out of which there will be no clear winner. The indications affecting the Sun are somewhat better than those affecting the Moon, so the eager predictions by Democrats of a prompt implosion on the part of the Trump administration are wishful thinking; if anything, the conjunction between the Moon and Saturn in the tenth house suggests that the Democratic party and the Washington bureaucracies will come out second best in the struggle. Even so, the Trump administration can expect to see much of its domestic legislative agenda stalled in Congress and tied up in the courts, and the conflict between the new administration and its opponents isn’t going away any time soon.

In foreign affairs, though, the next six months promise to be relatively calm; there will be at least one really high-profile summit meeting, from which it’s likely that some important agreement will proceed.
By contrast, the economic news for the next six months is going to be pretty dismal, with crisis and contraction on the agenda. Banks and the financial industry generally are likely to fare poorly. By contrast, significant groups among the general population who’ve been shut out of the narrowing circle of prosperity produced by recent “jobless recoveries” can expect to see their economic lot improve to a certain extent.

The big story of the next six months will be the spread of political debate, agitation, and activism among the American people. This won’t be limited to one set of agendas, or one end of the political spectrum, nor will it necessarily move in directions that make sense in terms of the political alignments of the recent past. Broad dissatisfactions rather than specific, narrowly defined issues will be central to the rising tide of political unrest, and a great deal of confusion and vagueness can be expected—though the extravagance of federal expenditures seems likely to turn into a lightning rod that will attract a great deal of attention.  Where will it end? That’s not something an ingress chart can predict.

That last point is worth expanding on a little. As already mentioned, the chart I’ve just delineated is good for six months, and six months only. In September, we’ll have another ingress to deal with, and a sharply different set of astrological conditions will shape the political climate for three months afterward. (In that chart Capricorn, a cardinal sign, is rising, and cardinal signs only rule for three months.) In December, in turn, conditions will have shifted again; two placements we’ve discussed—Neptune conjunct the ascendant and Uranus conjunct the second house cusp—which aren’t in the Libra ingress in September are active again in December’s Capricorn ingress, but this time it’s the Sun that’s conjunct Saturn in the tenth house, while the Moon flounders on the cusp of the dismal twelfth house and applies to a square with Mars in Scorpio. After that—why, it’s time for another Aries ingress chart.

That’s the thing about mundane astrology. No matter how hard you try to make it foretell the end of the world, or the arrival of Utopia, or any of the other elements of folk mythology that play so large and unhelpful a role in the historical imagination of our age, it won’t cooperate. Those of my readers who took the time to cast a chart for December 21, 2012—the supposed end-date of the Mayan calendar, and the focus for a giddy rehash of all the usual fantasies—knew in advance that it was going to be a perfectly ordinary day, as in fact it was.

In the same way, according to all the rules of mundane astrology, the next six months are going to be an ordinarily troubled period in the national life of the United States of America, with bitter partisan conflict, economic dysfunction, and an unusual level of political engagement on the part of the masses filling roles that will be perfectly familiar to those who know their way around the ordinary processes of American history. That’s what the chart says, at least; is that what’s going to happen? Stay tuned and we’ll see...

By now I think all my readers will probably be aware that The Archdruid Report, my weekly blog on current affairs and the future of industrial society, has wound up its eleven-year run. The Well of Galabes will continue as is for another two months. Thereafter—time not yet settled, but it won’t be too dreadfully far in the future—I’ll be launching a new blog (probably monthly) on a different platform, with a somewhat different theme, and also going to a slightly less formal social media platform for more frequent and less formal commentary and announcement. As the details get settled, I’ll be posting announcements here and on The Archdruid Report. See you soon on the new blog!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Occult History, Part Two: The Purposes of History

Like most things in life, the fusion of dubious history and occult philosophy discussed in last month’s post here on The Well of Galabes is overdetermined; that is, it has more causes than the situation really requires. There are in fact quite a few reasons why occultism is well stocked with misplaced continents and the other hardware of alternative history; some of those reasons are quite sensible, but others are frankly rather embarrassing. The sensible ones are the main focus of this month’s essay, but it’s only fair—not to mention entertaining—to talk about the embarrassing ones first.

We can begin with simple salesmanship. Up until quite recently, if you wanted to attract new members to your occult school or magical lodge, or get favorable attention for your occult teachings, you pretty much had to claim some suitably ancient and romantic origin for whatever you were pitching. That’s why, for example, Dion Fortune made so much of  the supposed Atlantean origins of the system of magical work her Fraternity (now Society) of the Inner Light taught and practiced. If you know your way around the British magical scene of the 1920s, you know exactly where that system came from, and Atlantis had nothing to do with it.

What happened, rather, was that Fortune took the standard Golden Dawn system, ditched those parts of it that had turned out to be problematic in practice, and patched and filled the resulting gaps with an assortment of building materials she got from Theosophy, Masonry, spiritualism, Freudian psychology, translations of Sanskrit writings on the chakras by John Woodroffe aka Arthur Avalon, and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. The difficulty, of course, was that if she’d been forthright about the process of occult bricolage that produced her system, she wouldn’t have had any students to speak of.

In the same way, when Julius Evola spoke of Tradition, what he meant by that word was an ideology he duct-taped together, out of raw materials from the pop culture of his own time, to suit his spiritual and political agenda. From Nietzsche and the the Italian Futurists to Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character and J.J. Bachofen’s Mother-Right, if it was considered edgy and interesting in the early twentieth century Italian alt-right scene—and yes, there was such a thing—Evola found a place for it in his supposedly timeless Tradition. What’s more, if you sort through Evola’s version of Tradition and toss out everything that had a straightforward pop culture source, you’ll have very, very little left.

Mind you, Evola knew exactly what he was doing; his invented Tradition was a tool meant for a specific and serious purpose. Fortune seems to have been somewhat less deliberate, and that leads us to the second embarrassing source for alternative history in occultism, which is an overly literal belief in the products of the creative imagination.

Used intelligently, the imagination is one of the great tools of the operative mage. One of the features of the golden age of occult alternative history, in turn, is that using the imagination intelligently was made very, very difficult by a range of unfortunate ideas. The most important of these was the claim, very common in Theosophical literature at the time, that any sufficiently advanced occultist could tap into the “akashic records”—the enduring traces of all past events in the akasha, the subtle fifth element of the Hindu system—and witness exactly what happened at any given point in the past. Of course plenty of people were convinced, or convinced themselves, that they were sufficiently advanced, and proceeded to take the products of their own imaginations far too seriously.

It does sometimes happen that people using standard occult methods get remarkably clear and exact information from the past. It happens much, much more often, though, that they get a mishmash of material from pop culture and the media, thickly interlarded with various kinds of mental static and stray imagery of the sort that plays so prominent a role in dreams. Combine that with a lack of critical thinking skills and a serene conviction that whatever happens to swim before your mind’s eye got there straight from the akashic record, and you have a playground where the most florid sort of make-believe can, and does, romp to its heart’s content.

It’s from this source that you get those vastly detailed, novel-length accounts of life in Atlantis et al. in which wish-fulfillment fantasies of one sort or another play all too obvious a role, whether it’s the spiritual-utopia kind of wish-fulfillment, the hero-with-a-bloodstained-sword kind of wish-fulfillment, or what have you. On a lighter note, that’s where you get Lemurians taking pet plesiosaurs for walkies on leashes, and the other lively touches that grace Scott-Elliot’s once-famous The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria.  It’s all great fun, so long as it’s treated as wish-fulfillment fantasy, and of course it’s not accidental that it lent itself so readily as raw material for pulp fantasy fiction. As a way of knowing anything about the past, though, it’s about on a par with treating The Flintstones as an accurate portrayal of Paleolithic humanity.

Dion Fortune’s Atlantis wasn’t anything like that silly. Like most English Atlantises of its time, it had a lot to do with sex, and it also got turned into pulp fantasy fiction—fans of lurid fantasy may recall a trilogy by Peter Valentine Timlett, The Seedbearers, Power of the Serpent, and Twilight of the Serpent; it’s entirely set in the imaginary past of Dion Fortune’s visions, with a double helping of brawny-thewed heroes, clothing-optional priestesses, rivers of blood, and the like sprinkled on top. In Fortune’s original version, it served as the alleged ancient source for her idiosyncratic and effective system of magic, but there’s no reason to think she faked it deliberately; quite the contrary, she used the standard methods of active imagination to see what she thought were the akashic records, saw Atlantean priestesses doing her kind of magic, and took that as confirmation that she was on the right track.

Alongside the demand for historically based sales pitches and the habit of taking the products of the imagination a little too seriously was a third factor, which I’ve discussed at some length in the other blog—the problematic fit between scientific claims to authority and the tentative and by no means infallible nature of scientific knowledge. In every era, a good many of the claims presented as proven fact by scientific authorities simply aren’t true, and will be discarded in due time as a result of further research. What’s more, people outside the scientific community very often know, and even more often have a well-founded suspicion that certain of the claims being presented to them aren’t true. Much of what passed for nutritional science in Dion Fortune’s time, for example, was known to be nonsense by anybody who paid attention to the relationship between their own diet and their health.

The difficulty here is simply that people who notice the gap between the pronouncements of scientific authority and the realities they experience too often fall into the trap of assuming that the gap is wider than it is. From that comes the habit of thinking that anything scientists denounce is probably true—a habit that gets a lot of use in today’s alternative culture, and got just as much in the days when Dion Fortune and Julius Evola were busily backdating their freshly invented notions to the dawn of time. Practitioners and aficionados of various forms of alternative thought and practice also tend to run in similar circles, and very often find room for each other’s beliefs in their own worldviews—it makes for more pleasant conversations at parties and the like—and so you end up with lost continents straying into occult philosophy, and vice versa, along with many other exchanges of the same sort.

Those are the three main embarrassing reasons why occult traditions have ended up festooned with dubious history. Those account for a great deal, but there’s another, far more serious reason for the Atlantises et al. to be where they are. To make sense of that, it’s going to be necessary to talk about the meanings and uses of history.

The commonsense notion that history is simply a record of what happened is as misleading as it is mistaken. A record of everything that happened in any small town in any normal one-week period would fill volumes; anything beyond that scale would be unmanageable. The task of the historian, rather, is to provide a record of important things that happened—and “important,” of course, is a value judgment, presupposing such questions as “important in what context?” and “important to whom?”

Every account of history, in other words, either is or implies a narrative, and assembles a sequence of past events that are important in terms of that narrative. The most common such narrative in today’s industrial societies, of course, is the narrative of progress—the story that tells us how we left the supposedly primitive and superstitious past behind us and marched onward and upward to today’s pinnacle of sophistication and enlightenment. Another popular historical narrative these days is the tale of the fall from the Golden Age—the story that tells us how we strayed from a supposedly blissful state in the distant past and sank deeper and deeper into today’s morass of corruption and misery. There are other such narratives, of course, but those are the two most popular.

Notice how these narratives impose specific value judgments on the present. From within the narrative of progress, the current state of affairs is good, because it’s the latest result of the march of progress, and all we have to do is keep going in the same direction we’re already going—the direction of progress—and we’ll be on the right side of history, on our way to something even better. (Of course there’s a constant savage struggle among pressure groups to get their agendas recognized as the next step in the march of progress, but that’s quietly swept under the rug by the narrative.) From within the narrative of the fall from the Golden Age, by contrast, the current state of affairs is evil, because it’s the latest and furthest result of our decline, and our only hope is to turn things around and try to head back up the slippery slope we’ve descended. (Here again, exactly what changes count as climbing back up out of the morass are the subject of constant savage struggle, but that’s not something believers in this narrative like to talk about, either.)

The narrative of progress justifies the present, that is, and the narrative of the fall vilifies it. Other narratives put other spins on it—and alternative history of the sort found in occult writings is very often a way to put a different spin on the experience of the present.

That’s what Julius Evola was trying to do, for example, with the potted history he presents in Revolt Against the Modern World. His is a classic example of the narrative of the fall from the Golden Age; his “world of Tradition,” manufactured as it is out of a lumberyard of early twentieth century pop culture motifs, is Evola’s notion of what the world ought to be like, and he uses the time-honored myth of the fall for its usual purpose of castigating the present for its departure from an imaginary past: the same thing that neoprimitivists do, for example, when they bemoan humanity’s abandonment of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, or your classic rock-ribbed American conservative does when he compares the present day to an imaginary, apple-pie American past when everyone went to church on Sundays and all the gays and lesbians were safely interned in New York City.

The narratives of progress and fall aren’t actually all that common in occult literature, though. Far more common are cyclical schemes of history. That’s what you get in Dion Fortune, for example: Lemuria rises and falls, Atlantis rises and falls, Egypt rises and falls, and so on; in each age the schools of the Mysteries—that is, the people who are practicing Dion Fortune’s kind of magic—rise and fall with their societies, and then send out seedbearers to carry the wisdom of the ages to the future.

Blavatsky’s sprawling Theosophical vision goes well beyond this sort of simple cyclical pattern. From her perspective, the peoples of Europe and the European diaspora are offshoots of the fifth of the seven root races who will emerge during this cycle of time; most other peoples are offshoots of the fourth, or Atlantean root race, and there are still some descendants of the third or Lemurian root race around, too. The time of the fifth root race began after the convulsions that finished drowning Atlantis, and will continue until another round of vast natural disasters dunks much of our land surface under the waves and pushes up a different set of continents—by one estimate, this will happen by the 26th century, when the sixth root race will begin its history in what’s now western North America.

These are just the smaller cycles, by the way. When all the souls presently incarnated as human beings finish working their way through all seven of the steps marked out by the seven root races, we’ll head on to the next world in the sequence—Jupiter, where we’ll be incarnated in bodies very different from the ones we have now—leaving the Earth to the next batch of souls in line, who are currently going through a similar sevenfold sequence on the Moon. (We were there during the last set of seven steps.) There’s a chain of seven planets, and each batch of souls goes through a sevenfold series of races on all seven of them seven times before it’s off to other modes of spiritual evolution.

Notice how this sort of thinking redefines the present into a shape very different from the ones we’ve just surveyed. From Dion Fortune’s perspective—which is very common throughout occult alternative history—our civilization is rising and falling like everyone else’s did before it, and so the schools of the Mysteries had better get a move on and make sure the wisdom of the ages is in good condition and thoroughly practiced when it’s time to hand it over to the next set of seedbearers.  The turmoil of the present is of practical interest, as the schools of the Mysteries have to pay their rent and keep out of the way of the usual waves of persecution, and it can also function as an early warning system for the time of the seedbearers, but what matters is working the magic and teaching the next generation.

From Blavatsky’s perspective, by contrast, the basic message is “don’t sweat it.” Of course there’s every incentive for individuals to busy themselves with occult study, to practice meditation, and to take up such standard Theosophical sidelines as a vegetarian diet—all this racks up good karma for your next incarnation and moves you up the line toward your destiny as a student and initiate of the Masters, which probably won’t happen for many lives yet. From within the Blavatskian worldview, though, the commotions of modern politics and culture are just the normal hurly-burly of souls going through the fifth cycle of the Earth phase of the fourth round on this planetary chain, nothing to get upset about, while our technology gets a glance of fond amusement from the Masters—oh, look what the little dears are playing with now! I do hope they don’t sink their continent ahead of schedule...

Of course both of these ways of looking at the past, and all cyclical theories of history, have something in common that makes them just as offensive to believers in progress as to believers in the fall from the Golden Age: our age doesn’t really matter that much. It’s not the cutting edge of humanity’s march to the stars, nor is it the festering swamp in which fallen humanity flounders nose deep and sinking fast; it’s simply a well-known stage in a familiar historical cycle, chugging through the usual stages toward an endpoint marked out ages in advance. That’s offensive, in turn, because one of the most jealously defended beliefs of modern industrial culture is blind faith in our own privileged status. We’ve got to be special; we’ve got to be headed for some sort of unique destiny—uniquely wonderful, uniquely horrible, it doesn’t seem to matter that much as long as it’s unique.

That, in turn, is one of the things that occult philosophy is meant to challenge: the frankly childish insistence that we, as one set of intelligent beings living on this particular planet in this particular instant of its long history, are of vast importance in the overall scheme of things. That’s a hangover—very much in the head-pounding, stomach-churning, clinging to the porcelain while repatriating all last night’s party snacks sense of the word—from the great prophetic religions that reshaped the Old World’s spiritual environment starting a little more than two thousand years ago. The idea that the great wheels of the cosmos revolve around the salvation of human beings (or of all sentient beings who, in orthodox Buddhism, can only be saved while in human incarnation) was doubtless worth exploring, and it made a great sales pitch in its time, but it’s played a huge role in feeding the overdeveloped sense of entitlement that shapes so much thinking these days.

All things considered, then, there’s a real point to the use of alternative history as a tool for helping people reshape their understanding of the present, and of their place in the cosmos. I tend to think, though, that other tools might have been used for the same purpose. Cyclic visions of history aren’t limited to occultism, as readers of the other blog will doubtless have noticed by now; there are perfectly sober and secular versions of the same teachings. There are also some very interesting scraps of evidence that suggest that there may have been entire cycles of civilization before the ones we know about, which could be used to undercut the myths of uniqueness on their own, without any need to drag in tame plesiosaurs and priestesses in their underwear.

Next month’s post, though, will explore the cycles of time in a different sense. A previous post talked about the role of astrology in traditional occultism, and the discussion in the comments that followed made it clear that many of my readers would be interested to see more about that. Thus we’ll welcome in the new astrological year on March 21 with a classic mundane chart, cast for Washington DC at the moment of the Sun’s entrance into Aries: the traditional place and time to forecast the influences that will shape the history of the United States over the following six months. See you there!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Occult History, Part One: The Magic Lantern Show

One of the things that routinely baffles newcomers to occultism is the amount of verbiage that occult literature tends to devote to exotic rewritings of history. Pick up pretty much any book written on occult subjects during what we may as well call the Theosophical Century—the period from 1875 to 1975, when the somewhat quirky faux-Hindu cosmology developed by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was the lingua franca of occult studies across most of the industrial world—and you’re as likely as not to find  references to Atlantis, Lemuria, and various other locations not found on conventional maps.

Though that’s still the most common version of occult history, others abound. It used to be de rigueur, for example, for mass-market books on Wicca to devote Chapter One to a colorful and dubious exposition of faux history tracing the origins of Wicca back through the medieval witch cult to some suitably romantic goddess-worshipping culture of the distant past. On a considerably more erudite level, most of Revolt Against the Modern World, Julius Evola’s manifesto of Traditionalist occultism, is devoted to his account of a suppositious Heroic-Uranian past and its slow degeneration into what he saw as the effeminate slime pits of modernity. Other examples abound; for well over a century and a half now, it’s a poor excuse for an occult tradition that doesn’t have some topsy-turvy version of the history of the world on offer.

That habit has become so pervasive that it’s easy to assume that it was always the case. I well recall how surprised I was when I discovered that this isn’t true at all. From the oldest forms of Western occultism on record straight through to the heyday of Renaissance magic, occultists got along just fine with the same version of history their more conventional neighbors believed in. As far as anybody knows, the ancient Greek goetes and magoi who first fused bits of Greek philosophy and myth with the magical techniques of Egypt and Babylon, and created the first draft of Western occultism, didn’t concern themselves with colorful narratives about lost civilizations.

For that matter, when Aristocles of Athens—the philosopher whose broad shoulders got him the nickname Plato—put narratives about a drowned country called Atlantis into two of his dialogues, nobody seems to have connected those passages with anything particularly occult.  Students of his writings for centuries thereafter carried on boisterous debates about whether he’d meant Atlantis as a bit of actual history or as a colorful extended metaphor, of the sort he put elsewhere in his writings, but nobody in ancient Greece seems to have been interested in tracing their occult teachings back to some hypothetical Atlantean source. Occult wisdom, from their perspective, didn’t come from the past; it came directly from the gods.

Fast forward through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the same rule by and large applies. The classic magical textbooks of both periods—the Picatrix in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy in the later Renaissance—made plenty of noise about their dependence on old books and ancient sources, but the books and the sources came from places and times well known to the mainstream historians of the day. It’s when you jump into the dark age of occultism that followed the scientific revolution—the two centuries or so when magic, astrology, and the rest of it survived only among rural cunning folk and secretive occult lodges—that the scene changes abruptly: strange claims start popping up around a handful of points on the historical spectrum, and spread from there.

By the time Eliphas Levi kickstarted the modern occult era with his Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic in 1855, occultism and romantic rewritings of history were a happily married couple. Levi himself gave the pair a belated wedding present with his book A History of Magic, which is great fun to read but has rather less to do with actual history than your average Harlequin romance has to do with actual relationships. Thereafter the flood gates opened promptly, leading to the situation sketched out in the opening paragraphs of this essay.

So what happened? How did made-up history and occult philosophy meet, fall in love, and tie the knot? It’s a complicated question, but part of the answer certainly dates to the year 1614, when a scholar named Isaac Casaubon published an essay on the date of a collection of eccentric religious writings.

The writings are usually called the Corpus Hermeticum. They’re in koine Greek—the mutant form of ancient Greek that emerged in the eastern half of the ancient Mediterranean world after Alexander the Great’s conquests placed that end of the ancient world under Greek-speaking management—and they teach a religious doctrine that reads more or less like what you’d get if you took the mystical end of Greek philosophy and blended it with an assortment of borrowings from Judaism, on the one hand, and the more intellectual end of ancient Egyptian religion on the other. (As we’ll see, this isn’t accidental.) The two other facts you need to know about the Corpus Hermeticum are, first, that it says some very positive things about magic, and second,  that it was supposedly written by an ancient Egyptian sage named Hermes the Thrice Great: in Greek, that works out as Hermes Trismegistos.

Until 1614, all that anybody in Europe knew about the Corpus Hermeticum was that one copy—in all probability, the only one that survived the end of the Roman world—went onto the antiquities market after the fall of Constantinople in 1452, and got picked up eleven years later by a buyer for Cosimo de Medici, the ruler of the Italian city-state of Florence. Cosimo, who liked to fancy himself a patron of art and culture, had a brilliant young man on his staff named Marsilio Ficino, who promptly turned the Greek text into readable Latin and launched it on its career. Historical scholarship was still pretty much in its infancy; nobody saw any good reason to question the idea that an ancient Egyptian sage named Hermes Trismegistos had written the Corpus Hermeticum; and it didn’t hurt, either, that an early Christian author had written about this same sage, praising his wisdom and claiming that he’d been an older contemporary of Moses.

Imagine for a moment, dear reader, that you’re a typical Renaissance intellectual, fascinated by Greek philosophy, intrigued by magic, and less than impressed by the official religion of your time, though of course you wouldn’t admit to the latter two in public. All of a sudden somebody hands you a book that’s apparently the last surviving body of ancient Egyptian religious wisdom, full of stuff that looks a lot like Greek philosophy and other things that are highly reminiscent of your favorite parts of the Bible—and it says that magic isn’t evil and Satanic, far from it, it’s a way to worship God. Are you going to jump on it, as my grandmother used to say, like a duck on a June bug? Of course you are.

That was the historical accident that kicked Renaissance occultism into high gear. All over Europe, people interested in magic grabbed the Corpus Hermeticum and used it to convince themselves, and on occasion other people, that their interest in magic was perfectly harmless, even holy. In the process, an imaginary Egypt took shape in the European mind, a land of mighty temples where sages pored over the mysteries of the cosmos and, by the way, knew a lot more about everything worth knowing than anybody in modern times.  Then Isaac Casaubon came along and ruined it all.

He probably had that intention in mind, to be fair. A devout and dour Protestant with no time for occultism, he tackled the Corpus Hermeticum with an eye toward inconsistencies, of which it had quite a few, and showed beyond reasonable doubt that it had to have been written much, much later than its eager fans believed. Modern scholars agree with him, by the way; the current consensus is that it was written in Egypt in the first few centuries of the Common Era by various members of a religious movement related to, but not identical with, the Gnostics.

Casaubon’s essay was followed in short order by the scientific revolution, and by the huge change in intellectual fashions that swept away the last embers of the Renaissance and replaced them with the rationalist materialism that eventually gave us the modern western worldview. Most of the people who kept practicing magic, as already mentioned, were rural cunning folk whose magical resources were usually limited to a couple of printed books from the end of the Renaissance—Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, for example, was one of the standard texts for British and American folk magicians straight through into the nineteenth century—and a handwritten recipe book for things they’d learned themselves or gotten from other practitioners. Not many of them seemed to care much about Egypt, much less the Corpus Hermeticum.

Those secretive occult lodges I mentioned earlier, though, were another matter. That was the great seedbed of occult history, because one of the core ingredients of any lodge—magical, fraternal, or what have you—is narrative. Just as freemasons built their rituals around the story of the construction of King Solomon’s temple, the early magical lodges found their own stories to use as foundations for ritual. The rise, fall, and survival of the Knights Templar was a huge favorite; so was the curious set of stories surrounding the Rosicrucians, a supposed body of medieval mystics; and there were others—more and more of them as the years passed and magical lodges bred like bunnies.

Egypt had to wait a little while, but it returned with a splash due to the ingenious Antoine Court de Gebelin, who published a sprawling nine-volume opus on ancient Egypt beginning in 1773. Those of my readers who know the history of Egyptology will remember that in 1773 nobody on the planet could read a single word of ancient Egyptian, but this didn’t slow down Court de Gebelin at all.  He simply gathered together every scrap of evidence he could find from Greek and Roman sources, and filled in the myriad blanks with his own vivid imagination. He’s the guy who decided that the Tarot cards came from ancient Egypt (they didn’t; they were invented in 1418 by an Italian named Marziano da Tortona), and that the word “Tarot” itself came from the ancient Egyptian words tar rosh, “royal road.” (“Royal road” in ancient Egyptian is w3t nsw—the 3 is a glottal stop like the Hebrew letter Aleph—and if you’d like to extract tar rosh from that, you’re welcome to try.)

So all at once the Egypt of the Renaissance imagination burst back on the scene. Sometime, when you’re in the mood for occult nostalgia, take in a performance of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, which is all about the conflict between Catholic orthodoxy (represented by the Queen of the Night) and the occult wisdom of Egypt (represented by the sage Sarastro). This is particularly nostalgic for those of us who’ve been trained in the occult system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which uses the same lush mix of Egyptian decor, Greek philosophical mysticism, and Jewish and Christian symbolism you’ll find in the Magic Flute, or for that matter all over the more colorful corners of Freemasonry, which was where Mozart got it in the first place.

By the time the Golden Dawn got in on the act—it was founded in 1887—the luminous Egypt of the Renaissance was getting distinctly down at the heels from age, though this didn’t keep other magical orders from borrowing it thereafter. There was also the little problem that by 1887, scholars knew a fair amount about ancient Egypt, and each deciphered papyrus and wall inscription put distance between the impressive but distinctly down-to-earth realities of the Egypt of the pharaohs and the shining image of an Egypt that never was. The Templars and the Rosicrucians still had their followings—the Golden Dawn claimed Rosicrucian origins, for example—but there was a growing demand for something new and thrilling. That demand, in turn, was met by the inimitable Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

We could spend a long time talking about Blavatsky’s astonishing career, and sooner or later she’s probably going to get a post of her own. Though she wrote plenty of other things, her major impact on occultism came through two vast books: Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, and The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888. They’re very different books; Isis Unveiled is an all-out assault on the apparent certainties of the scientific and religious thought of the Victorian era, while The Secret Doctrine claims to present the ultimate spiritual teaching behind every religion and occult tradition, including the real history of the world and humanity—but both of them spend a lot of time talking about Atlantis.

In 1877 Atlantis was little more than a collection of footnotes in Plato, but it served Blavatsky’s purposes well. One of the things she wanted to challenge with Isis Unveiled was the insistence on the part of Victorian intellectuals that evolution equals progress, and that the late nineteenth century industrial world, its ideas, and its social customs were therefore unutterably superior to anything that any other human society had ever had to offer. Her response was to propose that human history was not a straight line but a series of cycles, in each of which civilization had risen up out of savagery and then descended straight back down to it again. The legend of the lost continent of Atlantis, for her, was a lingering memory of the last cycle before ours, and Isis Unveiled also discussed a cycle even before that—the age of Lemuria.

Lemuria? That’s what biologist Philip Sclater in 1870 called a hypothetical land bridge connecting southern India and eastern Africa. This was back in the days when continental drift was still crackpot pseudoscience, remember, and so scientists had to cook up any number of land bridges to get plants and animals from one continent to another at various points during prehistory. The distribution of lemur fossils inspired Sclater’s land bridge, thus the name, but Blavatsky wasn’t going to let that get in her way. Lemuria duly began its career as a lost continent from the age long before, in Robert E. Howard’s less than felicitous phrase, “the oceans drank Atlantis.” (I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ve always wondered how the continent got liquefied—you don’t drink solids, after all...)

Meanwhile, between the publication of Blavatsky’s two great books, Atlantis suddenly stopped being a footnote to Plato and became a cultural presence in its own right. This was the work of the astonishing figure of Ignatius Donnelly, a fire-breathing radical Democrat who served four terms in the US House of Representatives and then took up a second career as America’s first bestselling author of alternative history. Atlantis: The Antediluvian World first appeared in 1882, and ran through more than fifty printings; it’s still in print today, and you’ll have a hard time finding a book on Atlantis anywhere these days that doesn’t directly or indirectly reference it.

You’ll have an even harder time, though, finding a book on Atlantis anywhere these days that doesn’t indirectly reference Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine—next to none of them cite it directly, but that doesn’t matter. Blavatsky picked up all of Donelly’s ideas and ran with them, turning the fall of Atlantis into a morality play in which the Atlanteans brought about their own destruction by dabbling in evil magic, and a small remnant who hadn’t fallen into evil ways fled the doomed continent before its destruction. You won’t find that in Plato; you won’t find that in Donnelly—but once it found its way into Blavatsky’s sprawling epic, it was everywhere.

That’s true even when the authors in question had no interest at all in Theosophy.  Many of my readers will doubtless recall J.R.R. Tolkien’s references to Numenor, the drowned continent of Middle-Earth, which went under as a result of exactly the sequence of events I’ve described. Tolkien was a devout and highly conservative Catholic, and yet his Atlantis—Numenor is called Atalante in Elvish, in case you needed the hint—is Blavatsky’s Atlantis in all but name. I’m not sure if he got it by way of the pulp fantasy fiction he and his friend C.S. Lewis read voraciously, or if he actually took the time to read one of the popularizations of Blavatsky’s story—William Scott-Elliot’s The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria was widely available, for example—but one way or another, the connection is there.

Atlantis, Lemuria, and the other vanished continents of Blavatsky’s vision were all over occultism by the time the Theosophical Century drew to a close. Even when covens of goddess-worshipping witches preserving secret lore from ancient Utopian matriarchies became more popular than turbaned sages preserving secret lore from an assortment of drowned continents, the Atlantis link survived for a while—I’ve been told by more than one elderly Wiccan that among the oral teachings passed around in various Wiccan circles in the 1980s was the claim that Minoan Crete had been the real Atlantis, that Wicca had originated there, and that Wiccans therefore were passing on the secret lore of lost Atlantis.

Nor has there been any shortage of other alternative histories for occultists and neopagans who have an interest in such things. The ornate lineages by which various old-fashioned Druid orders have tried to claim descent from the ancient Druids, while their roots were by and large about as stable as those of Birnam Wood, are classics of of the type—and here again, if you poke around in the right places, you can find claims that the Druids, too, preserve mystical secrets from ancient Egypt and lost Atlantis.

All in all, the panoply of manufactured histories is reminiscent of nothing so much as the kind of magic lantern show the Victorians loved, in which brightly colored images were projected onto any convenient blank wall for the entertainment of those present. It’s a great source of fantasy fiction—and in fact most of the English-language fantasy fiction of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz through Robert E. Howard’s assorted barbarian heroes to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings were heavily influenced by Theosophy’s version of occult history—but as a guide to what actually seems to have happened in the past, well, let’s just say that it makes great fantasy fiction.

Does that mean that there’s nothing to occult history but a resource for storytellers? Not at all. In next month’s post, we’ll look at occult history from a different angle, and talk about why it’s important and how it’s used as part of the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Word that Made the Fields Flourish

One of the things that makes the occultist’s life interesting, in several senses of that word, is the sheer random diversity of what’s been handed down from past generations under the label of occultism. It’s only in the imaginations of the overenthusiastic that it all adds up to one coherent and neatly defined whole. That’s not just a modern thing, either.  As far back as you want to look, occultism has been an utter gallimaufry of teachings, traditions, practices, wild surmises, and spare daydreams muddled up together, having little in common besides the fact that they’ve been rejected by the mainstream of Western culture and carried on thereafter by eccentrics like me in fringe venues like this one.

It really is a jumbled mess. The occult traditions of the Western world got their start when a subculture of ancient Greeks got hold of assorted half-understood chunks of the traditional magical lore of Egypt and Babylon, and tried to make sense of it using the tools of Greek philosophy. From there it ramified and rambled, borrowing freely from every other source within reach. There have been plenty of losses—when the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, and fell over and died promptly thereafter, a great deal of classical occultism vanished forever; when Europe and the countries of the European diaspora embraced scientific materialism, with results that may not turn out that much better, a great deal of Renaissance occultism vanished forever—but all the while there’s been no shortage of new material emerging, not to mention imports from around the globe and throughout time.

Over the last century and a half, furthermore, occultism has ended up sharing space out on the fringes of social respectability with a great many things that don’t actually have anything to do with the old occult traditions at all. Atlantis, for example, wasn’t an issue for occultists until Madame Blavatsky made it one. Her two massive books, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, were playing a subtle game—rather more subtle, in fact, than either her critics or her more uncritical admirers seem to have realized.  Her deliberate embrace of a range of memes from the alternative culture of her time, Atlantis among them, was part of the underlying strategy of that game, which probably deserves a post here one of these days. Thereafter, though, speculations about Atlantis, varying from the intriguing to the goofy,  have been a running theme in quite a bit of occult literature.

Similarly, if the American pharmaceutical and medical industries weren’t so frantic about trying to squeeze every possible source of competition out of existence, the biochemic cell salts I discussed in an earlier post here would never have found their way into correspondence courses issued by half a dozen major twentieth century American occult orders. Because they were exiled into the dim and fabulous regions where occultists lurk, though, occultists and biochemic healers struck up a variety of conversations, and cell salts became something a lot of occultists used.

Now of course plenty of bits of rejected knowledge that found their way out to those same dim and fabulous regions were neither as lurid as the Atlantis myth nor as useful as cell salts. There was a while when perpetual motion machines and free-energy motors, for example, had a certain cachet among American occultists.  Similarly, there was an entire subculture of American occultists, of whom Meade Layne was probably the most famous, who went whole hog into the UFO business—oddly enough, beginning several years before the famous “flying saucer” sightings that kickstarted the whole business in 1947. The occult scene dropped UFOs like a hot rock in the 1960s; I sometimes wonder if they had noticed just how consistently “UFOs” resembled whatever aerospace technology the Air Force wanted to keep most secret at the time, from the silvery dots of the era of secret high-altitude balloon tests to the black triangles of the era of the first-generation stealth prototypes.

Not everything that’s gotten mixed up with occultism over the years, in other words, is occult in any but the original, literal sense of the world: occultus, “hidden.” The irony is that it’s entirely possible to go hunting for something that’s part of occultism in the full, classic sense of the word, and end up instead with something that probably doesn’t belong in the category of rejected knowledge for any but historical reasons. That’s been on my mind of late, because the research that resulted in my latest book went down exactly such a rabbit hole, and came back with a rather unusual rabbit.

I think most of my readers are aware that I’m a Freemason. Down through the years, there’s been a vast amount of chatter about the secrets of Freemasonry, but there’s a detail that—though it can be learned readily from any number of sources—generally gets left out: the Freemasons don’t have the original secrets any more. Brethren of the Craft will recall that when they were raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, they were given substitute secrets, in place of the real secrets which are lost. To this day every Master Mason is, at least in theory, pledged to the quest for the Lost Word.

Now of course there’s no shortage of claims about what the real secrets must have been. Devil worship, political subversion, kinky sex, the legacies of a prehistoric civilization on Mars, you name it, no matter how lurid, how pedantic, or how absurd, it’s probably been identified as the real meaning of the Lost Word. After I became a Master Mason in 2001, I was curious enough to do some fairly systematic reading into the various supposed meanings of the Lost Word. Later on, when I went in for the various high degrees of Masonry—the degrees that follow Master Mason, each of which has its own teachings, secret handshakes, et al.—I ended up being taught three more words, each of which purports to be the original Lost Word. This didn’t exactly clarify things any.

So I started from first principles. The Master Mason rituals used in regular Masonic jurisdictions today come from an original that appeared around 1720—three years after the founding of the first Grand Lodge in London. Nobody knows who introduced it or where it came from, but it tells a story about the building of the Temple of Solomon, and that story includes—indeed, centers on—the business about the Lost Word and the substitute secrets, which are to be kept until the real secrets were recovered.

So around 1720, at least, three linked ideas were sufficiently important to leading Freemasons that they put them into the Craft’s most important ritual. The first was that Masons of some earlier period had known some important secret; the second was that the Masons of 1720 no longer knew what the secret was, but thought they had some hope of recovering it; and the third is that it had something to do with the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, which is described in quite some detail in the Old Testament, and in far greater detail in the Talmud.

That sent me to a variety of books on the Temple of Solomon, of which Raphael Patai’s Man and Temple in Ancient Jewish Myth and Ritual was the most useful. That’s when things started getting distinctly weird, because Patai noted blandly that there are references all over the relevant parts of the Talmud to the idea that while the Temple of Jerusalem stood, there was a significant improvement in agricultural fertility in the land surrounding it. That stopped, again according to the Talmud, when the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and it started up again when the Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity—there are references to that in the Book of Haggai, one of the very minor prophets at the tag-end of the Old Testament.

That was odd, but it didn’t seem to lead anywhere. I decided to pursue a second tack. According to a persistent body of traditions within the Craft, Freemasonry can trace at least part of its heritage back to the Knights Templar of the Middle Ages. The Templars—the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, to give them their original name—were founded in 1118 by nine French knights who had gone to Jerusalem with the First Crusade, and dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1311 amid a flurry of charges of heresy and sorcery.

The Templars got their name because the original nine knights were housed on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, atop the ruins of Solomon’s Temple; by the time of their abolition, they had landholdings in most of the countries of Europe, including a very large presence in Scotland. The Masonic tradition has it that those Templars who were in Scotland at the time of the order’s dissolution offered their services to King Robert the Bruce, who was busy fighting a war with the English just then and needed every competent soldier he could get; they fought for him at Bannockburn and elsewhere, and in return, he let them go quietly to ground.

The tradition proceeds to claim that since the Templars had their own master builders and stonemasons—they had to, since they themselves built the castles, churches, and other structures on their landholdings—some of these Scottish Templars ended up supporting themselves as master masons in the original sense of that term, and from that source, certain Templar legacies found their way into Freemasonry. It’s a matter of historical record, finally, that Freemasonry as we now know it was in existence in Scotland most of a century before it appeared anywhere else.

All of this was familiar ground, and didn’t seem to point anywhere, until I reviewed the charges leveled against the Templars at the time the order was dissolved. Much of it was the same sort of canned libels that would be used not quite a century later in the first major round of witch trials; some of it had intriguing parallels to the actual practice of heretical Christian sects in ancient and medieval times, which deserve more attention than they’ve gotten in the historical literature to date; but then there was the claim that they worshipped a mysterious idol named Baphomet, which made the crops grow. There was the issue of agricultural fertility again.

A third expression of that same theme came almost instantly to mind. The first surviving version of the story of the Holy Grail was written down around 1190 by Chretien de Troyes, who claimed he’d gotten the story from Count Philip of Flanders, a notable Crusader who had close connections with the Knights Templar and the royal house of Jerusalem. Between 1190 and 1250—that is, during the golden age of the Templars—the Grail got a huge amount of play in the popular literature of the time; most of the Grail legends note explicitly that there are secrets associated with the Grail; and of course the reason King Arthur’s knights went out in search of the Grail, according to the legends, is that it alone could restore the barren Waste Land to fertility.

I’ll spare you a blow by blow account of my researches from that point on, as they involved a great many dead ends. What I found, to summarize, is that certain religious structures—not all of them, just those designed, built, and used according to certain common principles—were traditionally associated with crop fertility. Broadly speaking, there are two apparently separate traditions involved. One of them uses structures shaped more or less like a stair-step pyramid: large ones, like the ziggurats of Babylon or the pyramids of the Mayas, or small ones, like the earth-deity altars that used to be found near every village in China before the 1949 revolution. The other uses rectangular structures oriented toward specific compass directions. This latter tradition, which is the one the Temple of Solomon followed, is also found in the divine temples (but not the funerary temples) of ancient Egypt; in the classic temples, or naoi, of ancient Greece and the classical world generally; in the temples of India; in the Shinto shrines of Japan, and finally, and surprisingly, in Christian churches in western and central Europe between the late Dark Ages and the Reformation.

That latter tradition was the one I focused on, since it was the one that was relevant to my search. There are, of course, immense differences between the religions involved. Shinto has curious similarities with ancient Egyptian religion, to the extent that a worshipper of one who was suddenly transported to a temple of the other would be able to figure out pretty much everything that was going on; Hinduism and ancient Greek religion, for that matter, have certain similarities; and then there’s medieval western European Christianity, which is sitting pretty much out there by itself.

Yet if you look at the religious architecture of each of these traditions, you’ll find rectangular buildings oriented very precisely toward specific compass directions, often though not always on an east-west axis, and laid out according to specific geometries in which that same axis plays a crucial role. You may well find the axis extended for quite a distance across the landscape, always in a straight line, unitl it ends at a body of water or a sacred site. You’ll find the worship space itself divided into an outer area for ordinary worshippers (which may be outdoors if the climate’s suitable, an inner area for clergy, and a sanctuary that’s reserved to the presiding divinity except on special occasions, and these again are normally along the same axis. You’ll find the building surrounded by a green belt—that’s spelled “churchyard” in Christian Europe—with some kind of barrier, usually a low wall, surrounding the periphery. All of these features, by the way, were found in the Temple of Solomon.

Follow the worshippers as they enter the sacred space and you’ll see them purifying themselves with water before they go in.  You’ll find the space itself full of aromatic plant resins—from incense in most cases, but in Shinto shrines, it’s from the fragrant hinoki wood of which traditional Shinto shrines are made—and when certain traditional services are being performed, you’ll hear chanting in which prolonged vowel tones play an important role. Wildly different theologies, similar practices—and in each case a little bit of research turned up the specific historical linkages by which a body of lore could have been transmitted from Egypt, which seems to have been the original source of the tradition, to each of the others.

And of course there’s that link to agricultural fertility—explicit in all but one case, and implied, as a hope waiting to be fulfilled, in the medieval Christian legends of the Holy Grail.

The final piece of the puzzle was how a building, however precisely sited and structured, however exactly its interior was arranged as a resonance chamber, however curious the activities performed in it, might influence agricultural fertility. That was actually the easy part, as I’d stumbled across two possible causative mechanisms early on in my hunt. The first was terrestrial electricity and magnetism. There are currents of electricity and lines of magnetic force, closely associated with one another, moving through the body of the Earth, and several researchers noticed quite a while ago that these can have remarkable effects on plant growth. What’s more, back before chemical fertilizers became standard, experimenters with what was then called “electroculture” found that crops grown in soil that had a slight electrical charge in it yielded significantly better than average. A building properly sited atop an electrical discontinuity in the earth, by the way, can build up a substantial charge of telluric electricity, which then streams outward through conductive areas in the soil.

The second possible mechanism involves certain frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum. Entomologists have found that many flying insects perceive electromagnetic radiation in wavelengths on the border between infrared light and microwaves; they have little wax-covered spines called sensilla on their antennae that resonate to those wavelengths. Most plants have tiny spines on their leaves, called trichomes, that are also the right size to pick up the same wavelengths, and many of the pheromones emitted by insects and the aromatic compounds released by plants will radiate in those wavelengths if stimulated by movement, light, or sound.

To a moth, in other words, a meadow is a tapestry of colors and sensations that you and I will never know. Shimmering veils of pheromones aromatic compounds glow in a vast spectrum of unearthly colors, which communicate to the insects who perceive it through their sensillae, and also to the plants who sense it through their trichomes. This hue tells male moths that a female of their species is near; that hue tells plants that a common parasite is in the neighborhood, and stimulates the production of defensove compounds. It’s all part of the normal flow of information through any healthy ecosystem.

Now imagine a structure designed to contain highly concentrated aromatic compounds, which radiate certain wavelengths when stimulated by movement and sound. Imagine that the same structure also builds up a strong charge of terrestrial electricity, and sends it streaming out again through conductive areas in the soil. What effect would such a thing have on the surrounding fields? Nobody knows, as the tradition that guided the building of the old temples has apparently been lost, and the relevant research that would allow scientists to determine the effects has never been done.

What I think I’ve found, in other words, is an archaic folk technology linked to specific traditions of temple building and worship, which used natural forces to improve agricultural productivity in fields near the temple structure. That tradition likely emerged over thousands of years of trial, error, and lucky accident; it was in existence early in the first millennium BCE, when the Temple of Solomon was built; as a secret lore traditionally linked to religious mysteries, it was lost in various corners of the world when religious traditions changed; bits of it may still survive in traditional lore in India and Japan, despite the tumultuous modern histories of both nations; it came to Europe in fragmentary form in the Dark Ages, and later, in much more complete form, as part of the secret lore of the Knights Templar; it passed out of use in Europe during the Reformation, but lingered among the old operative stonemasons for some centuries thereafter; it was lost irrevocably by the Craft in the ghastly civil wars of seventeenth-century England and Scotland—and it might just possibly still be recovered.

That’s my hypothesis. Have I proved it? Not a chance. The Secret of the Temple, the book of mine mentioned earlier in this post, is a first speculative reconnaissance of a vast and poorly understood landscape. It’s entirely possible that my working hypothesis is wrong, and that the secret hidden behind the legend of the Lost Word is something else entirely—but I think it’s also possible that I’m correct, and that further research might just turn up the Word that made the fields flourish.

Beyond whatever practical use or entertainment value that might have, there’s also a point of much broader applicability here. The knowledge of the past that’s been rejected by the present contains a vast array of things, and not all of them fit comfortably into the categories to which modern thought likes to assign them. It took Joseph Needham, the great researcher into Chinese scientific traditions, to notice that a certain potion made by Chinese alchemists was an impure but effective extract of human sex hormones, which was being used medicinally for hormonal insufficiency many centuries before Western doctors figured out the same trick. There are likely to be plenty of similar things mixed up in the vast and crowded attic of occult tradition, and I’d encourage those of my readers who like such things to go looking. If their experience is anything like mine, they’ll be in for an adventure.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Speech of the Stars: An Astrological Interlude

Last week’s post on divination, for the sake of simplicity, finessed a distinction that’s actually of some importance—the existence of different categories of divination. Most of the divinatory oracles in use these days belong to a single category, which is technically called “sortilege.” That’s what you call any oracle that involves the (apparently) random selection of one or more symbols out of a predetermined set. Tarot cards, runes, geomantic figures, Ogham fews, the hexagrams of the I Ching, the letters of the Coelbren alphabet, and the list goes on: all these are methods of sortilege.

Sortilege is the most popular approach to divination these days, but it’s not the only game in town, and a brief glimpse at some of the other options is appropriate here. The oldest of all methods of divination, as far as anyone knows, is omen divination: you watch for something unusual to happen, and when it does, you interpret it.

That was the most prestigious method of divination in classical times.  Before any important event, such as the founding of a temple or the beginning of an official’s term of office, an augur—a professional omen reader—would sit down in the appropriate location, facing south, and wait for an omen to happen: the appearance of a lucky or unlucky bird, thunder from this or that direction, or what have you. We still talk about the inauguration of a president or other elected official, even though nobody but birdwatchers notices what’s perched in the trees beforehand. 

Mind you, omens still happen, even if there’s a shortage of augurs to interpret them. The news media in America just before the recent election, for example, carried a story from Florida, where two bald eagles, one male, one female, got into a fight in midair and plunged together into the gutter. After a few minutes, the male flew up and away, leaving the female eagle to be rescued by the local animal-control department. Any ancient Greek augur worth his salt would have known exactly how to read that omen.

The difficulty with omen divination, though, is that omens don’t necessarily show up when required. I suspect a lot of augurs spent a lot of long hours staring south at an empty sky waiting for something, anything, to happen. The other approaches to divination all get around this by making an omen happen when required. Sortilege is one of these, but there are three others in common use.

The first of these doesn’t have a common name, but without too much distortion it could be called Rohrshach-blot divination. Tea leaf reading is the method of this kind that most people know about, but there are other practices of the same kind—for example, wizards in Finland used to pour molten lead into cold water, wait until the lead congealed, and read the future from the blobby shape produced. Methods of these kind generally use no-holds-barred free association to interpret the results, so their accuracy depends entirely on the intuitive gifts of the diviner.

The same is true of the next kind of divination I have in mind, which is scrying. That’s what the stereotypical Romany seer is doing when she stares into a crystal ball and sees a tall, dark stranger coming into your life. Crystal balls aren’t the only option; any more or less reflective surface will do. People who have the gift of scrying can put themselves into a light trance as they gaze at the surface, and then they begin to see things. It can be an extremely effective method, but it depends on having strong intuitive gifts and also the talent of going into the light trance, which not everyone can do. For example, I can’t manage the thing at all.

Then we go to the other extreme, to those systems of divination that require no special states of consciousness, because they rely on cyclical phenomena that, at least in theory, have objective effects on human consciousness and thus on human affairs. There are a number of divination systems in this category, but the one that I plan to discuss—partly because it’s the one with which I’ve had a decent amount of experience, partly because it has had an immense role in the occult traditions of the western world—is astrology: “the speech of the stars,” to give the combination astro-logos its actual meaning in ancient Greek.

I should probably be more specific here, because there are four broad traditions of astrology in the world. There’s Mesoamerican astrology, Chinese astrology, Indian astrology, and the Western tradition, which had its roots in ancient Mesopotamia and went from there through Greece and the Arab world to Europe and the European diaspora. There are important similarities among these four traditions, but also important differences, and it’s not safe to generalize from one to the others. Thus I’m talking about the last of the traditions just named, Western astrology.

What’s more, all four traditions are full of the same lively process of competition between different schools of theory and practice that you find in, ahem, every other science. What I’ll be discussing here is the kind of astrology used by the great majority of practitioners in the English-speaking world: more specifically, the particular version of that kind of astrology that emerged in early to mid-twentieth century America, as taught and practiced by Llewellyn George and Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson, the two writers I’ve studied most closely.

It is, to begin with, tropical astrology. No doubt this phrase suggests to many of my readers that it ought to be practiced under a palm tree with a pina colada close at hand, but that’s not actually what the term denotes. To understand the difference between tropical astrology and the other kind, sidereal astrology, it’s useful—surprisingly so—to turn to one of the standard criticisms of astrology.

This is the claim that astrology can’t work because the precession of the equinoxes—the slow wobble of the Earth’s axis that takes 25,920 years or so to complete a full cycle—has moved the groups of stars named Aries, Taurus, etc. out of the regions of the sky that share those names, and astrology hasn’t taken that into account. It’s a very common sound bite flung by self-proclaimed skeptics against astrology, and like most such sound bites, it seems to make sense so long as you don’t know the first thing about the subject.

In point of fact, the very first surviving discussion of the precession of the equinoxes that has survived is in a book by the Roman astrologer Claudius Ptolemy. Pick up any astrological textbook that’s beyond the babytalk level and odds are you’ll find a detailed discussion of precession. Many of my readers may have heard the phrase “the age of Aquarius” in an astrological context—what defines that age is, again, precession. So, yes, astrologers know all about it.

Why hasn’t the shifting of star groups affected the location of those regions of the sky that astrologers call the signs of the Zodiac? It’s really quite simple. The signs are not the constellations.

As seen from the Earth, the Sun appears to move across the background of stars at a little less than one degree a day, following a track in space called the ecliptic—the name comes from the fact that eclipses happen when the Moon crosses that track. There are four important points along the ecliptic: the two equinoctial points, where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator (the projection of the Earth’s equator into space), where the Sun may be found at the spring and fall equinoxes, and the two solstitial points, when the Sun is as far from the celestial equator as it gets, up against the Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn at the northern hemisphere’s summer and winter equinoxes respectively.

Those four points are at right angles to each other, marking out four ninety-degree wedges of space. Astrologers divide each of those wedges into three, to produce the twelve signs. Each sign got its name from the constellation that was there in classical times, when casting a horoscope usually involved noting the angle of the Sun with an astrolabe at the moment of birth, then waiting until after sunset to see where the planets were; the constellations were convenient signposts back then. As mathematics improved, tables of planetary positions took the place of the astrolabe, and so nobody cared much when the constellations drifted out of the signs to which they’d lent their names.

The signs are not the constellations. The signs of the zodiac are thirty-degree wedges of space defined by the relationship of the Sun and the Earth, with the thin point at the center of the Earth and the base along an arc of the ecliptic, like slices of celestial pizza. Each wedge has its own distinct flavor or character, and when the Sun, the Moon, or one of the planets is in a given wedge, its influence on Earth takes on some of that flavor.

Take a moment to imagine the Earth in space. Spread out in the middle distance are an assortment of other celestial bodies: the Sun, blazing at the center of the solar system; the Moon, circling the Earth; the other planets moving along their own orbits. Each of these bodies is either on the ecliptic or fairly close to it, and so each one falls into one of the signs, the thirty-degree wedges of space I’ve just described, which are established by the relationship of the Earth to the Sun. The constellations and the individual stars? For all practical purposes, they’re just background decor.

That’s the universe of the tropical astrologer. It’s only fair to note that there’s also a system called sidereal astrology, which is used by a small minority of Western astrologers, and which assigns those wedges of space according to the location of the constellations rather than the location of the solstices and equinoxes. (Again, this sort of disagreement between competing theories happens in every science.) There are various systems of sidereal astrology, and apparently some people get good results with them.  The one I’ve explored, the one used and then discarded by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in its early days, produced inaccurate predictions and embarrassingly bad personality readings when I used it, which is why I went back to tropical astrology. Still, your mileage may vary.

Skeptics of the sort who like to rabbit on about how precession disproves astrology also like to insist that there’s no way that the stars, all those light-years away, could affect events here on Earth. With this claim the tropical astrologer has no disagreement at all. The universe of tropical astrology stops at the limits of the solar system, and even scientists admit that the planets are much, much closer than the stars and thus able to exert measurable effects on this planet. The thesis of tropical astrology is simply that there are more effects of this kind than modern science has gotten around to noticing, mostly because it doesn’t want to look—and that these effects can be tracked by the tools of astrology.

Some astrologers of the last century who were also students of occultism suggested what, to my mind, is the most plausible explanation for the way that astrological influences reach the Earth. We’ve already talked about the astral light, the subtle whatever-it-is—not energy in the sense that physicists give that word, and probably not matter either—that, ahem, “surrounds us and penetrates us, and binds the solar system together.” In occult theory, the Sun is the source of the astral light—presumably every star is the source of astral light in its own system—and as the astral light from our Sun streams out to the edges of the solar system, it forms complex patterns of resonance and reverberation around each of the planets, which then react with one another in predictable ways.

If that were the case, you’d get the strongest effects either from the body that was the primary source of astral light, or from a body that was really, really close to the Earth—and in astrology, that’s exactly what you do in fact get. The Sun and the Moon are far more powerful in a chart than the planets. If you know somebody’s Sun sign, Moon sign, and rising sign—the wedge of the heavens that was on the eastern horizon at the moment of birth—and nothing else, you know much more about them than if you know the location of all the planets in their birth chart but don’t know the three points just named.

What’s more, the planets are more important in a chart than smaller bodies.  After the discovery of the asteroids, astrologers went to work trying to figure out what they meant; the astrology of the asteroids is a field for specialists these days, though, because the influence of these little lumps of rock turned out to be fairly minor most of the time. The discovery of the Kuiper Belt objects off beyond Pluto has launched similar investigations on the part of today’s astrologers; while everyone’s pretty sure that Eris, Sedna, and the other glorified snowballs out there in the frozen outer reaches of the solar system have some effect, it’s doubtful that they’ll have much more influence than asteroids.

So you’ve got the Sun, Moon, planets, and a variety of minor bodies, each of which seems to lend a specific force to human consciousness and life, moving through the pizza-wedges of the signs, each of which has a distinct flavor or character that it seems to impart to any celestial body that, from our perspective on Earth, passes through the sign. There are three other sets of factors. The first are the houses, which are twelve more pizza-slice wedges of the sky, defined not by the solstices and equinoxes but by the location on Earth for which a chart is cast. There are various ways to calculate the cusps (dividing points) of the houses, each of which has its partisans—again, the sort of competition of theory and practice usual in every science—but in most systems, the four cardinal points are the same:   the ascendant at the eastern horizon, the descendant at the western horizon, the midheaven at the ecliptic’s greatest elevation, and the nadir at its lowest point. It’s the fine points of dividing the quarters into three slices each that are still up for debate.

Where the planets have their specific forces and the signs have their flavors or characters, the houses relate to the different aspects of human life. The first house, which is just below the ascendant, relates to personality, and so any celestial object in that house will exert its force, flavored by the sign it’s in, predominantly on the personality. Similarly, the tenth house, which is just east of the midheaven, relates to career, and any celestial object in the tenth house will influence the career in accordance with its force and the flavor of the sign it happens to be in.

That’s the first factor. The second factor is that each celestial body relates to the signs in its own idiosyncratic way. The Sun, for example, has a special connection with Leo; its influence is unusually strong there, and if the cusp of one of the houses is in Leo, the Sun will influence the part of life governed by that house, even if it’s in a different house in the chart. Astrologers express this by saying that the Sun rules Leo. Correspondingly, the Sun is very weak in Aquarius—in its detriment, in astrological jargon. In Aries, the Sun is exalted—that is, it tends to express its influence in an unusually beneficial manner—while in Libra it’s in its fall, and expresses its influence in an unusually negative manner. The Moon and the planets have their own rulerships, detriments, exaltations, and falls, which work exactly the same way.

The third factor, finally, is that celestial bodies can affect one another if their positions form certain angles when seen from the standpoint of Earth. At some angles—especially 60° and 120°—they reinforce each other; at others—especially 90° and 180°—they conflict with each other. What if they aren’t at one of these angles? In that case, they don’t have a thing to do with each other. These angles are called aspects; there are major aspects, which have strong effects, and minor aspects, which have less obvious effects.

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It is. It’s an intricate, extraordinarily complex, and rather fussy form of divination that has had more research, experimentation, retrospective analysis, and testing put into it than all other Western systems of divination put together. One of the downsides of astrology is that it takes a lot of study and practice to get good at it. I got to the point of being able to do clear, accurate Tarot readings after about six months of steady practice, and it took me less than that to become a good geomancer; by contrast, I’ve been studying astrology pretty systematically for getting on for seven years, and there are still entire branches of theory and practice relating to the speech of the stars about which I still basically don’t have a clue.

(One of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is that you can use astrology for much, much more than birth charts. You can take a birth chart and progress it, to give year-by-year predictions about the life of the chart’s subject; that’s predictive astrology. You can choose a time to start something in order to give it the best possible start; that’s elective astrology. You can cast a chart for the moment a question is asked, and read the answer to the question right off the chart; that’s horary astrology. You can cast a chart for the moment you first feel ill, and use the chart to figure out the cause, course, and result of the illness; that’s medical astrology. You can cast a chart for one of the equinoxes or solstices for the capital city of a country, and get a very clear sense of the mood of the country and the course of political events for the following three months; that’s mundane astrology. Birth charts? That’s natal astrology, or if you prefer a more ornate term, genethliac astrology.)

Another downside is that astrology is inherently “fuzzy.” An astrological chart, whether it’s a birth chart or something else, talks in general categories. That doesn’t mean that anything goes; if you know what you’re doing, you can draw hard and fast conclusions from a chart—but there’s a gap between the conclusions you can draw and the exact details of the way they’re expressed. For example, I have Uranus in the first house of my natal chart. That’s the classic placement of the eccentric, the person who instinctively veers left where everyone else veers right, whose interests are at right angles to other people’s and gets bored with anything that’s too popular—and I’m unquestionably that sort of person.

What couldn’t be told from the chart is exactly what kind of eccentric I would turn out to be. A good Tarot reader or scryer could have gotten details; an astrologer, by and large, has to settle for “eccentric, with a taste for old things” (the latter due to my Saturn placement). Mind you, there are astrologers who can read a chart the way a Tarot reader reads the cards, and extract all kinds of improbably accurate data from it; I suspect what’s going on here is that intuition’s being applied on top of astrology.

But there’s an upside that goes along with that: you can surf the waves of astrological influence, to a much greater extent than you can surf other divination methods. If you find something in your natal chart you don’t like, once you know about it, you can work around it. If you have a bad transit—that is to say, a planet moving through a position where it’s in a difficult aspect to something in your birth chart, and thus influences your consciousness and life in some unwelcome way—you can deliberately counter its influence. You take fewer risks when Mars is afflicted, allow more time when Saturn is being difficult, decide not to order that second piece of pie when Jupiter’s in a bad position. Equally, when you have a favorable transit, you run with it.

All this suggests to me that there really is something objective behind astrology—something that more or less corresponds to the occult teaching referenced earlier. That’s a possibility I’d encourage readers to keep in mind as we proceed.

It’s been a while now since I proposed a contest, asking readers to write stories about magic that dealt with magic as it actually works, rather than the cheap imitations that fill the pages of fantasy novels and Hollywood movies. I received in response some first-rate stories—but, I’m sorry to say, not enough of them to make an anthology along the lines of the four After Oil anthologies. I want to thank everyone who wrote a story in response to my challenge, and since a good many of the stories in question deserve publication, I’ve forwarded them to the editor of MYTHIC Magazine, who has promised to consider them for publication. MYTHIC is a new magazine of fantasy and science fiction, and a paying market; I’ve got a story slated for publication in the first issue—and to be quite frank, I would be honored to have my story appear alongside some of the stories that were submitted in response to the contest.