Jailbreaking the Fall

One of the recurring things in magical studies—and I am broadly including strands of alchemy, mysticism, and more under this rubric for the time being—is that embodied life on Earth represents a second order existence that comes after some preceding state. From a Christian perspective, we live in a “fallen” state—we are postlapsarian rather than prelapsarian—and different traditions have expressed analogous views.

For example, there is the concept of precelestial and postcelestial in Daoism. In writing on “Time in Chinese Alchemy,” Fabrizio Pregadio considers several of the traditions regarding “the process through which the Dao generates the cosmos.” Pregadio quotes one such passage from the Daode jing: “The Dao generates the One, the One generates the Two, the Two generate the Three, and the Three generate the ten thousand things.” He then summarizes one perspective on the process so described:

One, Two, and Three respectively stand for the state of Unity, the emergence of Yin and Yang, and the product of their reconjunction. The “ten thousand things” are the sum of entities and phenomena generated by the continuos [sic] reiteration of this three-stage process. In addition, the sequence of the Book of the Way and Its Virtue is also associated with three parallel states or stages that the Dao takes on or generates in its self-manifestation: Dao -> Spirit (Shen) -> Breath (Qi) -> Essence (Jing). After the last of these stages, the Dao gives birth to the cosmos through its own Essence (jing; Book of the Way and Its Virtue, sec. 21). While all these stages are contained within the Dao, their completion marks the shift from the precelestial to the postcelestial domains (xiantian to houtian).[1]

Pregadio goes on to describe the process described in the Yijing as an alternative model that ultimately has similar ends:

This sequence—which continues with the generation of the eight trigrams and the sixty-four hexagrams—intends to show that the modes of change represented by lines, trigrams, and hexagrams are issued from the state of Unity and are ultimately contained within it: the different emblems portray the progressive unfolding of Unity into multiplicity.

In the traditional interpretation of the Book of Changes, the two principles are Pure Yang and Pure Yin, while the four images are Minor Yang, Greater Yang, Minor Yin, and Greater Yin. In alchemy, the “two” are understood in the same way, even though they are usually called True Yin (zhenyin) and True Yang (zhenyang). The “four,” instead, are understood differently. Instead of representing the cyclical alternation of the growth and decrease of Yin and Yang, they are seen as different states or qualities of Yin and Yang in the precelestial and postcelestial domains. Precelestial True Yang is Qian, and precelestial True Yin is Kun. The other two principles are Kan and Li, which respectively stand for postcelestial Yin containing True Yang and for postcelestial Yang containing True Yin.

Alchemical praxis seeks to “[reproduce] the inchoate state…prior to the emergence of the cosmos,” to return to a precelestial status via alchemical processes.[2] I would personally describe that process as doing so through creating a motif match to that primordial state in the alchemical apparatus, in order to produce something like the inchoate cosmos. The practice is not unlike how particle physicists imagine they are reproducing the conditions of the universe at its creation.

As Pregadio notes, Neidan (“internal alchemy”) seeks “the inversion from the postcelestial to the precelestial by different sets of cosmological emblems,” but the praxis focuses on

inverting the sequence of the generation of Spirit, Breath, and Essence.

With regard to the sequence of the Book of Changes, the main principles are equally shared by both Waidan and Neidan. Precelestial True Yang and True Yin are first extracted from the respective postcelestial counterparts, namely Kan and Li, and their placements are exchanged. This restores Qian and Kun, which are then joined to one another in order to reestablish their unity (also represented by Qian, which now stands for the stage prior to Yin and Yang).[3]

The inversion is not “demonic” nor a repudiation of the Dao’s “process,” for that inversion and its crossing back across the transition between pre- and post-celestial remain within the Dao, are indeed arguably  “features” of the Dao.

Now, this praxis of inversion caught my attention for several reasons, and it occurs to me that what Pregadio describes is comparable to Neoplatonic practices of “rising on the spheres” back into the celestial domain. Where the two diverge, it seems, is that where the Daoist practitioners transform themselves so that they are, in theory, of a restored precelestial condition yet still in this world, the Neoplatonic practitioners are in essence trying to escape this world, at least preparing themselves to do so in death while also seeking to distance themselves from the material world as much as possible.

However, I would say that our closer Western comparison to the Daoist practice seems to be with hermeticism, where the links between Above and Below are restored and reactivated, whether through materia and therefore ritual actions (enchantment and magic) or in a person, which becomes a means of negotiating Above and Below, pre-celestial and post-celestial (as it were). I can see such a process as not negating the Fall or incarnation but perhaps remediating, healing, or bridging the Fallen with the Unfallen.

Along these lines and for what seemed like unrelated reasons, I recently began reading the “boring” and “pious” sections of Skinner and Rankine’s The Keys to the Gateway of Magic (2011), “a transcription of Janua Magica Reserata, Dr. Rudd’s Nine Hierarchies of Angels, Nine Celestial Keys, and The Demon Princes.” As I read through Janua Magica Reserata (JMR) with much of the above already in mind, plus Kohn, Ingold, Jung, Haraway, and de Castro, I realized that the text is a kind of Christian angel magic version of the Asclepius, that seminal text of the Hermetica.

I have to qualify that statement by acknowledging that JMR purports a verticalized hierarchy that its compiler(s) came at within a Neoplatonic context, but through Jungian, animist, and even Daoism-inspired lenses, I think it’s quite capable of being jailbroken and horizontalized. You see, as I read JMR, I saw its uses of “Intelligible” as the Archetypal, the “Sensible” as the daimonic, the reaching of the Archetypal into our world and into us, the ideas having us. I would argue that later writers, in coming across the use of “Intelligible” and “Mind” for the “highest” levels of Creation, they seem to have interpreted these descriptors too self-servingly and narrowly as “reason” and what’s come to become really a Cartesian intellect (or perhaps a Socratic intellect that becomes Cartesian in time). Instead, I would argue that “Intelligible” points to the imaginal and consciousness while the “Sensible” is quite literally what our bodies—including the occulted body, per Alkistis Dimech—sense.

As Gordon and I quite agree, I’m not saying anything new here, but I am redescribing hermeticism in  contexts that make it “bio-available” to me. I am not a Daoist, nor do I claim to be one; I can lay claim to a line of hermeticism, though.

Furthermore, I am not seeing the hermeticism that I am discovering in JMR as being divorced from this incarnate human world even as it points to profound aspirations. In reading this text, I find it pointing to how practical magic—not just mystical theurgy—through the technical and otherwise “practical” hermetica are ways to activate the virtues and powers of Creation in ourselves much as God has through Creation. And my conception of who and what “God” is in this context is not the mainstream God of today, let alone in the early modern period.

JMR points to the interiority of matter repeatedly, as the imaginal comes into our waking experience of the world from the archetypal, Intelligible world of Ideas coming into

the Soul of the world [where] they are many.

They are Likewise placed in the minds of all other things, whether they be joined to the body, or separated from the body; by a certain participation, & by degrees are distinguished more & more.

They are also placed in Nature, as certain small Seeds of forms, infused by the Ideas.

And Lastly, they are placed in matter, as Shadows.[4]

JMR also points often to how the enterprise it describes is an embodied praxis: for example, “Thus man, having power, to be made the son of God, & to be united to God, all things which are in man are united also, & especially his mind, then his spirit, this his animal powers, & then his vegetative faculties &c.”[5]

It is also a practical enterprise, grounded in practical magic and enchantment:

By how much the more every one shall know him self, by so much he obtaineth the greater power of attracting the like qualities & virtues [of materia and Ideas and spirits and stars], & likewise operateth greater & more wonderful things, & so by consequence & course gradually ascend to so great perfection, that he is made the son of God, & is transformed into that Image which is God, & is united with him…[6]

I think most folks came at this praxis with an eye to escaping embodied reality—that is, to become “beings of pure consciousness” rather than bodies, to say “fuck you guys, I’m outta here,” to try to actualize what would become the supposed Cartesian split. They seek to escape a life of lines to become a blob in space. However, it seems to me that these texts—or the ideas underlying them—are about embodying yourself not just in your body while it’s existing (alive and dead…relics are a thing) but also to embody self in the universe, along the daimonic links between the things and lives in this world and their celestial, cosmic, and imaginal others. That entanglement  comes out of practical magic and enchantment that has us living and embodied in and through the world, part of the stones and trees and mushrooms and people and ideas and more that we cultivate in our lives.

Furthermore, it’s our task as magicians, witches, and other kinds of practitioners to entangle this world with the deeper, celestial, and chthonic world. In addressing the influences from the planets, JMR argues that the reason we experience the malefic or adversarial influences from the planets and heavens comes from a failure of astrological magic and, I argue, ceremony: “Man receiveth hurt by Reason of his unlikeness with heavenly things; from whence otherwise he ought to reap Benefit.[7] While we can read such a line as saying we all need to act like good “Christians” and avoid sin, I can’t help but read this line from the perspective of astrological magic. If you screw up the materia, the images, and the election, then you’re going to get shit. You will experience “Dissonance with the Celestial Influences.”[8] In that sense, we are in a fallen world, but world has in part fallen out of alignment with the imaginal, with the heavens (and the depths more broadly), and thus we are separated from divinity in a more Orthodox mode of sin.

I also can’t help but think with aboriginal and other indigenous perspectives on the importance of ceremony to keep our world co-created properly, restored and regenerated through cyclical, intentional, active linking of our world with the Dreaming. We have made the world and ourselves improper “talismans,” or have tried to sever ourselves from the heavens. We are out of or apart from ceremony and Law, distanced from the Dreaming. JMR may present this cosmology through the motifs of angels and demons, but that’s just one cultural perspective on our “fallen” status.

Above and Below need to be linked, and they need to be linked often.

Nor is the solution Neoplatonic vertical hierarchicalizing. While JMR argues that the stars and star magic must always be mediated through the intervening celestial spheres, the Egyptians and other cultures have often bypassed that “intervening mechanism,” to borrow from Gordon White. Indeed, this is even the point of Star.Ships: the better you mirror or match Earth to the heavens, the better your magic and other shit gets.

Nor is what I’m seeing in any of this a “ceremonial magic” thing, or theurgical, or anything of the kind. Nor is witchcraft just an “earth religion” or even “dirt magic”—it’s a herbroots (rather than grassroots) survival of that hermetic and stellar-terrestrial-chthonic worldview, for Above and Below come together. Angels, faeries, trees, roots, stones, stars, and more are all dancing together with us. Or, witches shouldn’t constrain their imaginal engagement to “only” the earth. Many witches have been opening their perspectives to the heavens and to the chthonic skies below with dancing minds. Or, I would say, the Moon may be the vessel through which that magic pours down into our world, but the heavens are forests and countries stretching all about us, through which the Moon (and Sun) journey on their courses. Nor am I describing necessarily “astrological magic” as we typically conceive it, but that can certainly play a part.

The incarnate human body is perhaps the initial meeting point between Above and Below, the mirror place between them. As we build ourselves out into the cosmos, like a tree or a rhizome, the mirror or intersection between Above and Below remains the body, later the corpse, but with time and deeper forms of life, we learn to have that cosmic body, to make our bodies sprout forth through all trees, or to rise rhizomatically through images and forms throughout Creation, and more. And after a point, an indefinite point, we can learn to make most anything a surface through which we can rise. “It’s just forms,” even as I suspect that we will move further, or grow further, beyond whatever our “human” consciousnesses had been.

Featured Image: by Schmidsi

Thanks to Gordon White for his feedback on chunks of my thinking here.

[1] Fabrizio Pregadio, “Time in Chinese Alchemy,” forthcoming in Routledge Handbook of Chinese Medicine, edited by Vivienne Lo and Michael Stanley-Baker (London: Routledge): 1-2. I have removed the Chinese characters from the original because of typeface limitations. This document is presently Pregadio’s early draft.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Ibid, 3. Emphasis mine.

[4] Stephen Skinner and David Rankine, editors, The Keys to the Gateway of Magic: Summoning the Solomonic Archangels & Demon Princes (Shanghai: Golden Hoard, 2011), 59. Emphases mine. Indeed, I find the end of this passage as very neatly aligned with the Egyptian belief that the shadow of something contains its essence.

[5] Ibid, 44. Emphases mine.

[6] Ibid, 44. Emphases mine.

[7] Ibid, 94. Emphasis mine.

[8] Ibid.

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