Turning the Wheel – Defining the Tradition of Hermetic Thought

Hermetic, time, circle,

So what is this consideration of the tradition of Hermetic thought?

This is a question that frequently echo’s through the recesses of my unconscious mind. In my day to day waking existence, I eat, argue, laugh, struggle, play and exist as any other man.

When I sleep, my dreams are of my common and mundane existence, my daily trials, victories and defeats. I can’t honestly say that there is anything extraordinary about my sensory perceptions or my connection with the divine. I can neither call down angels nor summon up demons to do my bidding or protect me from harm yet who am I to say that others cannot?

In much of what might be considered Hermetic thinking, Magick (with a capital M and a k at the end) plays a central role in the conduct of its practice. Whether it is Enocian sigils, angelic names, traversing metaphysical paths of illumination through the spheres, or an outright symbolic initiation into one of the traditions that claim linage to times immemorial – each of these aspects of the Hermetic Art are themselves a form of magical tradition, a means of seeing the world differently that symbols have deeper and more powerful meanings, tradition and lineage have some currency with authenticity and the invisible forces of the universe manifest through a variety of non-traditional metaphysical archetypes. Perhaps the linchpin to them all to exist as a broad spectrum Hermetic tradition is the fact that each tradition relies so heavily on the symbolic and the allegorical.

Perhaps, ultimately, this is an oversimplification of a rich tradition of thought that to suggest it is to become heretical to the body itself. But, as I see it, the Hermetic Art, as it exists today is the sum totality of those magical, initiatic, and metaphysical journeys. That to be a member, if members we be, of the Hermetic tradition (faith), you can possess a belief in all, some, or none of these things and still openly be a Hermeticist. In many respects, this left hand path isn’t wrong or counterproductive to other traditions. To the contrary, it is merely the wide open compass circumscribing a very wide and embracing circle to see and accept all within its spectrum.

This is, in my estimation, what is encompassed in the spectrum of Hermetic thought.

Lvx E Tenebris

I write this on the eve of the May Day pronouncement. Having just finished a final compilation of those who have chosen to be included as a Founder of this first circle, the count, excluding myself, stands at 33.

Concluding my tabulation, I took a moment to recount and affirm that number. Needless to say, it spoke to me, affirming for me the years of mental preparation that has lead up to this association.

First and foremost, welcome to this first loop of the Hermetic Circle.

In the days, weeks and months before us, this Circle will begin to take shape, providing greater illumination on its purpose and imparting some measure of wisdom for those who wish to receive it. Ultimately, this needs be an experiential group, one in which we work together to reach our aims.

So then, what are those aims?

As it was conceived, this Circle is bound by all traditions under the uniform acknowledgement that:

  • No one faith is absolute
  • All faiths are as one greater universal concept of the divine

With that in mind, I conceive the Hermetic Circle to be:

…an open society – open to all for the preservation and communication of the wisdom of the Emerald Tablet, Hermetica, the Kybalion, and the other Great Works of this philosophical tradition.

That it be a trans-polytheistic society, which is one that sees all faiths as ONE faith, where each is as valuable as any other, worthy of veneration and respect…

The outcome of this is a universal faith – A Hermetic Faith – that is the union of form and function of the wisdom traditions.

In preparation, your part at the start of this Great Work is simply to prepare a biographical statement about yourself by way of an introduction. It may be of whatever length you feel best suits an introduction of yourself, your journey to this destination, or the philosophical ethos that fuels your amity to the Hermetic tradition. Keep in mind; this is a correspondence circle of a sort so any energy you contribute this way will be returned in kind. Once written and received, our introductions will be published, with your permission, under your chosen name, in an on-line forum accessible only to us, the founding members of the Hermetic Circle. The home of this body of work will exist online at HermeticCircle.com

Moving forward, I propose we embark upon a series of group exercises that involve the study of certain texts and traditions that will frame this circle.

More details on this initial assignment will follow soon, but in the meantime I ask that you mentally (and perhaps literally) begin to pen your introduction.

Welcome to the Hermetic Circle.

Greg Stewart
Fiat LvX

Welcome to the Hermetic Circle

hermetic-circle-297x300

As it was conceived, the Hermetic Circle is bound by all traditions under the uniform acknowledgement that:

  • No one faith is absolute
  • All faiths are as one greater universal concept of the divine

Therefore:

The Hermetic Circle is an open society – open to all for the preservation and communication of the wisdom of the Emerald Tablet, Hermetica, the Kybalion, and the other Great Works of this philosophical tradition.

It is a trans-polytheistic society that sees all faiths as one faith, where each is as valuable as any other, worthy of veneration and respect.

The outcome of this is a universal faith – A Hermetic Faith – that is the union of form and function of the wisdom traditions.

Interested in learning more?  Please send an email to hermeticcircle@gmail.com

Examples of Ordinary Religious Practice

It occurred to me to make a list of aspects of Ordinary religious practice as I believe they take place.  Also, it might be good to include some aspects that Albanese includes from the book America Religions and Religion.

Ordinary practice, as earlier defined is the day to day practice of a particular faith tradition not encompassing a dynamic encounter with the divine, or in other words an otherwise mystical or super-spiritual experience. That is to say that it is the repetition of religious practice as it occurs in our day to day life.

  • A few ordinary religious practices would be:
  • Weekly Church Service
  • Weddings, Baptisms, Funerals, and other like ceremonies
  • Religious text study in context with worship
  • Communal food taking within a religious context
  • Similar style of dress or uniform
  • Articles of faith
  • Cultural rules of belief

In general, the list includes the aspects that are the cultural bulwark of the institutional practice, an aspect that Albanese suggests are the “…ordinary religion can reveal itself in the many customs and folkways that are part of a culture: expected ways of greeting people; wedding etiquette concerning clothes, manners, and obligations; habits of diet; and holiday behavior, to mention a few.”  Each of these aspects, she says, convey the “values of a society” and the means of identifying their distinct social boundaries of practice.  These practices become the social “glue” of the culture and “reinforces the bonds between members of a society.”

While the list could become extensive, at its most surface level the practice or ordinary religion celebrates the ideas of the extraordinary while keeping the wider practice grounded in the day to day practice.

Hollywood Forever

If you’re looking for the glitz and glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you need only to look in the rolling green acres that are its sepulcher set in the middle of the city its inhabitants talents once illuminated.

Hollywood Forever is the final resting place of many Hollywood celebrities and nearly lost to the obscurity of all forgotten cemeteries were it not for the restoration and rebirthing befitting such a repository of past fame and glory. 

Founded in 1899 on 100 acres of land, Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery has had an almost Hollywood-esque history of mismanagement, character owners, and movie lot neighbors – all to reopen in 1998 with major reinvestment makeovers and new tools to draw new users even before their ready to join the ranks in residence. Hollywood Forever is a bit of a redemption story right out of a movie made just next door on the Paramount movie lot. 

Nestled in a near culturally barren strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, the cemetery, now parceled down to 62 acres, is almost hard to spot amidst the auto shops, strip malls, and warehouses that line the street both east and west of the entrance.  Between the dingy industrial buildings stands a sign proclaiming its presence flanked by a tall iron fence and small plot of grass.

A quick turn in and subtle nod to the security guard, instantly you leave the bustle of the city space and enter into a sacred space that seems to be almost completely devoid of the noise from the outside world.

Once inside, there are ample driving paths to follow or, as I did that day, pick a place to park and begin to walk picking your way through the stones and fauna.  The gift shop sells a map of where the famous sleep (a fair $5.00 for the guide) without which one could lose more than several days time trying to find the more than 170 resident celebrities.

Sadly, looking at the list even now, few names conjure memories and of those that do their remembrance come from films I watched as a child on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in one of the thousand re-runs that television in the 70’s relied upon.  And of those remembered, there are even fewer that stand out in vivid memory. 

The monument reads: In memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States
Army who have died or may die on the Pacific coast, Erected by the
Confederate Monument Association.  
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet. Lest we forget – lest we forget.
1861-1865.
Civil War veterans and women at the unveiling of the
Confederate monument at Hollywood cemetery
in Los Angeles, Calif., circa 1920.
from the UCLA Image Archive

Some notables that will forever be remembered in Hollywood’s History buried there include: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Senior, Griffith Jenkins Griffith, Jayne Mansfield’ Tyrone Power’ Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Charlie Chaplin, Fay Wray, and G. Mel Blanc.  One of the more recent celebrities interred in Hollywood Forever is Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone, memorialized in a bold bronze statue with his axe forever in hand.  Among the famous I found a Real Daughter of the American Revolution and a memorial stone in memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States Army who perished on the Pacific Coast, erected by the Confederate Monument Association.  An interesting consideration given the Confederate monument as Hollywood Forever’s second owner prohibited actress Hattie McDaniel from being buried there as it was a segregated cemetery that did not accept the bodies of black people.

Johnny Ramone in Hollywood forever

You can find an extensive list of those celebrities in residence at Seeing-Stars.com.

As sacred spaces go, Hollywood Forever is an interesting one.  While it has the quiet attributes of a place devoted to memory and reverence, it’s hard to not be struck by its proximity to Hollywood(Paramount Studios abuts the property with sets clearly visible) but also for the inhabitants which draw a steady stream of devotes.  In the time of my visit, there were several groups who passed through stopping here and there to snap a photo touch a memorial.  Yet, still it evokes a sentimental sanctity that draws the Poe like writes who sit beneath its trees and stones looking for inspiration.

All faiths are represented on the grounds too.  From the Buddhist shrine (a quick right from the entrance) to the many Star of David’s, Crosses, Squares and Compasses, and many other motifs of belief.  The site bears a remarkable amount of faiths throughout.  I was especially fond of the use of Egyptian themes in the mausoleums and the many tall obelisks that memorialize the deceased.

Also, the cemetery is still an active one with an increasingly dense growth of new grave sites arranged in copses of family plots or closely associated cultural markers.  In some parts of the space these new marble memorials crowd out the older markers in some places surrounding a lone antique plaque of a forgotten family member.

One last emblem of sacredness that I would be remiss to mention is the old Masonic Lodge on the northern perimeter of the grounds.  Today, the temple is a cultural venue with any and all past Masonic emblems and motifs all stripped away on the outside but in name (and purpose) alone.  The city blog posted a photo from 2009 with an Order of the Eastern Star light fixture hanging from the rafters.  Formed out of the Bankers Masonic Club in 1924 Los Angeles, the lodge received a charter from the Grand Lodge of California in 1925 as Southland Lodge No. 617 when they moved into the Spanish Renaissance Revival building in 1931.  The building, now part of the main gate of Hollywood Forever, hosts concerts, plays, and other intimate events.  Outside of the lodge, the cemetery holds a variety of cultural activities on the grounds from movies in the park to annual Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

With the presence of the Masonic Lodge, the site is sufficient to solidify its sacredness of space as sacred with all the trappings that come with that distinction.

Hollywood Forever is definitely worth the visit if you are a native of the Southland or a visiting lover of all things sacred.  Plan to spend an hour or more roaming the many stones and memorials and be sure to pick up a map from the gift shop to guide your steps.  While you visit, be sure to take some time to soak in the quiet nostalgia of the site and listen to the echoes of the past as they carry on the winds from the traffic of breezing by on Santa Monica Boulevard. 



LDS Temple Los Angeles

LDS, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormon, temple
temple, LDS, building, Los Angeles, Latter Day Saints
LDS Temple, Los Angeles

I spent some time recently up at the visitor center for the Los Angeles Church of the Latter Day Saints located on the grounds of the Mormon Temple. Without a doubt, the site is a sacred LA precinct capable of communicating the austerity that the faith embodies as the religion of the Americas.

Located in the heart of the west side of LA, the temple and grounds stand out distinctly from the steel and glass skyscrapers that ring this sacred space.  Pulling in and parking I was surprised when stepping out of the car to be immediately overwhelmed in the sereneness of the grounds.

What struck me first was the immaculate grooming of the grounds and the sense of silence that the hillside temple had upon it, especially with Santa Monica Boulevard right below full of cars at rush hour. 

From the street, the Temple looks large but not so massive that it overwhelms the onlooker.  It’s not until you get next to the temple and away from the concrete and steel buildings that you can feel the austerity of the structure in the surrounding open space.  Standing next to the temple, it soars out of the sea of green into the blue sky above which holds aloft the golden angel Moroni.

Immediately behind the temple is the Visitor Center.  Renovated and re-opened in 2010, the Visitor Center contains numerous exhibits and interactive displays about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including exhibits on the history of Jesus Christ, the charitable works of the church, and the history of the temple.  Also in the facility is an area for genealogical research as it houses the popular Los Angeles Family History Library.  

Jesus, LDS temple, visitor center
Jesus

Probably one of the most impressive elements of the visitor center is the reproduction of Danish-Icelandic sculptor Berel Thorvaldsen’s Christusstatue (the original being in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, the National Cathedral of Denmark).

Standing in a serene room with a pastel sunrise, the statue is the focal point of an audio component that serves as an introduction to the center, the Temple, and the LDS style of Christianity given the context of the setting.  The cost for the presentation, our gracious and kind host advised, was the acceptance of a post paid interest card to learn more about the LDS church.

The temple itself is locked up tight and not accessible to visitors, at least without invitation.  From the displays, the understanding I took away was that the interior of the temple hasn’t been open to the public since its construction at which time it was opened to Angelenos to see the craftsmanship and to get an idea of the LDS practice. 

Overall, the site communicates well the sanctity of the temple and the sacred space around it.  Even as a non Mormon, I could feel the solemnity of the religion and after visiting it gave me a new perspective on the tradition and the reverence it commands, even in the silence of the pastoral grounds. 

I would definitely recommend spending some time to visit the LDS Temple in Los Angeles.  When you do, plan to spend at least a hour in the visitors center and grounds to take in the sacred space in totality.  

LDS church, Los Angeles,
LDS church, Los Angeles

Church Marketing Selling Soap

I’ve been at a cross roads on this idea for some time.

How does a church market itself without coming out looking like its just trying to sell their unique particular brand of soap?

But then I hit a conflict, perhaps that’s the point that each church is trying to sell its own brand of Christianity and at some level need look at their particular brand as being better and with attributes significantly different than their competitors.

I have yet to see this issue come up when looking across religions, as culturally I think most follow in the footsteps of practice that their parents, or early caregivers, introduced them to.  Christian families raise young Christians; Hindu families raise young Hindus, and so on…

While, I’m sure this sort of church shopping takes place in other cultures, being in America affords an interesting perspective to look at this as an American phenomenon where the religious landscape is dotted with more Christian churches that any other, and as such, is has a wealth of diversity between them.

By diversity, I don’t mean to say that they differ far beyond the foundational basis of Christian faith, but that their difference comes in how they market themselves to the general public at large and fill their pews.

for many years, I believe the process was a generational one.  Families would automatically populate denominations with their offspring, one generation at a time creating a multi-generational congregation.  But, with the great change in society in the 1960’s, I wonder how true that is still.

So, what happened in the 60’s?

Without getting to deep into the subject, I think its fair to say that in the boomer generationals, there was a general shift away from what had institutionally become the status quo.  It would be easy to blame it on the “Hippies” but I believe the idea was more pervasive and permeated society at every social level and, in a sense, created a ripple of dissent, at least from the here-to-fore institutions of their families.

Out of that period, it socially became OK to not go to church, to follow ones own path, and to rebel, even if that just meant to grow your hair past your collar and listen to rock-n-roll.  It’s that idea that, I think, led to the breaking of the firm hold denominational religion had on the religious American public.

The result has been a steadily decreasing church attendance, and an ever diversifying milieu of church marketing with an increasingly heavy drum beat of difference, uniqueness, and selling points of why you should attend their church.

Now this is a broad generalization and in no way represents each and every church across the nation, but I think if you look closely enough you will see that increasingly churches are resorting to all manner of marketing and pitches to get you to not just come to church, but to come to THEIR church.  And, their marketing pitches provide a laundry list of benefits of their particular product, which is a hallmark of good advertising.

Marketing 101 tells us to “sell the benefits, not the features.”

While this isn’t a real Marketing course, the idea is the same echoed across countless marketing websites…  Sell the benefits and not the features are a mantra that about every industry has adopted, and church marketing is no different.

One just need look some of the grassroots church ephemera that is being developed today, and read some of the commentary on the subject.  A great resource I’ve found about it is Church Marketing Sucks which acknowledges the fact that churches need marketing.  Church Marketing Sucks is a part of the nonprofit Center for Church Communication, whose mission is to help churches communicate better, which is cool, but it’s still selling soap.

Maybe it was inevitable that marketers, copywriters, and designers would get into the business of making more inviting and compelling church materials, but how far does it range from the idea of what the church is itself, and is it just a way to alleviate a compelling church minister for a bit of flashy graphics and compelling type fonts?

Where is all of this going; Truthfully, I’m not really anyone could adequately say for sure.  As more and more leave the denominational system more and more marketing will be created with an increasingly well crafted message to convince people to try their particular brand of ministry, what ever the denomination.  And, as we generationally become further removed from a presence in a church, marketers will have to work harder and harder to compel us to come back reducing the equation to a sales and marketing problem from a faith and worship proposition.