Denning & Phillips on the Guyana Massacre

April 21st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

This past week marked the 20th anniversary of the Waco massacre. The following editorial was published in the March/April 1979 issue of Gnostica magazine. In it, Denning and Phillips discuss the events of Jonestown from an occult perspective. Their comments could equally apply to Waco, and perhaps to some extent the tragic events in Boston this week as well.


The Guyana Massacre by Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips

from Gnostica no. 50 (vol. 7 no. 1), March/April 1979: Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul.

The mysteries, horrors and problems of the Guyana massacre having been brought out and sorted, more or less, into public categories, a number of people have set out to tell other people how they ought to react and, after that, what they ought to think about it. Meg Greenfield, in Newsweek (December 4), sums up a number of the political and religious “lessons” that right-wing political and “anticlerical” religious writers have drawn from the tragedy, and assesses them collectively as self-preserving and self-justifying shock-absorbers; her bottom line is that the real lesson of Jonestown is that for every human psyche “the jungle is only a few yards away.” That, in her view, is evidently the way people ought to look at it.

The irony of it is, that all this lesson-drawing, moral-making activity misses the only real lesson to be drawn from the whole ghastly affair, and that is, that people have to learn to do their own thinking, and need to be emotionally as well as intellectually and economically enabled to do so. Men and women need, in fact, to have the opportunity to mature inwardly as well as outwardly into complete men and women. Churches, parties, orders, any organizations which invite people to join for their spiritual good or their material benefit, should be judged by this criterion: are they genuinely helping their members towards ultimate independence, even of the organization itself, or do they seek to keep them in subjection, as many do, to life’s end, and even were that possible, into eternity?

To say this, however, is not to say everyone ought at once to think like this. To expect that, would be rather along the lines of the action of Richard McCoy, who told the Jonestown residents whom he interviewed that if they chose to leave, a car was waiting to take them away. None accepted, because none were in an emotional condition which would have enabled them to accept. They would have needed more psychological help than McCoy could have given them in that interview, either as a matter of human possibility or within the legal framework of the diplomatic task he was undertaking. Besides, psychology can only help people overcome irrational fears, not well-founded rational ones.

Evidence indicates that the people who turned down opportunities to leave, at the least feared to do so because, having already made over all their worldly goods to the Temple, they would be arriving destitute to make a fresh start in a culture from which they had separated themselves; and at the most, they feared they would be killed outright – as, in fact, they might have been, to judge by the murderous attack on the Leo Ryan departure.

The Larger Implications

In the larger context of human behaviour, this should remind us that it is useless to expect people to set out, even in spirit, from what they conceive to be the “safe” milieu, unless either their views as to the safe area and the dangerous area become reversed, or their fears about the venture are legitimately calmed. For instance, a lot of direct-thinking people would dislike the idea of being involved in activities, however innocent and aspiration, which they couldn’t discuss with family, friends or workmates for fear of causing religious shock or being considered a “nut,” or so forth. If workmates hear of it, furthermore, it may ultimately cause job loss; not, of course, that “the boss” would fire anyone for being an occultist or whatever, but we all make mistakes sometimes, and “the boss” might be more prompt to take the action he was entitled to with regard to a member of his staff who held way-out ideas anyhow, than he would in the case of a nice totally-accountable church member who made a similar mistake. Fear. That particular fear, of course, frequently comes to an end when the anxious person either resolves on a prudent silence until he hears with surprise of a few other people’s affiliations, or, better still, he feels he is so far into his chosen subject as to be able to give sane and adequate answers that will enable him to hold up his head with any critic.

No progress towards spiritual maturity is possible without freedom from major grounds of fear. That is another reason to support the increasing feeling of “the Aquarian spirit,” and why Occult bodies offering teachings of any kind should come out from the curtains of traditional secrecy, and allow all who are interested an intelligible picture of what the teachings are about, what method they follow and where they lead. People who wish to deepen their understanding of Life are entitled to be given, and to be enabled to pass on, a worthwhile account of these matters.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, in the St. Paul Dispatch of December 1, described the Guyana massacre as “the ultimate rebuke” to our civilization, that so many people chose to die with Jim Jones rather than to accept the alternatives offered by normal life. It is to be doubted profoundly whether any of those who died in the massacre ever once had the chance to see the matter as a clear-cut choice of that kind. They had been led away from reality step by step, by a leader who was himself progressively losing touch with reality. Paranoia is not chosen, it is a tragedy even when it involves only the one person. In this case, by a chain of circumstance, some of which could necessitate going back into past centuries to change, the protagonist was able to involve his followers intimately in his personal drama, departure from reality, and ruin, by professing a religion with strong theocratic and paternalist tendencies, by selecting followers who in some cases were made dependent by sickness or other misfortune, but in many cases were present largely because of their non-aggressiveness and capacity for hard work, and by being able to take them to a land sufficiently accessible, but left in a primitive condition by a succession of colonizing powers.

The concatenation of circumstances, with attendant elements of force, fraud and blackmail, certainly does not point to the deliberate rejection of civilization by the victims which William Buckley suggests, since they evidently believed they were leaving San Francisco simply to gain a greater good, which only the event itself proved to be illusory. Nor was the psychic disintegration of Jim Jones under the triple pressure of sickness, power and drugs, a simple example of that jungle “only a few yards away” from every human psyche which Meg Greenfield brings to our notice. On examination, it looks rather as if these tragic people were caught in a terrible conjunction of built-in hazards, a kind of “geological fault” in our cultural structure. Buckley is right when he says “there is no role here for the state,” meaning that the causal conditions cannot be put right by legislation. He quotes Montesquiei, who wrote of such episodes that “the whole passes between man and God.” As we would put it, it relates to the tension between lower self and higher self.

Robespierre wrote that there could be no true government by the will of the people until the people knew their True Will. That puts any hopes of real democracy some way ahead of us yet. But it does bring out a social aspect of our role as Occultists, which is often overlooked, that is, to help people understand their own nature, do their own thinking, keep their primal loyalty toward the Divine Flame within. No religious or political leader worthy of leadership could desire better followers than that.


The Poetry of Ernest Page

March 7th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

As it did in 2002, in 1957 the Aurum Solis underwent a schism. In the ’50s this split was due to the popularity of Masonic-style rituals such as those typified by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Those in favor of adopting a more Masonic approach to ritual left the Aurum Solis to form the Hermetic Order of the Sacred Word, or Ordo Sacri Verbi (OSV). In 1959 a remarkable man by the name of Ernest Page became the Warden of the OSV.

Ernest Page

Ernest Page, ca. 1960

Ernest Page would also become a mentor to a young Leon Barcynski (Osborne Phillips) before his death in 1966, but ever since he was a young man he had a passion for poetry. One of his poems is published in The Magical Philosophy, while another has been presented by the Astrum Sophia in issue 4 of the Ogdoadic Journal. Within the archives of the Astrum Sophia are contained some of his additional works, including the simply titled XIV Poems and a rare, delicately hand-bound booklet of poetry from Page’s involvement with a group of British poets known as The Saturdays (donated to the OAS by the last surviving member of the group). A favorite pastime of The Saturdays was to compose poems on a theme within the short span of 15 minutes. Here is one of those poems:

The Bridge by Ernest Page

Seeker of faery gold, what has set fire to your eyes?
– A bridge of colours seven, and I ride to Paradise.
Seeker, the bridge is faery, and bears neither steed nor men
– I ride seven years and a day, for I will cross it, and can.
Seeker, your vision is true, and your high-held heart is wise,
But you must walk under the bridge if you would find Paradise.

22nd May 1946

Ernest was also the subject of a poem himself, composed by his contemporary, A.C. Jacobs. His Collected Poems & Selected Translations (Menard Press: 1996) provides the context for this poem: “This description fits the astrologer Ernest Page who frequented the Soho coffee houses in the 1950s, and charged three shillings and sixpence for a consultation.”

The Astrologer by Arthur Jacobs

His flat and battered notebook
Is like grey parchment with symbols
Scrawled in its dust out of Babylon.

He will set, for three and sixpence,
Round your magic hour of birth
The stars that in their movements

Tell him the secrets your appearance
Chose for itself. He is no crank,
But a true survival from an ancient

Art that promises trends, not detailed
Incident. Consult him at your peril:
For whether or not his assured vision

Excites the protest of your intellect,
Past and future turn before his gaze,
Mortality lies naked beneath his fingertips.

The Tabor Formulation

June 23rd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

In the late ’70s and early ’80s Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips (Vivian and Leon Barcynski) wrote a number of “Practical Guides” for Llewellyn Publications. Targeting a much different audience than their seminal Magical Philosophy, these texts have largely been forgotten by modern occultists – perhaps with the exception of their exceedingly popular Guide to Astral Projection. These books are clearly a product of a time when magick, self-help, and the paranormal converged under the vague banner of “New Age,” and as such are mostly written in a style that is largely inaccessible or unappealing to modern occultists. Nonetheless, each Practical Guide contains a few kernels of wisdom and enough keen initiatic insight to justify the rest of the read. One such gem from their Practical Guide to the Development of Psychic Powers is the “Tabor Formulation.”

Transfiguration_by_Feofan_Grek_from_Spaso-Preobrazhensky_Cathedral_in_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(15th_c,_Tretyakov_gallery)The Tabor Formulation is a very simple meditation technique with roots in the monastic practices of the Hesychasts. The name derives from Mount Tabor, the Biblical site of Christ’s Transfiguration. This thus also refers to the theology of St. Gregory of Palamas, who taught that the light seen by the apostles on Mount Tabor was the “Uncreated Light” of God, and that this was the same spiritual phenomenon produced by the practices of Hesychasm. Denning and Phillips, in the Jan/Feb 1979 issue of Gnostica touch on the significance of Hesychastic practice with regard to the development of the doctrines of the subtle bodies in Western Esotericism:

In the thirteenth century, some monks in a Greek monastery were using a method of rhythmic breathing, so devised that they could utter the name of Jesus with every breath. They had, in fact, a mantram, and a system of breathing. Then one of the senior monks, who perhaps knew a little more than he said, began advising novices to add to this procedure the practice of fixing their gaze on the middle of their body. The results were most interesting, for having followed this exercise for some time, the monks began to perceive a distinct luminosity proceeding, it seemed, out of their physical bodies. When they made this known, as they seem to have done after about half a century, another monk called Barlaam, who came from Calabria, at once began making fun of them, calling the omphalo-psychoi, that is, men whose souls were in their navels. That was not the end of the matter, because another monk, this time belonging to Mount Athos, took sides with the ridiculed mystics and declared that the light they could see was none other than the light of the spiritual body, the light described as having been witnessed in the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. This monk from Athos was a considerable scholar: his name was Gregory Palamas and he later became Archbishop of Thessalonica; his opinions were in due course confirmed by the Orthodox Church. But we need not be surprised that the Hesychasts, as they came to be called, saw such a radiance when we recall that the Navel Centre is associated with the solar plexus.

The Tabor Formulation, then, is a redacted interpretation of the practice of Hesychasts. Instead of the Jesus Prayer, the practitioner may choose their own mantrams as relevant to their current program of practice. Here is the full formula as given in Psychic Powers:

Stage One: Simple Breathing – Lower your gaze, fixing it upon your navel or a point in that region. Breathe in an even, gentle manner as deeply as you can without strain. If your mind wanders, as soon as you notice bring it back gently but firmly to your breathing.

Stage Two: Awareness of the Light – Entering into the second stage of the meditation, on an in-breath be aware of a nebulous radiation of golden light, which is also a radiation of love, from just below your sternum; it seems to form a luminous cloud about midway between your navel (at which you continue to gaze down) and your chin.

You don’t have to do anything about that light. Simply be aware of it, of being illuminated by it, of being loved by it. Accept that awareness; don’t think about it, don’t even try to aspire to it. Just keep on being conscious of it, and of your breathing.

Stage Three: Silent Utterance – Retaining awareness of your breathing and of the light, silently “utter” mantrams – phrases or single words – which you feel to be suited to your meditation: formulate each word distinctly in your mind, but with no vocalization or movement of the mouth. You will need two mantrams to use together, one for the in-breath and one for the out-breath. Their chief purpose is to express in brief compass something of your essential relationship with the Cosmos. It is to affirm your bond of oneness with the Cosmos: that bond in which you are sustained by the beneficence of the Whole, at the same time participating actively in the Whole. You are a living and purposing component of it, giving forth again with blessing that which you receive.

Denning and Phillips give examples of suitable mantrams:

On an in-breath: Light and Life fill me.

On an out-breath: I share my abundance with all.


On an in-breath: Energy.

On an out-breath: Ecstasy!

For those practitioners of the Ogdoadic system of magick, some other mantrams present themselves, such as:

On an in-breath: KNOUPHIS.

On an out-breath: AGATHODAIMON.

The Clavis Mystica

September 22nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

En Giro Torte Sol Ciclos Et Rotor Igne – The Spiritual Sun has turned the Ages in a Circle and is their Mover with Fire – Such are the Words, such is the Greeting!

With these words do I greet you, dear reader, and inaugurate the first blog post here at the House of Adocentyn. What do these mysterious words mean? Where do they come from? How are they used in the Regenerative Mysteries of the Ogdoadic Tradition?

These eight words – EN GIRO TORTE SOL CICLOS ET ROTOR IGNE – are referred to in the Ogdoadic system of High Magick as the “Clavis Mystica.” Taken all together, they are a palindrome – reading the same forwards as they do backwards. The words are not easy to translate, being a mixture of medieval Greek and Latin, but we will return to that topic presently. The translation employed in our magical rituals is that which we have given: “The Spiritual Sun has turned the Ages in a Circle and is their Mover with Fire.” These words form the sacred heart of our mysteries and serve as a most perfect invocation of those Inner Plane powers – “the High Guardians, Hidden Adepti, Dwellers in Eternity” – who are the living and divine spirits which inspire the Ogdoadic Tradition.

The city of Florence, Italy in the 15th Century was home to some of the greatest minds of the Renaissance. Chief among these was Marsilio Ficino who history records as the leader of the Platonic Academy, a subset of of which the Ogdoadic Tradition holds practiced the arts of Orphic theurgy. A little less than 200 years prior, another group of philosophers in Florence – to whom we also trace our lineage – was inducting a young poet into their society of mystical love: Dante Alighieri. It should come as no surprise then, that these antecedents of the Astrum Sophia would have been quite familiar with this palindrome. They would have known these words from the beautiful marble inlay on the floor of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, where they encircle an image of the Sun. You can trace the footsteps of these and many other past initiates and still view this sight today inside the eight-sided Baptistery of Florence which is situated in the Piazza del Duomo.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, Italy


The Clavis Mystica on the floor of the Baptistery. Image from


A rendering of the inlay from the Institute and Museum of the History of Science:

This section of floor has long since been moved from its original location, but when Dante and Ficino were gazing on it they would have seen that it was constructed as a “gnomon”: every year at exactly midday on the Summer Solstice the rays of the sun would shine through a specially constructed oculus in the ceiling of the Baptistery and illuminate this inlay. Note that the Summer Solstice approximates the date of the Feast Day of Saint John, after whom the Baptistery is named and who figures prominently (at least in the recorded accusations and confessions) in the tradition of the Knights Templar, who we also hold to be antecedents of our regenerative mysteries. Legend holds that the whole work of art was designed and executed by the 11th century astronomer and poet, Strozzo Strozzi whose tomb was discovered beneath the floor over 400 years later.

Let us return to the question of translation. Over the ages, a few similar translations have been proposed: “Phoebus drives on oblique, his fiery car” (Starke 1828); “Behold, I the sun turn the orbits obliquely, and am turned by fire.” (Giusti 2000); “Behold, I the Sun turn and rotate the seasons with unequal amount of daylight” (MacCracken 2001); “With my fire I, the sun, make the circles move around and I move around too” (Florence Art Guide). It can be seen in each translation, as John Graham of the OAS House of Thoth has noted in his article on Florence, that this could easily be interpreted as a bold statement of the heretical idea of heliocentrism proclaimed openly in the heart of the most famous Baptistery almost half a millennium before Copernicus and Bruno came under fire for similar ideas. The translation employed in the Ogdoadic Tradition (“The Spiritual Sun has Turned the Ages in a Circle and is their Mover with Fire”) can be understood by interpreting CICLOS as derived from κύκλος (the transliteration of upsilons into iotas was common following the Greek vowel shift) in its attested usage as “the cycles of time”, “seasons,” Aeons, etc. Further, the addition of the adjective “spiritual” in our usage serves to distinguish that here we are discussing no mere astronomical observation, but a fundamental dynamic engendered by the Sun-behind-the-Sun (as in the Isha Upanishad, from which the Astrum Sophia’s solar adoration is derived).

But what does it mean to “turn the ages in a circle?” For an explanation of this we can turn to the Corpus Hermeticum, a body of work first translated into Latin by the aforementioned Florentine, Marsilio Ficino. The following quote, from book 11 verse 15 of the Corpus Hermeticum (transl. by Salaman & van Oyen) is brilliantly lucid in this regard (and indeed, it has been included for use in the ritual given at the end of this post):

Eternity is the image of God; the cosmos, of eternity; the sun, of the cosmos; and man, of the sun. People call transformation death, because the body is dissolved, but in fact life withdraws into the unmanifest.  I shall tell you, as you are listening with such reverence, my beloved Hermes, that all these things that have been thus dissolved and indeed the cosmos, are transformed. Each day a part of the cosmos withdraws into the unmanifest, but the cosmos is never dissolved. This is what happens to the cosmos, these are its cycles and its mysteries. The cycles are a continual rotation and the mystery is the renewal.

The daily withdrawal of the cosmos is the principal concept here, symbolized to the ancients by the setting of the Sun – the well-known journey of Ra and other solar gods through the underworld. This is of course followed by the dawn: this is the Regeneration, the rebirth of the Adept after the sojourn of the darkness – the manifestation of the Octave. Thus is this palindrome (whose very orthographic structure symbolizes the cycles of “continual rotation” and renewal) truly a fitting Key of the Ogdoadic Mysteries.

It is helpful to understand how the Clavis Mystica is used in the context of Ogdoadic ritual work. As mentioned, the palindrome is seen by itself as an invocation of the Inner Plane contacts of the Ogdoadic Tradition; but it also forms a part of a specific invocation of these Hidden Adepti as part of a longer invocation known as the “Ogdoadic Catena” (or “Ogdoadic Chain”). Similarly, the Clavis Mystica features prominently in the Order’s Consecration of the Mystical Tessera, which can be found in Mysteria Magica by Denning and Phillips. The Tessera is a special tile of wood which holds a central place upon our bomos (“altar”) and which signifies the Bond of Holy Light in which all initiates of the Ogdoadic Mysteries share. Likewise, the Formula of the Grail (ibid.) culminates in the utterance of this sacred phrase, acknowledging the central importance of the Grail to the Regeneration of the Adept in the Rite of Elevation (also known as the Rite of Palingenesis: the initiation ritual of the Third Hall of the OAS, conferring the grade of Adeptus Minor). Accordingly, the Clavis Mystica and the Ogdoadic Catena invoke a very distinct and very lofty level of forces into a working; the Clavis is thus not present, for instance, in works of evocation, consecration of lesser implements, or the foundational rites of Warding and the Calyx.

The following exercise is simple in its construction but profound in its depth (indeed, a more elaborate formulation of similar structures forms a vital Inner Order working within the OAS). It is a method for direct exploration of the Clavis Mystica through ritual work and can also serve as a nice introduction to the Ogdoadic current for anyone desiring to tune in to the energies of the Tradition. As it is written, it assumes some familiarity with the Ogdoadic material but this is not essential for anyone wishing to experiment. To briefly cover some of the points which may be obscure: the magical ring is the key implement for the Ogdoadic magician and when wearing it he or she fully assumes their Magical Personality, which is a constructed persona adopted strictly for the duration of the rite and then removed; and the lamp may be an actual oil lamp or a simple candle upon the bomos/altar.

A Meditation on the Clavis Mystica

Begin the rhythmic breath. Assume the Wand posture. Don your Ring and, simultaneously, your Magical Personality.

Perform the Setting of the Wards of Power, or another preparatory rite.

Take a lit taper candle, and light the Lamp upon the Bomos by tracing the letter Psi (Ψ) thusly: first, in silence, trace the “cup”; then, while exhaling “HA” trace the descending vertical and simultaneously light the wick of the Lamp. Reflect upon the symbolism of the Lamp: situated within the center of your circle, it is Tiphareth, the Sun sphere and the Heart of the Worlds. Its source of power is the Ruach Elohim – the Divine Spirit – of which it is the manifestation.

Now carry the taper to the eastern limit of your circle, raise it aloft, and vibrate EN.

Carry the taper back to the eastern side of the Bomos and touch its flame to the flame of the lamp. Continuing clockwise, carry the taper to the southeast of the circle, raise it on high and vibrate GIRO.

Return to the southeast of the Bomos and again join the flames. Repeat this through all the quarters and cross quarters:

South: TORTE

Southwest: SOL


Northwest: ET

North: ROTOR

Northeast: IGNE

Upon returning to the northeast of the Bomos and touching the flame of the taper to the flame of the lamp, move once again to the East side of the Bomos, face east, and raise the taper in salute, vibrating the complete Clavis Mystica: EN GIRO TORTE SOL CICLOS ET ROTOR IGNE. (Note: the magician may also at this point desire to trace the lines of the interlaced octagram in a vertical plane in conjunction with the palindrome, as described in The Consecration of the Mystical Tessera in Mysteria Magica by Denning and Phillips.)

Turning clockwise, proceed to the west of the Bomos, facing east. Extinguish the candle and replace it on the Bomos.

Read aloud the full Ogdoadic Catena, holding within your heart your true aspiration to invoke thereby the Living Powers of the Ogdoadic Tradition, that you may be filled with divine inspiration and abundance of light and life.

Be seated and assume the God-form posture. Read aloud, slowly and with attention given to the meaning of the text, one or all of the following passages from the Corpus Hermeticum (translations given are from Salaman, et al. in The Way of Hermes):

Nous, the Creator, together with the Word, encompassing the spheres and spinning them round with a rushing motion, caused those things he had made to revolve and he allowed them to revolve from no fixed beginning to an end without limit, for it begins where it ends.

O that you could grow wings and fly up into the air, and that, poised between earth and heaven, you might see the firmness of earth, the liquidity of the sea, the course of the rivers and the free flow of the air, the piercing fire, the revolution of the stars, the swiftness of the heavenly movement encircling all these things. What most blessed vision, O son, to behold all that in one moment; the unmoving being moved, the unmanifest being made manifest through what it creates! This is the very order of the universe and this is the beauty of the order.

Eternity is the image of God; the cosmos, of eternity; the sun, of the cosmos; and man, of the sun. People call transformation death, because the body is dissolved, but in fact life withdraws into the unmanifest.  I shall tell you, as you are listening with such reverence, my beloved Hermes, that all these things that have been thus dissolved and indeed the cosmos, are transformed. Each day a part of the cosmos withdraws into the unmanifest, but the cosmos is never dissolved. This is what happens to the cosmos, these are its cycles and its mysteries. The cycles are a continual rotation and the mystery is the renewal.

Now, affirm your Magical Personality, and direct your attention to the Rhythmic Breath. Meditate on that which you have done, and said, and felt. After a sufficient amount of time, conclude the working with the standard closing battery of 3-5-3 (either upon a bell, or simply as knocks upon the Bomos). Record your thoughts and impressions in your magical journal.