Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Magical Lodge at Ritual

In the late 80s I was very involved with Western Esotericism, which is sometimes called "occultism" by people who don't approve of it. Unlike greeny, emotional Neo-Paganism, it offered an urban, intellectual, complex path for cerebral types like me who were unsatisfied with simple-minded ordinary religion. Western Esotericism also had neat graphics, a colorful symbol system, and lots of interesting mythology and role-playing. It also had the possibility, no matter how fantastic or unreal, of actually causing changes in the "real world" by magical means, that is, a magical technology.

The means that Western Esotericism used were rituals. By the late 19th century, scholarly mystical types had put together a coherent body of occult symbolism and ritual, derived from European Renaissance magic, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Tarot, Freemasonry, and alchemy. This cultural collection was used in occult groups such as the Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucians. By the late 20th century, the "Western Tradition" had been standardized so that most Euro-American occultists recognized a common set of symbols. For instance, this included the use of four colors (blue, red, green, yellow, three primaries and one secondary), four Archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel) and the four directions, used especially in Freemasonic ritual.

That's what's in this painting of mine, done in 1989. It depicts an idealized group of ritualists, who have their own church-like ritual space, their own custom vestments, and best of all, real magical powers to make things light up. There's one chief celebrant for each color, and the environment is loaded with symbols (such as flags, lanterns, lettering, glowing bits, and checkerboard floor). I added the occult motto "As Above, So Below" translated into Latin above the colonnade. I designed the vestments for two male and two female celebrants. I also designed the banners held by the acolytes. The golden winged sun above the apse is from alchemical illustrations. There are more things that I threw in there for people to find.

This picture is fantasy because the celebrants are actually doing visible magic. Real magic, altering reality by the use of symbols and symbolic actions, is much trickier, and scarier. This Lodge is doing the kind of ritual that I and my esoteric friends longed to do: pretty, introspective, and very much on the side of the good angels.

"Magical Lodge" is watercolor and other media on illustration board, 20" x 16", July 1989.

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