White Magic as a Western Yoga-Double Edited FINAL EDIT HALF DONE




Nevill Drury


As you walk through the streets of Sydney today you may be accosted by a quietly spoken, demure and unaggressive person who asks mildly: 'Are you interested in finding out about Truth?' He is a follower of the Christian-Korean teachings embodied in the mysticism of evangelist Sun Moon. A few shop doorways further along, perhaps in a more central or open area, dance the orange-robed Hare Krishnas, one beating upon a large table drum while others chant their familiar mantra. And in between may hover and dart, with flashing eyes and unyielding enthusiasm, the proponents of the doctrine of Kahoutek, the millenarian prophets heralding a new era and the decline of the old, the Children of God, to come.


Elsewhere we discover that a more sinister expression is also taking hold among those inclined towards the more unusual forms of religious and quasi-religious activity. For those inclined towards the faith of Wicca the age old practices of Witchcraft a commercialised rendition of the Black Mass is announced on a billboard, in garish green and black; a world premiere in Kings Cross. All the diabolical phantasy and eroticism that you always suspected really went on behind closed doors in the secret meetings of the coven are here revealed for the uninitiated.


Mean while the ambivalent expressions of the formerly notorious, and perhaps unjustly maligned Aleister Crowley appear here and there around bookshop windows. Crowley, in the twenties and thirties acquired a reputation as 'The Great Beast' for his particular brand of sexual magic which demanded locating the Scarlet Whore of Babalon as his cosmic partner. Together in a union of mythological opposites they would incarnate the new Aeon of Horus, the age of the everlasting Son foretold by the Book of Revelation.(1)


Even in Sydney, often thought of as a backwater of the Underground movement rather than a frontier, Guru Maharaj Ji, Meher Baba, Moses David, Hermann Hesse, Tolkien, Baba Ram Dass and L. Ron Hubbard, as well as those mentioned above, all have a devoted 'evangelical" following in a fabric of mystical belief which weaves itself among the folds of orthodox religion.


To a large extent this fragmentation of appeal hearkens back to the United States in the early sixties when young people in particular, including many who had had profound spiritual experiences under hallucinogens, especially LSD and marijuana, were searching for religious frameworks which could provide relevant insights into what had happened personally to them. In those days some of the above-named sects and groups were not so prevalent. More important perhaps were the various branches of Buddhism - Zen and Mahayana in particular - which had developed an intellectual and literary following in California. Names like Allen Ginsburg, Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard spring to mind as part of a mystical coterie which in a sense provided a boost for both the popular understanding of Oriental religion (Buddhism as mentioned, and also Vedanta) and psychedelia.


Drugs, Mysticism and Enlightenment  Aldous Huxley, who had documented his experiments under Mescalin in the Fifties (2), and who had become a Mahayana Buddhist, is perhaps the one man to whom the still-continuing debate about the validity of the drug-induced mystical experience can be traced. As he lay dying in November 1963, his wife gave him a dose of LSD which was designed to lift his consciousness into the more positive and spiritual realms of visionary experience. His study of the Tibetan Book of the Dead had made it clear that there was an art to dying which would allow the deific rather than the demonic recesses of the mind to appear first in the after-death vision. Huxley's wife wanted to assist him in relieving any pain, and in helping him to ride out his life on the wave of a transcendental experience.


One of Huxley's greatest admirers was Timothy Leary, the Harvard Doctor of Philosophy who was to be dismissed from the Faculty of Psychology for his experiments with hallucinogens and his alleged use of 'human guinea pigs'. Three months before Huxley's death Leary related before a meeting of mostly Lutheran psychologists gathered in Philadelphia how in 1960, he, like Huxley, had eaten 'the flesh of the gods'. A scientist had given him seven 'sacred mushrooms' (the type regarded as sacramental by the Aztecs) and for five hours Leary had been whirled through an experience which was in his own words 'above all and without question, the deepest religious experience of my life …’ (3)


For Leary and his followers the drug itself, whether Cannabis, LSD, Mescalin or Yage, was nothing other than a catalyst which, used in the right way, could elevate the mind to such a degree that it produced visionary, transcendental effects. Leary and his colleagues Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass), produced at this time a remarkable book called The Psychedelic Experience which was designed to show the connection between dying and getting high, an idea which may not have been very much known outside Huxley's circle at the time. Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead which describes different levels of consciousness in which the disembodied mind finds itself after death, Leary's book provided for the first time a structure or framework for tripping which would allow one to ascend to heaven or plunge into the imagery of hell.


More recently it has become important to attain these mystical heights without the use of hallucinogenic aids. However in the early years a tab was regarded as a feasible pathway to an ascending spiral of white light, and it is important to note that a drug-induced religious experience is not necessarily 'artificial'. LSD-25 is structurally similar to the substance serotonin which is stored in the pineal gland in the brain, and the essence of transcendental mysticism is to activate the 'chakras' or energy centres of the central nervous system, and in so-doing open the 'third eye', which many people believe to be the pineal gland, since this gland is aratomically analagous to a light-sensitive organ in the large extinct reptiles.


The techniques of disciplined breathing are well known to adherents of yoga, and this practice alters the amount of oxygen in the blood, which in turn has a chemical effect on the brain, causing visionary effects similar to those under LSD. Fasting and sensory deprivation (that is, reducing the scope of what is visible before the eyes whether in darkness, or in concentration upon a fixed point or image) are also ways of enhancing these hallucinatory effects.


Yogis spend many years learning suitable 'asanas', or postures, which will give them mastery of their bodies allowing the currents of energy to be aroused correctly, and mystics in many places have stringent dietary and fasting habits. Christ's own fastings in the wilderness are an example of this.


In view of these things, it is understandable that many orthodox Middle-Americans who had a white-chapel version of their creed, were a little taken aback when men like Leary and the brilliant, former Anglican cleric Alan Watts, suggested that drugs could inspire genuine religious realisations. It all seemed too easy. It was too direct. Not enough self-sacrificing 'ground work' had been covered.


Now at the same time that Buddhism and Hinduism (to which Leary subscribed) were flourishing in California and elsewhere, what have been variously described as the 'Occult Sciences' were also commanding renewed attention.


People were discovering that if you meditated on Tarot cards you could bring about specific types of altered consciousness; you could explore that part of the subconscious mind which you most wanted to look into.


The Tarot and the Qaballah: a Western Yoga  There are seventy-eight cards in a Tarot deck, and these are divided into the Major Arcana which consists of twenty-two 'court cards' and fifty-six Lesser Arcana which resemble the non-court cards of the standard playing pack. The Major Arcana consists of such cards as 'The Magus', 'The High Priestess' 'The Wheel of Life' and 'The Charioteer', and incorporates images which are designed to trigger a response in the mind when a person meditates upon them, or identifies with them. A French magician called Eliphas Levi first pointed out, in 1856, that the cards of the Major Arcana were also significant for another reason. They were pathways, if you like, upon a framework of the mind called The Tree of Life, which was a symbol sacred to the ancient Jews and the central idea of the 'Qabalah'. The 'Qabalah' is in itself many things: it is an esoteric explanation of the Creation and Genesis, and it has a lot to say about the Fall of Man being a drop in the level of consciousness from the sacred heights down to the profane, human level. The prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to the Messiah who could lead the way back to the Supreme Levels of Mind in the Universe. That is another story in itself. Meanwhile the Qabalah was taken up again by the ritual magicians in England towards the end of the last century.


Interestingly, it is the books written by many of these occultists that have now become standard texts of the contemporary Underground. Men like Arthur Edward Waite who wrote commentaries on the Tarot and the Rosicrucians; Aleister Crowley author of numerous magical treatises (some of the original texts now belong to the collection of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page who owns Crowley's retreat Boleskine); and the Nobel Prize-winning poet W.B. Yeats who incorporated the symbols of his visions into his poetry, were all important members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This Society, which had several Temples in England, and even one in Paris, has provided the archetypal font for much of the current occult-revival outpourings.


This brings us to an important idea, namely that in the West, Magic in its 'highest' aspect constitutes an important equivalent to Eastern Yoga. Both are forms of mystical training towards the discovery of the Self, and the progressive unfolding of man's spiritual origin; towards his hidden potential, and a more enlightened direction in his perception of his environment, and people.


Despite its somewhat jaded connotations in the popular mind, Western Magic is the product of a certain type of mystical thinking which has prevailed for thousands of years and which has had its outpourings in certain of the world's great religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Orphism; in some of its major heresies like Gnosticism, Catharism and Mithraism, and in the Greek philosophical systems which eventually helped to form Neoplatonism—among whose members could be found Iamblichus and Julian the Magician.


This type of thinking sees the Creation as a type of unfolding process. In the Beginning, a type of pervasive, latent, unmanifested Energy is the sole Reality. Gradually by a process of 'precipitation', variable images and creative potencies become more tangible, and progressively more 'real' until we arrive at the manifested Cosmos as we know it in our dimension.


Thus in the Persian Gathas, allegedly written by Zaeathustra himself, Ahura Mazda is seen as the Creator of all things, and encompasses both Good and Evil, which proceed from Him as the basic conflict of all life forms in the battle between growth and decay. This concept found its way into Gnosticism which was a type of pagan, Hellenistic reaction to Christianity. But it borrowed the deity Abraxas from the Persian god of Time, Zurvan, and embodied in him the duality of both good and evil. Judaism, in its esoteric form, the Qabalah, placed central emphasis on the symbolism of the Tree of Life.


Briefly, the Tree consists of three Pillars representing the active, the passive and the harmonized forces in the Cosmos. The act of Creation, according to the ancient Qabalists, proceeded in a type of 'lightning flash' which zig-zagged its way down from the 'pure energy' level through all the levels on the Tree of Life to the physical at the bottom.


These levels could be referred to in one sense as levels of consciousness. Man, or at least, mystical man, has to retrace his way upwards from his lowly restricted state of being if he would wish to gain Cosmic Consciousness.


It may not be immediately obvious where Magic fits in to all this. The answer is that the Magician determines by an act of Will to undertake an inner journey of the mind which is the exact reverse of the ‘lightning flash', and which will systematically enlarge his consciousness.


Carl Jung and the 'Archetypes' of the Unconscious  At this point it is necessary to refer to a concept which has fallen into academic disrepute, particularly among behavioural psychologists, and that is Carl Jung's idea of 'archetypes'. According to Jung, man has been subject throughout his existence to certain recurring physical events. These include, for example, the witnessing of the passage of the Sun through the sky each day, its 'death' at nightfall, and its 'rebirth' with the new dawn. He has also observed the rage of the elements: wind; floods; uncontrolled fire, perhaps caused by lightning; the unpredictable nature of a landslide and so on, and he has formed as part of his thinking processes the notion that Nature is the embodiment of forces in flux. Consequently he visualised these forces in non-abstract, anthropomorphic forms so that they became personified as deities. Jung claimed as a result of his psychoanalysis of dreams that imagery was present in the subconscious of each of his patients that could not be attributed to individual memory, but which instead represented a much more deeply embedded primeval mythology.


Deep in all our minds are subconscious representations of the Sun, Moon, planets, elements and the basic experiences of growth, decay and rebirth as witnessed in the cycle of the Seasons, personifications, too, of the Great Father and the Great Mother. 


Jung called these profound images, which have inspired great art, music and poetry, 'archetypes'. It seems to be the case that many of the major religions of both East and West have produced deities which correlate along these lines. Heinrich Zimmer, for instance, compares Shiva and Shakti, the Great Father and Mother, with the Greek Zeus and Hera, and the Chinese Yang and Yin. We find, universally, deities which symbolise rebirth too: in ancient Egypt, Osiris; in Hellenistic Greece, Persephone (the new seed of wheat), and Christ.


The archetype is the 'core meaning', for individual cultures impose their own particular imagery. In medieval Europe, Christ was represented as wearing robes and a crown appropriate to that era, and an Eastern devotee could very well visualise Christ with Asiatic features without invalidating the basic symbolism.


The Journey upon the Tree of Life  Returning to the role of the Magician, we find that he visualises his aim as a mental journey into the subconscious where he will experience visions of deities, or archetypes, which will awe and revivify him. He uses as his basis the Qabalistic Tree of Life because by its very nature it allows a sort of compartmentalising or structuring of the deities which he hopes to encounter in a systematic exploration of the subconscious imagery (see illustration).


According to the esoteric Jewish teachings, the Tree of Life represented in a metaphorical way, the Body of God. Since man was created in the image of God, he had within his subconscious, imagery pertaining to all of the levels of consciousness reaching up to the highest level of One-ness with the Godhead. In the Qabalah, these levels of consciousness or Sephirah had the following names in order of descent: Kether, the Crown; Chokmah, the Father (Wisdom); Binah, the Mother (Understanding); Chesed, Mercy; Geburcth, Severity; Tiphareth, the Son (Harmony and Beauty); Netzach, Victory; Hod, Splendour; Yesod, the Foundation and Malkuth, the Daughter (Mother Earth). These ten aligned themselves into the three Pillars which have already been mentioned (see diagram also); the outer two being the Pillar of Mercy headed by the Great Father and the Pillar of Severity headed by the Great Mother. (Regrettably, from the viewpoint of Women's Liberation, the Male is seen traditionally as the giver of the life-force and the Female as the recipient. This was also represented mystically as the descent of Spirit into Matter, and thus the Female unfortunately has always been portrayed in unflattering terms as the embodiment of matter (maya, illusion) as the sad Mother (Mary) and as negativity.) Above both the Father and the Mother on the Tree lies the Origin of All, Kether, and together these three form the Trinity. Beneath them lies the Garden of Eden (spiritual consciousness), with its four rivers: Chesed, Geburah, Netzach and Hod—converging in Tiphareth, the centre of the Divine Son who resides in the focal point of the Tree of Life. Netzach itself represents the forces of Nature and Love; Hod, its opposite, symbolises rational Intellect. Below these we find Yesod, seat of the imagery of the lower subconscious and the sex-instinct, and finally Malkuth representing physical manifestation.




In Western Magic, especially that practised in the important occult Order of the Golden Dawn (from which nearly all aspects of the modern 'occult revival' flow), the Magician follows the inner path of the archetypes from Malkuth up to Tiphareth, the level of consciousness associated with spiritual rebirth. To do this he must imagine that he is partaking of the nature of each of the gods in turn, and embodying into his own nature their very being. This is what a ritual is all about. It will control all the circumstances which will assist him on his mental journey of the imagination. It will embody all the symbols and colours of the god, the utterance of magical Names of Power, the taking of a relevant sacrament (hallucinatory or otherwise) and the burning of incense appropriate to the deity concerned.


Ritual Aspects  The Magician stands in his Temple, which represents the Universe. He enters and redefines the magical Circle as the boundary within which all his creative activities will occur. He will exert considerable concentration so that he is the master of all that is invoked. Upon the Altar within the Circle are placed the cup of Holy Oil, the Wand, the Sword and the Pentacle, familiar to those who recall the symbolism of the Tarot card The Magus. The Magician wears a Crown, representing aspiration to the Divine, a Robe (anonymity), a Breastplate containing appropriate magical ciphers, and holds his Holy Book from which he reads texts relevant to his Ritual. All of his actions and all of the apparatus of his ceremony are designed to enflame the imagination in a controlled way, to bring under the Magician's scope certain deified aspects of his own subconscious. The Magician imagines that he has become the deity whose forms he has imitated in ritual. The process of gods ruling man is now reversed so that the Magician rules the gods. It is now the Magician who utters the sacred names which sustain the Macrocosm. He will 'enter' the subconscious at the lowest level, Malkuth (which equates with the Earth), and he will proceed inwards to a vision of the Moon, which is associated heavily with sexual imagery hence the link between the Moon goddess Hecate and the Witches with their erotic sabbats—and he will eventually arrive at the level of consciousness represented by the Sun. Associated with this are gods of rebirth (Osiris-Christ) in their capacity as givers of Life and Light.


Some Magicians take what in a sense is the most 'direct' route by travelling up what has been called the Middle Pillar. This is the central column of the Tree. The path is upwards from Malkuth, through Yesod to Tiphareth. In such a direction, lies 'enlightenment'.


The Magician differs from the religious devotee through his consciously made venture into the depths of the mind where he believes lie all the spiritual energies which have inspired man. He subscribes to the idea that his own salvation, as with Buddhism, is entirely up to his own will and effort. It is possible that this may seem initially rather selfish. However a transformation soon occurs because the mystical journey takes him up in to the 'Universals of his mind, and correspondingly reduces the notion of ‘I’.


As in Yoga, the ego subsides as the practitioner comes increasingly to identify with something much greater than the individualised awareness.


Conclusion  Whereas it is undoubtedly true that the more bizarre and notorious aspects of magic are the best known—Crowley's escapades in the sex-Abbey of Cefalu and the attention paid to warlocks like Alex Sanders and Anton La Vey for example,—it seems to me that one clear phenomenon underlies the growth of interest in magic.


Certain people, especially the young, are looking for an alternative 'religious' expression. In some cases drug consumption has poured forth a torrent of subconscious symbolism in hallucinogenic visions. Christianity and most other forms of orthodox religion lack a perspective for explaining the fact that for some, such experiences have been spiritually profound4. Magic and the Tarot however, with their symbolic and 'archetypal' structures, do offer some type of explanation.


Again, magic does not provide, as Sir James Frazer thought, a precursor to religion and science, but rather a frame of reference that is in a sense between the two. Magic is pragmatic, concerning itself with experiences and effects. It is not surprising that during two periods in recent history, the 1890s and the present when there was disillusionment with both Christianity and technology—that people should find in magical thought some kind of alternative.5


Yoga begins with the individual and offers him a means of expanding his awareness, of transcending his present horizons of consciousness. Magic, with its Tree of Life and Tarot components offers much the same sort of thing again, a type of symbolic inroad into the mazeways of the mind.


Although at first it might have seemed odd, and even a reversal into 'superstition', the growth of interest in occultism is in fact a by-product of the search for a new religion in a scientific age.



Tarot cards depicting traditional symbolism. From the Paul Foster case Pack, couresty B.O.T.A.


The Tarot cards are a superb adjunct to the levels upon the Tree of Life. The Major Tarot Trumps, that is to say the ones equating with modern 'court cards', form by their symbolism 'meditative doorways' to recesses in the mind. The cards are the Paths between the Qabalistic spheres of consciousness. To take examples we will consider the Tarot cards relevant to the mental journey between Malkuth and Tiphareth.


The Tarot card of The World shows a naked woman (actually a hermaphrodite since she is 'neutral') within a wreath of wheat sacred to Perspehone, who, apart from representing the process of rebirth (the seasons of the year) was also goddess of the Underworld (which equates with the Unconscious). In the corners of the Card are the four symbols of the resurrection: the Kerubimic Man, Lion, Eagle and Ox. The Magician now travels along the Path of Tau to Yesod, the Moon.


He must now use the card Temperance which traditionally features an Angel, shown pouring the waters of Life from the right hand while bearing a torch in the left. The Angel who is probably Raphael, stands meditating between a fiery lion and an eagle, traditionally lords of Earth and Air. In Classical mythology when we combine the lion and the eagle we have griffin, and it is that the griffin is not only a symbol of the Sun, but also of Apollo and Christ, both gods of Light.


In a sense the Card also shows that man has conquered his animal nature in favour of the spiritual, and the Magician finds himself revivified by the energy of the Sun, and the Light of Harmony and Well-being.


1 The best account is contained in Kenneth Grant’s The Magical Revival (London, 1972).

2 Aldous Huxley: The Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell, Chatto and Windus, London 1954.

3 Timothy Leary: The Politics of Ecstasy, Paladin, (London, 1970) p. 13. 

4 See the article 'Drugs and the Mystical Experience': Q. Stuart, Cosmos Vol. I, No. 8.

5 These were times, it is fair to say, that also brought forth compromises: Christian Science in the first instance, and the second, the first expression of a space-age religion : Erich Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods.


Back to top