I got interested in reading this book after hearing Alan Chapman’s interview on Buddhist Geeks. Alan (as well as Duncan) is not Buddhist, but he is definitely a geek. He is also a magician, meaning a practitioner of Magick (with a “k”), an expert in the Western occult tradition that encompasses Gnosticism, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Alchemy, etc–that is, everything Christians love to hate. Now, I was aware of these traditions before, but my consciousness of them as a viable path to spiritual awakening was pretty dim. But suddenly here was this guy, an occultist, claiming to be enlightened, and equating this with the Buddhist fourth path–i.e. arhatship. Well, I had to know more about this.
I’ve come to the conclusion, after watching a lot of videos and rooting around on occult-based websites, that Alan Chapman, not to mention his tradition, is the real deal; he is what he says he is and should be listened to. Is it Buddhism? No. But it incorporates many things that will be familiar to Buddhists, particularly those rooted in the Tibetan/Tantric tradition.
Consider the definition of Magick–called the “Royal Art”–offered on page 236:
Magick is the art, science and culture of experiencing truth.
This definition includes both subjective and relative truth (or perception), and objective and absolute truth (or enlightenment).
Any act therefore is an act of magick, if awareness is brought to that action. The practice of magick is the exercise and growth of conscious awareness, an expansion of the self in all directions and on all levels of experience.
In simplest terms then, magick is any action performed with clear awareness of intention and experience, with the purpose of experiencing the Absolute or Truth. Assuming I’ve got this right, I’d say that as a life project it would be hard for any self-respecting Buddhist to quarrel with either the aim or method.
Central to the path of Magick is “Knowledge and Conversation With the Holy Guardian Angel.” Briefly, the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) is your perfected magical self, or an entity that watches over you, or your higher self, or, most likely, all of these and more. While in Buddhism (again, except the Vajrayana), self-effort is key, in Magick the goal is surrender to the Absolute, which is what the Angel is or represents. One invokes the Angel, asks for guidance, and this manifests as spontaneous teachings timed to your level of development. These could come via dreams, synchronicities, oracles (e.g. the Tarot), or regular people. Think of the Angel as one standing on the Far Shore of enlightenment, reaching out to you, and the Dark Night (called in this tradition “the Abyss”) as the river between you and It. By invoking the Angel, accepting its guidance and ultimately identifying with It, you cross the Abyss (=ego-death) and complete the Great Work. This, in brief, is the course charted in this book.
The text itself is a miscellany. Two lengthy parts start it off, each detailing a year in the magical life of one of the authors. I would characterize these sections as exploratory, almost conversational, in nature. Indeed, they are conversations of a sort, often being diary entries recording dreams, practices, events and interpretations of those events (i.e. magical results). Clearly both men have gone through identity crises as well as crises of confidence, mystical experiences, illuminating dreams, bizarre synchronicities, and many other spiritual manifestations. Out of these personal explorations come what constitutes the later sections of the book, “The Higher Ground” and “On the Path,” made up of essays on a wide variety of topics. These include models of magickal progression, the Zen ox-herding pictures, Ken Wilber in various guises (including reviews of his books), divination, samadhi, LAM, Austin Osman Spare, why there’s a K in “magick,” Rudolf Steiner, nondualism, and many, many more things. The book really is a hodgepodge, for the simple reason the essays were taken from what was originally a website called The Baptist’s Head where the two posted their magickal musings. As a result, there is not much of a sense of flow in these latter sections of the book, though the articles are never dull. In fact, I would say both Alan and Duncan are fine writers, inquisitive, insightful, with a lot of magickal/spiritual experience under their belts. In conclusion, if you are at all interested in alternative spiritual paths, the Western occult tradition, or practices to supplement your more standard Buddhist fare, this is a work–and two authors–you will find interesting and rewarding.
P.S. I should note also this is the first of a trilogy of books detailing their progress in their art, culminating in their completion of the Great Work. The two following are The Urn and A Desert of Roses. Alan is also the solo author of a primer on the Western occult tradition entitled Advanced Magick For Beginners, which was the specific topic of the Buddhist Geeks interview. Duncan maintains a website entitled Occult Experiments In the Home.
My Amazon rating: 4 stars