“The purpose of silence,” says the famous Kabbalist Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, “is to harmonize all the disparate aspects of the psyche” (Halevi 94). But how is this so? Why is the adept noted as much for his quiet as he is for his magic? Indeed, one of the most striking and enigmatic symbols in the Western mysteries is the gesture of bringing the index finger to the lips. On the surface this posture communicates the necessity of secrecy. And on a deeper, hidden level it demonstrates a secret of true power.
The New Age is known for magical power: energetic healing, astral projection, divination, psychic protection, life-changing affirmations. These subjects arise from the legends of mystics and magicians famous for the strange phenomena that surrounded them. Examining the lives of these men and women, however, will reveal that they did not develop such external powers intentionally. They practiced instead the discipline of delving into a secret place within, into the true nature of the Self. It was only incidental that, as they penetrated to this hidden sanctuary, various abilities manifested. They began to recall past lives. They could project their astral bodies. Their environments began to cooperate with them, fulfilling their intentions without any effort on their part. They could see other places in the mind’s eye and allegedly do all manner of strange feats, such as walk on water, appear in two places at once, and live for hundreds of years.
Many such masters warned their students not to value spiritual work for its special effects, but people still pursue magical powers today like so many puppies enamored with their own tails. The all-to-human lust for results, unfortunately for them, runs contrary to the spiritual discipline that produces such results. A preoccupation with the “noisy” outward manifestations of power serves only to lead the student of magic away from the very power he seeks, the source of which lies concealed in quietude.
When the student begins to study magic in the Golden Dawn tradition, the very first grade he enters teaches him the most powerful of all ritual gestures: the Sign of Silence. To perform it, the student stands upright, brings his left index finger to his lips, and stamps his left foot gently and firmly. This ritual act has the tendency, even in a student unaccustomed to working with the aura, to gather in and settle down any psychic energy that may be roaming about.
The natural tendency of the average body-driven mind is to project its precious energy outward toward objects in its perceptual field. Obeying the survival instincts of the body, the typical mind is held captive by an obsession with showing itself a movie of its own contents. This kind of projection is a useful faculty for animals, because it conditions the mind to be attracted by food and to flee from predators. However, maintaining a fantasy world populated with attractive and repulsive qualities squanders a great deal of mental energy that could be used for higher purposes. It keeps the ordinary person locked in an enervating dream world, in which external objects appear to possess good and evil dispositions. For instance, he may harbor a grudge towards a coworker to the extent that, no matter what the coworker does, facial expressions appear demonic and mannerisms threatening. His perceived enemy may even smile at him, but he ends up perceiving the act as lewd or sarcastic. Or, a man may have a cruel wife who reminds him of his mother. No matter how poorly she treats him, he projects images of nurturance and security upon her. He becomes trapped in an illusion, in love with someone he can’t stand. In this dream-like captivity, he no longer recognizes fear and desire as self-generated. He permits them to emanate from external objects. When a person ceases to take responsibility for his own perceptions, when he no longer recognizes himself as their source, he becomes subservient to circumstance and preyed upon by his environment.
The modern human has evolved, however, and is slipping free from the need for the survival mechanism of projection—this despite the fact that the mechanism is still hardwired into his nervous system. Projections of fear and desire still loom about him, governing his actions, even as he becomes vaguely conscious of the possibility of growing beyond the need for these outworn parental phantoms. Faced with the potential for a life free of external illusions, he must summon the courage to move on. Having glimpsed the unreality of the demons that drive him, he can no longer in good conscience submit to them. It is job of the student of high magic, therefore, to become conscious of this projection faculty—to harness it, call it home, and eventually to devote it to a higher purpose. Silence is a tool that assists in this awakening.
Ritually practicing the Sign of Silence helps to withdraw any currents of projection that you are currently throwing out. As you perform it, imagine yourself settling back into place or “simmering down.” Pat Zalewski adds a visualization to the Sign of Silence in his book Z-5: Secret Teaching of the Golden Dawn: “Imagine a watery vapor encircles you. This is the reflux of the current” (Zalewski 176).
Students who become gradually more adept at containing their projections will note that their environments cease to be intimidating. Fear begins to dissolve. They grow more and more secure within themselves and less reactive. These experiences are good signs of progress.
The temple officer known as the Kerux gives a key lesson about silence in the Golden Dawn’s Neophyte ritual. He conducts the neophyte to a table and shows him two dishes of clear liquid. He hands one to the neophyte and pours the contents of the other into it. The two chemicals react and become blood red:
Let this remind thee ever, O Neophyte, how easily by a careless or unthinking word, thou mayest betray that which thou hast sworn to keep secret and mayest reveal the hidden knowledge imparted to thee, and implanted in thy brain and in thy mind. And let the hue of blood remind thee that if thou shalt fail in this thy oath of secrecy, thy blood may be poured out and thy body broken...(Regardie 130)Years later, when the Neophyte has attained a higher grade, this lesson will change from a warning about secrecy into sound advice about the true nature of magical power. The ability to maintain an oath of secrecy is symbolic of a deeper magic that the student has yet to discover. At some point the student will become more sensitive to higher dimensions and to the raw energy that animates his physical body. At some point he will become capable of feeling the energetic unease of betrayal—the breaking, rupturing, or spilling sensation that arises in his gut when he accidentally reveals some intimate detail of his magical work to an outsider. At some point, then, he will come to know what damaged integrity feels like, the imbalance and the leaking away of energy, like blood from a wound.
Why is this kind of self-containment important? The daily ritual work of a Golden Dawn student establishes a sealed vessel, in which the Great Work of self-transformation may take place. This unseen vessel must be carefully nurtured with silence and privacy. To mix the details of your two different lives, your public persona and your magical persona, will jeopardize this inner focal point of potential power. Words spoken to another person must be carefully monitored, for they comprise a ritual act that can siphon energy from one area of life to another. It is best then to employ silence as a barrier, which keeps the delicate formative energies of your daily magical work insulated and nurtured from the jealous multitudes. Be not like the bantering dreamer who wastes time and energy talking about his dreams and failing to act on them. Be instead like the artist who does not exhibit his work while it is in the midst of creation.
The idea behind this is that the gross generative energy, carefully contained and focused, will incubate and cultivate quintessential energy to produce enlightenment. The divine spark that fell into matter at the creation of the primordial universe will only germinate when it is well cared for. And when the student’s daily work succeeds, that spark will blossom forth into the world, expressing divinity in the circumstances of his life.
This idea is not really anything new to spiritual discipline. Other traditions teach it as well. In Taoist yoga, the student uses breath, visualization, various balancing postures, and concentration to harness the volatile generative energy and accumulate it to produce a “spiritual embryo.” Properly cared for through silence, self-restraint, and seclusion, this embryo matures and grows into an immortal body of light, capable of exploring the inner nature of the universe and reincarnating in whatever circumstances it requires for further adventures. Twelfth century Zen Master Kuoan describes a similar process in a series of poems about ox herding (Loori xv). The ox he likens to the volatile, wandering, neurotic tendency of the mind. It is the task of the Zen monk is to tame the ox and ride it home—“home” being enlightenment. To accomplish this process he practices Zazen, a kind of sitting meditation in which total stillness and centeredness are required. In the Western traditions, Alchemy proposes yet another version of this process, stating that the volatile Mercury (restless mind), sometimes represented by a serpent, must be crucified (restrained and tamed), so that a transmutation can take place. The application of Sulphur (concentration) to this fixed Mercury causes the magical philosopher’s stone to crystallize. These varying approaches suggest a universal formula: In order for the magic power to manifest, the mind must be contained, tamed, and concentrated upon, so that some sort of transformation can take place.
The philosophers stone is seen symbolically as a prismatic diamond or emerald. It refracts and focuses light. This suggests that the raw energy of the body can be contained and concentrated, creating something analogous to a lens. There are many magicians out there who take great pride in their ability to control this generative energy. They employ it to “heal” others, or to manipulate them hypnotically. Some even show off their ability to generate a static charge when they deliver a handshake. Little do they know how they squander this precious resource when they could be tempering and concentrating it in silence to act as a lens for another kind of energy, the unlimited spiritual light of higher Worlds.
The humble, alternative discipline of high magic clearly requires self-restraint and focus, and that means that the stereotypical philosophies of the New Age will not do. The New Age often confuses morality with magic. It mixes the politically correct tolerance of diversity with spiritual discipline. Consequently this produces a chaotic broth of conflicting techniques, mixing and matching incompatible pantheons of gods and misapplying divergent symbols from mutually exclusive models of the universe. Students who flit from yoga to spiritualism to Enochian magic end up getting nowhere fast. Some end up developing obsessions and neuroses bordering on schizophrenia. When you are trying to achieve illumination, you must focus on one particular system and one particular practice, preferably under the guidance of an adept. To break through the ego’s crust of illusion, it is better to dig one deep whole instead of lots of shallow ones.
When the student is able to contain and center himself in a consistent manner, what does he discover? There have been many attempts to describe it. Some call it a gateway. In Buddhism it is called the “gateless gate.” In Christianity, Jesus refers to it as the “eye of the needle” through which a rich man cannot pass. The Golden Dawn represents this gate via to the two pillars of the temple.
The black and white pillars, Jachin and Boaz, represent the opposites in manifestation, the contending forces between which the rainbow spectrum of sensation is possible. Most people who look upon the world see only the black-and-white duality of the two pillars and the tug-of-war match between them. They believe that things happen in the world because of cause and effect, because one pillar initiates an action and the other reacts to it. And so on, back and forth, black and white, good and evil. Such people ensnared utterly in their karma, are typically fond of New Age statements like “What goes around comes around” or “What you send out you get back times three.” Though there is a certain reality to these statements on one level, the magician of high magic reaches for a state beyond the back and forth of cause and effect, beyond the wheel of death and rebirth, and beyond the walls of time and death.
What most people do not see is that, between the black and white pillars, in the midst of this spectrum of action and reaction, power immerges from a higher dimension. It manifests within the drama of the contending forces. The black and white pillars do not operate in a vacuum. They are two actors in a drama presided over by a force that is invisible, beyond and above the time-bound arena of action. There is power that arises in the material world that comes not from anything initiated in the material world itself. It flows through this invisible gateway. The temple officer called the Hierophant represents this hidden power. He symbolically comes to the aid of the blindfolded Neophyte by passing between the black and white pillars of action and reaction. He represents the neophyte’s Higher Self and an alternative to life that is ensnared in the ebb and flow of nature.
This is a very important point, for it demonstrates that change is possible through means other than physical effort. It points out the possibility of true magical power—power that arises through the silence of no effort. In alchemy, the mere presence of the philosopher’s stone is enough to change base metals into gold. The mere presence of the adept, likewise, without effort, causes change to manifest independent of the laws of cause and effect.
The magician doesn’t necessarily manipulate the world. He merely transforms himself into the medium of change, becoming a wellspring of transformation. Someone once remarked cynically that, sooner or later, all magicians give up magic and turn to mysticism. But, had these students of magic been devoted mystics from the start, they would have found themselves, without trying, in the role of the magician.
Halevi, Z’ev ben Shimon. The Work of the Kabbalist. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1985.
Zalewski, Pat. Z-5 Secret Teachings of the Golden Dawn/Book I: The Neophyte Ritual 0=0. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1991.
Regardie, Israel. The Golden Dawn. 6th ed. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1992.
Loori, John Daido. Riding the Ox Home. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.