Azrael

“Is it right and permissible to ask you to end the lives of our enemies?” I asked the archangel Azrael. “Is contact with you likely to provide any benefit?”

Random thoughts flickered through my mind, mostly concerned with the events and coincidences that had raised these questions and brought me down to the shed before daybreak to invoke the angel.

The seal of the archangel Azrael.

Firstly, my dream from the previous night: wandering with two long-lost friends through streets we knew but which were now much-changed, each of us wondering if we were dreaming. Then I said: “I think only I am dreaming, and your thinking you are dreaming is only my dream.”

And then my dream from the night before that: I had become obsessed with compiling a playlist of songs from the eighties. It was so vivid that the next day I set about compiling the same list of tracks whilst awake – and, yes, I quickly became obsessed, because the tracks were diverse and I could not find an ordering that provided pleasant-sounding transitions.

Next, the so-called “27 Club”: musicians and artists who had died tragically at the age of twenty-seven, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain.

Then the intriguing intersection of musical inspiration and the angelic in novels by David Keenan. (“For Azrael is the angel described in these works”, Azrael told me.)

And finally, the first appearance of Azrael months ago. A friend was troubled by shadow entities in her home and our group offered to exorcise them using a scrying process, calling on the archangel Raphael, which had worked well for us in two previous and similar cases.

When the shadow entities appeared the word “Azrael” occurred spontaneously to my friend, although she did not consciously recognise its meaning.

Three of us undertook the working, over a video connection, and we were shocked by the negative consequences. I escaped relatively lightly, experiencing only a nasty sulphurous smell. My colleague found himself in sudden physical pain, feeling a sense of dread that lingered over several days, and there were unexplained scratching noises and footsteps in his home, which his partner also heard.

Azrael showed me how all these were connected, because Azrael had connected and completed them by being invoked.

Azrael showed itself to me as a crystalline structure embracing all living beings across all dimensions, the function of which is to bring each being to completion as a living being. Completion is the key to understanding Azrael.

In the present time, many people are calling out to Azrael because they feel loss. In my social circle at the moment, many are angry at the corruption of politicians who no longer represent the people to power but now represent the interests of power towards the people. The politicians pretend that significant change is not possible, and they pretend at patriotism (to ensure support) even as they sell off our nation’s assets to benefit themselves and the power they represent.

A rash of flags. If they think it garners them votes then they do not seem to mind looking like fascists.

The ballot box apparently cannot rid us of them – but can magick? It is a dark thought, but consider: there would be no material or causal connection between an assassin and a target if the means of assassination were magick. Yet this could never be undertaken lightly, because it would place a person in the very same position ethically as if physical measures had been taken. The karmic consequences would be dire, yet there is the option to recognise and own the consequences. Was Azrael showing up now because this was viable?

We made a divination for further guidance. “Is it permissible”, we asked, “to request an angel to eliminate someone whom that angel recognises as a malefactor?”

From the tarot came Five of Wands, Six of Pentacles inverted, and the Knight of Cups inverted. From the I Ching came Hexagram Thirty, The Clinging, Fire. With a moving sixth line, this was transitioning to Hexagram Fifty-Five, Abundance. We picked our jaws up off the floor after reading the meaning of that moving sixth line:

It is best to kill the leaders (Anthony 1988: 144).

But let us take a pause.

It would have been easy to read this as complicit assurance, rather than the wry pun it actually was. The correct way to read the I Ching is always as the advice of an immeasurably enlightened being.

If Azrael brings down upon all living beings not only grisly demise but completion, then things are not so simple. I was crying out from a place of loss. Maybe, dear reader, at this moment in time you are too. In this state is it wise for living beings to call down completion on either themselves or others? Consider the 27 Club – their works and reputations are preserved in beauty forever by the tragic and premature completion of lives. But how does this mitigate the losses they endured in life, and the loss of their lives to the rest of the world?

Azrael brings all beings to perfect completion, but the completion of being is not resolution of loss nor the restoration of losses.

In my dream I woke to the truth that I was dreaming, and so the dream ended and was complete. But only whilst sleeping were my lost friends restored. On completion of the dream they were lost again.

And in my other dream, the songs on the eighties playlist are available in the present, but there is no hope of imposing any tidy completion upon their diversity, their chaotic jumble of sounds. It would be obsession to attempt this, whereas in refraining from obsession there might be joy.

To call down Azrael upon vicious liars and thieves is to complete them as such. They become a maleficent version of the 27 Club. The meaning of Hexagram Fifty-Five, Abundance, is the recognition that when we lack influence upon others we must let go of seeking it: “to hold to the power of truth is to overcome all darkening trends” (Anthony 1988: 251).

“It is best to kill the leaders”, urged that moving sixth line in Hexagram Thirty, The Clinging, Fire. But who are those leaders?

The most evil ringleaders of disorder in the personality are vanity and pride – the ego, whether it is self-depreciating, self-congratulating, or self-defending (Anthony 1988: 144).

Hexagram Thirty is a chastening reminder of the obvious.

When events seem foreboding and people seem evil, we should remember the good that was and still has potential in them. The more evil they seem to be, the more resolutely we must cling to that potential. If we cling to the invisible sparks of light that are eclipsed by their inferior natures, the power of clinging will enable the dark force to be overcome. (Anthony 1988: 141)

When is it inadvisable to pursue goodness and truth? Never. Obviously. But in the grip of loss this may become obscured.

[D]esire and impatience […] have their origins in fear and doubt. Vanity is also present when we see ourselves as rejected, alone, abandoned. Vanity causes us to want “inside knowledge”, to have a “handle” on things, and to seek assurances that will work to our satisfaction. Vanity […] makes us think that everything in life is dependent on human decisions; it causes us to forget that the Cosmos is at work putting things to right, and that we are not required to accomplish everything by ourselves. (Anthony 1988: 145)

I had been looking to magick to provide the “handle”, the “inside knowledge”.

The lessons of the hexagrams were underscored by the tarot: Five of Wands indicates discord and struggle; Six of Pentacles, inverted, suggests greed and corruption. The Knight of Cups is associated with Sir Perceval, he who seeks the Holy Grail, but the card is inverted, signifying a failure at or deviation from the quest. So the first card of these three hints at incompletion and irresolution, and the others point at abandonment and loss.

Azrael can take nothing away. By dying no being attains or achieves anything except completion of its life. On this side of existence, completion is what Azrael has to offer. Whatever remains unresolved must find its solution after death.

Azrael, the archangel of death.

David Keenan’s novel This is Memorial Device (2018) is the fictional history of a band formed in the early eighties from the post-punk scene in Airdrie, as told by various characters who encounter the band members and their music. The bassist is Remy Farr, and one of the chapters concerns his father. Remy’s father wrote a tract that argued “there was some kind of disjunction between actions and thoughts. It wasn’t that they were parallel occurrences, in his view actions were eternal and forever but thought was something that happened in time and that came to pass only once” (Keenan 2018: 62).

Remy’s father describes being on holiday with his wife, kneeling down to clean some plates after a meal at a picnic spot, when he notices two small indentations in the grass into which his knees fit perfectly. He is convinced that he created these holes himself, because he is re-living his life repeatedly rather than it unfolding uniquely through time, “as though his secret self (his guardian angel he called it) had constructed this total artwork that had lain in wait for him (or more properly that had always existed and that was now somehow revealing itself to thought)” (Keenan 2018: 63-4).

If actions are fixed forever, but thoughts come only once, then – Remy’s father reasons – life is “this precise set of occurrences” (Keenan 2018: 64) and our thoughts are judgments upon it. He takes this a couple of steps further. First, if we ourselves (or an angel) has set up everything that happens in our life, “then what thought demands of us is nothing less than that we weigh the will of God itself” (Keenan 2018: 64). Second, he suggests a possible transcendence: if we refuse our gift of judgment and the will of God then could it be that “the whole thing comes full circle and finally you are able to live your life as written (in history and in time over again), but this time outside of mind, without judgment and beyond understanding?” (Keenan 2018: 65).

There is no longer a sense of a passage through life, of life unfolding through time or mind, demanding to be understood and judged, but the cessation of a need for mind, judgment, or understanding as conditions of the unfolding of life. This is no longer, then, the setting up of the circumstances of life by the guardian angel, but maybe something like the completion of life that Azrael brings. The completion of life is when God’s will offers us nothing further.

Keenan’s Xstabeth (2020) is about another father – the father of the narrator, Aneliya – an aging but commercially naïve musician who, after a disillusioned break, decides to return to performance. His music is improvised and, although he does not record the performance, mysteriously a recording appears under the name “Xstabeth”: “he both recognised it as himself whilst thinking that the voice was coming from someone else entirely” (Keenan 2020: 56). Aneliya’s father is distraught when a second album appears without him having given any further performances. Xstabeth is some kind of an emerging entity, maybe an angel, perhaps a saint. After a subsequent performance, Aneliya’s father vanishes.

Is Keenan returning to the insights of Remy’s father in this later novel? Xstabeth seems a narrative elaboration of a process by which our actions, through assuming a life of their own, transcend the conditions of our lived being.

He had come through art. I realised. Was what he said. Or he might have said. I am realised. […] The point of art is to be done with it. He said. […] The point of art is to get you to the place where you have no need of it. […] The end of art is at the end of the world. (Keenan 2020: 62-3)

“For I am the angel described in these works”, Azrael assured me.

Music is a recurring motif in this nexus of concepts. I was reminded of a brilliantly incisive conversation on the intrinsic weirdness of music between J.F. Martel and Phil Ford.

Music is regarded as the most abstract artform, yet also the most direct in how it represents nothing to us figuratively yet exerts a direct effect: “You don’t just entertain a notion of sadness”, Phil Ford commented. “You feel it. It takes you over. You become a different person when you listen to sad music” (14’29”). On listening to music, the listener becomes the music. It makes us into what it evokes. J.F. Martel draws out the philosophical implications of this: “The things that we think exist only in our heads are already out there. That’s what music teaches me” (17’52”).

Perhaps all art forms achieve this, but in different ways. And maybe it is not just art, but every action, every karmic impression. In music it is clearest how actions (those minute vibrations of molecules through air) have a life and meaning that eclipses those we usually perceive as being our own. Azrael is the spiritual being that that fulfils this function to its fullest and at its final extent.

The shadow entities witnessed by my friend followed a bereavement of someone who had endured much pain and loss. In retrospect the emergence of the name “Azrael” may have been an indication that completion would have been a better approach than an attempt at healing.

The dead are beyond suffering. It would be a misconstrual to suppose the consequences of our working impacted on anyone other than ourselves. Healing involves an encounter with the other’s pain, and that was maybe what had impacted on us.

The problem here is more subtle than knowing the right angel to evoke. Through contact with and contemplation of these spiritual beings the work actually lies in developing an understanding of how karma operates in the context of being, dying, pain, ignorance, and loss.

I hope that the I Ching and the tarot and finally the invocation of Azrael itself have now furnished a fuller understanding and have cleared the way.

References

Anthony, Carol K. (1988). A Guide to the I Ching, third edition. Stow, MA: Anthony Publishing.

Ford, Phil & J.F. Martel (2020) Weird studies episode 90 – “The Owl in Daylight”: on Philip K. Dick’s unwritten masterpiece. https://tinyurl.com/wsdus8yp (weirdstudies.com). Accessed March 2021.

Keenan, David (2018). This Is Memorial Device. London: Faber & Faber.

Keenan, David (2020). Xstabeth. London: White Rabbit.

 

Art

“The words are almost interchangeable: magick and art”, claims Alan Moore (2015: 0’10”). But I will be taking the contrary view, arguing how magick and art are fundamentally unalike.

When performing group magick in a public place, our cover story was always the same: we were a theatre group or a team of performance artists. So there is, as Moore suggests, a resemblance between art and magick, but at the same time a stark difference, or else it would not have been possible to deny we were doing one by claiming we were doing the other.

Art is admissible within public institutions and can also be a commercial activity, but if magick has value this is proportionate to the extent it releases us from mundane social and financial constraints. Artists can use magick as an aesthetic in which to wrap their work, and magicians can hide theirs behind a facade of art.

Moore, instead of maintaining a distinction between them, seems inclined to draw art and magick even closer together:

If they were only to take on the values of the other camp then we would have magick that […] might actually produce wonderful works of art […] that would give a purpose that modern magick is almost completely lacking. At the same time, if contemporary artists were to be drawing upon the ideas that are in magick then we wouldn’t be getting all of this empty vacuous conceptual shit that art seems to be frozen in at the moment. (Moore 2015: 1’16”)

Of course, we want better art and better magick. But to be good, does art need to draw upon “the ideas that are in magick” rather than find new ones? Will magick “produce wonderful works of art” when magicians are not necessarily artistically trained? If magick lacks purpose, does it then even deserve the title of magick at all? “All art is quite useless” declared Oscar Wilde (1998: xxiv), which perhaps suggests that the utterly purposeless has more more in common with art.

Lionel Snell (writing as Ramsey Dukes) delves deep into this question of where magick and art overlap and depart. His classic text SSOTBE (Dukes 2000) postulates a quaternity of world views – Art, Magick, Science, and Religion – which he explores through comparisons and contrasts. Although he cautions against over-simplification, Snell suggests: “Magic, Art, Religion and Science represent movement towards Wholeness, Beauty, Goodness and Truth respectively” (Dukes 2000: 133). Magick aims at Wholeness, then – oneness, or unity, in other words. The trajectory of magick is union. Magick brings self and world into direct connection. By means of magick we shift our consciousness in order to harmonise with reality. Whereas art, in Snell’s schema, takes a different trajectory, one that by engendering beauty aims at reconciling reality with ourselves:

A poet once told me that it was wrong to think of a symbol as a sort of telephone number connecting one to an idea, and I was surprised because that is exactly what it is in Magical usage. […] In the Magic sector meaning is a precious thing, a pointer towards wholeness, while in the Art sector meaning has become a tangle of associations that one seeks to cut away to reveal life in its pure essence. (Dukes 2000: 46-7)

By bringing art and magick together, Moore envisions that “they would both have a human purpose and would relate to the world in which we are actually all existing” (Moore 2015: 2’47”). For Moore, it seems that neither magick nor art presently connect with reality well enough. But from Snell’s perspective, Moore’s conception of magick seems closer to the trajectory of art. To “have a human purpose” and “relate to the world” might be an end for art, but for magick it is only a means. Magick does not need to relate to or reflect reality but offers a means of directly uniting with it.

Something that is beautiful stops us in our tracks. We admire it for what it is and do not want or need to pass beyond it. In this way the productions of art are ends in themselves. But the products of magick are different; they are “pointers towards wholeness”. As Crowley famously expressed it:

By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them. (Crowley 1909)

The “ideas that are in magic” (as Moore put it) have value in allowing us to unite with the absolute, but not in successfully representing it. The Holy Guardian Angel, for example, is a dualistic expression of the non-dual; it is a knowingly poor representation of something that nevertheless enables us to unite with what it points at. No self-respecting artist would produce poor representations, but magicians sometimes strive for this. A good sigil is one that helps us disregard what it represents.

What threw these issues into relief for me recently is The Dark Pool (2020), a podcast created by Rob C. Thompson, occult scholar and a professor of theatre and performance at Chesapeake College, Maryland. It throws these issues into relief because of how it blurs the boundaries between magick and art.

“So many occultists talk about how […] knowing things is not achieving any kind of wisdom. True wisdom comes from practice,” Thompson stated in an interview (Lux Occult 2020: 46’21”), describing how this was his inspiration to make something that was more than a commentary on the occult but also included practical magick:

I created a meditation and I had four of my actors who were fairly new to the group […] and I wanted to experiment with them and have them do the meditation which asked them to reach into that subconscious space and find sounds and just make sounds. And then I built each of them their own meditation track based on those sounds with a mind to attuning them to the higher vibration of their consciousness […] I tell them that through this process they will attune to their subliminal consciousness – and they do. There is a reasonable amount of success. (Lux Occult 2020: 47’21”)

It is an interesting idea, and I agree with Thompson’s interviewer, Luxa, when she comments how The Dark Pool has a similar feel to the film documentary series Hellier (Pfeiffer 2019). This perhaps arises from their shared domain somewhere between art and magick. Whereas Hellier slides inexorably towards the occult, The Dark Pool veers in the direction of art. The meditation Thompson gives his students becomes a springboard for an improvised drama – about a college professor who assigns his students an occult practice for motives that only gradually become apparent. The self-referentiality of The Dark Pool blurs the boundary between fact and fiction, to the extent that in the quotation above it seems unclear whether Thompson is describing a factual magickal working, or simply the fictional plot-arc of his drama, or – being one and the same – both.

This blurring of reality and fiction is not in itself “magickal” but is available fully within the realm and resources of art. The results of the meditation could have been recorded and left to speak for themselves, yet this is not what Thompson gives us. However, the self-referentiality of The Dark Pool ensures that we are not entirely certain that this is not what we are hearing.

I use a lot of students on the podcast, acting students […] My administration got wind of the work and made me promise that I wasn’t forcing them to do it for a grade or that they needed it to complete the theatre degree. (Lux Occult 2020: 25’57”)

This comment from Thompson suggests that what is at work in The Dark Pool is the same dynamic we considered at the outset, the game of hide and seek that magicians play with art. As we have considered previously, the ethics of magick are concerned with providing insight and salvation, which often conflicts with the ethics of a secular mainstream focused more on preventing possible harm. As an educator with an interest in the occult, The Dark Pool offers Thompson and his students a frame whose apparent fictionality will not offend the university administration, and yet which teases its audience with the possibility that they are listening to a work of magick.

References

Crowley, Aleister (1909). Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae sub figurâ VI. https://tinyurl.com/y6lrgdpc (hermetic.com). Accessed November 2020.

Dukes, Ramsey (2000). SSOTBME Revised. England: El-Cheapo.

Lux Occult (2020). Lux occult podcast episode 10 – ritual, performance and theatre with Dr. Rob C. Thompson from Occult Confessions and The Dark Pool. https://tinyurl.com/y2byvh7j (podcasts.apple.com). Accessed November 2020.

Moore, Alan (2015). Art and magic. https://tinyurl.com/y24376hh (youtube.com). Accessed November 2020.

Pfeiffer, Karl, director (2019). Hellier. Planet Weird.

Thompson, Rob C., et al (2020). The dark pool. https://tinyurl.com/yyuje6f3 (darkpoolproject.com) Accessed November 2020.

Wilde, Oscar (1998). The Picture of Dorian Grey. Oxford: Oxford University Press.