Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009 gives way to 2010....

As 2009 draws to an end and 2010 begins, many of us may be inclined to think on matters such as Time and Change.

Below is a beautiful Hermetic text my old friend Tony Willis flagged up which seems more than apt for contemplation with this coming shift into a new year.

The Hierarchy of Creation

Atum creates the Cosmic Mind.
The Cosmic Mind creates the Cosmos.
The Cosmos creates Time.
Time creates Change.

The essence of Atum
is Primal Goodness.
The essence of the Cosmic Mind
is permanent sameness.
The essence of the Cosmos
is beautiful order.
The essence of Time
is movement.
The essence of Change
is Life.

Atum works
through Mind and Soul.
The Cosmic Mind works
through immortality and duration.
The Cosmos works
through turning and returning.
Time works
through increase and decrease.
Change works
through quality and quantity.

The Cosmic Mind is in Atum.
The Cosmos is in Eternity.
Time is in the Cosmos.
Change is in Time.
The Cosmic Mind
is permanently connected to Atum.
The Cosmos is made up of thoughts
in the Cosmic Mind.

The Cosmic Mind is an image of Atum.
The Cosmos is an image of the Cosmic Mind.
The sun is an image of the Cosmos.
The human being is an image of the sun.

From The Hermetica: The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (Penguin, 1999).

Blessings to each and everyone in the coming year!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Gustav Holst - Master of Magical Music & Song

“The Heavenly Spheres make music for us,
The Holy Twelve dance with us,
All things join in the dance!
Ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing.”
- Gustav Holst, in a letter to Clifford Bax.

Who can forget the first time they heard Holst’s stunning suite of music, The Planets? Whether it was as a child or adult, it is difficult to forget the immediate reaction to hearing the music, particularly the gargantuan “Mars.” Love it or hate it, it is magical, powerful and evocative music.

The energy of “Mars, the Bringer of War,” is represented by a frenetic and unremitting march in 5/4 time. The orchestration of the piece is stuffed full of brass instruments giving the music incredible raw force and sense of movement. Kettle drums boom as they are beaten with the hard–ended sticks. The strings are furiously struck with the wood of the bows, producing a harsh and almost sabre-rattling sound. The music grows in size, energy and volume until it reaches almost ear-drum rupturing level before coming to a powerful conclusion. I still get a real buzz of energy from listening to the piece after many years. What a contrast to the gentle “Venus, the Bringer of Peace” that follows “Mars” in the suite.

Many Hermetic magicians of the 20th and 21st century have integrated key sections of The Planets into their meditations and rituals to great effect. In terms of the Ogdoadic system, the music is particularly suited for meditation and inclusion in a number of the planetary workings of Planetary Magic and much First and Second Hall work. However, Holst has much more to offer those looking to add additional colour to their magical practice.

Where did this man find the inspiration for his music? Where did he come from and what were his interests and philosophy?

I first became more interested in the spiritual side of Gustav Holst’s work when my own job took me to the West Country of England and the spa town of Cheltenham. Unexpectedly, here was Holst’s birthplace. I was intrigued to find out a little more about this enigmatic man whose music I had grown up to.

His birthplace of Cheltenham is a small and strange English town with a number of esoteric characters linked to it over the past 120 years, including Florence Farr (Golden Dawn / Theosophy Society), WG Gray (Society of the Inner Light / Sangreal Foundation), Murray Hope (The Atlanteans et al), Jaz Coleman (occult philosopher, musician and Composer in Residence for the European Union), not to mention the esoteric publishers Helios Books (Gareth Knight). The town is also close to the powerful and ancient Rollright Stones, an abundance of old Knights’ Templar sites as well as Dr John Dee’s Upton-upon-Severn.

Holst’s birthplace is also blessed by being situated at the foot of the Cotswold scarp, underneath the gentle “Seven Springs,” source of the great river Thames, (known by the Roman’s as “The Isis”). At the heart of the town rests a truly magnificent water feature of Neptune riding his sea-horses up out of the waves. It seems apt that the magic of The Planets suite should be born from the cradle of this exceptional spa town.

Holst was born in 1874 and spent his early life growing up in Cheltenham. An oversensitive and unhappy child, he was plagued by eyesight problems, asthma and neuritis in his hands. As a child he detested practicing the violin, but relished the piano.

As he grew older, Holst failed his initial attempts to gain scholarships to the Royal College of Music and various other colleges in London. Undeterred, he gained his first professional engagement as an organist in 1893. Within a short space of time he also became organist and choirmaster of another local choral society in the heart of the Cotswolds. These experiences helped him to develop a solid comprehension of the workings of a choir. Choral music and the choral tradition in England would remain vitally important throughout the rest of his life.

In the autumn of 1895 Gustav met English composer musician and choral expert Ralph Vaughan Williams for the first time. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with a person who would do much to preserve the ancient folk songs and customs of England. It was also the beginning of their habit of playing compositions to each other and sharing ideas while still working on their scores. Sometimes they would walk along Chiswick Mall or the Thames with other college friends while discussing the poetry of Walt Whitman or the works of William Morris and Edward Carpenter. During this time Holst was also introduced to George Bernard Shaw, brief member of the Golden Dawn.

In 1899 Holst developed a voracious appetite for Sanskrit, Eastern Mysticism and, in particular, the principles of Hinduism. Of specific interest to him was the Rig Veda and the Baghavad Gita. The limited translations available at the time seemed lacking in substance, so he joined the School of Oriental Languages at the London Institute to learn the language and make his own poetic translations.

While there is no evidence to confirm that he was a formal member of the Theosophical Society, Holst was a certainly a close friend of people who were. It is evident from his body of work that he shared the same views. Notably, his stepmother had also been a member of the Society and regularly talked to him about its philosophy in his formative years. In London, Holst became friends with GRS Mead, Theosophist and translator of many important hermetic works including, Pistis Sophia, and Corpus Hermeticum. It is thought that Mead introduced him at this time to the well-known astrologer Alan Leo, who was also a Sanskrit scholar and a fellow member, along with Holst, of the Royal Asiatic Society. Mead and Leo became close friends.

Holst also became good friends with Clifford Bax, an “ardent Theosophist,” playwright, poet, novelist and critic who also shared a keen interest in astrology. Bax moved in circles that frequented him with W B Yeats, Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Florence Farr, John Symonds and “Dame” Frieda Harris, the artist who gave life to Crowley’s magnificent tarot the Book of Thoth. As Holst’s astrological expertise grew he became renowned for regularly casting horoscopes for his friends and their families. From his interests and friendships at this time sprang the creativity that would become The Planets. Many other musical works would also be sparked into creation from his friendships and spiritual interests. One of the least well-known but perhaps most interesting works is his “Hymn of Jesus,” a profound Gnostic exploration of time and space. It is well worth further exploration.

One of the core elements of Ogdoadic daily practice is the Solar Adorations. At least two key versions have been practiced by those working within the Tradition. One previously used was Egyptian-based; the more recent one being based on a poetic rendering of one of the great Vedic Hymns, Usha (translated as “The Dawn”). This is where practitioners of the Art Magic may be particularly interested in Holst’s work. Holst made the following interpretation of Usha, which is beautifully poetic. I suspect many Ogdoadic practitioners will both recognise and appreciate it:

Usha (Dawn)

Behold the Dawn, the fairest of all visions,
Day's glory now appears.
Arise! For the night hath fled!
Arise and greet the Dawn.
Welcome her! Unveiled she now appeareth,
All things greet her radiant smile.
Borne by wing├Ęd horse and car
She steals across the sky.
Child of heav'n arrayed in shining garments,
Blushing maiden draw thou near:
Sovran lady of earth and sky,
We hail thee as our queen.
Heav'n's breath awakeneth creation,
The sky is all aflame,
Th'eastern Portals open wide.
The Sun draws nigh.
Greeting thee, the holy fire ascendeth,
Greeting thee, our hymns arise,
Greeting thee, the Sun appeareth,
Greeting thee, thy worshippers
Bow down and bless and adore.

This is a highly devotional interpretation of the Usha. There are a number of beautifully sung recordings of this and other Vedic Hymns attentively put to music by Holst. Perhaps Vac (Speech) is one other inspirational interpretation worth quoting. There are shades of Neith, Sophia, Leukothea and the Magna Mater in this piece:

Vac (Speech)

I, the queen of all,
First of those that mankind worship,
Worthy of all praise,
I proclaim aloud my wisdom.
Hearken unto me,
My word is true:
Unto God and Man
I bring blessing,
Pouring forth my wealth,
Making wise the man I cherish.
Through me each one lives,
Each one breathes and sees and hearkens.
All unite in me,
I alone sustain creation,
Compassing the earth
I reach t'ward heav'n.
In the water's depth
I have my dwelling,
On the summit of the universe
I bring forth the Father.
Beyond the earth and sky
I reign in my mystic grandeur.

If you’re interested in further explorations of Holst and related matters, I would strongly recommend the following sources:

Bax, Clifford (editor). Letters to Florence Farr - Bernard Shaw and W.B. Yeats. Shannon: Irish University Press, 1971.
Denning & Phillips. The Magical Philosophy. Book 1. Robe and Ring. (Appendix D, Page 166.) St Paul: Llewellyn, 1983
Head, Raymond. “Holst - Astrology and Modernism in 'The Planets’.” TEMPO (C.U.P), No. 187, December 1993.
Head, Raymond. “The Hymn of Jesus: Holst’s Gnostic Exploration of Time and Space.” TEMPO (C.U.P), July 1999.
Holst, Imogen. Great Composers: Holst. London: Faber and Faber, 1981
Lace, Ian. “A Biography of Gustav Holst.” 1995
Mitchell, Jon C. A Comprehensive Biography of Composer Gustav Holst with Correspondence and Diary Excerpts. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.
Rubbra, Edmund. Gustav Holst. London: Lyre-Bird Press, 1947.
Short, Michael. Gustav Holst: The Man and His Music. Michael Short, Oxford University Press, 1990.
Vaughan Williams, Ralph and Holst, Gustav. Heirs and Rebels; letters written to each other and occasional writings on music. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Aston, Sue. “English composers How Mysticism and the Landscape influenced English Composers.”

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Autumn warmth

We woke up this morning to a perpetual drizzle of rain and increasing swirlings of mist. It looked like it would be one of those Sundays spent indoors enveloped by a suffocating fog. By lunchtime the sun had broken through, the rain had stopped ... "Mr Blue Sky" graced us with his presence. Family and dog decanted from the house and bounded up the Malvern Hills delighting in the warmth of the sunlight upon our faces. Three weeks after the Autumn Equinox and it could have been Summer but for the falling leaves and apples. However, the nights are drawing in and it will soon be the Winter Solstice followed by the long and dark journey of the Water Tide through to the Vernal Equinox. Enjoy the sunlight while it lasts! Soon be time to batten down the hatches!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Chalice Well Waters - Glastonbury

"A dream of heaven was brought a little nearer to earth at Chalice Well during its hey-day...the spirit of the place lives on and does not die, for it does not belong to any person, but uses persons to its ends."

Dion Fortune, Avalon of the Heart

Chalice Well at the foot of Glastonbury Tor is a peaceful and healing place. Many questing souls visit this beautiful peace garden every year. The water tastes of blood due to its exceptionally high iron content. Myth, legend and magic arise from the depths of this place to leave those with eyes to see utterly changed forever.

These are some of my favourite photographs from this place. Chalice Well has been an inspiration to me and many many others over the past century and beyond.

(Above - the well head at Chalice Well).

"The rune of the Water Bearer
Ye have supped from the Pools of Sorrow
Ye shall drink from the Wells of Joy!
The golden Wheel is turning - 
The heavenly sphere's employ!"

Alice Buckton, At the Well

The waters of life continue to flow through the garden......

In the garden quiet corners abound, revealing gentle mysteries and peace profound.....

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Celtic Fire – the passionate soul

Celtic Fire – the passionate soul
(my musings on elements of the Celtic Black Book of Carmarthen)

I am the Green Flame of Fire, blazing with passionate Love;

I am the shining spark of Light, illuminating the depths of eternal truth;

I am the rough and roaring sea, heaving with righteous indignation;

I am a peaceful and calm lake, comforting and stilling the troubled breast;

I am the wild storm, raging at human wrong-doings;

I am a gentle refreshing breeze, blowing hope into saddened human hearts;

I am dry dust choking cruel human ambition;

I am the damp and fertile earth, bearing generous gifts of Love and Grace.


Celtic Fire

Sunday, 15 February 2009


I took a day trip to the Rococo Gardens in Painswick in the Stroud Valleys. Surrounded by a carpet of budding snowdrops I walked past the beautiful statue of Pan. I've been on good terms with him for a number of years.

With the Spring energies and the returning daylight on their way, I was very much struck by Rumi's short piece on daylight.

Rumi: Daylight

If ten lamps are present in one place,
each differs in form from another;
yet you can't distinguish whose radiance is whose
when you focus on the light.

In the field of spirit there is no division;
no individuals exist.

Sweet is the oneness of the Friend with His friends.

Catch hold of spirit.

Help this headstrong self disintegrate;
that beneath it you may discover unity,
like a buried treasure.


In many ways, the promise of Spring is the promise of the Light returning....and that Light hath healing in its wings.......healing that brings Unity of Spirit.

Best wishes

Celtic Fire

The Springtime of Dion Fortune

There she is staring out at you...or maybe that should be "in to you"! Whether writing as Violet Firth, Violet M Steele...