Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Between the Gates by Mark Stavish

Review: Between the Gates

by Mark Stavish

Today I'm reviewing Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism by Mark Stavish. It's a big book, so it's a long book review (sorry!).

There are many approaches to out-of-body experiences, but very few come from the perspective of Western Esotericism in the truest sense. I can only think of one other offhand: Francis King's Techniques of High Magic. That's not counting some better-known "little-explanation" occultists like Ophiel (Marcel Louis Forhan).

In a different book review I mentioned that Jill Lowy's Yoga and the Art of Astral Projection tries to bridge the gap between modern OBE literature and Western Esotericism. Mark Stavish's book is no bridge: it's way deeper into it than Lowy was. What is Esotericism? As Stavish explains it:
"...the study of the cosmos and humanity's place in it, and occultism is the practical application of esoteric philosophy." (pg. 16)

Many people are afraid of anything labeled "occult" or think it's associated with evil, the Devil, or dark magic. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is nothing Satanic or dark about this book. It's just an OBE recipe book based on age-old traditions from a grab-bag of esoteric sources.

Most "new age" approaches to the OBE are based on Eastern mysticism: Yoga-based meditation, energizing chakras, breath-work (Pranayama), Energy/Chi/Qi circulation, visualizations, and so forth. This book is based more on Western mysticism: Kabballah, and Christian mysticism, and with it, more ritual-based meditation. There is some overlap, but also some surprising differences.

Stavish won my heart right away with stellar quotes. This quote is long, but it's so good I want to share the whole thing:
"Once someone has genuinely encountered the spiritual dimensions of life, the physical one takes on greater vibrancy and, at the same time, less importance. A balance is struck between the importance of experience and the ultimate experience of Being."
"This balance can only be achieved on a personal level. Spirituality is a personal journey of Becoming, and requires commitment and dedication--and a good dose of courage. The methods described in this book have survived under the heels of repressive religious and political institutions for well over a thousand years. In this century alone, National Socialism and communism (Soviet as well as Maoist style) have done more to endanger the spiritual health of the world than Roman Catholic inquisitors or Protestant witch hunters ever did. Even now we are faced with the ultimate fruit of religious teachings that strip the individual of the responsibility of creating a meaningful personal, progressive, interior experience for themselves. Fundamentalism in various forms seeks to turn back the clock in nations around the world. Some of them want a return to the sixth century, and advance their goal through ruthless violence, others through more subtle tact of school boards and soup-kitchen proselytizing. Lesser cults confine themselves to simply buying entire towns in the northwest United States or building bunkers for the end of days. In the end it will not be politics or force of arms that wins the day, but the individual who is unafraid of death, not because of unquestioned teachings, but from direct experience." (pg. xiii)

Here's another quote I really liked, which reminded me of Tom Campbell's "My Big Toe" (which is still on my "must read" pile):
"We could say, simplistically, that Creation is a giant hologram over which we have far more influence than is generally understood or believed. Through proper training, each human being has the potential to be an active creator within this holographic structure (even to the degree that their very thoughts can materialize), thereby increasing their physical, emotional, and mental wholeness." (pg. 44)

I admittedly got into this book with unrealistic expectations. I expected to find deep dark "occult" rituals that were not well explained and had no basis in reality. I expected pentagrams, secret signs, and obscure rituals that had been passed down for hundreds of years from the Rosicrucians, the Golden Dawn and various secret societies, without any basis in modern critical thinking. I was wrong. I expected the obscure and hard-to-understand, but Stavish brings a difficult subject down to Earth beautifully.

Stavish does an amazing job of providing modern explanations of occult principles for people who never studied Western Esotericism. For example, on page 10, he explains the "Guardian of the Threshold" as:
"...the collective energies of our subconscious, the summation of our past experiences in this life and all others, in a single form. This form is our creation and is our personal "devil." It is our judge and jury and also the means by which we understand the purpose of our life. It is this internal, emotional incongruity that is the source of all failure in occult practices and in material circumstances."
"Confidence or an overwhelming positive certitude is required for occult practice to succeed. If we are mentally positive, but emotionally conflicted, then we will fail. Emotions win over ideas every time." (pg. 11)

He explains that there are three main branches of Western Esotericism: Alchemy, Qabala (another way to spell Kabballah), and Astrology, although astrology isn't used for OBEs.

He also explains that there are three types of practioners: the Mystic (or Shaman), the Sage (Priest, Priestess, or Prophet), and the Magus (Magician or Occultist).

He refers to three levels of self: a "Higher Self," a "Middle Self" and a "Lower Self". The Middle Self is the ego we're most familiar with. The Higher Self is the divine self, the God-connected self, or what some call the Holy Guardian Angel. The Lower Self is the animal self that deals with fulfilling worldly needs: breathing, material instincts, and hereditary issues.

He explains the basics of the Kabbalah (ancient Jewish mysticism) and its "tree of life," a diagram used as a kind of map to traverse the non-physical worlds. With this model, according to Stavish, there are:
"...four worlds and ten levels of consciousness, for a total of forty potential specific areas of consciousness, in which to experience a greater degree of complexity and unity of life." (pg. 29)

He explains the various traditions of Western esotericism and how many of them go back to the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus; also known as Hermeticism. He talks a lot about organizations like the Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucians, and even Theosophy. He explains how all this relates to OBEs. But you've got to be into the esoteric to really appreciate it.

He spends a fair amount of time teaching you the Kabbalistic names for the different worlds, the names of God in the Jewish tradition, and the importance of words and names: How they act as a lever for the subconscious.

Many readers are trying to achieve astral projection, and different people need different methods. Some people can achieve focus through meditation or self-hypnosis, while others require rigorous training of the subconscious. That's where "ritual" comes in. Rituals are the mainstay of the occultist. Performing a ritual tells your subconscious "Now I mean business" and demands its attention and cooperation. (That's also why religions are big into rituals.) In my opinion, most of the rituals are geared toward personal empowerment: convincing yourself (more importantly, your subconscious) that you have the power and fortitude to achieve OBE, and that you should accomplish it; that it's your God-given right.
These rituals are not to be undertaken lightly. Stavish explains that you need to be careful about it, to approach it with reverence (again, aimed at the subconscious), and lots of time and dedication. You can't do a ritual once or twice and expect to leave your body. This isn't a 30-day or 90-day program. This is a long dawn-out process that may take years. To give you an idea: In just one of the exercises, he writes:
"It is desirable to spend at least seven cycles (nights) with each planetary symbol, or between six and seven weeks total, working with them as you fall asleep. Added to the previous four or five weeks working with the Elements, this makes nearly three months of nightly work." (pg. 68)
Stavish gives a lot of rituals (one or more for every chapter), but he doesn't just throw them out there like some books. He explains the theory behind the rituals in modern terms. Every ritual is carefully organized into sections:  Preparation, Explanation, Type of Practice, Method, and Incorporation into Daily Practice.

I'd estimate that about a third of the book is devoted to rituals. The rituals aren't all designed to induce OBEs, but he does include several for that purpose. Many of them are just "groundwork," or the basics. His OBE-specific rituals are:
  1. Exteriorization Within the Aura
  2. Using a Pentagram, Aleph, or Shin
  3. Using a Tarot Card
  4. The "Rising on the Planes" technique, of which he states:
"Rising on the Planes constitutes, in many ways, the single most important technique there is in operative magic." (pg. 114)
Many of these rituals involve a concept of the "Body of Light". This is sort of unique to this path and isn't found in many other OBE books. A lot of the rituals are dedicated to "building" or "constructing" a Body of Light to be used as a vehicle for consciousness. Also known as a "simulacrum," this Body of Light can be influenced by outside forces, and can even start to take on a personality of its own. Stavish cautions the reader to keep firm control over the simulacrum, making sure to absorb it back into your body at the end of every ritual. But it is not the same as the astral body. He quotes a book by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki:
"...Some think that it is the same as the astral body, but it is in fact quite different. The astral is an etheric form common to everyone, a Magical Personality is acquired through practice and concentration. The Body of Light is deliberately built for a purpose, another term for it is "cowan." It is not easily formed, some people never manage it, or at least not fully, and once it is formed it can be troublesome, and requires firm handling." (pg. 139)

He goes on to say:
"Ashcroft-Nowicki further states that the Body of Light can acquire a kind of self-consciousness after a period of development." (pg. 139)
There's also a notion that the Body of Light should be built and prepared as a vehicle of consciousness for the next life, the life after death. He states:
"Once freed from the material body, the consciousness of the Middle Self (Ruash) is destabilized as it enters a new environment, unless there has been significant training in meditation, lucid dreaming, astral projection, creating the Body of Light, or practices around death and dying prior to one's death." (pg. 191)
He actually has a fair amount of material devoted to the subject of death, how to prepare for it, and how to help others with their transition. I personally don't agree with much of this discussion; I believe that some form of consciousness and personality survives death, even if you don't spend time building a Body of Light. That's just based on the fact that I've had countless OBEs despite having never performed the rituals, nor tried to consciously build a Body of Light.

Stavish also spends a fair amount of time talking about the infamous occult figure Aleister Crowley (who called himself the Beast of the apocalypse from Revelations), and his views on astral projection, which I found fascinating. He made Crowley sound almost like an ordinary guy who was just trying to share "secret" occult methods with the world; kind of the Edward Snowden of occultism.

Unfortunately, Stavish does not give any OBE narratives or personal experiences, so all this discussion and all these rituals became--for me--just theories and conjecture.

Although this was a fascinating and educational look into the world of Western Esotericism and how it relates to OBEs, I tend to think it's a bit too complex for the typical OBE reader who just wants a taste.

This is a good sized book: The pages are large, the print and margins are comfortable, and it's 243 pages, so it takes a while to read. Due to the subject matter, it takes a while longer to digest. It is professionally and expertly written. There were almost no mistakes, typos or grammar problems. It's also expertly organized. Every chapter also includes a summation of "Key Points" which are very helpful.

I give this book a thumbs up, but only for a limited target audience. If you're into rituals, the occult, and Western Esotericism, this book is for you. If you're not into regimented rituals, look elsewhere. If you're a dabbler, just curious, or just want some basic information on OBEs, this is the wrong book for you.

Bob Peterson
08 March 2016

2 comments:

  1. You wrote: "occultists like Ophiel (Marcel Louis Forhan)".
    I must point out that: Ophiel was the pseudonym of Edward C. Peach; Yram, the pseudonym of Marcel Louis Forhan.

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