I’ve been reading a good bit about Mysticism and Perennialism of late, devouring YouTube documentaries and deciphering some of the texts of the most well-known mystics and Perennial philosophers. Basically, after my Big Event a while back someone reached out to me and helped me make sense of it all. Being given a word, I was told, put me in the ‘rank’ of Magus in Aleister Crowley’s Thelema and we laughed that in times long gone we’d be known as saints. Imagine trying to convince your wife you’re a walking saint. I’ve tried. I failed. I’ll try again though.
Now, that’s fun to talk about and fun to make fun of but Jesus, what? A saint? Me? I’m a swampdonkey from rural Ireland. Now, the Magus, though, that’s good craic…
The Magus seeks to attain Wisdom, declares his law, and is a Master of all Magick in its greatest and highest sense. His will is entirely free from internal diversion or external opposition; His work is to create a new Universe in accordance with his Will. This grade corresponds to Chokmah on the Tree of Life. It also bears some resemblance to Nietzsche’s “new philosopher” who creates values, although with more focus on self-transcendence according to Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin.
That’s taken from here. Now, look, as any of you who listen of the podcast knows, I dig what Crowley was trying to do, or did, with Thelema but I’ve very little time for the man himself and it’s not so easy for me, yet anyway, to put much distance between the man and what he done that was good and moral and what he done that really, really, really wasn’t. And this isn’t an article about the ranks of Thelema or the qualities of a Magus or the like but the parts about attaining wisdom and the focus on self-transcendence are of the main interest to me.
Perennialism and Mysticism
Like most of us when I first came across the idea of awakening or having an awakening/becoming enlightened I balked at such a notion that anyone as lowly as me would be able to. Sure, you’d literally need to be a saint to be one with God, like, by definition even. Sure, why would he/she/it/insert favourite pronoun, be bothered with a scumbag like me? But by reading more about non-duality and oneness with the Big Fella and the transcendence of teachers like the Buddha, Jesus etc. you start to say, aye, actually this can be done. And then when I was introduced to the Baptist Head books and saw that two working class lads from England could do it then by God, a working class lad from Ireland could fecking do it too.
Perennialism is basically the idea that at their most basic level all religions are aiming the same thing, i.e. Union with God. Mysticism is achieving union with God via contemplative practices and/or prayer and, if you’re Christian and into it, some self-mortification (no thanks). The more and more that I read about the Perennialists and the mystics of Christianity in particular and some from Islam and Eastern religions/philosophies the more I reluctantly have to accept that what I’ve been experiencing for longer than I’ve ever admitted have been mystical experiences. That’s a strange and tough sentence to write. I was a card-carrying atheist until not too long ago. But I’d have to admit now that I was only one because I was too ashamed or scared or too unsure of myself to admit I’ve had religious and mystical experiences for quite a while. There isn’t a Christian God, I’d tell myself, but there’s something calling the shots and running it all, or at least behind it all there’s a unity to it all.
1980s Ireland was still a hotbed of Catholicism, rural Ireland was still very much a hotbed of folk-Catholicism and rural Wexford was no different. Indeed, where I come from, having a local saint, St Fintan , who had been a fairly important abbot in the early Celtic church, (St Colmcille claimed God gave him specific instructions for Fintan) religion seemed to be everywhere. I’ll make a point too that the village I’m from has a high population of Irish Travellers and as such their (folk)-Catholic beliefs were very evident, particular at certain times of the year, May and October, when you’d see plenty of May bushes and statues of the Blessed Virgin and lighted candles in windows and the like. Nothing unusual for 1980s Ireland at all. You see less of these traditions now but they’re still around.
In Catholic countries May is traditionally dedicated to a month-long devotion to the Virgin Mary while October is dedicated to the Rosary and with it having 150 Hail Marys in it, there’s an obvious connection. A classmate of my brother’s had cancer as a child, his older brother was also in my class, and we used to go to Rosary Novenas for him twice a week. They were sad, really heart breaking and it looked very bad for the lad. When it started out damn near half the village were going but as the weeks stretched on and on into months the numbers dwindled as hopes faded. Fair play though to the woman who organised it and said the prayers, Alice was her name, she kept at it and while I didn’t go to all I went to most of them. He recovered anyway. Maybe they had something to do with it, I’m not so sure but years later he thanked us for continuing to go. Least we could do. If nothing else it brought some people closer together.
Here’s something I didn’t know until researching this post, the Hail Mary was supposedly given to St Dominic by the bosswoman during the beginnings of conflicts with the Albigensian, more commonly known as the Cathars. The Cathars had some cool beliefs, most notably that the universe was dualistic and that we (the goodies), had a moral obligation to be good to escape the burdens of the material world. St Dominic founded the Dominicans but during his time he would debate the ‘heretical’ Cathars, he lived the life of an ascetic and didn’t lead any of the genocidal battles against the Albigensian, although it is reported that he supported military involvement. It should be said too that he died before any of the inquisition of the Cathars took place. It’s said that Mary appeared to him and gave him the Rosary to help him get the Cathars to see the error of their ways. The problem though is that until Alanus de Rupe came along and said she appeared to St Dominic and gave him the Rosary two hundred and seventy-odd years later there wasn’t a single document written by any Dominican who said that St Dominic had said she appeared to him. Case closed then.
Anyway the point I was trying to make before I got lost with Dom and Al there was the Virgin Mary was a bit of a big deal in Ireland and I would have been about three/four years old when all the Moving Statues phenomenon was occurring around Ireland a well. Most people I would have known back then would have had framed pictures of the Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart somewhere in their houses, you might have seen the odd Pope and JFK one as well. Unusual now but certainly not back then.
Visions of the Virgin Mary
I’m trying to remember what age I was. I remember the teacher I had in primary school so that would have meant I was in second class, that’s nine years old I reckon. Anyway, I was still sharing a room with my brother and even back then I used to have pretty bad insomnia for a child. I’d usually lose one night a week to not being able to sleep. Just lying there, worrying about everything and anything and trying to fix the world with all the mighty power and desire that a nine year old could wield in his head. My brother was fast asleep and it was a pitch dark night which I don’t remember that being all that usual because being in the middle of the countryside the stars and the moon would usually mean there’d be some light coming in the window. Must have been very overcast. Doesn’t matter.
So there I was, lying awake and then there she was. But not the film-version version that we see on our screens. She wasn’t in blue and white, there was no angelic music, no cheesy, disco fog machine, there was only silence. She was just there, shimmering, well shimmering is the wrong word, is there a word for solidly shimmering, in a kind of ghostly-luminous grey/green. It more had her shape than had her commonly-held features. There was no distinct face but her hand was outstretched, wide and downward and he head was facing downward too.
I was scared out of my tiny mind. Up to that point in my life it was without doubt the scariest thing that had ever happened to me. Thoughts tsumanied my child brain…Why was she, of all people, coming to me? I can’t do anything to help her, I can’t even get to sleep. I didn’t want the responsibility of having seen her. Was I hallucinating? Is this real? Am I already asleep and this is a dream? Why doesn’t see look like what she’s supposed to look like? I remember pulling the bedsheets up closer to my face and looking over at my brother to see if he was awake and had seen her too. Nope. Just me.
She didn’t speak. I wasn’t given a prophecy. I didn’t receive any knowledge, secret or otherwise. She just hovered there in the top, left corner of the room and looked at me. And I stared back with the absolute fear of God in me. So I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. One Hail Mary after another until I must have fallen asleep.
The next day in school we had a religion class where the teacher was talking about visions that people had, Knock, Fatima and so on. I suppose now I’d call it a synchronicity. Like the idiot I am I put my hand up when she stopped talking and I told the class all about what had happened. Isn’t it a strange thing that a group of people can sit down and listen to someone tell stories about strangers having things occur to them but when someone in that same crowd admits to having a similar experience the crowd will turn on them? Anyway, I was laughed at and made fun of for a good while over that. Nobody believed me. Why would they? I was nine.
There were two other times, one in a forest locally called Paddy’s Rock, when I’d gotten lost. It was the same thing, she was up in a tree and just looking down at me, although that time she was in her usual white and blue garb. She didn’t point me in any direction or anything, you know, she didn’t help me get unlost. Just was there up in a tree, with that faint smile she’s so often depicted as having. I eventually found my aunts and cousins again anyway, I told them and, yea, they didn’t believe me either.
There was one more at a place very close to that forest, a grotto just down the road. Now, there’s a cross on the top of the grotto as you can see in the pictures in that link and there’s always been a statue of Mary in the rock too. Anyway, I was up at the cross, looking down at the short trail up waiting for my cousins and she popped up again, in the sky. I don’t know the history of the grotto and why there’s a statue there and if she’d been seen there before or if it’s just a place of calm and quiet and a place for prayer. She just appeared in the sky, smiled and was gone again.
Anyway, I had just kind of pushed these experiences away until pretty recently. Literally nobody other than you dear reader knows about these experiences. I realise now what they are/were. I wonder though having pushed them away have I pushed her away? Then again, one of my first HGA visions had the white and blue motif and I saw a shield with IHS on it. Still though, got to be a little bit annoyed at myself for not having the guts to say hello but at the same time when you’re in the middle of these things talking seems to be the last thing on your mind. Things happen the way they happen. I need to accept them and take any lessons I can from them. Kind of bizarre to think and write that I’ve had visions of the Virgin Mary. I don’t really know what to do with this information.
Suggestions are welcome, you know where to get me.