Saturday, August 13, 2011

Interview with Ninevah Shadrach Part One

I am happy and honored to present this wonderful interview with Ninevah Shadrach author of the newly released Encyclopedia of Magical Squares. Nineveh is an accomplished scholar,mage, and author. In this interview we discuss the ancient traditions of the Ruhaniat and it's influences on the Western Mystery traditions.

You have been a practitioner of Ruhaniat and the Golden Dawn, as well as a priest in the Order of Melchizedek and Marduk (Osiris). For those who may be unaware of what Ruhaniat is can you give us a brief description?

Ruhaniat is taken from the Arabic root Ruh, which means Spirit. Ruh is the exact same as the Hebrew word Ruach. Ruhaniat basically means all that pertains to the spiritual arts. This covers all kinds of familiar topics such as astrology, theurgy, geomancy, alchemy, and so forth. English has multiple words to describe the various kinds of magic out there. Arabic isn’t as precise. The word Sihr is used for everything from stage magic to the darkest form of the craft. This is why instead of using Sihr most Arabs prefer to use the word Ruhaniat to describe the esoteric field in general and that includes more positive approaches to magic.

What is the main force or principle behind Ruhaniat?

The main active agent in Ruhaniat that allows for metaphysical things to happen is identical in many ways with the Greek idea of pneuma or Hindu concept of prana. Everything in the universe is part of a great universal spirit. Each thing possesses its own Ruhaniah or spiritual emanation or intelligence. Often, these Ruhaniah are seen as both integrated with the thing as well as distinct. They have an intelligence to them that can be called forth, communicated with and enlisted to bring about effects. Doing so requires knowledge of the sacred properties of letters, numbers, planetary movements and even stones and plants to create a harmonic connection. This is why Ruhaniat often has a complex system of planetary and elemental correspondences. Ruhaniah stands often as a separate category from arwah or spirits, which can be either ghosts or disincarnate beings, jinn, an independent semi-physical race that competes with humans, or angels, beings of light operating as agents of the Creator. Ruhaniat has its roots in pre-Islamic Near Eastern mysticism and esoteric lore, which covers a tremendous amount of influence from the Babylonian (Sabian cults) and the Greek and Persian schools of thought. This is partly due to the translation of texts from pre-Islamic societies, as well as to the fact that many of the masters of this tradition either resided in North Africa or were originally from Mesopotamia or Persia.

Is there any relationship between Ruhaniat and the Golden Dawn?

From my study of Western literature, I would say that Ruhaniat has had an impact on the streams that formed the Golden Dawn and it isn’t as unfamiliar as most people suspect. Think of the Picatrix as a prime example of an important text through Western esoteric history, which is part of the corpus of Ruhaniat. Some of the influences are a bit more under the radar. For example, the word "Armadel" is a corruption of the Arabic "Almandel", a methodology of evocation and scrying. The number of Arabic grimoires on magic exceeds the Hebrew and English ones by at least ten fold. You can also see parallels and influences when looking at the adoption of the names of spirits. "Amaymon" the Goetic king is an easily identified corruption of the Arabic "Maymon", the jinn king of Saturn.

Geomancy is part of Ruhaniat, correct? How different is this from the Golden Dawn version?

It goes without saying that Geomancy, which originated in Arabia and North Africa, has found its way into Golden Dawn teachings, albeit in fragments. Comparing notes between classical variants and the version that the Golden Dawn uses, I found enough variations in correspondences, structure, and interpretation method. The figures are the same, but that is about it really. Based on what is available, I can’t imagine anyone getting that excited with Geomancy compared to the Tarot. The accuracy of Geomancy is totally underrated. I have seen a method in an Arabic source where a Geomantic reading was cast, the figures were converted to letters, and that answer spelled out the location of a missing person whose body was fished out from the Nile based on that info. Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming the Golden Dawn for this. On the contrary, I am thankful to them for keeping the basic principles alive in Western occult literature by integrating it into their system. They simply didn’t have much to work with from the original sources and had to rely on European literature like Agrippa’s.

It sounds like you are seeing a cultural barrier of some sort.

I think there does exists a kind of bias and blindness due to political, religious, and historical divide between the Muslim world and the Western world. The work of famous medieval Arabic astrologers has also had an impact on Western astrology and its development. Astrology seems to be more open about its influences and, like a football, keeps getting thrown from one culture to the next in its developmental states and everyone is just fine with that. There is the old Babylonian phase, the Hellenic phase, the Arabic phase, and so on.The same can’t be said for magic and other branches of the esoteric field. You don’t often see acknowledgement of the Arabic influences, which creates the sense of separation and distance and unfamiliarity. I remember someone drafting a history of magic and suffering from a 500-600 year empty space. He counted all kinds of various cultural influences on Western esoterica, but had this gap. I tried to explain to him there was no gap. That period was when the Muslim world had the magic ball and was expanding on its development before passing it on. Let’s take a look at planetary magic squares introduced in Agrippa’s book and then in various grades in the Golden Dawn. There is rarely mention of one of the oldest published sources on them, which is the work of Ahmed al-Buni in the early 12th century. In the end, the issue goes beyond the matter of acknowledging the contributions of another culture. It is about pointing students toward the source so they can go further than the fragments that made its way into their corpus. If al-Buni’s influence had been recognized, it would have led to more interest in the rest of his work; that would have even further enriched the Western Mystery Tradition and further empowered the magic of Western practitioners over the span of hundreds of years.

Do you really believe the Arabic influence has had such an impact on the Western Mystery Tradition?

I believe the impact varied over time. Obviously, there has been little direct influence for a long time. However, this has been changing and there has been a shift more and more toward exploring this stream as of late. Yet, historically this influence was present. This influence is acknowledged and given credit as far back as the Rosicrucian story, in which Christian Rosenkreuz studies under the wise men of Fez and Damkar and takes an Arabic master with him to found the society in Europe. We see this story play out again in the Golden Dawn. Even if people today were to ignore the narrative, it is still there like the story of Genesis in the Bible.
Later on the idea of the Arabic Master had its impact on Felkin of the Stella Matutina with his contact with the Arabian master Ara Ben Shemesh.

Here is what we know:

• Felkin came under influence of the “Sun Masters”, the fabled Secret Chiefs
• Around 1908 he came in contact with Ara Ben Shemesh (“Lion son of the Sun”)
• Ara Ben Shemesh belonged as one of the “Sons of Fire” inhabiting a Near Eastern “temple in the desert”, who had been given permission to contact and teach Western students.
• His appearance to Felkin was a shadowy presence and was later described by a clairvoyant as being in Arabian dress.
• He described himself as a Chaldean
• He was seeking someone to help him in uniting Eastern (Ruhaniat) and Western teaching.
• He promised to appear physically later and Felkin and his brethren waited for years for this master to show up in New Zealand and teach them great wonders. According to people familiar with the story, he never did.

Beside a historical anecdote about astral encounters, what does that mean to the average student of the Golden Dawn? There has been criticism of Felkin over this incident.

Let me defend poor Felkin’s reputation. He is often maligned for this particular incident by those that are overly dismissive or ignorant of the symbolism in question. I will now shed some light on this from the perspective of both Ruhaniat and Near Eastern mystery tradition. At its heart, the Golden Dawn is an Osirian order. As you correctly identified earlier in one of your questions, Osiris is the Egyptian rendition of the Akkadian Marduk, associated with the constellation of Orion. However, it dates back much farther. The Osiris cult was an importation of an older Sumerian religion. The mystery of the son of Enki known as Dumuzidabsu or Asari Murdug gave rise to Asar Unefer in Egypt. By the time of the Akkadian period, Asar remained as Asarluhi and, based on Semitic language rules, Murdug was transformed to Marduk (K in Akkadian was a substitute for the Sumerian G).

Why is this important?

For one, the title of Marduk was Mariutu (Son of the Sun). This wasn’t just his title, but the title of many of the old priests of Uruk. For example, Enmerkar, the builder of the temple of E-anna, was called Mariutu (son of the Sun) just like his father Ara Ben Shemesh being a Chaldean (another name for the Babylonian era) wouldn’t have had a Hebrew name. It would make sense that he was speaking to Felkin in a language that he himself understood as a mystical language. It is more likely that his Chaldean title was Mariutu. "Ara" means lion and in old Babylonian motifs, we see the powerful Goddess Ishtar riding on a lion. The metaphorical lion is none other than the mystical son figure whose identification as the lion makes its way later into the Christian religion with the conversion of the Assyrians into Christianity and, of course, is mentioned in the Old Testament. On the surface, the title “sons of fire” is a reference to the jinn, but there is more to it than that. Marduk’s alternate name is Gibil, which translates as Fire God. However, the word for fire and light here is the same. "Aur" means both fire and light. The narrative of the “children of fire” (Beni Aur) also appears in apocryphal literature in Israel, where it is translated as children of light. The double connotation of fire and light has its direct connection with the emanations of the Sun. All of this brings us right to the “secret chiefs” of the Golden Dawn, the Sun Masters. I have seen no compelling evidence to believe in the existence of “secret chiefs” specific to the Golden Dawn, human or otherwise. Of course, this in itself doesn’t negate their existence.Having said this, I do believe in the existence of “secret chiefs” of the entire spiritual teachings of humankind, esoteric and exoteric. This isn’t something that started with channeling in the early 1900s. Ruhaniat text dating to the Middle Ages makes mention of “asyad al-ruhaniah” (Masters of Ruhaniah). One such master is no other than Metatron, known in Arabic as “Sayed Metatron” or Master Metatron. Metatron is a later rendition (attribute wise) of Nabu, the son of Marduk, whose temple in Sumerian is called Ezida (House of Righteousness) connecting him directly with the Akkadian Kittu (Righteousness) the son of Shamash (Sun), in later Babylonian theology. There is another layer to this mystery, when you consider the belief in the Near East that stars are bodies of angels and a less known mystery connecting the souls of all living things emanating and returning to the vault of souls, which are part of the Ruhaniah of stars.I think if Felkin failed to understand something, it is that Ara Ben Shemesh, whoever he is really, was guided by the "Sun Masters" to use the GD as a vehicle, but that should the situation change, that vehicle would be abandoned and another found. Assuming, indeed, that Ara Ben Shemesh intended to return physically, since he was seen as a shadowy apparition, it is likely what Felkin saw was a jinn announcing or heralding the arrival through incarnation. In Ruhaniat, each human has a jinn qareen or companion from birth. These jinn often appear as shadowy figures. Of course, if such an incarnation was to occur, it would have been futile for Felkin to wait, since he couldn’t know when it would happen and the child still would have to grow up.
I want to emphasize that I am not a member of Whare Ra, nor affiliated with any of its members. I just wanted to show how understanding Ruhaniat can shed some light on such experiences within the Golden Dawn.

Can you tell us a little about the differences between Ruhaniat and the Golden Dawn?

This is a tough question as I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I can say that the aims are the same, many of the methods are in harmony, and that while Ruhaniat isn’t the father or mother of the Golden Dawn, it sure is it's distant uncle. However, where the familial lines break has less to do with the Golden Dawn itself, but more with the cultural situation as it exists in the world today compared to the ancient world. In other words, it is between Ruhaniat vs modern new age thinking, or modern magick.

Can you tell us a little about the differences between Ruhaniat and modern magick?

Another difference between old and new is the idea that all power comes from within. You see more and more people basically pushing the Creator out of the picture altogether and making it all about us manifesting our own creation. Many old teachers of Ruhaniat argued that this was the danger of sorcery or association with the lower world denizens. One sign they warned against was that of letting power get into your head and feeling like you’re on equal footing with the Creator and attributing all gains to your own personal power. They saw that more with sorcerers and less with Ruhaniat practitioners and noted that. I should mention that I am using sorcery here in the Arabic sense to identify those who work with lower world denizens and seek to gain power over others. In Ruhaniat, the powers were always seen as having come from the Creator as a gift and blessing to help one spiritually and to benefit one’s community.There are differences between Ruhaniat and the styles of magic strongly influenced by Crowley. Crowley’s Aiwass would have been identified easily as an Ifrit (a class of jinn) by most practitioners of Ruhaniat, and the message and teachings he infused into magic bear hallmarks of that influence and not just Crowley’s own genius. In modern times, magical practices and objectives are considered more and more to be primarily a combination between mental imagination and pure human will unified to cause reality to conform to one’s personal will.This flies in the face of the teachings of Ruhaniat, which sees the craft as a direct tool to unveiling the barriers between the human consciousness and the realm of pure spirit. It was likened to soap, a tool to purify and cleanse the human soul and psyche and bring it to a state of spiritual perfection.The practitioners of Ruhaniat were also practical people and used their craft to help others on a physical level. The idea of high and low magic didn’t exist as it is understood today. There was nothing unspiritual about improving your life materially. High and low were associated in older Arabic literature with the realm of the Gods (angels, heaven, etc.) and the realm of the underworld (dead, lower jinn, demons, etc.)
This brings me to another point, which I think is becoming exceedingly unpopular in today’s pop-occultism world. You didn’t dance between both worlds back in the day. You chose to align yourself with either. Psychologically, we all want to balance and deal with our shadow self and not suppress it, but transmute it. However, Ruhaniat deals with objective spirits and, as such, they advised shifting back and forth. The lower jinn were harmed or made uncomfortable by the presence of the upper world denizens. Contrary to modern conceptions of banishing at will and evoking at will, you always had one or two such beings as your companion to help you out once you got started. The opposite side is that celestial or upper world beings required a certain level of purity elevation and were turned off by regular companionship with beings from lower worlds. Finally, Ruhaniat makes no distinction between magic and mysticism. In Ruhaniat mystical practices were often integrated into all facets of the craft ranging from prayer and fasting, to solitary retreats in darkness, engaged in chanting hymns and mantras. Ruhaniat is also strict about its dietary requirement of veganism during spiritual practices and admonishes its practitioners to even avoid looking at meat and slain animals when going through extended meditations. You don’t need to be a vegan all the time of course, but I know for me, my spiritual practices lead me to vegetarianism as a daily life choice. The re-integration of mysticism and spiritual discipline of a devotional level with magic and esoteric thought is what often gets most modern Western practitioners to experience a kind of mental computation error. Many have come to think of magic as a form of mental creation backed by will and most prefer not to have structure in their styles of magic; instead they like to create their own rituals. Ruhaniat would be a challenge as it requires consistent structured practice and discipline.

Can you give me an example of how a Ruhaniat ritual would differ from more modern methods?

Sure! Let’s say you want to consecrate a talisman. It takes time and preparation to just figure out the proper square that goes on it, the planetary timing (not just day and hour), and the consecration can take up to 40 days. You don’t project your own energy at it, but bring the energy from the macro universe and animate it like a golem. You want it to give you what you don’t possess, so you attract forces greater than yourself to it.

So, what makes this a better path for the average person?

It all boils down to efficacy. In the more popular modern methods, you often have to rely on faith that your work has done something. Frequently, the talisman is infused by your own will and energy, so it doesn’t have any more than what you can produce. If you are good, it may have energy, but it requires that you be psychic or intuitive to know that it has anything to it. In the Ruhaniat method, the talisman is placed on a tripod, and then it spins on its own – yes, on its own - and once it’s charged its energy is often physically tangible to random people. Some might report a feeling of their hand on fire or outright electrical shock from touching it. These are not the reactions of occultists, though I have had occultists have equally shocked reactions, which always amuses me, because they should know better. I’ve had family members visit where I asked them to close their eyes and first placed magical talismans on their hands and then normal objects without telling them what I was doing, and their reaction was amusing to behold.

This was part one of my interview with Nineveh...stay tuned for part two!