Mike’s Prattle


Archive for March, 2012

Incense on the Tree of Life

Posted by Mike on March 29, 2012

This page in Lyam Thomas Christopher’s book Kabbalah, Magic and the Great Work of Self-Transformation and this one from a thelemic perspective both give correspondence lists on the tree of life for perfumes and incenses. In Christopher’s book, these correspondences are used imaginatively as part of an exercise (which is described in the same link). This article assumes you’re familiar with basic kabbalah, if not I’d recommend Dion Fortune’s The Mystical Qabalah as a good starter.

There isn’t much explanation given in the use of these scents, which is a shame because there are absolutely vast differences in quality for many of these ingredients, not to mention there are a few that are either in or starting to move towards endangered status. So I thought I might suggest some scents to start with not only to be able to build more accurate images of these scents that connect more fully with each sephirah but to suggest similar incenses that can be used in any ritual situation.

For Malkuth we have patchouli. Patchouli is almost always inexpensive but like all the ingredients here it can vary in quality from the heady reek of the guy standing next to you at a Dead show to something much sweeter and evergreen. Its correspondence to earthiness is more or less assured no matter what quality you use and while the sweeter Himalayan patchouli is probably the most pleasant scentwise, you’re going to get the most palpable earthiness from a stick like Shroff Channabasappa’s Patchouli. This quality seems to come out the most when the material is at its herbiest – sticks with patchouli oil don’t tend to communicate this as well.

Yesod’s correspondance is jasmine and really never did a more perfect scent match up with the lunar qualities of this sephirah. But like most floral aromas, jasmine can vary vastly in quality and in some cases the finest jasmine oils actually seem to drift away from their lunar qualities into something more refined. A good yesodic jasmine should have an almost wavering, mirage-like quality to it. Most standard Indian masala lines have decent jasmines, for example Triloka comes to mind. There are also some very fine quality high end jasmine or jasmine blend incenses, for example Kyukyodo’s Azusa or the high end jasmines in the since deleted Shoyeido Floral World line, but that almost reflective quality seems to have been refined out of these. The jasmine quality in Nu Essence’s Moon is nearly perfect as an example of what the oil should smell like, but the incense is a bit too much of a blend to enforce the correspondence. I’d recommend sticking with the Triloka stick or perhaps one of the Pure Incense versions.

Hod often shares lavender as a correspondence with the air element. Most lower end lavender oils should be extremely familiar as it’s in an ingredient common in household air fresheners. However the cheaper oils will never stop reminding you they’re oils and the mental activity one might associate with Hod is best brought out when a lavender scent is a little more herby. One good example might be Ancient Forest’s Lavender Dream, a reminder nicely reinforced by the company’s octagram based logo. I hesitate to recommend a few of the Mother’s nag champa blends since I would think the sweetness might cancel out the herbiness, but if the classic lavender oil bothers you, then something like Ganesh or Purusha Nag Champa might work.

Netzach is where it gets a lot tougher. Rose essential oil is almost prohibitively expensive so the lion’s share of rose incenses are approximations, floral blends or often geranium-heavy. A really good example of a blend would be Pure Incense’s Connoisseur Rose, but perhaps a good suggestion would be to search out a bakhoor such as Duggat-al Oud Ma Wardh Taifi. It’s important to get as close to the real thing with rose, as its scent is part and parcel of its symbolic value and the best bakhoors often get extra dimension from the rose via the use of aloeswood (an ingredient that varies enough to have its own correspondences). Also, like I mentioned with jasmine, if you can locate one of the top line Shoyeido Floral World sets, the rose is about as high definition as you might find outside of a rose otto. Of utter importance, the rose scent must be beautiful and moving – there are lots of really bad rose incenses on the market so beware.

Frankincense leads the list of gifts given to the newborn Jesus by the magi, and fits nicely on Tiphareth. However I would say the lion’s share of cheap frankincense doesn’t reflect the solar qualities that it should, the qualities that tend to come out when the frankincense is high quality and very lemon-citrus. You can maximize this quality by using high grade hougary Frankincense. Or if you need to use sticks, there are a couple excellent Japanese frankincense sticks that exhibit the solar qualities missing in most sticks, Tennendo’s Frankincense and Minorien’s. The latter comes close to Catholic church blends, while the former is less of a blend with something of a melon note. While recent news suggests a frankincense shortage on the horizon, there still seems to be plenty of quality resin available, at least for now. Olibanum is also a good alternative, although even its highest quality doesn’t really match hougary and tends to the orangey rather than lemony.

I’d guess dragon’s blood ended up associated with Geburah due to the color, but it’s never struck me as particularly Martian in scent. Dragon’s blood tends to vary very little as a resin and certainly Fred Soll’s stick would fit the bill nicely (particularly as you’re mostly going to find this scent in cheaper charcoal lines). However, I think tobacco or pepper might fit the sephirah a bit better in terms of hotness, but as neither are particularly pleasant to use, it’s difficult to think of a good substitute. Part of the difficulty is a lot of hot ingredients are also spicy and tend to fall under Tiphareth (like cinnamon and clove). But perhaps part of getting this right is understanding that Geburah isn’t necessarily pleasant and perhaps neither should the incense be.

Cedar is a highly inexpensive ingredient and like many it varies from the smell of your pencil to something a lot more stately. Given we’re dealing with Chesed here I think it’s essential to make sure your cedar is of the highest quality. Cheap cedarwood is used as filler in Tibetan incenses and isn’t likely to do much more than irritate your sinuses. However, Triloka and Pure Incense do cedarwood masalas and Indian sticks tend to a sweeter Himalayan cedarwood oil that should bring out the regal correspondance to Chesed quite nicely. A Japanese alternative is Nihon Senko Seizo’s Momiji Koh, which isn’t as sweet but is still quite stately.

Myrrh can be a very difficult resin to deal with as it might have the widest range in quality out of all these ingredients ranging from etheral to downright unpleasant. Most of what you will buy will be in the bottom half, and myrrh also has a way of coming out very understated in sticks. If you’ve never tried a good myrrh then you’re largely missing out on its Binah connections which tend to really sing when the resin is high quality and sublime. Yemeni myrrh is the finest quality and unfortunately it’s very difficult to recommend a stick form that’s even remotely in the same tier. Frankincense will tend to give all it has right up front, but myrrh is far more subconscious and strange and to this day I don’t think I’ve nearly exhausted all of the subscents that spiral off of good myrrh. Be sure you’ve tried it before imagining the scent.

Musk is even more difficult to pin down, out of all of these scents this will likely have the greatest diversion in source, quality and scent. Real musk, which is largely outlawed due its source being that of a dead musk deer, can largely be only found in countries like Japan where ecological laws are lax and even then it’s usually in a form that needs to be diluted to work as a scent. There is a gigantic difference between an herbal musk you’d find in any incense shop and a high end deer musk used in an expensive Japanese aloeswood (a really good example of this is Kyukyodo’s expensive Musashino which has one of the strongest hits of real musk you might ever witness). Tibetan incenses (the ones actually from Tibet itself rather than stylistically) also have high quantities of musk but in these scents they come off more animalistic and less perfume.  The occult correspondence lists are old enough to be referring to the real thing and in terms of correspondance the musk I mention in Musashino is definitely a bit closer to Chokmah due to its almost sweet, crystalline like qualities, but such a scent isn’t likely to be affordable (on the other hand a low ender like Benizakura is also musk heavy). Fred Soll used to make an excellent and affordable (and environmentally friendly) Egyptian Musk but it appears to be a deleted item. It’s difficult to know what to recommend in this case when your choices are either an expensive Japanese incense using animal ingredients or a bad one, but I would suggest that the less animalistic, sweltery and funky your musk is, the more it’s likely to correspond to Chokmah.

At the top of the tree we have Sandalwood. While Sandalwood doesn’t vary a lot in scent, it does vary a lot in quality and the huge difference between the powder in a cheap incense and a slice of wood from an old tree are profound. At its best sandalwood will even convert those that are usually turned off by it, as the better woods increase in crystalline resinous quality and a sense of age and quality like you’d find in a good aged wine or scotch. Good sandalwood is also quite rare but still reachable, Daihatsu provide amazing and robust chips for sale, and if you want similar quality in a stick you can go for Baieido’s Byakudan Kobunboku or if you really want to blow your mind the Byakudan Kokoh. We’re reaching for the top of the tree here and your job will much easier if you’re not associating sandalwood with butter, vanilla and other subnotes found in cheaper sticks.

I’ll be posting a link to this article in Olfactory Rescue Service as despite the occult ideas in this article, it should suffice fairly well as an introduction to different scents. Another reason I wanted to write this is I’d like to talk about aloeswood next time which to many incense lovers is the pinnacle of the incense experience. However I don’t think aloeswood fits anywhere comfortable on the Tree of Life because it varies vastly in scent and quality.

Posted in Esoteric | 8 Comments »

An interesting weekend

Posted by Mike on March 26, 2012

Since September 2011, I’ve had a mostly consistent output of art. The total is about 45 pieces, although a few of them are related to a larger project. When you’re in the middle of this kind of inspiration it’s kind of hard to imagine falling out of the pattern, but it looks to some extent like I’ve reached a bit of an impasse. I tend to recognize an impasse when I have a few more incomplete pieces than I usually do.

I’ve set something of a mini project for myself, which is a series of 11 by 14s of the Hebrew letters. It’s sort of an interesting combination of combining the letter, what the letter means and then the use of color. I finished Aleph last month but have been a bit stuck on Beth. The motif for Beth was to do a house lit from the inside so that the glow leaks through the windows, however I wanted a brick house so working on the lighting got a bit tricky. I’m also trying to subtly bring the Magician into this without making it a tarot card, but I’m starting to approach the limits of my technical skills in some areas.

Anyway, part of why I really wanted to go into this weekend and work through some of the blocks was a response to what’s going on in the Golden Dawn community. I spent a lot of the last decade mostly lurking in the community and trying to learn from the more experienced and over the last few months I’ve tried my hand at a few Golden Dawn book reviews. Most of the visible voices in the community are at the adept level (unless the voice is pretend in the first place), so I thought it might be useful to review some books from a greener perspective. I wrote one on Christopher’s self initiation book and another on Pat Zalewski’s major release, but I was pretty shocked at the responses to my review of Nick Farrell’s new book. Well maybe for a few seconds.

I’m no stranger to reviewing, I spent almost a decade reviewing albums in magazines like Exposé, Audion, Melodie e Dissonanze and others. Then I started Olfactory Rescue Service which is possibly the world’s leading English language incense resource. In fact I just finished reviewing a line self-titled the “King of Incense” line by a company who also sent people over to the blog to rave about them.

Over time you just kind of learn to get the review out and then move on. In my opinion there really is no Golden Dawn flame war.  A wise man once said you can judge them by their fruits. On one side you have someone writing books and blog entries that survey a wide range of Golden Dawn topics that contribute to our process and knowledge and on the other side you have someone whose energy goes largely to photoshopping and character assassination. Case closed right?

Destruction is needed sometimes to tear down the old structures. Those to whom it has fallen to bring out the sword aren’t likely enjoying this. So I thought it would be a good time now that my contribution to all that is done to get back into the spirit of creativity. Photos will be forthcoming at my gallery.

Finally, I wanted to plug what looks to be a tremendous book, Peregrin Wildoak’s By Names and Images. In those rare cases where I’m asked what the Golden Dawn is about, I’ve always found it difficult to recommend just one book, but based on what I’ve read in that second link, I can imagine it won’t be long before this will be the de facto introductory guide to the system. Wildoak has run a terrific, balanced and informative blog for years, so if anybody reading this is interested in wondering what the Golden Dawn is all about, go pick up a copy. There’s a lot of good magicians in the community but perhaps not so many great writers; this one checks both boxes.

Posted in Books, Esoteric | 3 Comments »

Review of Nick Farrell’s King Over the Water

Posted by Mike on March 23, 2012

Here. So I got this done before lunch, was gone maybe an hour or so, and had six comments when I got back. I think there’s 13 now.

[EDIT: Notice that in the comment section Frater WA misspells ad hominem as “ad hominum.” Then go look at the third comment down on this page.]

Posted in Esoteric | 2 Comments »


Posted by Mike on March 22, 2012

I wanted to list some points about self-initiation I think might be of use to those following a similar path.

  • If there’s absolutely any way you have access to a functioning Golden Dawn temple (as opposed to dysfunctioning), even if it’s a drive, take it. Self-initation is fraught with pitfalls that more experienced practitioners are well aware of and can assist with. As a self-initiate it’s very likely the time it takes to do the work will be much longer than if you weren’t under guidance.
  • Self-initiation is driven by disciplined devotion to doing the work every day. It is this work that initiates the changes in your being and breathes life into the intellectual work. In fact, I’m not sure it’s a bad idea at all to start as a self-initiate in only that doing the work might help you discriminate when looking for a temple. When you undergo the massive changes in paradigm and perspective that doing ritual work manifests, it gets easier to identify the impostors. After all, if the work moves you away from an ego perspective, then it’s easier to see when people claiming to have done the work aren’t moving away from an ego perspective.
  • The psychological and personal implications of following a self-initiatic path have not been stressed enough in any of the self-initiation books. Perhaps one of the ironies of self-initiation books is they’re usually written by those initiated in a temple. While a lot of these people may have also started Golden Dawn work as a self-initiate, there’s a serious disconnect between someone working mostly on their own and someone with decades of experience in a temple. I’ve always wondered if there’s any back-end testing when it comes to these books by the people who wrote them to, as objectively as possible, gauge their efficacy. How would we know if these books are actually creating adepts?
  • As someone who has been working on their own for a long while now (how long is really a matter of details), I know this system “works.” I also know that even for a self-initiate the lines become really blurred the longer you work with the system. It would be difficult to really detail how exactly this works, but one aspect to it that seems common is that the quantity and quality of synchronicities change. I think this is activated largely by the learning and absorption of the GD symbol system in that you’re learning the language that will hopefully take you beyond ego perspective.
  • There’s a neat book by Patrick Harpur called Daimonic Reality that I can imagine would be helpful to self-initiates. It’s not so much that I buy a lot of what’s in the book but his theory of a realm where the subjective and objective mingle is very similar to the way synchronicities operate. It helps to have a certain mental flexibility here because in my experience the numinous experiences that arise as the result of Golden Dawn work have a mythological quality that belies looking at them entirely from a scientific/skeptic or new agey/indiscriminate fashion.
  • If you get stuck, find someone you respect and contact them. On the other hand don’t be annoying or abuse this. I’ve done this only once, after what was probably the most profound event in my life. What was important about this was it put the things I had accomplished in perspective and freed me up to keep moving forward. And beware of contacting anyone who would tell you you need to be part of their group to move forward.
  • Temple initiation by quality magicians is a much better thing than self initiation but self initiation beats the hell out of being in a cult.

Posted in Esoteric | 2 Comments »

My on line art gallery

Posted by Mike on March 4, 2012


I’ve more or less caught it up (there’s some details on the journal page). Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Life after the computer crash

Posted by Mike on March 3, 2012

It’s nice having a little money, it’s had something of a boomerang effect. I bought a new home computer yesterday. Naturally it didn’t go smoothly, Office 2010 crashed on installation so I spent at least 30m with a tech getting it fixed. And there’s also a problem with some of the menus which I’m going to have to wrangle with Dell about. But now I’m very happy, but I’m realizing one of the great things about not actually having a computer since December is the task list ahead of me. I’m at that point in life where I need to divest myself of stuff. You know sending old books to Amazon and selling off some music on ebay, my guess is 2012 in part will be working on all of this.

On the other hand my first task was to get an art gallery up. I had posted a few of my older pieces on this blog, but they distort in this format, at least on some computers. So I’ve created a deviantart gallery here:


I’m missing about eight pieces I want to put up within the time period of what is up there, and I also have six newer ones. There’s a handful of minor things I probably won’t upload and then there are the really large pieces I’m doing as part of my personal temple that created a large mosaic that I’ll have to put up when I’m finished with them as a whole. Seriously the only enemy is time with all of this.

I also plan to split this blog up again so I can have a dedicated blog on the occult, kinda like I spun off Olfactory Rescue Service for incense, but this will follow the deviantart gallery. I just started doing a series of 11x14s of the Hebrew letters as well that I’m really excited about.

There are an incredible amount of really high quality occult books being released and reissued in the last few years. It occured to me after I got in a rather large haul the other day that we’re witnessing some of the most important work coming out on the Golden Dawn, possibly since the Regardie books. First of all anyone interested in the Golden Dawn can not be without Pat Zalewski’s Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries. There is almost a book’s worth of information on the Neophyte ritual alone and it demonstrates quite clearly the depth that came out of the Whare Ra temple. I’m not sure how long the book will be available, but I’m even thinking about getting one of the hardbacks. I wrote a review of it on Amazon but to be sure, I’m not even close to the type of understanding in it and hope to learn from it the rest of my life. I enjoyed Pat’s book on alchemy as well, although there’s no doubt I’ll have to read it again at some point.

The Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn’s reissue series that includes said mentioned alchemy book is also amazing, I just got in the tarot and alchemy books in the series. I’ve had Case’s Tarot book for years but it’s great to have his early work (including the two volumes of Early Writings that came too).

William Gray – The Ladder of Lights is one of those in the “I can’t believe I didn’t have this yet” category. But of all these books the one that is truly kicking my ass right now is Nick Farrell’s King Over the Water. I’ll talk more about it when I finish, but I think this one’s a game changer. One of the things that attracted me to the system in the first place was it’s true lack of an individual “name,” possibly the reason I keep Crowley stuff around for reference and not much more. So to see this history written in a way that shows the system shining even despite the failings of human beings – that’s the Golden Dawn I know. That system doesn’t have sacred cows or personalities bigger than itself, it’s a work in evolution.

Posted in Administrative, Books, Esoteric | 2 Comments »