by Michael Neal
Caitlín and John Matthews, in The Western Way, made a fundamental distinction in the categorisation of western esoteric arts. Two central orientations are differentiated: these are the Native and the Hermetic traditions.
The significance of this distinction lies in the fact that with the great renewal of interest in esoteric matters, especially within the magical and pagan areas, some confusion is emerging over the issues of ‘sources’ and ‘validity’ of the emerging traditions. The difference between the traditions are often stressed rather than their similarities. In any multifaceted revival movement, claims of uniqueness (over and above brother and sister traditions), are often emphasised so as to delineate their own individuality… and so the many branches of contemporary esotericism strive to stake their claim to authenticity and hopefully utility.
Trying to come to terms with this great diversity of traditions and systems can be a headache for the interested lay person. It is here that the work of the Matthews comes as a breath of fresh air. The categorisation mentioned above (i.e. Native and hermetic) is a common sense starting point in understanding the relationships between the traditions. Although it must not be thought that this represents a clear cut distinction. It will be suggested that the meeting point or area of commonality of these two broad labels is found in the depths of the Underworld.
Firstly, the two orientations will be briefly outlined. Secondly, how they are linked and find their commonality within the Underworld will follow. And lastly, a discussion on the relationships between force & form, and between pattern and consciousness will conclude the paper. The underlying purpose of this essay is to attempt to demonstrate that questions of authenticity and validity in esoteric pursuits derive solely from the root agent of things which, following the work of R.J. Stewart and the Matthew’s, is the Underworld, and do not derive from Charters, secret and costly initiations, or from ‘authoritative’ and ‘authorised’ lineage… No one has a copyright on the Mysteries’; it cannot be gratuitously communicated via elaborate initiation rites and the like. All these ‘aids’ are props to help instigate the transformation process. They are the externalities, the glamour which, without the power of the Root Agent, called in alchemy the Secret Fire, all is done in vain. I’m not suggesting that genuine Schools don’t exist; only that they are becoming more rare, and that the ‘externalities’ can obscure, rather than clarify the situation. Indeed, they can become the central concern, dominating instead of aiding the initiatory process.
The Native tradition is characterised by its emphasis on the development of a subtle awareness, directed towards the Earth as an entity aware and conscious of those living on Her surface. This involves recognition of the Goddess in her many forms and attributes. Concepts of ‘deity’ are viewed as being external to the individual to which the individual relates in an harmonious manner, or so it may appear to an observer. However, the inner workings are somewhat more involved. The objective dynamics of the Goddess/God are sought within the individuality – intrapsychically. A parallelism occurs when the individual senses that the duality of inner/outer (the Westem split between mind and matter) is an illusion. There is an interpenetration of the outer and the inner worlds, the two reflect each other; ideally they merge into one continuous process.
Therefore, achieving harmony with the rhythms and patterns of nature and the balancing out of elemental forces are the fundamental objectives. Each particular way within the Native tradition possess its own philosophy with regard to what follows from this point. The majority support the idea of the instigation of reform either on the religious, social or political fronts, or reform in a metaphysical sense, meaning the revival of long forgotten Goddess forms, and the regeneration of magical currents since laid dormant etc. Working towards the preservation of the tradition(s) is also a primary objective. Although seasonal rites, Goddess and God worship etc., are considered important their work does not stop there. The Native tradition possesses a complete and complex mythology and practice, which carries the significance of the seasons, elemental workings and Goddess/God cycles, on to a higher cycle of experience and encounter.
The Native tradition has always existed in one form or another. Its practitioners have never let the art become totally forgotten. In this regard it is to be noted that the continuators of the Native traditions are traditionally the ‘common’ wo/man. It is passed on often in the form of folk traditions, stories and song, ‘superstitions’ and the like. It is worth noting in this context the words of H. Bayley that traditional lore in the form of fairytales, for example, “have not descended from the educated to the ‘uneducated’ classes (as was once believed) but vice versa, have emanated, as it were, from the soil ascending from the cottage to the castle.”
A resurgence of interest in the Native tradition has recently made itself felt as the Old Religion or Wicca. Its emphasis on the Goddess, the Earth and her seasons clearly mark it out as being oriented towards the Native tradition. Also included in this area is what has become known as Traditional, Hereditary and Family Witchcraft. These more elusive traditions appear to possess much of the content of the Native tradition proper. For example they are not dependant on literary source, as is much of contemporary Hermetically based tradition: although the same criticism can also be applied to much of 20th century wicca (see Crafting the Art of Magic by A.Kelly). This point is of some importance. Native traditions are primal, therefore, the only real requirement is experiential – little attention or emphasis is given to literary esotericism. Practise is not a matter of intellectuality but of intuition and inner perception.
The Hermetic tradition on the other hand stresses the acquisition and pursuit of knowledge, as knowledge is believed to hold the keys to insight and power. Deity is seen as reflected within wo/man rather than external to her/him. Alterations in consciousness evolving on a patterned scale, is the objective. The alchemical formula; Solve et Coagula is here seen as a key concept, in that ‘movements’ of awareness necessitate a basic change in the structure of consciousness.
The forces of Nature, and the deities of antiquity are viewed as personifications and/or attributes of God (macrocosmically) and of Man (microcosmically). But the point of balance is Man: Man as the interstasis of existence i.e. Man’s spiritual composition extends from his highest point (Yechidah, Atman etc.), which is in contact with the highest principle, to his lowest point (Soma, Earth) which is materiality; so the saying:”all the Universe flows through Man” takes on great significance. Seen from this perspective the duality of Inner and Outer becomes somewhat meaningless.
Things get somewhat confused when for example, the pagan or wiccan religions are interpreted and practised with a hermetic slant or vice versa. This could be said of Jung for example, he interprets the Gods as projections of unconscious functionaries; i.e. he takes what some accept as external to be based and motivated from the internal realm. Although it is really a question of understanding how different levels of reality intermingle. For example, the Gods can be seen as external and objective, both the Native and Hermetic practitioner often act as if this were the case but this does not preclude both traditions from also considering the Gods as reflected within, acting suspiciously like Jung’s archetypes..The real essence here though, is that the Native tradition seems to prefer to view the Gods as extemal, while the Hermetic prefers to view them internally. The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive and much crossover occurs on both sides.
Another important distinction between the two is that the Native traditions could be defined as a religion whereas the Hermetic tends towards the metaphysical and philosophical relying on techniques of consciousness alteration and paradigm construction and deconstruction. ‘God’ is generally seen as impersonal, leaving the individual free to construct his/her own individualistic representation and approach.
In the practical field the distinction between the two orientations is generally not so clear. For example, many symbols and techniques of the Hermetic school are employed in various wiccan and pagan Groups and the reverse of this applies. More practically, many pagans and neo-pagans are also involved in the Hermetic tradition, and vice versa. Their overlap and interpenetration is to be expected. as the elements in both traditions are archetypally breaking cultural and temporal boundaries.
R.J.Stewart has had much to say as to what constitutes a genuine tradition. For example, Stewart criticises both Hermetic and Native traditions which are currently popularised in a literary form. He believes them to lack any real foundation in oral and primal traditions; largely being creations of early esotericists, rather than the regeneration of genuine magical arts. This is not to say that the traditions don’t work but it may indicate that the traditions are not necessarily complete.
He emphasises the superiority of culture specific traditions in distinction to foreign esotericisms. These traditions are currently undergoing ‘regeneration’ by neo-pagans and Hermeticists alike. Examples are the Celtic, Norse, Arthurian and Native American and more recently, the Australian Aboriginal tradition. The distinction is between purely literary and syncretically based systems with little or no innerworlds source and inspiration, with the more specific, culturally determined system, explored via oral and textual sources. The result of the latter variety is a system which attempts to regenerate a once living tradition which remains in the group consciousness of one’s country. This last point is thought to be the crucial factor. This is a particularly tricky area, as it is clear, for example that, for a system to work in a magical sense, historical authenticity is not necessarily required. The mythos of Blake for example has little historicity but constitutes a profound magical and prophetic philosophy. Much the same applies to the Golden Dawn, Enochian and Atlantian systems. Stewart however, is suggesting that authenticity derives from the regeneration of historical cults and traditions of one’s own land. This seems to clash with the Hermetic tradition of creativity and syncretism (for example look at the sources that make up the Golden Dawn tradition). On these grounds Stewart tends to denigerate both Native and Hermetic practice. This is unfortunate as they have a Great Deal to offer the sincere student.
The revival of specific pagan religions en masse, to the extent that is possible, isn’t in my view necessarily ‘Magic’; Hermetic or Native. They are specific culturally based Religions and should be designated as such. But, as the sources are often fragmentary and incomplete, it is to the magical traditions that the regenerators of these religions turn to, to fill in the gaps. Therefore, they possess both traditional and magical elements, forming a synthesis. In this way ‘Magic’ could be designated as a post-traditional practice applied to pre-Christian religions. Indeed the apparent discrepancy between ancient magical practice and modern magical practice has been commented upon by several contemporary authors but is rarely elaborated upon.
It is the belief of Stewart that all magical traditions in the West have their roots in what he calls the Underworld tradition. This provides the meeting point of all the divergent traditions in force today. Says Stewart, “for a cult or religion to have validity, to have regenerative power, it must have its roots in the underworld, no matter what direction it chooses to grow thereafter” . Though, “One must be careful how one interprets the words ‘underworld tradition'” for it is only a restatement of the magician’s ‘Inner world’ or Astral light. Dion Fortune clearly specified the difference between a school that was contacted and one that was not. This seems to be what Stewart is saying when he says that the tradition’s validity originates within the Underworld. All magical traditions derive from a common matrix. On a deep level this matrix is the generative source of being. This is the essential ‘contact’ necessary for any tradition to function adequately. This is the inner point of commonality between all genuine traditions. From this point onwards, differences are generated by differing cultural, social and geographical determinants.
The underworld therefore plays a pivotal role in both native and hermetic traditions, although the emphasis may differ. Perhaps more importantly, how the underworld is conceptualised in the traditions, also differs widely.
What then is the Underworld? It is a place, or ‘locale’ of transformation. It is perceived and mythologised as an underworld domain wherein individuals are subject to specific imagery, affects and forces. As a consequence of this exposure the individual undergoes a transformation. Of particular importance is the interaction of the individual with contra- sexual forces – as transformation is largely seen in both traditions as based on polar exchanges.
However, how ‘it’ is perceived and experienced can radically differ from person to person, and from tradition to tradition. There is not a set dynamic here. Some for example, may experience the underworld as a void. That is, a de-personalisation occurs. One’s accumulated, society-oriented attributes (Jung’s ‘persona’) is displaced allowing the individual to reach deeper within his/her truer self. From this point of nothingness a birth is made possible, an emergence of genuine self attributes slowly manifests. Others may undergo an upsurgence of neglected images and feelings, triggering access to fundamental emotions long forgotten. How individuals react depends largely upon their own inner geography at any given time.
The rationale to all this is that Man is in an inharmonious or unbalanced state requiring connection to a severed part of him/her sel£ This severed part is represented by the underworld, in that it contains, or shows forth the way to the essential self. Motifs of transformation; repolarisation and the like are employed to describe this process.
Access to this realm is portrayed in many mythologies, the most recognisable being the descent of a mythological figure into the earth. Researchers such as J. Campbell, M. Eliade and C. Jung have attempted to outline the stages of the descent and re-emergence which take place in the world religions, while various exposures of an esoteric nature have shown a similar process to be occurring in magical systems.
The descent/re-emergence forms the basis of many initiation rites, and is the baseline of a great deal of esoteric and spiritual development. how these sequences work in practise is therefore of great interest. However, knowing the sequence doesn’t imply that consciousness can be affected, as magic is not a mechanical affair.
Knowledge of the mechanics sequence resides in the principle of occult harmonics. The sequence allows the individual to align him/her self with the desired goal. In this case the underworld, images and associated effects are generated within awareness (in the form of a ritual or a pathworking for example) according to archetypal pattems and harmonies. The pattern is a firmly established baseline inherent within the soul ( just how this is conceived depends on one’s orientation cf. Jung’s archetypes, DNA patterns, ‘morphic fields’, inner plane currents, seasonal cycles etc…).
The pattern, however, is not concrete and fixed. Its centre is protean in that it generates series of images according to its inherent nature. The variations in any one pattern are mostly due to the specific cultural context. That is, the specifications of any geographical area give its own unique imprint to the group mind of its residents, subtly interweaving them. The point here is that an individual born into a specific tradition/culture, has greater access to its inner, esoteric traditions, due to his/her familiarity with its group mind. ‘Dissonance’ can occur when an individual attempts to work at cross-purposes with his/her natural proclivities. For example, the death and rebirth of Osiris is not the same as that of Mithra; but important parallels exist.
The mythos and inner dynamics relating to the murdered Osiris are directly related to the Egyptian psycho-spiritual condition and address specific needs and requirements of that interactive system.
Taking material out of context without an awareness of the totality that one is trying to effect; believing that one can use part of a culturally defined pattern to fill a gap in another (foreign) pattern… can only lead to confusion on the iMer levels of the individual working such a composite system. Hence, the sound advice “Don’t mix systems”! So, with this in mind it is interesting to see J. Campbell doing exactly this in his famous work The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
This is obviously a vexed issue. Campbell has done us great service by demonstrating a possible sequence (in a comparative fashion) in the initiation of the Hero, but the resulting picture smacks of the dusty atmosphere of a library rather than the dramatics and energy of actual experience. Also, his book emphasis only one form of initiation; that of the questing hero. One must keep in mind that the sequence is contrived in the sense that it is a composite sequence he draws examples from many cultures. Do the various parts relate together? Is there an harmonic relationship between the various motifs, or are they in discord? Is it tried and tested by tradition? and most importantly, is there inner world support for this sequence…? Although he adeptly ‘proves’ that patterns do exist, he tends to ignore the more specific culturally deterrnined idiosyncrasies which can be so important in individual experience. For example, the relationship between the Hero and the figures he encounters in traditional and magical mythologies are harmoniously related in many ways, as are their totems, weapons, symbols, attributes etc. In actual practice simple substitution with similar figures will not carry the requisite force. Tradition carefully carves out sequences (not concrete, but fluid) which can be actualised by the magician, as in the alchemical process, the stages cannot be mechanically complied and followed, but must be the result of a deep familiarity with the inner aspect of the tradition.
Campbell’s work has introduced thousands to the ‘power of the myth’, and to the mythic quest itself… but the practicalities are mostly absent. This has been (for better or worse), largely filled by ‘human potentialists’ and the ‘new age’ teachers.
But the differences between genuine magical traditions and these readily available ‘psychologies’ currently enjoying mass popularity are great; Stewart mentions many in his works… for example, “when psychology deals with the gods, they do not exist in their own right, they have no relationship to any universal holism or existence beyond the human psyche”.[‘7] The ‘Human Potentialists’ prefer to deal with ‘metaphors’ rather than inner plane realities…
Much the same criticisms could be said about similar researchers, Jung for example. He is somewhat different however, due to his hands-on exposure to the Mythic bubbling’s of his patients. He was dealing with raw and unprocessed subject matter which taught him (and not the other way round) about the processes within the depths of the psyche. It is not without significance that Jung was very hesitant about providing any sequence of Individuation. Jung attempts to give the sympathetic reader an understanding of the nature of the patterns and sequences (viz. the Archetypes), rather than clear cut stages of development. It is not for the analyst to impose structure onto the patient. The unconscious must be allowed to give the lead. The unconscious ‘acts’, indicating areas requiring attention; in response the analyst’s task is to teach the patient how to respond adequately. Action may or may not follow defined sequences. The issue is in the ability of the individual to engage the unconscious/underworld appropriately. This is reflected in Jung’s injunction to his students;… to read everything they could about mythology, and then forget it!
The fact that sequences can become fossilised into lifeless ritual, as we see in Freemasonry and other organised religions and fraternities is a testimony against formalisation. One ‘formula’ or one sequence used in the same way without maintaining contact with the underworld forces soon looses its transformative power. The individual must therefore remain aware of the variables involved in accessing the underworld. The definition of patterns and sequences entails an analysis of consciousness and its relationships to energy the structure of form (conscious) and force (energy). An understanding of this relationship is the key to all occult practice. Many theoreticians have attempted to delineate this relationship, some with more success than others. But such formalisations are inherently problematical and should be treated with caution, and with an eye to sensing the rhythm within the pattern, rather than the specific manifestations in any one situation, historical or individual.
The mythology of the Native and Hermetic traditions supply the form into which the force flows. The force is the bedrock of all experience, how it will be gathered and used is determined by the form i.e. the tradition. So we see that the pattern is supplied by the tradition it holds the keys of accessing the underworld.
One commonly employed sequences is the classical death and rebirth of the God/Hero (or as Jung might say, the descent or death of the ruling principle of consciousness into the unconsciousness) and its rebirth. Or conversely, the upsurgence of unconscious, or ‘inner’ material into the realm of the ego. But just as ‘initiate’ refers to a beginner, so too does this descent and ascent – for this is only the early stages of the work undertaken in ‘This Western Way.’ It should be mentioned that the dying and resurrected God sequence is only one pattern, although a frequently used one. One should not identify ‘God’ with the male gender only. There are many examples of Goddess descent in world mythology. The issue of genda in magical practice is very important in this respect it is of interest to see that much work has been done by the more profound Jungians (i.e. J. Hillman), in working towards understanding that gender can refer to modes of consciousness rather than to physical gender only.
The initial aim of the underworld experience is to achieve a form of contact or ‘conversation’ with the principle of harmony believed to exist within the individual, or in the world. This contact is found as a result of the underworld experience and again, the way that this contact is perceived differs radically from tradition to tradition. The battle between the Oak and Holly King, results in the descent of the Holly King into the underworld, to meet with the renewing powers of the Goddess. He is mysteriously renewed into the Oak King via the transformative power ofthe underworld.
The birth of the Oak King represents the ‘ideal’. It is the start of something new and pure, a new stage of life has begun, both for the individual and for the world, (Personality has re-emerged purified and ‘made anew’). A new ‘level or centre of awareness has been found. The pattern here is one of the most primal. Its ages are firmly embedded within man/woman’s consciousness and environment.
The essence of a workable pattern is in its flow, its natural harmony. The Native pattern evenly and surely flows from one stage to another, carrying the awareness of the individual with it. The various stages are celebrated at appropriate junctions; the above mentioned stage is Yule (the Winter Solstice) where the God dies and is reborn as the child of light/promise. There are many levels of understanding here. The onset of the new year for example, is the recreation of the world, where all is ‘made anew’; the forces of rigidity have been dissolved (winter, negativity etc.).
In this context the ‘power’ or agency that does the transforming is the Goddess. It is not necessary to possess an intellectual understanding of the nature of this power, experience of it defies formalisation.
Here the underworld is experienced as feminine. The God dies and descends into the realm of the God Mother, undergoes a transformation and ascends as the new born child of light. Though it is in the interaction of the God with the Goddess which is important. Symbolically it can entail the God (or Man) relating to the Goddess (or woman) in a specific manner, it is often a matter of right orientation or positioning of one to the other. Such interaction reflects the harmonious interplay of the opposites; male/female; night/day etc, etc.
The Hermetic tradition is seemingly different, covering many divergent systems or patterns, but in essence a common thread exists, again symbolised by a descent to a mysterious crypt or cave where the individual undergoes a series of encounters or exchanges within the underworld. Often, the exchange scenario is symbolised as an interaction with a Goddess figure, or her androgynous son/daughter.
Examples of the Hermetic descent are found within the tale of the Chemical marriage of Christian Rosenkreutz, an alchemical description of the descent within the ‘mountain/vault of the philosophers’. The prototypes for these descents are found within the ancient religions, in the myths of the dying and resurrected God/dess. The hermetic mythology is often abstracted, tending towards the obscure… many motifs and ‘ground plans’ (suggestive of central patterns) abound. But, the commonality with the Native tradition is clear. Often the style of practice can differ but the fundamentals remain astonishingly similar. But what is actually happening? What occurs to the God/initiate in the underworld? How is he/she transformed? Essentially, this cannot be answered except via personal experience. This is particularly true when one realises the individual nature and interpretation of inner experience. The death of the God however, representing the descent, can be taken to indicate a shift of the ego from its customary position into a foreign world, a shadow realm. This can happen literally, as in dramatic ritual, and/or by using Shamanic techniques, where the individual is placed into an alternate state of consciousness and in so doing aligns him/herself with the underworld. More commonly, the descent, encounters and ‘transformations’ are enacted either in story, meditation, or in solidarity or group ritual. The relevant aspects of the pattern can be invoked and meditated on, with the individual striving to understand what the situation requires or intimates. Continual working through of a pattern will reveal deeper levels, previously unknown. This is especially so in regard to one’s inner development and to one’s relationship to the tradition.
The results of such practices are often not dramatic but slowly pervasive; the individual is often not aware that changes are occurring. The ethic here is continual effort but without want of a particular result: as the individual continues to work through the different levels of the pattern, insights and energy continue to inform and deepen the pattern, establishing links with the determinants of the underworld. The essence of such high work is subtlety. The powers of the underworld grant a sensitivity to their currents which is the hallmark of the adept.
The Native tradition in general views the underworld as existing in an ‘otherworld’, not as distant and inaccessible, but as immanent in and around the Earth itself. It is ‘firmly situated in the Earthly sphere, in the place beyond the sunset, eva westward, where the light is always that of twilight.’ This poetic description aptly describes the subtle nature of its location, and indicates that it is better described as a state of altered consciousness, not dependent on the individual, but relative to his/ha perceptions of it. This applies equally to the Hermetic tradition.
The question of inner world location is trying at the best of times… most practitioners develop their own beliefs based on their practical experience. Each tradition and culture provides mythic locations and descriptions, often quite different from each other… but from the experiential view the inner world/ underworld is best approached as a basic change in world view, which, if powerful enough, constellates various encounters and experiences which the individual works through. These encounters and experiences can be dramatised in ritual and various techniques; but ultimately the energies of the underworld manifest in the physical everyday world, where they are recognised and dealt with. The fulcrum point here is the truly magical nature of the imagination. It is the ‘field’ wherein the individual adheres that can intersect with inner realities.
To repeat, both traditions, the Native and the Hermetic depend for their authenticity and validity on their level or depth of communication with the forces of the underworld. Or, in another sense, the depth of contact could be defined by how accurately an individual or school can mediate, to bridge the worlds, the requisite pattern, or gate thereof, for any one individual or group. Such an ability derives from a knowledge of the essential nature of the pattern, indeed the individual’s life becomes part of the pattern’s manifestation. This is the true significance of a teacher, they can show the way because they have themselves become an embodiment of their tradition. It can be appreciated then how important such individuals are for the life of a magical school.
Within the collective consciousness of a group or individual, man/woman weaves the forces according to ancient patterns or archetypes. Such patterns are the keys to any one tradition. The relationship between the practitioner and the pattern is determined at least initially, by the pasonal needs of the individual. The pattern, and its consequences provide insight and experiences helpful for the evolving magician. The two traditions show forth the two broad patterns available to the novice. The decision as to which one s/he chooses is determined by that the individual requires in the way of inner development. In many cases the choice is already made, it isn’t a conscious decision, but the pattern seems to reach out and grab you, instead of the other way around. One can really only become involved in something wholeheartedly if, (as Campbell says), one follows one’s bliss. This refers to the ‘path’ which is intimately ‘you’; ‘If you follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you,…’ Its the kind of gut reactions you get when you stumble across ideas and concepts to which you take an instant fascination for. The motive forces behind any genuine tradition find resonance’s within the alert practitioner. The ‘fascination’ or ‘bliss’ one feels within a tradition is the tug of the pattern luring one within its orbit of influence… this is the first true step into the mysteries.
 It is encouraging to see several well known representatives of the Native and Hermetic traditions working towards ‘unifying’ the disparate traditions, or at least to encourage them to recognise their mutual validity.
 The word ‘Magic’, when used, designates both Hermetic and Native traditions.
 Bayley, H. The Lost Language of Symbolism. Citadel Press, page 190.
 Stewart, R.J., Living Magical Arts. Blandford Press 1987. Advanced Magical Arts. Elernent. 1988. Underworld Initiation. Aquarian. 1985.
 Stewart, R.J. Advanced Magical Arts. Element. 1988. p79.
 “The amalgams of various teachings which are believed to provide new synthesis for modern man ‘ are more conglomerations offormulations which by producing a land of mixture, have altered the dynamic of all of them. ” (I. Shah, Evenings with Idries Shah. Designist Comm. 1981. p17.)
 Stewart, R.J. The God in Western Magical Arts, in Choirs of The Gods. Ed J Matthews. Mandala. 1991 pl 19.
 Matthews, J & C. The Western Way. Vol. 1. Arcarla. 1986. p107.
 Farrar, J & S. A Witches Bible Compleat. Magickal Childe. 1984. p137.