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Defense of Syncretism

To: talk.religion.misc,talk.religion.newage,alt.pagan.magick,alt.magick,alt.consciousness.mysticism,alt.magick.tyagi
From: (nigris (333))
Subject: Defense of Syncretism
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 21:13:58 GMT

50000117 IVom 
>>> Da'ath, the theoretical Sepheroth, identical to the concept
>>> of the Abyss?
nigris (333) :
>> the Hebrew and Indian metaphysical maps were formulated
>> separately from [one] another.... 

>> how these might be related is of course easily debated,
>> and the vast expression on each will not match up with
>> that of the other. 

sri catyananda :
> To put it mildly!!! In fact, syncretism on so vast a scale as attempted
> by Crowley (remember, he also tried to map the Chinese I Ching against
> the same Lurianic Tree of Life model!!!) is a spiritual analogue to the
> British colonialism of his time. 

colonialism claims the original as its own, or at least claims to
have encompassed and conquered that original. while Crowley did
purport his academia beyond its actuality, a mere MAPPING is 
neither syncretism nor is it appropriation. where Crowley erred
was the identification of his expostulations with authority in
the fields of mysticism that he was supposedly summarizing and
communicating to his students, something we can dismiss while
examining his results.

> When continued by his disciples, who,
> while not as blatantly racist as Crowley, are still notably
> disrespectful of Jewish, Indian, and Chinese cosmologies, these
> exercises in faux-universalism devolve into a kind of religious 
> fascism, attempting to bind all the diverse twigs of human 
> mystical thought to the one axe-handle of Mr. Crowley....

except that it was the ATTEMPT to discover some universal which
Crowley purported was valuable, not necessarily the product of
his attempt. as another correspondent has said in this thread
in the Thelema93-L email list:

	Indeed it was part of Crowley's legacy to view 777 
	as incomplete and as a tentative work.  He had asked 
	our first Caliph to work towards further additions 
	to 777, as well as corrections or suggestions. I 
	feel that it is important that this kind of 
	information get passed on.

he got the seed of that correspondence-set from his teacher,
Alan Bennett, whose Buddhist leanings may have given him a
penchance for the transcultural (at least according to the
text of 777 itself, if memory serves). 

the point at which an ATTEMPT TO DISCOVER whether there are
any universals by hypothesis and criticism, education and
discussion, becomes the CLAIM OF UNIVERSALITY is the kind of
imperialistic appropriation to which you are really pointing.

>> the best which can be brought to bear
>> on the subject would be a comparison of concept amongst
>> those who considered them coincidentally-referential or
>> a survey of all pertinent commentaries from each culture
>> and those who steal from them (such as the Hermetic and
>> the so-called 'Thelemic' which is a part of the Hermetic).
> If i understand what [333] is saying here, i agree -- what we can
> best learn about the misguided attempt to map together these two systems
> is what was going on in the minds of a small set of 19th and 20th
> century British and American map-makers. The Golden Dawnian composite
> Jewish-Hindu pseudo-map identifying chakras with sephirot and kliphot is
> not representative of the beliefs, cosmological speculations, or
> spiritual aims of either of the original cultures that developed these
> mystical diagrams. 

and where it PURPORTS to be representative is where the error starts.
the experimentation, discussion, mapping, etc., is valuable for all
concerned, I claim.
> And when you bring in the Chinese I Ching, as Crowley did -- well, the
> result is both logically pitiable and immensely revealing of the casual
> attitude whereby cultural appropriation was practiced on ALL levels of
> life by 19th and 20th century European imperialists and their
> fellow-travellers. 

I feel that Crowley's attempts to compare, contrast, and mesh
multicultural symbol sets from diverse mystical systems is a
valuable and freshly global attitude which, bereft of any pomp 
and overestimation of its authority, has great potential as a
catalyst for the development of a kind of 'human mysticism'
that integrates elements of all human cultures. where this
does not in any way attempt to replace or compete with the
mystical cultures from which it draws, where it solidly
identifies the origins of its symbolism and theoretics,
not only does it provide an additional language with which 
to attempt description of subtle energies and experiences,
but it serves as inspiration to learn about the originals in
order to discover novel and more complete ways of integrating
more and more of what is available from regional mystics
and facilitate global peace.

far from being cultural appropriation, if pursued with
respect and diligence, it could achieve a type of mystical 
catholicism which is the objective many an Hermetic mage.
> ...and then claimed that the whole pile was congruent with
> (you guessed it) the Jewish Tree of Life, the Indian chakra 
> system, and an entirely fabricated ancient Egyptian 
> priestcraftly method for advancing candidates through a 
> series of ritualized levels of development. 

the claims of authority are the problem, not the fabrication
of fantasies or sampling and collage-work constructed.
> ...Once you've understood the basics of how cultural 
> appropriation fits into the tool chest of Euro-American 
> "masters" bent on convincing disciples that they have
> discovered the "lost keys" to a "universal" truth, the 
> specific whos, whats, and whens become mere variant 
> stanzas of the same old song. They are worthy of study 
> not only for their relative degrees of cleverness,
> but also insofar as they shed a great deal of light on 
> how the great mystical carnies of the 19th and 20th 
> centuries have worked in parallel with the economic and 
> military masters of their era to strip-mine the unique 
> aspects of the religious cultures of conquered people. 

cultural strip-mining is of course a travesty, but let us
not identify every aspect of intercultural exploration
with such appropriative behavior.

> So, to be most elegant within the fascist limitations of 
> cross-cultural map-making, ....

cross-cultural map-making is not limiting, it is expansive.
it takes two (or more!) cultural constructions and makes a 
bridge between them. it need not attempt to replace the originals,
it need not misidentify the originals. it can be scholarly
and compassionate. only when we attempt to shut such an
honest enterprise down because we don't want to take the
chance that someone will use their results for manipulative
ends do we truly enter into the fascist (dominating) realm.

> ...abandon cross-cultral systems entirely, seeing each
> culturally-based system as its own coherent narrative....

a matter of taste and the philosophy and taxonomy of culture.

a correspondent wrote:
> In the case of kabbalah, for instance, it can be shown rather clearly 
> that most of the methods of literal kabbalah (gematria, notarikon, 
> temurah, etc.) existed with the Greeks at a much earlier date than 
> they existed with the Jews and were probably a borrowing....

here is one of the problems with the appropriative nature of
Hermetic mages like Crowley: he minimizes the 'methods of
literal kabbalah', as you have them, to qabalah itself. that
is, he seems to (intentionally?) reduce qabalah to these
literal methods and then claim to have mastered them in some
way, instructing others to 'create their own qabalah' as if
he has in some way done so (cf. "Magick Without Tears").

> ...where does this process [cultural syncretism] stop being a 
> natural feature of the evolution of ideas and begin life as a 
> form of "religious fascism?" 

where what is synthesized is used to deceive and mislead 
attention from the originals in a competitive slam.

> Isn't the attitude that each tradition must be understood 
> as its own self-contained "reality map" ultimately rather 
> stultifying?

fascistic, if enforced by some 'authoritative leader'.
> You cite as the most absurd instance of syncretism Crowley's 
> attempt to map the I Ching to the Lurianic Tree of Life. I 
> myself have attempted such a mapping, and have found that 
> my understanding of both systems increased dramatically. 
> The mathematical symmetries between the two systems alone are 
> actually rather fascinating....

I think that THIS is the true value of the legacy of cross-
cultural mapping: that it can lead the student to broaden
hir interests (for whatever motive) and gain exposure to
a multitude of psychotechnological and psychocartographical
systems and constructions. the result has potential 
ramifications in terms of pacification of warring religous 
cultures, especially if pursued from a standpoint of honest, 
exploratory combination.

> ...I don't see my syncretic system as superior to the 
> original, and I don't subscribe to the idea that I have 
> discovered the "universal" substrate of the two systems. 
> None of these rather shortsighted approaches to syncretism 
> are inherent in it. 

precisely my point above. I do think it IS possible to find
that one's syncretic construction is superior for ONE'S OWN
USE (as you make clear also), and this may be in part because 
it was constructed as a collage by the mystic-artist. there 
is much to be said for constructing one's own method of 
> The syncretism of the Golden Dawn and Crowley may have been done 
> somewhat ignorantly, ham-handedly even, but I am curious as to 
> why you feel it was a form of fascism? 

I'd call it imperialistic appropriation, akin to the way that
'First World' cultures appropriate the raw materials of their
'Third World' neighbors, inspiring them to industrialize and
compete rather than protect their heritage and oppose the
exploitation which is inherent to the technocracy.

> What damage, exactly, has been done to the traditions from 
> which they borrowed, as a result of their borrowing?

what damage is done to you to lie about you, make you out to 
be less than you are, take your symbolistic and intellectual
achievements and claim them as someone else's construction?

sri catyananda ( 
> ...true cultural syncretism generally arises within and at 
> the periphery of the affected populaces themselves; it 
> cannot be given out from on high at the command of an 
> authority figure belonging to neither (or none) of the 
> affected cultural traditions. 


> When true cultural fusion occurs, there is not only a flow of ideas --
> much as you described in the case of Greek spirriutal-numerical theory
> and Jewish mysticism and in the case of Vedic, Hindu, Buddhist, Tibetan
> animist syntheses -- but also a mingling of PEOPLE in TIME and SPACE.
> Cultural fusion does not happen in the pages of a book. It may come
> about in response to legal, military, judicial, or clerical decree --
> but it happens to human populations. 

*cultural* syncretism is thus accomplished. syncretism of an
exploratory and individual type, collaging global symbolism
and ideation into a potentially unifying edifice which accepts
all cultural expression is a different type of animal. this
need not include disrespect, appropriation or fascism.
> ...True syncretism is [neither] cultural strip-mining, nor is it an
> idealized politically correct way to extract and refine cultural
> traditions....

take the authority out of that exploration and it stops being

> -- it's a matter of real give-and-take in which ideas and
> images are discussed and debated from WITHIN, not from without. It
> requires listening to what the people of these traidtions themselves are
> doing, thinking, and saying -- and refraining from defining their
> development of centuries of philosophy or cosmology in a few
> easy-to-memorize code-words. 

successful syncretists are thorough syncretists. reductionism
is the technique of the carny. inclusive syncretism is not haughty.
> It meets the classic criterion of leader-driven fascism to my mind. It
> was imposed from the top down, not from the bottom up, by a leader for
> the benefit of his followers, not for the benefit of the masses. 

as a social phenomenon, this is not what I am describing in the
individual syncretist mage's attempted cross-cultural mapping.
what is DONE with what is mapped is another matter, and I agree
as to the reprehensibility of the Hermetic culture in its 
organizational deceptions.
> For example, Crowley engaged in no dialohgue with spiritual 
> theorists WITHIN the cultures whence his ideas were drawn 
> (Jews, Chinese, Hindus).

small correction: apparently Crowley spoke with his yoga teacher.
it would not surprise me if he was to be shown claiming he had
spoken with Chinese and Jewish masters in his 'Confessions'
during his travels, though I have no evidence of either the
claims or the actuality.

> He simply lifted a few lines of type from one cultural outsider's book
> (e.g. Legge's inaccurate English I Ching translation) and he mapped them
> against a few lines of type in another outsider's book (Mathers' English
> trnaslation of Von Rosenroth's (sp?) German translation of a few
> kabbalistic texts from the Hebrew), and generated thereby a few lines of
> type in a third book (Liber 777), which his followers were to believe
> represented a great "universal truth." 

this has been addressed above. most 'Thelemites' seem to regard
777 as a kind of failed attempt at universalism which is presumed
potentially realizable. like egyptophilia and the variety of
wild speculation concerning Atlantis, the universalism typically
touted by these Hermetics seems to proceed from cosmologic and
metaphysical presumptions they may have accepted from their
exalted masters. 

that said, the kind of universalism (catholicism of ideation
and symbolism within a given magical culture which carries no
authority on its own yet which offers bridges between cultures
and functions as global ombudspersson) that may in fact BE 
possible through careful, considerate, continual, cross-
cultural fertilization and communication could become
a boon to the human (and I argue to non-human) species and
should not be squelched due to mistaking it for arrogant 
> Such faux-universalism differs from true cultural fusion in these
> significant ways: 
>      1) it has not led to or resulted from the actual genetic mingling
> of human populations (in fact, Crowley rabidly opposed inter-racial
> marriages).
>      2) it has not led to or resulted from the cross-identification of
> religious festival days, and 
>      3) it has not led to or resulted from the compiling of regional
> deity-attributes into composite national deities

correct, and its aims MAY include the construction of fantasy-
bridges that allow the interaction and merging of diverse
mystical cultures otherwise separated by language and symbol,
space and time.
> Those three characteristics of true cultural sysnthesis will serve to
> distinguish any potentially emerging "world culture" from the
> megalomaniac rantings of a would-be Fearless Leader who proclaims the
> coming of his very own New Aeon. 

it is one thing to proclaim one's own New Aeon and expect that
others will kneel to it. it is another to construct for oneself
a temporal context of one's own design and express this in one's
correspondences. it is possible not to lead from the position
of force but merely to show the way by doing what is valuable.

the individual can contribute TO an emerging 'world culture'
by interacting with the various global agents and expressing
a fusion she envisages.
a correspondent wrote:
> I think that's a good summation, although I balk a little at 
> the idea of there being "real" cultural fusion and...what...
> false cultural fusion? fake?   

artificial, forced, contrived.

> I think the kind of thing that Crowley did with 777 is part of 
> the "real" process of cultural fusion, maybe a stage in which 
> one culture tries to understand the forms of another in terms 
> of its own....

exactly, as long as it isn't touted as the Answer or as in any
way representative of that which it poorly integrates.

> ...This begins as a conscious grasping for analogues, creating 
> a gateway through which the Other culture can begin to enter 
> into true dialogue with the culture one comes from.

the intent of the grasping determines the quality of the result.
> ...I don't think the process of looking for universals or 
> "essences" is invalidated on the ground that some people 
> misapply the technique.

or misuse the results.
> ...what I see you identifying as being wrong with analyzing 
> ideas cross-culturally is a fault of attitude and approach 
> rather than method per se....

I'd go farther than this and say that USING AND COMBINING
ideas and symbols cross-culturally is not a problem in and
of itself. artists do this all the time. only the misuse of
the results is problematic from what I can tell.

> This is borne out by his assigning it to class B, which is 
> reserved for "works of standard scholarship, enightened 
> and earnest."

an important note many unfamiliar with Crowley's corpus 
might overlook.
> Once these factors are identified and become familiar, the magician 
> seeks to manipulate these underlying factors to produce a 
> particular personal transformation or other effect. The syncretic 
> features emerge as a result of finding certain symbols, myths, 
> etc. more evocative of these core "energies," "dynamics," 

> "forces," or whatever one wants to call them, than others are. In 
> this sense, the purpose of syncretism does have more to do with 
> analysis and synthesis of ideas (considered widely, including 
> shemae, perceptual filters, etc.) than with merging of human 
> societies.  

a point I have made above also. I would suggest that the
'universal' dreamt of by the Hermetic mage is valuable
inasmuch as it is not forced and is allowed to emerge in
its own time; a veritable "magical child" and "philosopher's

blessed beast!
notification: I may post any email replies; cc me if some response desired.

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