As I reported on yesterday, participants of James Arthur Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior Event” got more than they paid for (and they paid $9,695 each) when two people died and 19 were injured in a large sweat lodge with 64 people.
What can we learn from this?
One thing we might conclude is that all spiritual teachers or personal development gurus are bad, and should be avoided. Or that James Arthur Ray specifically is a greedy, evil person. Or that the Law of Attraction and The Secret are total bullshit. And these would indeed be ways to read the situation that have some merit. I’ve been tending to take this more cynical view of personal development and spirituality lately.
But what if we read this event through the eyes of magick? James Ray claims lineage in the Western esoteric or occult tradition, so perhaps we could learn something interesting from reading this terrible event in this way that would deepen our understanding. Perhaps we could even find some ideas for moving forward in a positive new paradigm for personal development.
When I begin to think about the deaths of Ray’s seminar participants in this way, I find myself having a change of heart towards the man, far less cynical about his words and basic message while still holding him accountable for what transpired. Perhaps you will have a similar change of heart.
James Arthur Ray as Powerful Magician
From the magickal perspective, it’s not that James A Ray has been bullshitting us about a mythical Law of Attraction, but that he is indeed a powerful magician who attracted some very powerful, albeit unwanted results. We’d want to ask, “how did he attract this experience?” and “how can we protect ourselves from attracting similar experiences?”
We can see Ray as having successfully evoked the Warrior. The event was called the “Spiritual Warrior.” 15 tweets in 7 days (all since deleted, but captured here) mentioned death, the Warrior, or war, and 2 mentioned words and actions being congruent. A magician casts spells with his or her words and intent, thus influencing reality. Ray evoked the Warrior, and powerfully so. As he would say, “energy flows where attention goes.”
This is the power of Intent and Word, cultivated by magicians to influence reality. One could see this disaster as “the dark side of The Secret,” which is not just “negative thinking” but even positive intentions gone horribly wrong. Thus, positive thinking and intent are not enough if they lead to negative consequences. Indeed, Ray himself emphasizes that the results one brings about in life are what are most relevant to one’s spiritual progress. Therefore this result should be read as part of the whole of Ray’s spiritual/magickal attainment. Or as he said, “The kingdom of heaven/expansion is w/in. But it will always be measured w/out. Your results tell and [sic] interesting story…They tell the truth”.
Evoking the Warrior
What do Warriors do? They fight to protect nations. They kill other warriors, and sometimes civilians too. Sometimes they rape women, or burn buildings just because they are caught up in the trance of war. If we take him at his word, Ray was trying to bring out the good of the Warrior, to transform the hatred and violence of this archetype into positive, creative action—like a football game instead of a genocide. But while he powerfully evoked the Warrior, he foolishly overestimated his abilities to transform it into an ally, and instead unleashed the Warrior’s violence.
Stories of magicians often involve experiences of power combined with hubris. Icarus gained the magical power of flight, but flew too close to the sun and his wax wings melted, leading him crashing to his death. I hope for his sake that Ray learns to bounce.
One of the ultimate accomplishments of a magician is to be able to transform a demon into an ally. The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage is a complex, 6-month long ritual designed to gain the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel,” and then using such an accomplishment to summon demons and transform them into allies. Similarly, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chöd involves summoning demons and transforming them into allies by feeding your body to the demons in a complex visualization, complete with chanting, drumming, and bells. (I was recently taught a very small chunk of a “simplified” Chöd practice and was totally overwhelmed by the complexity. I have a newfound respect for Tibetan practitioners!)
One could think of a demon as a negative habit or unwanted emotion at the personal level, or a general negative tendency at the collective level. Attempts at such transformation are a dangerous business, much cautioned about in both stories of magic and actual grimoires. Through humiliating failures, magicians (that survive) can learn humility with respect to the gods or archetypes, eventually gaining more mastery with the magick of transformation, but always with the knowledge of one’s limitations.
There Are No Accidents
In the magickal view, there are no accidents. Or as Ray said, “Evry [sic] stage of the cosmic process is absolutely necessary and leads to the perfection of the ultimate result.” Could it be that one spiritual purpose of this “Spiritual Warrior Event” is to give an opportunity to Mr. Ray to act with the honor of a samurai, taking 100% responsibility for not only the design of the workshop, but even for his evoking of the Warrior? I wouldn’t ask that Ray go as far as to commit seppuku, the ritualized suicide samurai warriors engaged in to atone for shameful behaviors. Just admit whatever wrongdoing is his, including the evoking of the Warrior and all consequences that followed, and deal responsibly with such consequences. We all make mistakes, even enormous ones.
Putting yourself out there in a way that takes risk is the first step of the warrior. Taking responsibility when you mess up is the second.
In Ray’s deleted tweets he wrote “Is how you live a reflection of how you talk?” and “Your actions speak louder than your words. A life of honor is living you [sic] values above and beyond your moods.” I would bet that Ray isn’t in the best of moods right now, but he can act with honor above and beyond anyway…if he so chooses. We all can, every time we make a mistake—big or small.
I imagine a spiritual warrior taking full responsibility—which might mean pleading guilty, serving time or paying off the lawsuit fully, asking for forgiveness from those affected and their families as well as God, and allowing this experience to change the way he does workshops. Prison was a transformative vessel for Malcolm X and others. 12-step-walking addicts understand their addiction to be the basis for a spiritual transformation. Or as Ray put it, “The esoteric traditions maintain that the “Philosophers Stone” (a metaphor for awakening) is ALWAYS found in a pile of dung.” I have found that to be true as well.
Good luck, Ray. May you take your own advice: “Its in your apparently darkest night that you find your greatest light”. I believe that to be true, and will hold that intention for you. And may we magicians and mystics all learn from your experience, such that we need not make the same mistakes.
A New Model of Magick
One final piece of advice: “Think about it. Growth doesn’t occur when you’re comfortable and always in agreement. It occurs when you wrestle w/your own world model”. Perhaps it’s time for a new model of magick and/or personal development that is sustainable and safe while still effective for transformation.
While I haven’t written as much about a new model, I have been pondering what one might look like. I have several examples in mind already of techniques and approaches, but no coherent framework that suits me yet. I hope to share some of my ideas and explorations, or even just some of my questions on this blog soon, so that we can discuss and debate these ideas together.
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