“These two spring from the same source, but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.”
~Lao Tsu, the Tao Te Ching
As the Chinese New Year of the Fire Monkey dawns, and my acupuncture career begins to take flight, a spark of inspiration has stirred my thoughts to speak about two central parts of my spiritual path- both of which are united in my mind by the pentagram- namely Paganism and Taoism. This article is written for practitioners on both paths who I know and have worked with over the years- two paths that often don’t overlap a whole lot. To me they are related branches of the same root- though I should be clear here, in no way am I attempting to draw any kind of historical connection or cultural influence between either school of religious and philosophical thought. The root that I refer to here is Nature, who’s infinite manifestations are revered, expressed, and understood in various ways by either branch.
In capitalizing Paganism, I am of course placing it on par with other religions who are likewise capitalized, but it should be noted that Paganism is anything but organized. Paganism as generally understood today is a wide-range of paths, mostly rooted in European cultures, from Celtic, Greco-Roman, and Germano-Scandinavian, though most in the later group tend to identify as Heathens. But the term is not necessarily confined to these, depending on how broad one would choose to define it, and most people typically view it as nature-centered religion which is a global phenomenon. Its Latin root paganus simply means “country-person” which implied “peasant” in the context of an urbanized Roman society, and later came to refer to those wicked bumpkins who had not or would not submit to the boot of the Church. But today, with a decline in interest in mainstream religion and a growing awareness of our utter interdependence and interconnectedness to Nature, the word has been reclaimed, as has witchcraft and witch that likewise have held connotations of evil and corruption under the domineering and oppressive patriarchal world-view of Romanized Christianity.
This impulse to be reconnected (the Latin root meaning of “religious”) to Nature is a driving factor in modern Paganism, along with a deep interest in the occult (“hidden”), various magickal phenomenon, and polytheistic influences that have historically been shunned and/or appropriated by Christianity. One of the most recognized of symbols of neo-Paganism is the pentagram, used in various streams of the witchcraft. From my perspective however, there is problem with this which is that we tend to view it as a symbol. The pentagram is not a symbol. The pentagram is an equation, being a geometrical design with specific mathematical relevance that doesn’t care what you believe. We can and have over-laid symbolic reference and meaning on it, which is fine, but underneath it all, there is an inarguable mathematics inherent to the pentagram. Those mathematics also happen to be the same mathematics that describe/inform the very fabric of existence and are particularly well expressed in complex biological systems. I’m talking about the Golden Mean of course, Phi, or the Fibonacci Sequence. The pentagram, when drawn correctly, is a perfect expression of the basic ratio that dictates everything from the way leaves spiral around the stem of a plant, the structure of flowers (which then informs the arrangement of seeds in their container), to how our bodies and particularly facial structures are proportioned. There are many books that go into great detail on this topic, and I won’t belabor the point, other than to say that the pentagram is a direct expression of the fundamental blueprint of Nature itself. It does not symbolize this blue print, but rather IS the blueprint.
Which brings us to the Tao. Though the Tao translates as “the Way”, it is no stretch to say that it is rooted in deep meditation and reflection on Nature. And when I say Nature, I mean in its total, manifest glory, from the macro to the micro, as well the way that the entirety of the reality we inhabit changes through time. Which is to say, the Tao is everything in it’s perpetually unfolding, evolving, trans-personal and inner-personal forms. While many of the teachings of Taoism, from the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, focus on how to be in harmony with the Tao on a personal level, there are many other aspects to the philosophy which are concerned with cosmological, ecological, and physiological observations. The symbol people typically associate with Taoism is the Yin-Yang, which again has geometrical underpinnings that contain irrefutable truths concerning the nature of reality. But the pentagram is well at home within the Taoist world-view, particularly within the medical system which we know as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), or acupuncture, as well as the feng-shui and the Chinese astrology systems.
What is fascinating to me as a practitioner of both systems is the way we use them ritually, spiritually, and diagnostically. In the Western esoteric paths, it’s use mostly is derived from Western Ceremonialism, the Hermetic traditions that spawned not only Masonry, but also had great influence on the development of Wicca and the various morphs that have spun from it since the days of Gardner and his lily-white, naked parties. In the Feri Tradition that I am a part of, which is a distinct stream from Wicca, we use it not only to open the gates as they do in Golden Dawn Ceremonial orders, but also as a inner-personal tool of magick with the Iron and the Pearl Pentacles being drawn through ones’ body. It also used to banish or invoke, to bless or to curse, and of course we cannot forget that it is infamously used to represent the Horned God, which is a direct reference to it’s biological expression in the facial structures of incarnate beings, of which the He takes ultimate delight in.
The Chinese 5-element theory, which came to fruition in roughly the second to first century BCE, is a naturalistic, poetic model to explain myriad phenomena from the larger seasonal and yearly cycles, to the interactions of internal organs. It is from where the Chinese year animals get their elemental association, each rotating through each element every 12 years according the Generating Cycle (clockwise), a pattern well known to every acupuncturist. The different relations between elements are thus translated into the manner in which various acupuncture points interact with each other and their respective channels. It is by this relatively simple formula that acupuncturists come to determine many of the seemingly random placements of needles that consist of a treatment. Again, I won’t go too deeply into the complexities of 5-elements theory, for that is a whole lifetimes worth of study unto itself, but simply state that the manner in which Taoist sages chose to map the interrelations of various elements shares a common bond with the esoteric uses in the Western mystery traditions.
It is worth noting however that the Taoist system goes a step further by articulating how these various elements interact with one another, either by generating, draining, controlling, or insulting each other. Whereas I have never seen an articulation of how the various elements in a Western paradigm interact on the pentagram (i.e. affect on another), there is a common thread of clockwise/counterclockwise with the generating/draining cycle. However the controlling/insulting cycle in the Chinese system, which ultimately correlates with the clockwise/counterclockwise binary does not have a direct parallel in the invoking/banishing pentacles used in Western ceremonialism which can be drawn either way depending on which element is being invoked or banished. This facet, to my mind is one way in which the Taoist system is clearer as an energetic mapping system. The complexity of which element is being invoked or banished in a Western context muddies the waters of thought, and I would propose an alternate method wherein each element is invoked or banished starting with it’s given point, being drawn according to whether one moves clockwise or counterclockwise around the circle. In other words, invoking Earth would start from the lower left point, moving upwards toward Spirit, down to Fire, etc. until one arrived back at Earth. This starting and ending with the element in question and moving according to universally understood invoking/banishing direction around the wheel helps the mind of the practitioner adhere to a simpler system, and therefore focus on the energetic rather than the mental aspect of the act. This is the method that I have found to simplify invoking/banishing various elements in ritual magick, as well as to weave together these two schools of esoteric thought.
This entry was posted on Monday, February 8th, 2016 at 12:56
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