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Friday, April 19, 2024

Choose Life - Evangelion, the Guardian Angel and a Semicolon


CW: self harm, mental health, food control issues

Spoiler Warning: Trigun (it’s honestly too old to need a spoiler warning…)

When I was in High School, I fell in love with the movie Trainspotting. I did a project in Senior Year Psych class which I illustrated mostly with shots from the film. I've seen it countless times, and just last week I screened it for a friend who'd never seen it before. I considered at the time how I should have waited until today. 

Since 2007, I've called April 18th “Choose Life” day. It started with a friend's suggestion to throw a party to commemorate the anniversary of the previous April 18th. Since then, I've stopped doing much social to celebrate, but over the years I've done a ton of things on April 18ths. While this is the 18th anniversary of my first significant April 18th, it's the 14th anniversary of the April 18th on which I completed my Abramelin retreat. For a while, I was racking up cool April 18th occurrences and it was nice that it was my significant day for life events. 

April 18th is of course, using American date writing, 4/18. 418 is a significant Thelemic number and one you'll see in the URL for my blog and webpage…which is branded much more Thelemically than I have ever actually been. 

My first significant 4/18 that I can easily recall was 2006; I had concluded a week I spent attempting to starve myself to death. 

The confluence of things which led me to “Choose Life” was bizarre, but kind of interesting. I was going through a particularly destructive major depressive episode. At this time I was in a fairly intense Straight Edger mode when it came to intoxicants, pills, even medication. I also felt like actively choosing to do anything to myself was immoral. But I remembered a Roman aristocrat who determined the noble response to an unjust emperor on the throne was to starve himself to death. That way he wasn’t killing himself, so he reasoned, but his death would deprive the emperor of his complicity or assistance. 

So, I stopped eating. I was working my first full time job. I figured I had to keep up appearances, so I bought a small container of orange juice at the start of each work day and drank that. Otherwise I might have had a little water here and there and that was it. 

I told one friend, thinking he was unlikely to do anything to stop me. He, in turn, told another friend who threatened to contact my family but backed off when I lied and said I would eat. I was fairly delusional, and the fact that the one friend I told didn’t seem to care, despite being my best friend at the time, convinced me my course of action was right. Sometime later, I looked back at our online conversations and realized he was consistently showing he cared and I was just being horrible to him because my interpretation of things was completely off. 

You might wonder how this fits my blog which usually deals with magic or related and adjacent spiritual topics. There are a handful of good reasons for me to talk about this, but the topical ones have to do with the process by which I chose life. 

There was a confluence of solarity, Evangelion, and Trigun which triggered a weird Holy Guardian Angel experience. It had been awhile at this point since I had written my Dominus Liminis paper, and completed those grade tasks but I hadn’t moved on to working on 5=6. This led to the slow build in that direction. 

The solarity part. For 6 days, 6 being the number of the sun, all I consumed was orange juice. Oranges, and orange juice were big solar symbols for me. At the time I routinely made libations of orange juice for Apollo and would consecrate orange juice to him to drink for solar blessings and connection. I wasn’t doing that that week, but the solar nature was there even if I wasn’t ritually awakening it. The view I often expressed at the time was “orange juice is just bottled sunlight.” 

So, despite my inner darkness, in the “you are what you eat” sense, I was clearing myself out and vibing the sun in an extreme, although unhealthy, way. 

As I was spiraling into a more and more broken mental state and gluing myself together enough to look functional with liquid sunlight, I was watching Evangelion and Trigun for the first time. They were airing back to back on Cartoon Network late at night and I'd been watching them for a few weeks. 

For those unfamiliar, Evangelion incorporates a lot of Western Occult imagery. The creator of the show was very hands on with specific odd word choices for the English translations because he wanted particular things conveyed. He has said several times that the occult imagery is just aesthetic and not something that had meaning or to which he had a connection. 

In later variants of the story, that description is true. The occult symbolism is toned down and seems decorative. In the original, it is saturating the show and is often subtle. The entire structure of the conflict ties back to it and in the feature length video content made as an alternate ending there are more obscure occult references and kind of a sexual alchemy theme. It’s pretty obvious it’s planned out and intentional in the original. Even if it weren’t, it was so saturated that it had an effect watching it, especially in the state I was in. 

A friend reached out recently and talked about having watched Evangelion and realizing it’s about processes of psychological healing and dealing with internal problems. The creator of the series has also said that he made it for that purpose; it was a form of processing his own mental health and emotional issues and finding catharsis. 

So the show is a little loaded. The final episodes are these intensely abstract and wonderful pieces of television…that lots of people miss the beauty of and hate. 

They were definitely the kind of avant garde mind fuck capable of helping to push my breaking brain over a tipping point into a mystical state. 


A clip from towards the end of the Evangelion series. 



One of my favorite clips from late in the Evangelion series 

At the same time that I was watching Shinji liberate himself from the trauma of being human and abstractly exploring the possibility of formless unity with all life, or defined individual existence allowing connection through the apparently un-unified state of individuation, I was also watching Trigun. 

Trigun is a space western. As I was watching it, the friend that pointed me to it told me I would identify with one character who he saw as having a lot in common with me. That character was Nicholas D. Wolfwood, a gun slinging preacher who seemed callus and like a conman, but who was actually good at heart and motivated by caring for orphans. Around the time Shinji was experiencing a complete abstractification of reality in Evangelion, I reached the end of Nicholas D. Wolfwood’s story in Trigun. 

As Wolfwood’s arc wraps up, we discover he was secretly part of the group of bad guys who had been revealed part way through the series. While Wolfwood was working for them because he had been raised in an orphanage run by one of the bad guys, he earnestly was working to protect the orphans and the orphanage and did not want to betray the other heroes. In the end, he sacrifices himself to save the children and his friends. As he bleeds out, he leans on the giant cross he always carried (which was full of guns, and was, itself, a large gun). The shot pulls out and shows his shadow in the light streaming in through the windows of the church in which he was dying. As Wolfwood questions himself and his life and his relationship with his friends, he dies, with his shadow forming an image of the crucifixion. 

The commentary Wolfwood makes about human suffering, saving others, and the possibility of finding ways to do better and be better are all strong and poignant. They also added to the overall head spinning experience of it all. 

Starving yourself and watching cartoons probably doesn't seem like a magical method. But, there is no reason it shouldn't. Fasting, denying oneself, creating extreme physical states through sleep deprivation, pain, drugs, exertion, these are all ways altered states of consciousness are obtained in various systems. Surrounding ourselves in imagery and stories which bring us into the space of the spirits, virtues, and ideals of those stories are also important methods. 

While I am not a fan of bringing the characters, words, methods, and trappings of fiction into magical work - excepting in a few very special cases - I have always thought finding good fiction that gets the engine running and inspires us towards the energy and excitement of magic is important. Similarly, using modern stories that can put us in certain mental spaces, or which trigger symbols and processes for us which lead us to contact with deeper elements of existence, including spiritual beings and realities, is an historical mode of spiritual work. Confining it to old stories is a sort of ahistorical fetishism. There has always been a fetishism of the old in magic and spirituality, even in the ancient world, but that didn't mean new stories that put people in touch with old things weren't used. 

I was certainly not intentionally doing any of that back in April 2006. I wasn't intentionally doing much of anything then and had no future plans to. I was coasting toward oblivion, but, that coasting was also part of what put me in the middle of all of these influences that hit together like the birth of a whirlwind. 

Suddenly, I felt the touch of my Angel deeply and strongly. Prior to this, I often did other work to connect with my Angel. I understood, and had understood for several years at that point, that the relationship with your Angel isn't limited to working Abramelin. It should be there from the beginning when working magical systems connected to that modality. Even if it's in the background, and just part of the currents of force you're touching, you should be aware of that whether you directly perceive it or not. As you progress, the potential for that perception, and for more direct and intentional interaction occurs. That eventually helps lead to the process of achieving Knowledge and Conversation. 

So, interaction with my Angel wasn't new, but the kind of flooding overwhelming perception of it was something I had only felt once before, which until that point I had not realized was communication with the Angel. This was the first time I felt my Angel directly teaching me in a fundamentally moving and transformative way, and a way which was still only a fraction of the experience at the end of the retreat. I had clear communication before, but this was like being pulled into a room and being given a class which was taught in part by emotional resonance and deep internal feelings of direction, connection and purpose. 

Being me, I processed what I was taught by writing an essay. When I was done, I was confused. I remember turning over and over in my head the thought “I guess I just die now? That seems like a waste now that I understand this, it also seems like it flies in the face of this, but it's what I'm set on doing, so what do I do?” I'm not good at change, so I guess I couldn't just accept changing my plans despite having a divine messenger explain the spiritual mechanics of mystical experience and connectivity to me. 

I started flipping coins. Dozens of coin tosses all consistently coming up with “don't eat, just die.” The level of consistency was eerie. It was also even more unnerving because I felt like maybe I was opening up to giving up the plan, and wanting to accept the new view of the world, but it felt like I was being told in no uncertain terms not to change, not to choose life. It was frightening to feel like I was divining repeatedly with unusual consistency and existence itself was telling me “nope, don't exist.” 

Then, I heard a cash register. It was the notification sound for when my friend, the only one who knew what was going on, would sign on. Suddenly, all the coin tosses and whatever other methods I started trying were giving consistently positive answers. I decided I'd leave it up to my friend. He was an engineering grad student who frequently chose to isolate and work on projects - whether for school or fun - rather than see people. It felt like there was a fair chance he'd say no. He didn't. In fact, he cried later that night because he was relieved. 

So, one reason for talking about this is the above discussion about how stories, and unlikely symbols and sources can help lead us places. There's also some utility in thinking about how when we push our bodies it can open us to stuff…but even with that being true, we should do it in responsible and well guided ways. My above story is not such an example. There is also an element of pointing out how you should probably watch Evangelion if you haven't, and less for mystical purposes and more for fun, maybe also Trigun. 

There are more important topics to consider though. One of them is the relationship between inner struggles and spiritual experience. 

Our society has a really stupid insistence that we should be able to see certain forms of success if people's spirituality or religion or magic are worthwhile. Ironically, people want to judge spiritual engagement based on whether or not folks have won the prosperity gospel contest…even though those same judges typically hate prosperity gospel folks. 

There is something to looking at a religion or spiritual teaching and determining that its message is wrong for you and how you want to live your life. There might also be something to looking at leaders in a group and seeing that they embody being people who are devoid of the message they preach, or they are devoid of the virtues you'd want. A leader or teacher doesn't have to be perfect, but the struggle should be between what you'd ideally hope to get from what they do, and the normal issues of life. If they're just a bad person…maybe something is up. 

Other factors don't work as well. Material factors, having their life together in the way other people decide is important, or having perfect mental health, or having processed all trauma…these are things I've seen people say are necessary. They're also things that just aren't realistic for a lot of reasons in many scenarios. 

Beyond that, they're not the characteristics which any historical prophets, faith leaders, or magicians epitomize. 

There is an importance in recognizing it's OK to not have everything together. It's also important that our molds and models of success have to be our own and they have to be built on who we are. What do we want? What interests us? Where do we want to put our attention? What are our skills? What are our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses? We have to look at who we are, who we want to be, and how the various elements of our lives are intended to shape us and serve those goals and desires and build a self image and a model of success for ourselves based on ourselves. That does include looking at what is safe and functioning, but that still leaves a pretty huge range and acceptable gradations. 

Someone contacted me once because they were unsure they could pursue magic due to mental health issues. It's important to consider this. There are some issues which can be really dangerous to mix with magic, but maybe not impossible if guidance in magic, and treatment for the issue are both present. There are others where it's fully possible to engage magic with similar risks that anyone who engages it faces. Then there are those that could be exacerbated by certain types of magic or mysticism and so it's a matter of informed planning, self awareness and support networks. 

Being open about and talking about those factors and considerations is important too, especially in a world where people might feel a calling but have been told, led to believe, or have just convinced themselves they have to sit on the sidelines and miss out because they have struggles. Being open can let people know that saying “fuck it” and diving in might not be the best answer for them, but it might also let them know that a strategized approach can be open for them. 

Another reason to talk about this story vis a vis the relationship between magic and mental health is considering how despite emotional darkness, we can still find spiritual light and development. Sometimes everything seems bleak. Sometimes we can't see hope, we can't see options. Sometimes we spiral out so much that we can't see ourselves or the reality of the hands reaching out to help us. 

Magic is not always, and usually won't be a solution for that. I'm mostly not in favor of magic as an alternative to actual mental health care. I don't care whether people are talking about shadow work, or doing spells to heal and fix their emotions, those things can be questionable approaches, with the right context and support they could be positive means of assisting with care and progressing through struggles, they can also be very dangerous when taken as alternatives in lieu of other needed care. 

That doesn't mean magic isn't there and won't provide help in times where we struggle. Working with the Olympic Spirits can do a lot to harmonize things and pull things together and create positive currents in our lives when we are suffering through difficulties. Turning to one's ancestors can be deeply comforting and cathartic. A spirit once expressed to me through one of her priests that I could come unburden to her when it wasn't appropriate to go to a person, and I've had times where I was able to really unload and heal while standing at the edge of the water talking with Her. There are ways magic can be there for us and help us even if it shouldn't be what we turn to as a cure or a band aid. 

There are also ways the depths of our spirit, our gods, our spirits, and our guides can spontaneously reach in deeply and inspire us even when we seem lost in darkness. Sometimes we just need to have the tools to listen and be aware that that influence is real and has value. It isn't necessarily what we should be looking for or waiting for. If it doesn't happen we shouldn't question why it isn't happening. But knowing people experience that and it isn't just a trick or own voice can be helpful. 

It might also be helpful for people to realize that sometimes we need to step back. A concept that comes up in studying the history of mystics is the tendency to experience intense spiritual states intermixed with intense depression. For one, it may be good for people to know that depression and similar issues aren't a sign they are failing as a mystic or spiritual person. It's helpful to know this is a common theme in history. More importantly, it can be helpful to recognize that part of that dichotomy is often understood as a response to the inspiration and joy of mystical awareness. When one sees the connectivity of the world, and the possibilities for goodness, it can be incredibly painful to see them not realized in the world. It can feel even worse when that mystical state drives a deeper sense of compassion for the human collective as they suffer through the effects of less enlightened world. There can also be a sense of loss, or a sense of being cut off when one returns to mundane experience and the drudgery of life after being deeply in the throws of heavenly awareness. 

It's important to remember that those pitfalls exist and have plagued deeply mystical and deeply spiritual people forever. It doesn't mean you're weak or messed up if you experience that. If you're someone prone to those kinds of swings, it can be important to know certain types of mysticism can trigger them or exacerbate them. You might have to be more careful or mindful with pursuits that are more expressly on the mystical union or enlightenment side of things. You may need to recognize when to take a break, settle yourself, and find ways to find joy in grounded pursuits for a while so it's not all heaven versus earth. 

There are lots of doors we can open by talking about mental health experiences and how they can relate to esoteric, magical, mystical, occult and spiritual elements of our lives. So for any of those reasons, hopefully it was worth sharing this story. 

More importantly than any of them, talking about stuff like this is important because it reminds people it's OK to be open. It's OK to have vulnerabilities and struggles. It's OK to be honest and open and frank with people about them. A lot of these struggles do their awful work by making us feel like we have to be separated and like we're alone. Remembering that other people, sometimes people who may have done things you think are cool, might also struggle with these things, can be comforting. That comfort only exists if we are open and share who we are. Stigmatization only goes away when we're open and share who we are. I don't talk about these elements of myself often, but I've come to realize that it can be good to open up sometimes, when it seems like a good moment. It struck me this morning as I was failing to sleep that maybe this was a good moment. 

At the very least, it is an opportunity for me to recommend that you Choose Life. There is a whole living and magical world out there. Hopefully, it has reasons for feeling wonder, rejecting shame, and finding hope. They might just not be immediately visible, but, the hidden arts help us find those not so immediate things. 

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