New Year's Revelations
Rebuilding the temple
If you read the Old Testament you find that the Israelites were out there constantly renewing the covenant with God. They’d find themselves in a good spot, experience some great upheaval, spend some time in the wilderness, and then some leader would come along and rally the troops for a big ol’ covenant renewin’. What this typically meant was that Rabbis would get together and perform some kind of ceremony that symbolized their renewed commitment to God in a spiritual sense but that wasn’t always the end of it. There was always a physical component to it. Abraham’s call to build came in the form of building an actual nation of people. For Moses it was the building of a kingdom on Earth. Solomon built The Temple. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem. Most religious people miss the broader, more mystical point of this. Gnostics, mystics, and magicians do not. It’s the secret which lies at the heart of hermetic philosophy. We are physical creatures in pursuit of invisible divinity and the way that you get to touch that unknowable world is through a series of physical antennae here on Earth that connects directly to God because of their specific spiritual function. You go to church. You go to temple. You go to mosque. Or, if your spiritual practice is as solitary and idiosyncratic as a magician’s, you build yourself up as the divine space on Earth.
Regular practice of rituals prescribed by whatever paradigm you practice is a sort of exercise. It’s how we become spiritually swole. Using myself as an example, I perform a battery of rituals from the Golden Dawn milieu (though, I’m slowly replacing them all with Crowley’s Class-D document/rituals). I do this in the morning and then at points throughout the day:
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The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram to open and close
Hexagram/Analysis of the Keyword
The Middle Pillar Exercise
Prayer and meditation
I do these daily, on a schedule. Nowadays I do them just to do them but back in the day I did them with a purpose. Poke Runyon made a really good case for regular spiritual workouts in his Book of Solomon’s Magick. The meatier operations at the center of his temple work were not for the faint of heart or for spiritual beginners. They require a strength of spirit that comes with regular practice of rituals that make up the curriculum of earlier grades of OTA initiation. That’s great and apropos but if there’s one quality to weirdo spiritual practice that ends up fallen by the wayside in modern discussion, it’s the simultaneous building up of the physical. As above, so below. As within, so without. A strong spiritual core ain’t shit if your physical body is a wheezing jalopy, hurtling through spacetime on a fuel tank full of pizza and reeking of candy-flavored vape juice. Crowley, Bardon, and good ol’ Poke make a lot of noise about the importance of yoga in magical practice. It’s a central piece of spiritual practice in India, which passed it on to the monasteries throughout China, which turned their monks into mind-over-matter super heroes. Steve Savedow strongly recommends karate (awesome) in his book, Goetic Evocation. I have my own recommendation:
Lift. Weights. Bro.
New Year’s Resolutions get a bad rap. People make them and then don’t follow through and the most-often cited of not-followed-through-on-resolutions is, without question, get in shape or join a gym, which is precisely what I set out to do this year. I experienced a pretty rough mental health crisis back in November and December after nearly seven years without. It was bad enough that I probably should have been hospitalized had there been any beds available in this God-forsaken state. Once I’d come out the other side of it I endeavored to re-prioritize my life by the criteria of five New Year’s Resolutions.
Stop using social media.
Start writing about horror movies again.
Do more out in the real world that engages my mind and keeps my hands busy.
Join the Freemasons and take my gnostics studies in a more private direction.
Start lifting again.
I pulled back from most of my online presence, closed out most accounts, and I locked down my twitter account, having finally had enough, and walked away. It’s not good for me. It’s not good for any of us, but I can’t tell you what to do. You have to arrive there on your own but I hope that you do, eventually. Social media takes more from us than it gives. No Twitter, certainly none of the contenders to replace it, no Instagram, and no Tiktok, the most nefarious one of them all. I started up my old Cinema Suicide project again after nearly a decade away, subscribing to Shudder and Arrow Video’s streaming services and binging a heavy diet of garbage horror movies to write about there. To stimulate my mind and keep my hands busy I bought a cheap MIDI controller and started making spooky synth music after years of having made no music at all on the heels of basically having had enough of dealing with flaky collaborating musicians who worked harder at self-sabotage than even I could. I attended a couple of dinners at a nearby Masonic lodge and started the process of petitioning to join a lodge of some seriously colorful characters at the oldest continuously operating lodge in the country.
The last is the one that I’m counting on to bring me the most benefits: Getting back to the gym. For my money, there is no greater metaphor for rebuilding the temple/renewing the covenant than lifting free weights. It’s a perfect analog for spiritual practice, expression of Crowleyan Will, or the reciprocation of the spiritual world on your physical temple. The benefits of lifting go far beyond the simple increase in strength or muscle gain. You gain greater bone density, a significant problem for the elderly. You experience a significant reduction in cholesterol. There’s a reduction in stroke risk. Your posture improves. You sleep better. You’re far less prone to depression. The list goes on and on. There’s no reason not to lift. I’m going to tell you how it aligns so perfectly with spiritual practice and then tell you how to integrate it into your life.
Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.
The Gym as Sacred Space
On a daily schedule, at an appointed time, you go there. Like a church/mosque/temple there is a schedule that you must keep. You do it for a couple of practical reasons but the most esoteric among them is that like magical practice, lifting requires discipline. You do it to do it. You do it because it is your Will.
The gym serves one very specific function: to facilitate growth. You go there because even though you can exercise/pray anywhere, the gym/church is specifically equipped to do the very thing that you need to do there. This is what it was built to do. You can do anything in these spaces, really, but when put to use toward their stated purpose, you’ll achieve in ways that you couldn’t do anywhere else. To do so elsewhere is not nearly as effective. The equipment, the atmosphere, it’s all there to get you in shape and make you stronger.
Attainment Under Strain
Attainment is nothing without struggle. Pursuit of divinity is most-frequently portrayed as a continuous ordeal. It’s why the lessons learned in the shadowy borderlands of the soul come at great personal cost, be it time, sanity, etc. We hear endlessly about the Sun Gods of Tiphareth: Osiris, Jesus, Odin. We hear endlessly about the people on Earth who suffered or died for gnosis: Joan of Arc, Jacques de Molay, Giordano Bruno. Sacrifice is always a piece of the puzzle and it’s why we all tend to get so jumpy whenever someone comes along, drapes themselves in the vestments of our practice and launches a broad social media grift on the back of it, declaring themself an iconoclast or whatever they’re doing these days, while doing no actual work for their rewards.
We work hard for gains. We suffer for them. The sacrifice gives them great personal meaning. Adding iron plates to the bar makes the lift harder. It hurts. You tremble and struggle to put that bar up, a bar stacked with more weight than you’ve ever lifted before. And when that bar is up and the joints of your arms or legs have locked it into place, no feeling is greater. You’ve gone further than ever before and you have only yourself to thank for having put the work in. It’s Tantric. Continuously working and practicing in magic puts you closer and closer to God. It opens up new worlds and coming back with knowledge makes you feel superhuman. I can assure you of this: Squatting 600 pounds or bench pressing 400 is a feeling unlike anything else. You similarly feel superhuman against the chattering monkey of failure in your mind.
Meditation, Will, Visualization
Lifting is a solitary exercise. You may engage with a spotter, or a coach/trainer, but at the end of the day, the work is simply you against gravity, the force that we must all submit to. It is your mind that puts the weight into motion. You Will it to be so. The process of lifting heavy weight is an exercise in meditation, Will, and visualization. You can be thinking about other shit while you’re at the power rack or lying on the bench with the bar in motion and still put the weight up but a distracted mind is dangerous here. You have to be listening to your body and be focused. If something doesn’t feel right, if something feels out of balance, you want to abort the lift. This is going to be harder to recognize and could lead to injury if you’re just pumping away, thinking about what’s for dinner. Lifting requires the very same single-pointed focus that we assign to ritual work. By all means, have music playing while you lift, however. While under strain, you probably won’t even notice it and it’s nice to have something playing that you like versus whatever bullshit pop music the health club has over the speakers. I listen to this playlist.
When you’re operating in the temple, drawing pentagrams and hexagrams, performing the Middle Pillar, you’re engaging your imagination to see the shapes and symbols. Your imagination makes them real and powerful. You also need to engage these same visualization skills while lifting. You need to see the bar raising for the same reason. Your imagination and Will empower your physical self to lift the bar. In Mark Rippetoe’s seminal strength-training volume, Starting Strength, he specifically points out visualization exercises in bench pressing, looking beyond the bar, looking not at your arms or the bar, itself, but looking at the point on the ceiling that you want to press the bar to. Your single-pointed mental focus on lifting the bar aids the lift. Willing it to be so makes it happen in the same way that willing anything to be so in the Crowleyan sense makes any given thing a reality. At the meathead iron room that I lift at, the walls are covered in pages cut from body building magazines. There’s pictures of ripped dudes and chicks all over the walls like a gigantic vision board or hyper-sigil meant to move you toward greater strength and a more muscular physique.
While under the weight you become mindful of your body, of the weight, of your grip on the bar, etc. You gain a particularly shifted state of consciousness suited specifically for the task at hand. You engage in specialized breathing exercises like The Valsalva Maneuver. Lifting results in the same pointed meditation as magical operations.
What I’m essentially describing here is practice and outcome but I find more pointed parallels between lifting and magical operations than I would, say, practicing penmanship or becoming a better cook. Lifting weights results in a far greater mind-body connection than most other activities. You couldn’t find a similar metaphor for building the temple anywhere else. Your body becomes stronger. You can do more for longer. You look better. You are literally building a better temple for your spirit to inhabit. The activity results in a balanced connection between mind, body, and spirit. Having three strong pillars to rest your advancement up the tree upon is better than two, or just one. The physical temple lives in the world and prioritizing one pillar of your practice (spiritual) at the expense of the others does you no good. The physical world and everything in it may be fallen and “evil” but this is the only body you have. You may as well treat it well and decorate it nicely. The masters that came before specifically point out a strong physical body through exercise as an important part of the process to enlightenment, so get to it.
If you’re not already doing this, finding a gym and then going there can be a real daunting task. Society has built up some ideas in us that scare us away. Chains like Planet Fitness have a lot of people convinced that going anywhere else is going to result in ridicule if you’re not some godly specimen, chiseled to perfection by God from granite or marble but this is not true. I’ve lifted at a lot of places and while I’ve certainly heard of places where the clientele suck, I’ve never personally witnessed it. So what follows is a guide to get you into a space where you can start overshooting the extreme, maxing the envelope, and so on…
Find Your Spot
What you want is a place to lift. Nothing fancy. You will engage in five lifts which require a bare minimum of equipment. But first things first: No Planet Fitness. Don’t do it. Their entire business model rests on you not going to the gym. Each PF is a sea of treadmills, a bunch of machinery, and a single rack of dumbbells that are constantly in use. They’re not terribly well-maintained, most people there just sit on the equipment and tab around their phones, and they have none of the stuff you need. What’s more, canceling your membership is a fucking ordeal of Greek proportions. Secondarily, no Crossfit. Crossfit is a weird culty scene plagued by injury and bad form. They have the equipment you need but you’re subjected to these insane workouts by the training staff. The staff gained their position by completing certification courses and the minimum certification level to teach is shocking. It’s why there used to be five Crossfit gyms in every town and now there’s hardly any. The people in charge have no business teaching high intensity, advanced lifts to novices. It’s also ridiculously expensive and effective only for a small minority of genetically gifted people. You’re more likely to get hurt than you are to get strong.
Ideally, what you want is a body builder’s gym or a power lifting gym and that’s not as intimidating as it sounds. There’s a number of reasons for going to these places, all of them good. None of them bad. Firstly, you’re likely to find a spot like the place I go to in Amesbury, Massachusetts, this gnarly old-school meathead iron room called Hard Nock’s. It’s all equipment, no trainers, no on-site staff, no upsells, no bullshit, and it’s cheap as fuck to lift there because of this. It’s a famous spot that opened in the 60’s and its main claim to fame is that it produced John Cena. Gyms like these tend to attract serious lifters and that’s good because where Planet Fitness will have you thinking that they’re going to make fun of your paltry new-guy lifts, they actually don’t give a fuck what you do there. If anything, they’re some of the most friendly and supportive people out there. If you’re noticed at all, it’s because you’re there on the regular putting in the work. This is a very simple system with little-to-no-social climate to speak of. It’s perfect for people looking to just lift some weights and blend in.
Finding these places can be a challenge, though. These lunkhead spots aren’t as common as they used to be and you may need to settle for a health club. What’s the difference? Well, they’re better maintained than Planet Fitness and have a greater variety of equipment but the health club model is mostly a scam meant to upsell you on services like personal trainers, group fitness, nutritionists, clothing, water bottles, whatever they can squeeze out of your wallet because gyms are not a growth industry. If you do have to join one of these places, there’s a couple of strategies you can follow to find the best of the bunch and get the most for your money.
First, find the spot, obviously, but then determine when it is on your schedule that you’re likely to be there actually working out. Go there and observe the place at that time. What does it look like? Do they have the equipment you need? Is it in good shape? These things being bars, weights, a bench, and a power rack (not a Smith Machine!). You’d be surprised by how hard it is to find these simple things in health clubs these days and in good shape. Henry Rollins claims it’s because they’re intimidating and primitive and he’s not wrong. There’s no chain-driven weights, no instructions, no soft handles or brakes. Count the multiples. How many are in use while you’re there? Will you be waiting in line to lift? Most importantly: Are there teenagers there?
Ageism, Pera? I thought better of you.
Trust me on this.
You’ll never know the frustration of purgatory until you have to find other things to do when you should be squatting because some Tiktok Braedyn is recording himself doing barbell curls at the squat rack and doing crunches on the bench. The cult of arms and abs will drive you fucking insane and if the place is a nursery full of narcissistic children that abuse the equipment, find another spot.
Your workouts are going to be very, very simple. Lifting is not complicated. Lifting correctly can be, but you’ll get there. Don’t sweat it. You’re going to lift three times a week on alternating days and you’re going to alternate the workout routine every other week. You’re going to do only these exercises and not vary. After about six weeks of this, you can branch out and start programming your own workouts but I guarantee they won’t look much different than this:
Week 1: Workout A, Off, Workout B, Off, Workout A, Off, Off
Week 2: Workout B, Off, Workout A, Off, Workout B, Off, Off
Repeat for 4-6 weeks
Workout A: Squats 5 x 3, Deadlifts 5 x 3, Bench Press 5 x 3
Workout B: Squats 5 x 3, Overhead Press 5 x 3, Power Clean 3 x 5
(x by x indicates sets and reps, i.e. 5 x 3 means 5 sets of 3 reps)
You can easily find instructions for all of these moves online, though I strongly recommend getting the manual that I’ve used for years, Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. It is stupid easy to learn, and the book is extremely detailed. Through its descriptions, alone, you’ll understand the how and why of it all and come away with a remarkably detailed knowledge of human anatomy. After a couple of months of this you’ll likely be ready to move on to something a bit more advanced like Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1, or the insanely boring but extremely effective program, German Volume Training, made famous by the German Olympic weightlifting team in the 1960’s. I hate the latter but can personally vouch for its stupid effectiveness. I was jacked after four months and putting up crazy records.
Much like the way that the physical fitness side of magical practice is tossed aside in favor of the high-flying theatrics, there’s a few things to consider when going into this. People in the fitness scene don’t really talk about this stuff. Trainers have built an entire cottage industry around fitness and made it way harder than it needs to be since they want to convince you that you need a guru to guide you to the top. But you don’t.
Talk to a doctor.
Everybody says this. Nobody follows through. These folks have your health history at their fingertips and they’re going to be able to warn you about any limitations you have that you may not know about. Just check in, get the situation in hand, and go from there. If you have limitations that prevent you from doing any of the five movements mentioned above, there are alternatives that work just as well.
You gotta eat and you gotta eat clean. You won’t put on muscle if you’re not eating a lot. You want lots of lean protein and simple fats and you want to keep carbohydrates to a minimum. This is as hard as it seems. The modern food supply is garbage and quality ingredients are only available to people with means. But you can still do your best. But you have to eat big and you have to keep it clean. A macronutrient calculator and meal planning apps can go a long way to get you eating right for fitness.
This is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. People be staying up late.
Your body is in repair mode when you’re asleep. It’s when recovery happens. If you’re new to lifting, you’re going to be sore a lot. Make friends with the pain and look forward to it. Just trust me on that. Discomfort is what ends up driving a lot of people away but if you shift your consciousness to look at the pain of fitness differently, it’ll benefit you. But you also don’t want to be in pain all the god damn time. So get lots of rest.
You’re probably not going to get jacked.
A lot of people moan about lifting because they think they’re going to end up bulky but lemme tell ya something, friend. Those ripped freaks you see at body building contests are in the gym for hours at a time, all the god damn time. They do a long series of very specific isolated movement exercises, eat very specific diets, supplement like mad, and let’s face it, dose growth hormones that the blood screens at the competitions aren’t able to detect yet. It takes effort to bulk up significantly. If you want to do that, I wish you well. I am not the person to advise on that. If you don’t want to, don’t worry. Muscle mass is subtle and you’ll have gains, but unless you go hard and really micro-manage your fitness the only reason you have to buy new clothes is because the ones you have now are too big.
Alternate bulking and cutting.
Work in 4-6 week cycles of lifting heavy for few reps and eating a shit-ton and an identical stretch of lifting light for many reps and a good deal of cardio work. The reason for this is that as you eat and lift, you’re going to get way stronger but you’re also going to gain a good deal of body fat. Lifting very heavy for only a few reps at a time will make you stronger, which is good. The cut cycle will shift to lighter weights for more reps, which triggers hypertrophy of muscles. This is the period where the muscles will actually build. Cardio is the primary means of losing body fat. Pair this with a strict policy on carb intake, trying to eat no more than 20g in a day. This will trigger ketosis and your body will turn to its fat stores for energy. If that doesn’t sound like many grams of carbs, it’s not. It’s actually really hard to hit that target without skipping meals. Just do your best. No grains, no bread, no sugar. You’ll be fine. Read the labels on the food you buy. You’ll lose strength in this period, but the return to heavy lifts in the next bulk cycle will get you back on track. It’s a sort of two steps forward, one step back process. After a year you’ll look like a radically different person.
Supplement but be smart.
You want to take in a shitload of protein, more than the average 3-meals a day can provide. So get yourself some protein powder and eat a lot of eggs, unless you’re at risk for, like, heart disease and shit. Again, see a doctor. I’m not fucking kidding.
The workout world is a sea of supplements and most of them, the lion’s share, in fact, are very, very bad for you. That whole scene is subject to the slightest of oversight in the United States and the FDA doesn’t look at most of them. So a lot of it is sketchy as fuck and if one supplement ends up on the shitlist, the same company slightly modifies the chemistry and ships the new product out in a newly rebranded bottle of the old shit. If you supplement and, again, if your doctor clears you, you’ll want to consider two supplements: Creatine powder and BCAA powder. Research them. Creatine re-ups the ATP molecules in your body which provide energy to the muscles. Once the naturally occurring ATP is used up, one of the tri-phosphates (the TP in ATP) breaks off and the molecule becomes a di-phosphate before cycling back around. Creatine re-ups the molecule with another tri-phosphate, giving you a little more bang for your buck. BCAA, or branched-chain amino acids aid in the body’s absorption of protein and aids in recovery and muscle growth. It’s not a significant boost to growth but the aid in recovery is a fucking godsend if you’re an old dude like me and you don’t bounce back like you used to. The pain is good. It’s a motivator, but you don’t want to be in pain all the time and if you are, it can be a hinderance to growth since you’ll be lifting way below your threshold.
Important: Be very careful about the supplements you buy. Many of them pack the powder with caffeine and other stimulants and are extremely evasive about this. Make sure you know for certain that the supplements you buy are stimulant free. The stuff sold at GNC is typically marked very clearly on this point. The shit you buy online, not so much.
I can personally vouch for these three supplements:
Super-Lean Deluxe Meal Replacement (mix it with fruit, apple juice, whole fat yogurt, and whole milk, it’s fucking delicious)
Thorne Creatine (doesn’t taste like anything, mix it with the BCAA powder in water)
That’s it. A long-ass post from your friend, Frater Pera for the new year. So get out there, get lifting, and turn yourself by Will alone into the ripped wizard that you know you can be. You owe it to yourself to be fit and healthy as we take on yet another year of this shit.
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Lifting weights is great; my back problems more or less disappeared for the first time in my life once I started. The thing that surprised me most was that I suddenly got a lot more flexible.
Do you have an recs for how you'd replace Freemasonry if you were a woman? There are a handful of co-ed lodges in the US but they are mostly few and far between.
I don't lift weights much, but I do do kickboxing and brazillian jiu-jitsu, this is a great post and totally applies to my martial arts training as well.