So you trace a common origin to contemporary religions in the Abrahamic tradition to Zarathustra, and, further, you seem to say all religions are related in some way—yet all seem to contradict each other, even contradict themselves, as atheists like Baron d’Holbach would say, and so is it not the case that you just have a mess of different legends and myths people have combined and played around with over the centuries? For example, these religions all talk about an “end time” and “returned saviours” yet the dates never agree and the saviours never seem to come back—so isn’t this just a recurrent delusion man suffers from?
I respond in the magical register; and that may anger Christians, for Christians are adamant that Jesus was not a magician and it’s considered wrong to denote him so—I would say he was on a continuum, on the far left you have people with mild psychic powers (people who get premonitions that a relative will be in an accident and such), in the middle you have witches, and then at the far right you have men like Buddha and Jesus who develop the capacity through purification to such a degree that their actions transcend “magic” and move into the realm of total harmony with the divine principle.
It should be noted that when Jesus says things like “it is already done” when people request to be healed that this is in keeping with magic as traditionally understood—people confuse it with sorcery, with spells and incantations, but a magician can change reality with his will alone or, as in the case of witches, with a glance from the eye (the evil eye). To practice magic, you don’t have to have robes and bangles per se—purified men like Buddha and Jesus don’t even have to look at people to change their physical state.
The reason why religions disagree—or appear to disagree—can be explicated with help from the artist and magician Austin Osman Spare. His work is not attractive, but he made a very salient observation about magic that will help us explain why religions seem to be similar and yet radically disagree at the same time and yet also “work”. Spare was mainly taught magic as a young man by an illiterate char-woman who read fortunes and predicted the future—she would stare at the black corner of a room and invite Spare to look there; and, of course, a spirit would manifest. Spare was involved with Crowley but rejected him—he rejected Crowley’s melodramatic “bells and smells” approach to magic, lots of elaborate customs and hashish and theatricality.
Spare observed that magic works through achievement of our true will—to achieve this state one must confuse our “scheming” or profane mind. It’s why Jesus says not to take any thought for the morrow and that the left hand shouldn’t know what the right does—if you calculate, you lose the magical will (actionless-action, or wu-wei in Eastern thought). A favourite example in this respect I often use is the Sufi mystery school where if an adherent was, for example, walking with his master on a very high bridge over a valley and the master said, “Jump,” he had to do so immediately without any thought—if he did so he would survive because the true will would magically preserve him, whereas the slightest “scheming” or “calculation” to save his life would cause him to die. In other words, complete renunciation of material desire.
Spare noticed that the flim-flammery beloved by magicians like Crowley was really just a MacGuffin to keep the profane mind distracted; it didn’t matter, in other words, if you drew the AR-KA-RA symbol on a floor, so much as that you had some symbol into which you projected your desire in order to remove any conscious desire for it—to want without desire, to want in a pure way (desireless desire). I think everyone is familiar with a situation where you really desperately want to win a game, a woman, or some opportunity and yet this very desperate “want” destroys your ability to do so—the symbols provide a way to neuter that desperate desire and provide you with “clean” desire.
So Spare invented his own systems to neuter his desire and purify his will—and this insight was taken even further in the 1980s by the Chaos magicians, who presented a totally pared down “zen” version of Spare’s thought that showed people how a magical operation could be conceived with almost anything. It’s a degeneration, unfortunately, because there is much more to the symbolic encoding than Spare and the Chaos magicians thought—but that’s the kali-yuga for you, everything is downhill.
Yet we can take Spare’s observation to explain the differences in religions; just as it was not absolutely necessary to use AR-KA-RA (I just invented that by the way, it’s not an actual spell) to purify the will, so too men like Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad accessed the sacred realm in slightly different ways. Now, these were not men like Crowley or Spare or me, they were men of the highest purity—hence when they developed their methods they also founded world religions (and were, of course, aided by the gods). Basically, this realm is an artistic realm—and it often involves elements of poetic allusion that can sound fictional to the uninitiated but will grant access to other realms in reality (people on the outside will interpret these elements as being “just made up” or “the Prophet lied”).
It’s like if I said to you, “I went to a hotel room with a girl and had a glass of water, the glass was dirty and stained from many lips—all glasses are like that today, if only they came in sealed plastic cups to protect them.” Is that about virginity and sex or is it just about glasses of water in hotel rooms—or is it about both? It doesn’t matter, but it is in this way you have to think in order to access the magical and religious realm; for the sceptic, the prophet (poet) will always be a liar because “there never were glasses of water and there’s no archeological evidence the hotel he said he went to ever existed” or “even the priests can’t agree if he meant girls or water”—or it becomes some evolutionary adaptive point about water purity, “the faithful who were careful about the water they drank had more children than those who didn’t follow the prophet—and this was why the religion spread”. These people will never in a million years get it.
So this is why Christ, Buddha, and Mohammad can all be quite similar—work in the same way—and yet be very distinct and contradictory; as with any idiom, you have to work within it to get results—if you pick at it from the outside in a critical way it’s as if you picked and criticised judo intellectually, measured the amount of pressure exerted when someone is thrown on the mat, but never participated in a bout yourself. Religion is like that and just like marital arts you get people who practice syncretism, such as Joe Rogan’s beloved Mixed Martial Arts, and achieve different effects—the situation is complicated because there are people within religions who do not treat religions as distinct practices within a recognisable idiom (e.g. all eastern martial arts are related, yet karate is not judo) but rather claim that their practice is a singular and final truth. Yet, really, the connection between Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad is more like if they were all “Eastern martial arts”.
The labyrinth usefully illustrates the point. The labyrinth above is from Chartres cathedral—its symbolic function is basically to purify a person’s will so that they can undertake actionless-action; perhaps you think about what you want before you enter the labyrinth and then walk it on your knees chanting the rosary—the physical pain and mental concentration strip away all profane desires and leave the will purified so that it can operate on the world. As Spare pointed out, prayer only really works if you’ve distracted yourself sufficiently so that you’re not “calculating”—so if you pray you should aim to exhaust yourself, to reach an empty state, and when so purified the divine then acts to make what you desire come true (you get it when you don’t want it at all).
If you think that just saying some words and hoping “God hears” like an anthropomorphic entity is enough then it probably won’t work (and you’ll end up being one of those people who says, “I prayed for my father to get well but he died anyway and that’s when I decided there’s no God.”)—it’s the case that the divine is more like a liquid that surrounds us, a power that can be accessed if we purify ourselves sufficiently, rather than an old man with a long white beard in heaven to whom we speak and who may or may not decide we “deserve” divine aid (perhaps the “old man” is another “dirty glass” that has been misunderstood)—in essence, God helps those who help themselves.
The labyrinth also represents the cosmos itself, as depicted in the little video below (it’s a torus). So the maze at Chartres cathedral is a microcosm for the initiatory sacred centre—a substitute pilgrimage for people who can’t go to the actual centre. It is “the cave” which we enter—just like the Minotaur’s underground labyrinth (Minos = Manu, the law of Manu; and, of course, the Minotaur was bullheaded—he was Taurus-toroid, just like the cosmos). The labyrinth is also related etymologically to “lithos”, it is “the stone cave” (the cave is related to the heart symbolically)—it is “the descent” into hell undertaken by Dante that leads to heaven, to rebirth.
Last summer, I tried to reach Merlin’s cave at Hartsfell but fell short because I arrived too late and it was too dark—I saw the gods there anyway, but I got so excited I didn’t go back to find the cave the second night (too freaked out really). In fact, I am running the maze—the labyrinth—which only the worthy may enter; and those who complete it and find the cave at the end will experience the second death. I needed to purify myself more before I could continue, and that is why I will return to Hartsfell this summer and find Merlin’s cave—the cave of stone—and spend forty days and nights there until I have become an initiate.