Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Meaning of Lent and Fasting to the Occultist, Mystic and Gnostic

    I begin this writing on the day before Ash Wednesday. It is known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Goodish Day, Paczki Day, Mardi Gras and various other names depending upon where you are and who you might happen to ask. The commonality held between the varying traditions of this day is excess. That's right, excess. Let us look a a local custom from my home region of Detroit, MI. The tradition of Paczki Day or Fat Tuesday comes from the local Polish Catholic community, but has moved on to be a tradition followed by most locals. This day we indulge in paczki's (pronounced poonch-kee.) A paczki is a pastry, not unlike a doughnut, filled with either jellies, cream cheese or custard. The little pastry has enough fat and calories to give an elephant a heart attack, so one is typically enough indulgence for one day. Paczki's are also a seasonal food, typically only made on this day and the days leading up to it. In addition to sweets and fatty foods, many old traditions hold carnivals and games upon this day as well. So, the key to this celebration is indulgence. Now we get to the point, why all of these feasts of excess?
    This brings us to the point of Lent itself. The word Lent seems to have it's origin in a Teutonic wording meaning Spring. Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, meditation and penitence to prepare the individual for the coming of Holy Week and Easter, according to Christian tradition. Thus Shrove Tuesday was acknowledge, by church officials, as a day for the people to be “shriven” of their sins in preparation of this time. As we have already seen, the common folk seem to have always had another agenda when it came to the day before a fast. To the Christian world the fast last for forty-seven days (from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.)   The actual duration is rounded to forty days, as Sundays are not counted and, though the fast continues, the official end of Lent is on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter.)  The fasting (or rather abstaining) for forty days is done in direct imitation of Christ's forty day fast in the desert. There were traditionally three different facets to the practices found in Lent. The first is prayer or Justice Toward God. The second is fasting or Justice Toward Self. The Third is alms giving or Justice Toward Neighbors. The chief amongst these that is practiced by people today is fasting, prayer being a day to day practice of faithful persons. It was, at one time prescribed that abstaining from meat products be done during Lent, hence the popularity of “Fish Fry's” during this time and the popularity of fish sandwiches on fast food menus. This prescription was later lifted and enforced only on Fridays. Orthodox Churches hold a five degree system when it comes to fasting.

I Abstaining from meat
II Abstaining from meat, eggs, milk, butter, and cheese
III Abstaining from meat, eggs, milk, butter, cheese and fish
IV Abstaining from meat, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, fish, oil, and wine
V Abstaining from all foods and beverages except bread, water, juices, honey, and nuts

    Now we come to the point. The spiritual discipline of fasting is something that should be experienced and practiced by all spiritual disciples, whatever their faith. The Gnostic Christian, the witch, the mystic and the magician alike should all look to fasting as a practice to help lead them to light. In fact there are prescriptions for fasting found in several of the old grimoires. The act of fasting meditation and prayer during the lenten season might lead any spiritual person to a greater understanding of the mysteries. It has also been theorized that fasting as a spiritual discipline can lead to a greater level of communion with one's own spirit, that which has been variously called the Holy Guardian Angel, the Higher Self, the Fetch, the Daimon, etc. This in turn can lead us to a greater understanding and communion with our god(s) and with the Godhead itself. This might be amplified by fasting in such a way during the season of Lent, as it leads to the resurrection of the Son of God (Sun God) and Living and Dying King, whom the mystery traditions might prescribe that we all emulate in order that we might live and die and live again and remember what had passed before. If this is not enough the will power needed to fast and it's development should be a desire of all students of the mystery's as well as occultists! It is, in all ways an exercise in the mystical betterment of the self. Thus I call to all mystics, Gnostics, occultists and other students of the Art to join with me in the Lenten season and fast, as we should, to better ourselves and be closer to the world of spirit. After all, is not fasting a long honored spiritual discipline in traditions the world over?
   I do not prescribe beginning with such fasts as the Orthodox Church prescribes above, but rather abstaining from one thing that is a commonality in your life. This should be a thing that the practitioner enjoys greatly and partakes of on a regular basis, at least once a week to once or more times a day. Foods are always a good way to go, as we develop cravings for foods that we enjoy on a regular basis. Once the thing has been picked it must be gone without for the forty days of Lent. Once Lent has begun whenever a craving, desire or even the opportunity to partake of he chosen thing arises , it should be replaced with prayer, meditation or a spiritual/magical exercise. This brings us closer to spirit and farther from the material world. On a more base level this practice makes the individual more disciplined in all things. Using these guidelines I ask the reader to partake in this spiritual fast every Lent, and see what light can be gleaned from the practice.