I spoke with Daniel Moler, recent author of Shamanic Qabbalah: A Mystical Path to Uniting the Tree of Life & The Great Work, and teacher in the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition of Peru (brought to the United States by curandero don Oscar Miro-Quesada), about his unique work integrating the streams of Peruvian shamanism and Hermetic Qabbalah. In this fascinating conversation, Daniel speaks about the Western Mystery Tradition (WMT), the history of Qabbalah and its practices, the meaning of The Great Work, finding spiritual roots in our homeland, and the mixing of indigenous folk practices with Catholic iconography in Latin America. We also explore the pertinent question of how reacquainting ourselves with a participatory cosmology—especially one that is also animistic—can renew our efforts to combat climate change and the ecological crisis from a new level of personal depth and spiritual agency.
J: Your book opens with a discussion on the importance of lineage. As Westerners, our initiatic traditions have mostly fallen by the wayside and been forgotten by time (and suppression), but the esoteric renaissance in recent decades has helped to recover a great deal of practices, texts, and lost wisdom. What is the WMT, and how do we find ways to integrate it into our lives today?
D: The Western Mystery Tradition (WMT) is a broad term to denote the esoteric practices of the Western world. I have always regarded religion as having two aspects of expression: the exoteric, meaning the more public persona of spiritual practice, including its community and liturgical practices; and the esoteric, which regards the inner world of the individual, the more intimate and arcane elements of spiritual knowledge. WMT knowledge has survived over the centuries through various schools of thought, including Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Qabalah, among others. These traditions evolved especially in the 19th Century, through various figures like Éliphas Lévi and Helena Blavatsky, when the WMT was consolidated into a more concentrated philosophy and practice. Now, the WMT seems to be emerging on the historical landscape as a legitimate spiritual lineage, incorporating European and Mediterranean mystical practices into a streamlined canon.
I feel it is easy for us Westerners to integrate this lineage into our daily lives because its iconography is incorporated into the practices and institutions we are already familiar with. We live in a culture rooted in monotheism, but open to other belief systems. WMT principles, symbolism, and ritual practices have actually inspired many of the institutional tenets in our mainstream religious bodies, so the ideas are already there. It is a way of understanding the mystical concepts highly regarded in the East, but through our own lens of understanding the world based upon culture, geography, etc. Therefore, I think the easiest way to integrate WMT in our lives is to approach it by first embracing our own upbringing, honoring the valuable qualities of the institutions you already recognize, and then getting to the mystical root of that spiritual practice. We tend to think of esotericism as something other, as a thing normally practiced by untouchable gurus, prophets, or wizards, but truly the heart of the WMT is that every person has instant access to the esoteric nature of reality. You just have to look through some of the dogmatic b.s. and uncover the authentic foundation of spiritual experience in our religious systems.
Story question: How did you discover the Qabbalah? And, a follow up: how did you begin studying with Peruvian shamans?
I have always been interested in magick and the occult. So, of course, diving into that subject one is likely to bump into Aleister Crowley. I think was intrigued by the mythos of Crowley more than anything else when I was younger, but of course the Qabalah came up numerous times as it is the foundation of the WMT magical system of the Golden Dawn and then of Crowley’s other Themelic canon. It was too much for my 20-something brain to handle at the time and I no pursued the subject, likening it to the astrophysics of mysticism. It wasn’t until I went through my shamanic training that I understood magick and mysticism at a fundamental level. Once I felt I had fully grasped that understanding, I decided to pursue Qabalah again around 2012 and my spiritual paradigm exploded into new vistas! Traditionally, in the Judaic lineage one was never to study Qabalah until they were at least 40 years-old, to ensure an adequate amount of education and experience were under their belt. This is to ensure that the concepts of Qabalah are not misunderstood or missed.
During the period in my life where I set Qabalah aside, I wanted to discover the origin of all mystical knowledge first before continuing any other education. This was how I became fascinated with shamanism, which is the root of not only all spiritual practices on our planet, but also the first form of medical practice (healing and spiritually, I have found, typically go hand-in-hand). Reading about it wasn’t enough, I wanted practical experience and just put it out there in the universe that I wanted a teacher, someone who could train me in the ancient ways. Lo and behold, a few months later I came across a teacher in the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition, a shamanic lineage from Peru. He only lived about 20 minutes from my house, in a remote piece of land in Kansas! Eventually this teacher introduced me to the progenitor of that lineage, the Peruvian curandero (healer) don Oscar Miro-Quesada. I have been training under his purview for well-over a decade now and was sanctioned as a teacher in that tradition. Although I have been to Peru to learn these practices, most of my training has been in the States as this is where don Oscar lives now, as well as this is the land and culture in which I operate. One thing I have learned over the years is the notion of travelling to other countries to train in these ways only goes so far. We cannot discard our culture in an attempt to adopt the ways of another; it is here in my homeland that I can have a greater impact on the lives around me.
Where do the two streams (of the WMT and Peruvian shamanism) converge, or are they actually reflecting aspects of the same, multifaceted reality? I’m really drawn to the resonating possibility Hermetic and shamanic cosmologies can uniquely converge in our time.
While studying Qabalah, I was astounded at the amount of correlations I discovered between my training in Peruvian shamanism and Judaic mysticism. I have always been a fan of comparative mythology and religion, the idea of different cultures sharing similar themes and characteristics, but the connections were too unbelievable. For instance, both systems have an understanding of the universe based upon duality: that God expresses itself through both positive and negative polarities. This is normally expressed through masculine and feminine attributes or god forms, as well as the sun and moon as symbols of how life is made manifest on Earth. In both traditions, both of these dualities are often expressed in a similar way through symbolism: the right for the positive/masculine, the left for the negative/feminine. An integration of the right and left sides of any altar or ritual space in both paths creates a harmonization, a equilibrium within the individual(s) participating in the ceremonial working.
Seeing as how the certain branches of Qabalah did infiltrate Western esotericism during the Renaissance (Spain being one of those prime countries of assimilation) one can see how easily that influence could have spread into indigenous religious practices after the Spanish invaded and colonized Peru in the 14th Century. Peruvian curanderismo is truly a blend between indigenous folk practices mixed with Catholic iconography (much like Voodoo). This paints a bigger picture for our understanding of cross-cultural spiritual practice. We tend to need to classify things into ethnic groups and historical categories (which is helpful to gain academic insight on our heritage) but rarely does spiritual practice work that way. It evolves over time and synthesizes with other branches on the multi-branched tree that is “religion” or “belief.”
That being said, I do think Qabalah and Peruvian shamanism—along with any spiritual tradition across the globe—are just different languages interpreting the same concept: the Great Mystery of the universe. Because of that I believe every religion, when traced to its root, reflects much of the same tenets as other traditions around the world.
How do you understand The Great Work?
Historically, the Great Work (Magnum Opus) is the alchemical search for the great Philosopher’s Stone, which was said grant eternal life, and could only be created through the transfiguration of base elements into gold. The concept has evolved from being a literal process to one of self-transmutation. It is the goal of the initiate, in the WMT or shamanic rites, to perfect oneself in a series of series of ritual processes likened to a rites of passage, where one can gain access to the mysteries of the universe and thus cultivate full realization of one’s true potential. ‘Know Thyself’ is a prime axiom of the WMT. In means that connection with the deepest truths of soul—for good or ill—will develop a clear and healthy psyche, which is the only way to carry out a clear and healthy relationship with God, the Divine, or whatever it is you want to call the essence that spurned the process of Creation.
I appreciate not only the “boots on the ground” and well-researched approach in your book, but also that Shamanic Qabbalah provides a field guide for the modern, magical psychonaut. What are some of the approaches to ritual and practice you recommend that readers can begin with?
Thank you for the compliment! First, I try to outline a code of conduct for the initiate. Not just anyone can be a psychonaut. We all access dreamtime and other altered states of consciousness (where the Mysteries reside) but that doesn’t mean we necessarily interpret the information correctly. A true psychonaut, an initiate, must be able to hone and improve their skills, like a doctor would in a medical practice, or a musician with their instrument, etc. So, I walk the reader through a certain value system and lifestyle that has been tested out and refined by sages over centuries. Then, an intimate familiarity with the symbol system of initiation is needed. Access to the unseen realms happens via our subconscious minds, and the subconscious works primarily through symbols and archetypes, rather than grammar and syntax. In many mystery schools it takes years to garner a full awareness of all the symbols inherent in a full initiatory process. The Tree of Life, and all of is corresponded, is one of those symbol sets. The final part of the book walks the reader through each sphere and pathway on the Tree of Life, outlining all of the basic symbol sets in each and their meanings, so that burgeoning psychonauts can be equipped with as much as information as possible to have a successful experience. These symbols are all keys which unlock various aspects within a person’s consciousness. They bring up imagery and emotion, as well as other sensory realities, that expose the initiate to encounters that challenge their resolve. For instance, looking at your shortcomings and getting insights on how to overcome them. These symbols provide hints for perfecting your own inner, and thus outer, nature.
There is an urgency in our time. It almost doesn’t need to be said but for the pressing question: what can be done (about climate change, ecological devastation, spiritual alienation, et al)? What can a more shamanic, esoteric worldview (and most importantly a contemplative practice and path) — that engages with the spirits and views reality in a more participatory, animistic mode — do to help our species and the planet right now? Loaded question, I know.
It’s a vital question. And every one of us should find a way of answering it to the best of our ability during these chaotic times. From the WMT and shamanic perspective, I do think changing the world for the better is the primary goal. However, we too often look outside ourselves for answers, which can lead to anxiety, paranoia, and a tendency to blame others for the struggles we face. It is important first to look within and change ourselves before we can affect the outer world. As we truly engage in the Great Work, it is my belief we gain greater insights that help improve the world at large. We can break up the dross infecting our own consciousness, the giving our minds more bandwidth to make room for innovation. At the same time, to honor the esoteric nature of these traditions, we cannot forget that we live in a participatory universe. We are not isolated. There is an entire planet we live on, that we grew out of, that is alive and intelligent. In Peruvian shamanism, we have a concept called ayni, which is credo of sacred reciprocity I discuss in my book. In a sense it means we must give in order to receive, but more so it emulates the ideal that humanity acts in accordance within a greater mechanism of the natural order. Part of the practice of these initiatory rituals involves a reciprocity of offering, gratitude, action toward conserving our planet and the preserving a rapport with the unseen realities (whether you want to call them spirits, dimensions, etc.) around us. If we do not live up to our part in that natural order, everything will fall apart. We cannot evolve in isolation. Understanding that we are just one thread of a greater ecological web will ensure a secure future for the coming generations.