Beautifully detailing his spiritual pilgrimage from West to East and back again, in the age of strife known as the Kali Yuga, Aki Cederberg shares the authentic and unbroken magical traditions he experienced in India and Nepal and how his search for a spiritual homeland ultimately led him back to his native Europe.
Cederberg explains how his odyssey began as a search for spiritual roots, something missing in the spiritually disconnected life of the Western world, where the indigenous traditions were long ago severed by the spread of Christianity. Traveling to India, he encounters the ancient esoteric order of mystic. wild, naked holy men known as the Naga Babas, the living source of the Hindu traditions of magic and yoga. Immersing himself in the teachings of the tradition, he receives an initiation and partakes in the Kumbh Mela the largest spiritual gathering on Earth. With his evocative descriptions, Cederberg show how traveling in India can be an overwhelming, even psychedelic experience. Everything in this ancient land is multiplied and manifold: people and things, sights and sounds, joy and suffering. Yet beyond the apparent confusion and chaos, a strange, subtle order begins to reveal itself. He starts to glimpse resemblances and analogies between the teachings of the Indian tradition and the Western traditions of magic, alchemy, and pagan pantheons. He meets a wide cast of characters, from mystical hucksters in Rishikesh and the veritablw army of naked, chillum-smoking mystics of Maya Devi to Goa Gil, the world-renowned guru of the Goa techno-trance scene, and Mahant Amar Bharti Ji, an urdhvabahu or "raised-arm Baba." who for more than 40 years has held up one arm in devotion to Shiva.
After extensive traveling and immersing himself in the extraordinary world of India, Cederberg returns to his native soil of Europe. Traveling to holy places where old pagan divinities still linger in the shadows of the modern world, he dreams of forgotten gods and contemplates how they might be awakened yet again, reconnecting the West with its own pre-christian spritiual traditions, sacred landscapes, and soul.
IF THE HUMAN BEING is a Homo religious by nature, as so many signs suggest, then the impulse toward pilgrimage-a sacred journey or a journey in search of the sacred-must be nearly as old as the human sense of the higher powers themselves. The whole notion of pilgrimage assumes that divine forces are not restricted to a supernatural realm, solely accessible through worship or prayer, but instead may be found lingering in particular places here on Earth. These sites, marked by the gods and their most ardent devotees, may be numinous features in the natural landscape such as mountains, groves, trees, lakes, wells, and waterways, or man-made structures like temples, altars, and shrines. In many cases, natural and man-made elements are brought together to amplify and concentrate the spirit(s) of a place.
Sacred sites are remarkably resilient, thus demonstrating their innate power. They often maintain their special status despite the seismic shifts in external religious belief and custom that can occur with the passage of time. Even in the West-where the past few millennia saw earlier polytheistic worldviews replaced by monotheistic Christianity, which gave way to a muddleheaded modernism-sacred places can still be found dotted across the landscape. Some are as old as the Neolithic period.
Pilgrimage is an abiding feature of religions in the East and West. The Indian traditions of Hinduism and later Jainism recognize the action, yatra (pilgrimage), and the destination, tirtha (pilgrimage site or crossing-over place), terms that derive from ancient Sanskrit. Buddhists travel to the Mahabodhi Temple, the site of the bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment. For any able-bodied Muslim, a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca is a mandatory pillar of the faith. In pagan Scandinavia, the temple at Uppsala drew throngs of visitors who came from every part of Sweden to attend the great and bloody sacrificial feast that was held there every nine years. In late antiquity, Christians began making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. By the early Middle Ages, the city of Rome and its basilicas of the martyrs Peter and Paul had become a sacred destination for Christian pilgrims who traveled there from all parts of Europe and from as far away as Iceland. Common routes and roadmaps were developed for these pilgrimages, but the passages were beset with all manner of dangers. The journey itself would surely test a pilgrim's faith; successfully completed, the pilgrimage was a testament to the steadfastness of that same faith.
At the heart of pilgrimage, both the word and the concept, is the pilgrim, the one who boldly-and, in some cases, naively-undertakes such a venture. Etymologically, the word pilgrim derives from the Latin peregrinus, "foreigner," which in turn was probably formed from a com- bination of per ("through") and ager ("field," "land," or "terrain"). It thus signifies someone who travels, or has traveled, through a land.
In the case of Aki Cederberg's Journeys in the Kali Yuga, which recounts his ongoing quest for darshan, a "beholding" or direct view of the sacred, the destinations are literal and figurative, made of matter and spirit, and their pathways lead inward as well as farther afield. The pilgrimages that form the main backdrop of his account took place in India, on far less beaten paths than those of the hajj or a journey to Jerusalem.
Navigating a terra incognita can be a disorienting experience on a metaphysical as well as a geographical level. This is certainly the case in a polytheistic land such as India, with its dense and deeply layered cultural and religious strata that have been accumulating and intermingling for millennia. Foreigners who travel there naively in search of some vague enlightenment and who lack a well-functioning internal compass may soon find themselves in an endless, hallucinatory labyrinth that confounds at every turn. As Cederberg observes, many return home "even more lost than they were when they first set out on their journey."
A large part of Cederberg's story tells of his initiation, and that of several other Europeans, into a lineage of Shaivite Naga Babas. His descriptions of these events and their surroundings are sincere, respectful, and colorful but devoid of romanticism. Despite his resonance with the ancient spiritual worldview of the Babas and his appreciation for the power of their rituals and customs, he eventually realizes he can never be truly at home in their world. No matter the length of the stay or the depth of the study, he is destined to remain a stranger in a strange land.
Cederberg's experiences in India serve as a hermetic and analogical catalyst on several levels. Along with a greater understanding of the sacred vertical correspondence "as above, so below" comes the recognition of a matching horizontal equation: "as within, so without." Just as the higher world of the gods has its parallel scenarios that play out perpetually here on Earth, an inner, mystical path has its equally valid outer, physical counterparts, such as the traditional martial arts. The analogy might be further extended to the world of the creative arts as a whole.
AS FAR BACK AS I CAN REMEMBER, I have been drawn to and felt a strong resonance with certain sights, symbols, and signs, not exactly knowing why and perhaps more intensely than many of those around me. Some of these have been found in the waking world, while others have revealed themselves in visions and dreams. Many are far enough in the distant past to be in the realm where memory, dream, and waking reality all meld together in one amorphous mass of con- sciousness. As a result, through the whole of my life, I have been guided by some indefinable force that has propelled me toward these things and their revealing and realization.
Some of these dreams have been of such majesty that they have ever left me, becoming mental talismans or maps of inner landscapes have sought to find, even if I cannot remember exactly where I have seen them. In one such childhood dream, I wake up in a bed in the riddle of a strange temple, the pillars of which rise up monolithically against the roof somewhere beyond sight. There is primal music echo 19 in the large circular hall, perhaps played by some kind of organ, that creates a surreal sonic harmony. As I scale its walls I discover it has either doors nor windows, and one cannot exit or enter-one simply is there. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have arrived at the source of all and feel at home in this strange place.
In another later dream, I descend through the sea in a spherical vessel, arriving at a cave-like underworld shrine to primal, undivided truth and knowledge. There is an altar on the main wall on which shines a rune that I understand to be a synthesis of a mark for fire and a mark for ice. Surrounding the rune are innumerable small black-and-white framed pictures of people who have grasped and expressed this knowledge in their life and work. Ever since realizing these and other dreams and visions, I have sought their equivalent in the waking world. It's as if my soul or spirit had been imprinted with images, and consequently my life has been a search for these images in the outside world, applying the hermetic axiom "as above, so below" to "as within, so without." Rather than looking for truths or meanings stemming from outside of myself, it has been an inward quest to find and to make manifest deep inner truths- truths perhaps not found in books, ideas, theories, ideologies, religions or "isms," but in living reality. In essence, I have been in search of magic mirrors.
I have also always had a strong wanderlust, a great thirst for journey, for travel, for quest and adventure. I have sat on the shores of the great, vast ocean and felt the waves bring with them a sense of restlessness, of faraway places, of grand discoveries-a calling and a longing for some distant land beyond the horizon. Perhaps it is in my blood, my ancestral seafarers and sea gods beckoning me, calling me out into their realms.
All of this in turn has taken me on journeys across the Earth, on pilgrimages to worlds above and below, and needless to say, to some very strange alleyways. The story that follows is of one such pilgrimage, consisting of a series of journeys to an extraordinary world where-in the face of our evermore secular and modern world in which ancient living lines of knowledge and magic are broken and severed forever-an ancient line of knowledge and magic is still alive.
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