I was first introduced to Angel Millar through the great Occult of Personality podcast. I was immediately impressed by his personal experiences with philosophies of the East and West as well as his uncommon perspectives and critiques of the shallow aspects of our modern Western culture.
Angel is a driven man working in several fields of personal development and expression. An active Freemason and martial artist, Millar has also started two websites and written three books with much more in the works. While not a Freemason myself, I continue to find deep meaning and inspiration from Millar's words both written and spoken on a host of topics ranging from the esoteric to the creative.
I have come away reading his essays on Phalanx with a sense of purpose and inspiration. While there is much that is confusing and misleading happening all the time around us, Millar is always brining attention back to the positive and helping to invigorate others to live fuller and more authentic lives. Millar has much to offer in terms of practical direction for anyone feeling lost or dissatisfied with their relationship with themselves and with contemporary society at large. In this conversation we learn more about his background and his own sources of occult, creative and philosophical inspiration.
I was 15 years old when I first read a book on the esoteric. It was about astral projection and the elements, and may have been by Dion Fortune, but I’m not sure. A year later I bought a book of neo-Pagan rituals, and then a year after that, when I was around 17, I came across an occult and New Age spiritual bookstore a few miles from where I lived. I began visiting it regularly and reading widely on the subject, from Mircea Eliade to Aleister Crowley. Probably, much of what I read was rubbish, but it opened up my imagination and my interest in other cultures.
What thinkers, practitioners and writers have most profoundly shaped your life and offered you better ways of understanding the world and how to maximize your personal practices?
As mentioned, I found Mircea Eliade’s writing interesting when I was young, and still do. Again, I found Crowley interesting. I also read some of Israel Regardie’s work. I don’t consider myself to be devotees of either Regardie or Crowley, but I think that Crowley’s ability to write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and translations, to experiment in fine art painting, to practice boxing, to be a practicing mountain climber, and his traveling the world, makes him an extraordinary example of what a life can be. I don’t think you can imitate Crowley, or adopt his teachings wholesale, but as with, say, Picasso in the art world, I think you can be inspired by his energy and drive.
Fundamentally, I’m interested in those individuals who are able to practice the hard and soft arts, physical and spiritual disciplines, or that can draw on influences that are regarded as outside of their discipline. Besides Crowley, another example that I often cite is Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous Samurai, known not only for his skills as a warrior but also for his painting and calligraphy. He is best-known in the West for his Book of Five Rings, which is a profound work on the martial arts, and practicing a discipline of any sort.
I was very interested in the work of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima when I was in my twenties. And, again, Mishima was one of those multi-dimensional characters -- Japan’s most famous literary writer at the time, he also acted, conducted an orchestra, practiced bodybuilding, and formed his own private army.
It's both at a new high and a new low. Western esotericism can retreat into a kind of musicological mindset of wanting to preserve, rather than to live and give energy to the traditions. On the other end of the scale, in occultism, you find a kind of 'anything goes' attitude, where things are mixed together for the sake of creating something new, to avoid having to study anything too deeply. But what is created is rarely lasting or important. There are exceptions to this.
Some small publishers, such as Theion Press, are publishing works of high quality, of deep thought, radical yet scholarly.
How did you get involved with the martial arts?
I had been wanting to practice Kung fu for some time, but when I was around 22, I met a student of a Nam Pai Chuan Shaolin Kung fu temple in London, and joined the class. I had never really considered myself to be a “sporty” person, partly because of my artistic nature and partly because I had hated soccer (or at least the egotism that it seemed to bring out of those playing it) when I was at school -- though I quite liked Rugby and I liked Athletics. However, after I started Kung fu, I found, very quickly, that I really liked pushing my limits, physically.
In what ways has martial arts developed you spiritually or philosophically?
After I moved to New York I stopped practicing, except for a couple of very brief periods training in Tai Chi and Kung fu. I took up the latter again, as a regular practice, about six years ago. The school takes fighting and self-defense very seriously. We do not wear protection, and we do sometimes get injured. Although we try to minimize injuries, of course, I think it is important that we push ourselves, and that we face those things and situations that we find difficult and even intimidating.
Kung fu has helped me develop by making me face my fears, and by pushing me to do things that seemed impossible to me before I joined. I’m quite a calm person, but you find out how calm you really are when you stand in front of someone that is far superior to you in the martial arts and that you know can, and probably will, hurt you.
But, overall, it is essential to me to have a physical practice, as well as spiritual and mental disciplines. Although people tend to focus on only one or two of these, I do not believe we can truly develop ourselves if we neglect our body and our karma in regard to it.
What sorts of connections do you see between the martial arts and more explicitly spiritual practices like meditation, occultism and magic?
The school that I practice Kung fu with also emphasizes meditation and internal energy for health and wellbeing. We also practice cultivating internal energy (Chi) -- and I would say that, in my experience, internal energy is stronger when the body is stronger, and perhaps vice versa. The body is a kind of talisman and it is radiating the consciousness through such things as facial expression, body posture, the apparent health of the body, and so on. The mind affects the body, and the body affects the mind. I think that understanding is fundamental to to spiritual development.
“Alchemical transformation” is a good phrase. People sometimes think of it as drinking some kind of elixir of life. Yet, such people often neglect the basics. True alchemical transformation can be affected by a natural (and, I would suggest, plant-based) diet, physical training, and meditation (particularly on the Chakras). I try to follow that closely.
In regard to which aspects of myself have been in some way transmuted, I would say I have gained physical strength, an ability to push myself, and a greater -- if certainly an imperfect -- ability to remain calm in stressful encounters. More concretely, I remember the first time I broke a slab of concrete with my hand. I was actually shocked that it broke, and that I wasn’t injured. I’ve experienced similar things since then.
How do you understand magic and how does it work within your chosen path of personal rituals or practices?
I probably wouldn’t use the term “magic,” but others might. As mentioned, I practice chakra meditation -- and this has evolved over the decades, and I also practice Chi Gong, and, of course, other types of meditation, such as reflecting on my mortality. One might draw some comparison to Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, or Tantra.
I try to practice these daily… Again, I’d have to say what is important to me is the development of mind, body, and spirit. I think that is the true Way.
And I would add that we can find magic in the mundane. Take conversations, for example, it has been shown that when two people converse, and are enjoying the conversation, their brain waves sync up. There are things going on within and between us that we are not aware of. In a sense, that is magic. The material world is infused with meaning and spirit, and we are constantly interacting with it and reshaping it.
What place does myth play in your outlook and philosophical perspective?
Hmm… In essence, I would say that I look to myth, ancient culture, and practitioners within ancient cultures as a model for a Way of life, or, at least, as an example of how to overcome obstacles both internal and external. Again, this may, in part, be because I see in mythic figures archetypes of those who are able to practice different arts or to live a more three-dimensional life.
The god of writing and poetry is a god of war. The mythic blacksmith is a shaman, a rebel who rises up against tyranny, and so on.
When you started to conceive the Phalanx project, what were your guiding principles that served as motivation?
I was interested in writing a book on male spirituality, especially as related to Freemasonry, the martial arts, Zen and the Samurai, and so on, and I wanted to begin exploring the subject publically. Phalanx developed and changed quite quickly, and has grown in different ways since then. I especially try to give readers ways they can develop themselves, mentally, physically, and spiritually, and ways they can improve aspects of their lives -- regardless of the reader’s gender.
What made you decide to focus on issues related to contemporary masculinity and the notions of maleness? What specific attention are you drawing to this aspect of humanity that you consider lacking in our modern culture or in the media?
I’m not really interested in male issues per se. I don’t know anything about the “men’s rights” movement, and it doesn’t actually interest me. I think the major obstacle facing men today, though, is that we do not have great examples of manhood to look to in contemporary society. For young men, especially, fathers are often absent from the home, either because of divorce or long working hours. And, when they are present, they are emotionally absent, or have little wisdom to offer.
This has not led to a society of men who are strong but respectful of women, active and dynamic yet peaceful in themselves. Instead, we see a playing out of discredited manhood -- drink, drugs, gangs, boasting -- though these things are a part of contemporary society more broadly, of course.
So, there’s a point at which masculinity turns dark, loses a foundation or balance and expresses itself in very unflattering ways that undermine more classical approaches to self-development and admirable strength? How can men be more mindful not to fall into those ego traps?
I think men have to seek out better examples and cut off those influences that are negative. Good examples can be found in many martial arts schools and some Lodges, for example, where self-development and spirituality are important to its members.
You have written three books on Freemasonry. Will you continue to write books dedicated to that topic or will your next book go along a new line?
I am planning to do both. I am working, slowly, on collecting some writings together for a short book on Freemasonry, but I’m also exploring areas of self-development and, unsurprisingly perhaps, mythology, symbolism, and ritual related to traditionally male cults, societies, brotherhoods, and so on – the Samurai, Mithraism, and so on.
Probably the connections between Western and Islamic thinkers, adventurers, and radicals, and between certain Freemasons and so-called “fringe Masons” and Islamic spirituality during especially the late 19th century. I believe I am the first person to make an in depth study of this subject.
What do most westerners fail to grasp about Islam and does this shortsightedness create more danger in the world as a whole?
Most educated Westerners are very inward looking. They imagine that every culture is exactly like the most progressive elements of the West. It’s as if they imagine the non-West as being exactly like them, but with spicy food and ethnic holidays that we can enjoy.
Or to put it another way, the West wants to refuse to believe that Islam has any real content, and prefers to think of it as a kind of ethnic identity.
However, cultures and religions have their own logic, and they don’t conform to Western views or ideas about what is important in life or in society. In regard to alcohol, gender, family, clothing -- to name a few areas -- Islam’s position is much more traditional, conservative, and generally contrary to progressivism. You might think this is good or you might think it is bad -- and I’m not taking a position -- but there’s no point in pretending that Islam, or any other religion, somehow agrees with whatever it is we believe in the West this month. So, yes, it can create danger because it creates a disconnect.
So, modern westerners have warped Eastern traditions, leaving out the parts that make them uncomfortable in order to turn them into products for western commodification?
Effectively, yes. Although Christianity is often attacked as intolerant or for the Crusades that were conducted 700 years ago (and I’m not a Christian, by the way), other religions are often defended from exactly this sort of criticism on the basis that “no religion teaches violence.” It’s really schizophrenic. Westerners cherry pick the one or two things they like from each religion, ignore ninety-nine percent of each, and claim that they somehow understand the essence of the religion, to the point that they feel free to contradict the religion’s practitioners or even their sacred texts.
Cherry picking is the way to ignorance. You’re better off studying a religion and sticking with it through the difficult and uncomfortable stuff, and figuring out how apparently violent passages can be interpreted peacefully or mystically, and not literally. But most Westerners won’t allow themselves that struggle so they remain stuck in the superficial.
You’re sympathetic to non-Western religion and pre-modern culture. What lost aspects of the past are most detrimentally affecting how we think and act in the world?
I think, at its best, the pre-modern world was one characterized by a holistic approach to society and a belief in the sacred. That sacred is not necessarily something that belongs to an institution, but something that was seen in the world, in nature, and even in men and women themselves. Nature (of which we are a part) and society was an embodiment of the Supernatural.
In regard to society, there was not an atomization, and a search for meaning in politics and materialism. The individual was part of his family, and part of his trade guild or professional brotherhood, his church or temple, and so on.
If human history is a undulating movement between peaks, valleys and low-points; where do you place our present culture in terms of values, art or spiritual depth?
The West seems to be running out of ideas, and seems merely to be going through the motions. The focus on morality in popular culture obscures deeper problems.
Education that teaches what to think but not how to think -- and definitely not how to question authority -- massive student debt, massive health care costs, computerization of the workforce, a sense of existential boredom -- of not knowing why we exist or what we should do in life. These are only a few of the challenges that we are facing, but largely trying to avoid.
There is often the complaint that we do not produce any more, and that factories and industries have moved from the US to China. But, perhaps more worrying -- since it indicates the health of the soul of the nation -- is that ordinary people themselves no longer create. A century or so ago, it was normal for a man to make things out of wood -- to carve or to make furniture or something -- and for women to sew, knit, or quilt. Ordinary people were creative. But, since the invention of the television, at least, people have become consumers. Most people would be embarrassed to sleep under a quilt or sit at a table they made.
I don’t think we have to stick to the strict gender roles or men doing woodwork and women sewing, etc. Far from it. But, I think we have to get back to the idea of creating for ourselves. In a strange way, this very old-fashioned idea carried on in youth culture -- in Punk, Goth, and with Rockabilly, for example, where people made their own clothes, painted on their leather jackets, and so on. But, now we can by anything there is no need to do this, and something significant has been lost as a result.
And do you see this is Masonry? Has it lost its way or become watered down from what it was originally designed to accomplish? If so, what do you think has caused that?
If you look at 19th century America, you see extraordinary energy in relation to Freemasonry -- women sewing quilts with Masonic symbols in it; women running textiles businesses, making regalia for Lodges; men engraving walking canes or furniture with Masonic symbols. That aspect is less significant.
But Freemasonry changes, and the younger generation of Freemasons are much more interested in esotericism and spirituality than the older ones. They are also more dynamic, and are doing things for themselves: holding conferences, and getting speakers, and getting Masonic vendors -- selling art, jewellery, and so on. So, there’s something of a revival, I believe.
So creativity and art are crucial to our lives… How, then, do you incorporate it into your own life as a tool for understanding and growth?
Besides martial arts and esotericism, I’ve studied fine art painting, fashion, and poetry -- and probably other arts for a short time. I still design, and I write every day, so these are part of my life. I think things are more interesting when you cross over from one medium to another -- from writing to visual art, or vice versa, etc.
Although I’m primarily known for writing, I have painted some Masonic tracing boards (paintings of Masonic symbols), which have been shown on both the East and West Coast, for example. I used a detail of one of these for the cover of my Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition and some other details were reproduced in the book The Secret Power of Masonic Symbols by Robert Lomas.
|First and second degree tracing boards by Angel Millar|
In regard to influences on me, I was especially influenced by the early work of Japanese designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Kohji Tatsuno, and Rei Kawakubo (who headed Comme des Garcons), especially Miyake, who looked back to traditional Japanese aesthetics, and used traditional Japanese materials in new ways -- using oiled paper and bamboo in clothing, during the 1980s. Although that work might look a bit dated now, I think you can learn from that spirit: Take what has become neglected, but that is meaningful and beautiful, and do something unexpected with it. With Comme des Garcons, as well, they published a journal of artwork and images called Six. It looked like a fanzine, and I think that was deliberate choice.
As a tool for growth, of course it allows for exploring ideas in different ways, but what is important in practicing an art, is to think about the details. In regard to writing, for example, I’m as interested in the construction of my sentences, and the arrangement of words -- about how I want to say something -- as much as about what I want to say.
How has initiation impacted your life? What is the fallout when a society strips initiatory rites of passage away for men and women?
First of all, if you experience authentic initiation it gives you not only a marker of a change in your own life -- including inner life -- it enables you to feel a connection to those of probably every other culture, especially of the pre-modern era, that have gone through initiation. Most people don’t have that today, so when they hear about Shamanism, for example, they immediately want to think of it in terms of 21st century politics.
The fallout, then, is that we have millions of people who think they can change the world, but are incapable of, or unwilling to, fix their own problems. And I think we all know what such people are like when they get power.How can we go against the grain, rebel in a meaningful ways and challenge the falsehoods of our current generation?
We have to realize that no matter what society is presenting to us as the unquestionable truth, it is basically a fashion, and that it will change, possibly very dramatically, over the next decade -- and so on, and so on. What we believe today, we did not believe a decade ago, and will not believe ten years from now. What is moral today will be immoral tomorrow. We can see this very clearly in the way that feminists such as Germaine Greer -- once cutting edge and progressive -- are denounced as transphobic and, as such, behind the times and oppressive. Those espousing the most cutting edge views about gender today may well suffer the same fate in a couple of decades.
To meaningfully rebel we have to be anchored against the rolling tides of politics. As such, we have to acknowledge the impermanence of today’s Western political convictions. And we have to have an understanding of other cultures, past and present, and to look to those for signposts about what is generally admired and respected.
Then we can begin to embody those positive values and qualities that every healthy culture has respected. We shouldn’t be judging others. If we decide, for example, that becoming physically strong is a quality that we want to develop, we shouldn’t look down on those who are not strong, and who may reject physical strength. That is their choice.
We merely have to set examples of alternative ways of thinking, living, and being. We have to offer choices, in other words. You can choose weakness, and we won’t judge you. Or you can choose strength, and you can know what it means both in terms of personal development and in terms of being a part of a positive community that helps you achieve, and we will respect you for struggling with us. We should do this for everything. You can choose a professor who’ll reward you for checking the right boxes and mouthing the correct soundbites, or you can take a risk and think outside the box. You can choose to eat junk food, or you can choose to learn about nutrition, learn how to buy food, and learn how to cook, and eat better.
The main thing is that a meaningful rebellion has to be positive and uplifting. It has to be about improving our minds, bodies, and spirits. A person should be able to see someone on the street, who’s part of this meaningful rebellion, and say, I want to be like that. We want to improve the quality of our being and of our lives in all areas.
Such a rebellion has to be a choice, and, as such, self-selecting. If you are struggling to improve your mind, body, and spirit, we are happy to struggle with you, and to help you where we can, so that you can help someone else one day.
What do you suggest to people who are looking to improve their lives through physical, spiritual and philosophical means?
In regard to the philosophical aspect, I think you have to read the classic texts -- from the Poetic Edda to the Hagakure -- but also modern works, such as those of Mitch Horowitz, Camille Paglia, Seth Godin, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Grit by Angela Duckworth, and so on. It’s important to be able to live in this world and to make something of it. We can’t remain in the past.
In regard to the physical, I’d advise taking up a martial art, preferably one that could be used in a self-defense situation, and preferably one that helps you to develop your character as well as your physical body.______________________________________________________________________
And, in regard to the spiritual, I’d recommend having some daily practice. Partly, this should be thinking about how to improve your life -- your health, diet, and so on -- and how to help others improve themselves if they want to. And, partly, this should be setting time aside for some sort of ritual or meditation, such as on developing internal energy or meditating on the Chakras.
Find out more about Angel at his personal site
and be sure to follow the works released through Phalanx and People of Shambhala