There’s been some recent controversy in various blogs over the legitimacy of occultism and magic that was mainly fueled by Miguel Conner’s article. His argument, inspired by Alan Moore’s disjointed, caustic and adjective-riddled up-the-ying-yang piece of polemic called “Fossil Angels” is that modern occultism has fallen (or conceived in to be more accurate) into the mire of Dungeons & Dragons (no disrespect to D&D players) kind of phoney baloney. This kind of occultism has fallen into rank mediocrity and bourgeois, narcissistic materialism rather than containing any truly inspired spiritual or artistic vision like say a William Blake painting. Alan Moore defines “true magic” as writing, creating music or painting rather than attending some boring old occult lodge, hearing them drone on and on about nonsense.
Although I certainly agree (for the most part) with his blanket assessment, I do think that “magic” reflects a certain human need to wrap a cordon of mystery and possibility through rituals or gazing into a crystal ball or reading a stack of Tarot cards. Humans are creatures imperiled by their every next breath, with every heart beat closer to death. Humans try to shake a little truth out of their stabs in the dark. “Magic” which is defined as containing supernatural powers and influence over the forces of nature and the “spirit world” reflects an innate need to control and “mastery” over one’s destiny in an uncertain, nonsensical and powerless world. The gods have abandoned us long ago to our whims and vices. They have far more important cosmic issues to attend to. They no longer hear prayers and care only to the extent that their mission of planting the seeds of potential consciousness in the soil of the world is long over.
While we do retain consciousness, the mind/body perspective still remains subjective and lacking in autonomy. There is a limit or “veil” that even our spiritual “eye salve” can reach, much like hitting a brick wall. And both modern occultism and (drifting dilettante) new age paths have muddled this spiritual vision to a great degree.
Both the ancient Neoplatonist teacher Plotinus and the author of Allogenes voice a paradoxical proclamation of learned ignorance: “If you should know him, un–know him” (Allogenes) as per the superlative Unknowable deity, the unconditional reality without form or existence. In essence, if you want to know the transcendent realm, the negation of all preconceptions and though is necessary to gain deeper levels of insight and awareness as opposed through the means of ritual magic, since it is based on form and subjective consciousness. The unmanifest God can only be comprehended by the human mind through either paradox and/or ascent vision mysticism.
“Magic” doesn’t automatically mean “Satanist” or “evil” (although the Bible certainly seems to think so!), but let’s face it: most if not all forms of “magic” isn’t about communing with God or even attaining self-knowledge. The closest thing to this kind of “high magic” would be theurgy, but even that is up for debate. Magic isn’t a spiritual practice. As one blogger put it, it’s more of a “psychic art” (as in “psyche” or “soul” of the tripartate Gnostic system of substances). It’s about many magician’s own admission of applying one’s will in the material world to produce an effect. It denotes a person with a “will” of “power” and by owning it, you own proper.
According to Aleister Crowley, any willed or intentional act whatsoever is “magick”. He says it quite literally in Book 4: “Every intentional act is a Magical act.” He even gives an example for this:
“It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magical weapons”, pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations”—these sentences—in the “magical language” ie, that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth “spirits”, such as printers, publishers, booksellers and so forth and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution of this book is thus an act of Magick by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.”
With that kind of definition, that could mean almost anything. So I took a magical shit? A magical piss? There’s a certain amount of fetishizing behind the word which becomes so malleable that it loses nearly all its meaning. Kind of like the over and sloppily applied word “Gnostic”. Anything that sounds remotely mystical is often erroneously considered “Gnostic”.
The one thing I don’t agree with Conner’s article however is the notion that occultism is dead as the title of his article obviously indicates. Sure it usually takes the form of narcissistic masturbatory egotism. It’s mostly verbose flowery language to describe something that exists beyond the rational and easily explainable. Regardless of what someone may say for or against, the occult groups remain and still do their own thing. Whether they are increasing or decreasing is a whole other debate entirely.
That all being said, I’m not about to dictate what a person should or shouldn’t do. The important part is to take philosophy, religion or even “magic” and make it your own way and not rely on someone else’s style or technique. Discovering your own voice is what really matters in the long run.
And on that note these meme images are pretty kick-ass.
Very well said, all the way through.
1) I think that Conner was just being intentionally inflammatory by declaring occultism to be “dead”; that is, after all, part of his style!
2) I’m not sure that the debate of whether or not theurgy is a spiritual practice is as much about that as it is about how we are defining the terms “theurgy” and “spiritual”. For me, theurgy is a deeply spiritual practice, but I use that term to describe several methods and systems of ritualized prayer under the umbrella of “Christian theurgy”. In this sense, praying the Daily Office is theurgic, while the Sacraments are High Theurgy indeed! There are also the “pre-Christian” theurgic models of Iamblichus and others, as well as the Hermetic “rising through the spheres” types of theurgy, such as found in Franz Bardon’s excellent “The Practice of Magical Evocation”. I think that the biggest difference between theurgy and magic, in any case, is focus and intent. Am I aiming just for a psycho-physical result (thaumaturgy/magic), or am I using similar methods of ritual and mind control to turn my gaze to the Highest (theurgy)? Or, at least, that is how I draw the line.
Hi Thomas Allogenes,
To answer your points:
1) I love Conner’s “spit and vinegar” style actually.
Some people tend to confuse knowledge with worshipping selfishness and indulgence under a veneer of holiness. This is a constant, reoccurring theme in modern occultism.
2) Unfortunately, the details of Iamblichus’ theurgical rites aren’t available to us, but we can make some educated guesses on what they consisted of. I wouldn’t say Iamblichus is “Pre-Christian” however since he appeared in the middle of the second century, C.E. But similar practices (in general) have been around before Christ, I would say. And I can see why you would make a distinction between “low magic” of say, for example, the Greek Magical Papyri and the stuff in some of the Nag Hammadi codices.
I do think when you look at stuff like the Sethian material and its usage of the barbarous names of God as well as the Five Seals rituals that lead to “ascendant visions” or altered states of consciousness, it can be seen as a type of theurgy as well. Plotinus might have been into that kind of “divine working” but I’m not positive. Of course it all sort of goes back to Merkabah mysticism to a degree. In Hinduism, they employ the similar techniques with the “Aum” to produce a “magical” or vibratory effect within the practitioner and his/her surroundings. I do think ultimately that whatever metaphysical view one may take on (non-dual, dual, plural, etc), that simply they are different ways to express these altered states of consciousness, but doesn’t automatically reflect the external reality of the person.
I did find a fitting description of magic on one particular website:
“Viewed with disdain and suspicion in most cultures, the practice of magic often requires the magician to perfect his art in secrecy and shadows. Magic, the technique of altering things through supernatural means or the knowledge of occult laws, becomes a spiritual pursuit for the magician as an avenue to achieve personal growth and improve techniques otherwise impossible.”