Nov 23, 2007

Magickal debates

There have been a couple of these lately, both on POEE and EB&G. While this probably means little outside of the context of the threads themselves, I still thought some of the insights and discussions on the topics were well worth sharing.

I have to admit my own personal biases run towards psychological models in this, but it seems a fair few other people thought the same so...well, anyway, here is some cut and paste of the more interesting sections. I think the most important lesson we learned from this debate, along with most philosophical topics, is to define your terms.

: Ok, there's alot of people out there in the pagan community talking about spells and energies and alot of other things like that. listen to 'em and it sounds like you're trapped in D&D or LARP hell, especially if you get the one's that are deep into the whole trend of communicating with other entities which are generally accepted as mythical (fairies, dragons, etc.). it's almost enough to make you wonder if the pagan community is populated mainly with semi-functional schizophrenics or people suffering with some other neurological disorder.

I have seen and experienced somethings that stand outside of the realm of typical daily experiences. This is not something that makes me crazy, rather, it has made me inclined to accept evidence presented to me upon the basis of either my own personal experiences (because some of these things I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen 'em myself) or if the evidence is presented in a manner that is sufficiently persuasive. as such, i've found that many of the people who claim to have experiences such as sexual encounters with animals or spiritual entities while they are tranformed into a different being are highly suspect. few, if any of the accounts, have been presented in a persuasive enough method to convince me to believe them.

this said, i do not expect anyone to believe me. what i describe here is a result of my own personal experience, occult research, and what i have observed as trends in the occult research of others. you can call bullshit on this and that's ok. what i put forth here is a theory. theories can be accepted or disregarded on the basis of evidence presented. i will apologize if my phrasing is such that it does not adhere to the conventions of presenting a scientific theory. this is in part because i'm a bit rusty on that and in part because the subject matter doesn't exactly bode well to that presentation format.

LMNO: Please try not to conflate the vague scientific term "energy" with the vague psychological term "energy". It tends to piss off the scientists. Neither have been properly defined. You might as well say "aether waves". Even "orgone" has been better defined that either of those.

Buddhist Monk Wannabe
: This is interesting, because it goes back to the whole idea that magic is just something that you can do that other people don't know how to do. I don't call it casting spells, but I use meditation/visualization in much the same way.

Cydira: direct observation of magic is exceptionally difficult, especially when one is working with these 'energies' ascribed to objects, emotions, etc. indirect observation is somewhat easier.

an example of this can be given in something i've done in the past on several occasions.

there is a route that my husband and i drive to go visit our friends. traveling at the posted speed limit (65 mph, using cruise control) with favorable road conditions (fair weather, clear road conditions, and no traffic hazards), we can make the drive in 2 hours. when i concentrate on arriving in an hour and a half rather then 2 hours, i 'bend' time.

the conditions are the same as above and the time has not only been measured by myself, but also by others who are informed when we leave our home. i've yet to test this under other road conditions, but thus far, this has yielded the same result for about 75% of the trials done over the last few years. (the trip is a semi-monthly trip, so i regularly have the opportunity to do this little experiment.)

some may say that i've manipulated the energies around me to 'bend' time. i'm disinclined towards that argument. i think that it operates differently. unfortunately, i've to figure out a good way to phrase my theory before i post it. give me a little time and i'll have it posted up here.

Singer: Like you... I am offended by the over-use of the term "energy". I believe "energy" in all it's categories is quantifiable and measurable. I believe that all life-forms create quantifiable and measurable energy as a necessary product of living. In fact I think I plunged into this thread with a fairly lengthy treatise on how to measure the electrical energy of thought.

I'm all about the potential application of personally generated energy. It seems reasonable to me that the bars of the BIP are maybe bent a little when someone or something (like a "healer", or a "placebo") triggers a mechanism by which an individual can bypass their own BIP to effect a desirable outcome... one that would not be as easy or possible without the help of the trigger.

This concept may have broader implications than the purely personal.

But, we'll never know as long as we keep saying "well... it doesn't seem possible so it's not worthy of serious study"... especially since this leaves ANY study of "magical" phenomenon to the tin-foil hat brigade...

Rev Burnstoupee: so maybe science takes an objective approach to understand the universe, and religion/mysticism/magick takes a subjective approach. it seems silly to try and describe a religious/mysical/magickal experience in terms of objective reality. take certain 'methods' for enlightenment for instance. often times one method flat out contradicts another method. its not because one is 'true' and one is 'false'. one method that works for one person might not work for another becasue of the variation of the qualities and experiences of the mind. so to discuss 'energy' in terms of a magical subjective experience can only be metaphorical. that isn't to say that it doesn't "work". take kundalini energy, the 'energy centers' and the two 'psychic pathways that travel up and down the spine. now they're not really THERE...but in terms of a method they are used AS IF they were there. and apparantly there have been achievable results. nothing i can personally attest to and i wouldn't expect a scientist to be able to measure any of that, but the practicioner seems to be different than before. it's like the tree of life isn't an actual TREE, ya know?

i need a :barstool: and a drink to match. at least alcohol is objective.

Ratatosk: Magic, in my experience appears as the change of perception through conscious will. That is, the conscious manipulation of filters and programs which process the data that our senses pick up. This includes not only relatively simple things like RAW's "Quarter Experiment" where focusing on quarters leads to finding more quarters... but also complex things like body language, reactions of other people etc.

In more depth, I generalize magic into multiple types:

Perception Manipulation (Modificaton of which bits of reality to focus on)
Personality Manipulation (Invocation of Godforms, archetypes etc)
Programming Modification (Metaprograming, NLP)
Program Creation (Egrigores, NLP, "Spellcasting")
Comfort (Ritual)

I'm sure there may be a thousand other ways to generically classify different forms of "magic", but I hope the above gives you an idea of what I mean.

It appears to me, that magic was simply a model created without the advantage of modern neurology, one that we can replace to some extent with modern scientific models. However, and this is only my opinion, while we can discuss the theory in both magical and scientific terms, the magical model seems more useful in practice... probably due to the difference between 'the road we can speak about and the road that we walk upon'.

As for the quantum model discussed earlier, I have given this much thought. Quantum mechanics, in my opinion are useful when discussing magic in one very important fashion. Quantum mechanics give us an example of a very useful model which seems magical to most people. It discusses things in symbols which kind of relate to reality, but not really. Our concept of what an atom looks like is symbolic.

Magic, I think could be seen in a similar vein. It's a different model used to discuss concepts which may be very hard to otherwise discuss or attempt to implement.

Cainad: So we're talking about two (or possibly more) rather different phenomena here. Allow me to make a very clumsy attempt to distinguish them, so some of you smart-alecks out there can point out the flaws in my explanation and clarify it for everyone else.

First off, we have "magic," the thing that is supposedly indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology. This is very true, but only if you haven't got the slightest fucking clue how that technology works. If you know how to use or make something of high technology, then that makes you a magician to the ignorant, but you know yourself, at best, only as a technician. A dude in a robe who throws fireballs around or summons demons by drawing circles with wonky symbols around it, a shmoe who wears a suit and makes things appear and disappear for the amusement of his audience, and a guy who can kill people instantly by pointing a funny-shaped metal tube at them and pulling a trigger are all 'magicians' to someone (like, say, Pacific Islanders before encountering Westerners), but to themselves they are merely using or applying something that they know and understand perfectly well.

Mahdgjickque, on the other hand, is the attempt to produce effects of the 'magical' variety (whatever those may be, according to the nature and level of one's understanding of the world) without involving too much sciencey-sounding or applied technological stuff. These may be fireballs without fireworks, visions without schizophrenia, or even as internal as mind alterations without lobotomies. At the most basic level, it is an attempt to impose the Will (what we want) on the world without going through all the complicated, impractical, and/or dangerous steps normally required to make these things happen, if they are possible at all. Mahdgjickque is what happens when we cease to be content with seeing magic happen, and we decide to try and become the magicians.

So what I might be trying to say is that 'magic' and 'mahdgjickque' are the reflecting and non-reflecting sides of a two-way mirror. Studying mahdgjickque is the equivalent of putting your face really close to the mirror's reflecting side and blocking out the glare with your hands so you can see what's on the other side of it. Maybe, we tell ourselves, if we get really good at mahdgjickque we can figure out how to get on that side of the glass.

Cain: Well, this is why we need to define our terms in order to speak about this in any sensible way. English is well known for its multiple homonyms and if you are using one with an already pre-accepted meaning which is different from what you mean, then we are going to have problems. I can, quite easily, accept a psychological model of what is being proposed here. A metaphysical one is alot more difficult, however. If we don't say from the outset what we are talking about, then natually the majority of people are going to go for the most obvious explanation and conclusion - that you are talking about magic in the sense of Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and proceed to mock you.

This furthermore isn't helped by people in the 'occult community' who themselves cannot seem to agree what they are tallking about. Which is fine, to a degree, because neither can Discordians about chaos, and they seem to get on with it fine. But when you have Wiccans and Ceremonial Magickiqians rubbing shoulders with people advancing a more believable and approachable theory, you are always going to have some serious problems. Furthermore, some of these people who don't accept the usual mumbo-jumbo about spirits and demons will then proceed to use badly understood scientific models to try and 'prove' their theories, which is pretty much as bad as the imaginary monsters, when confronted by someone who understands the models being discussed.

Now, for the technology example, I don't buy that at all. Why? The examples we have are of people who are utilizing processes that at least some other people know, and can explain with reference to established natural laws, to make repeatable results. The "can explain" bit is important, because while you could claim all the rest apply to mahadqickians, they fall down on explanations that can be verifiably tested (and often on repeatable results as well). Using a fighter jet is substansially different to evoking Ares, for example.

Again, I'm not down with the "faith" business either. I've seen enough fanatics who fervently believe in something, with the sort of faith which you could break rocks on (and trust me, it was tempting to test this). The point is, despite their faith, that alone cannot change anything outside of themselves, and often little inside themselves either, once that state is reached. Its an end state, not a process used to achieve a goal, and I think the consesnus is that magique, whatever it is, is for doing stuff with.

In fact, I was listening to my podcasts I have again last night, and I'm not sure who said this (it may have been Chris Titan on Occulterati, but I'm not sure. It could have been Curcio as well) but they came up with a brilliant explanation. Magick is pulling the wool over your own eyes, and then being able to do that to other people, in order to achieve your goals. Or words to that effect. He was explaining how he got really deeply into biology, Sumerian mythology, psychology, Hermetics etc and how using all these different lenses or ways of looking at the world, allowed him to convince himself first that he could change himself, and thus how he interacted with the world, and then later on being able to cause that change in other people too. Which is a nice blend of the psychological/sociological arguments put forward, and also a nice lock-in with NLP.

Bonsai Ent: "magic is the Will expressing itself against the physical universe and bringing about a change"

"why that is no different to me going downstairs and making a cup of tea!"


"accept mine works..."

I could be called a fan of the Derren Brown, or indeed Granny Weatherwax school of magick.
Better known as the "if you want something done, do it" school.

I think the social/psychological magick is closer to theatre than anything else, one could use the drama of magic to bring about psychological changes, make oneself more confident, feel strong, feel attractive... I've been trained in drama and we've gotten quite good at it. What is the Method but Reality Tunnel shifting at the drop of a hat?

My only criticism here, is why call it "magic". Again, it seems to me sticking to the aesthetic, it is just role-playing and escapism.

Nothing inherently wrong with it, I just don't buy it.

Ratatosk: The difference that I've found exists in the idea that we're dealing with different models. When I'm looking at information using a scientific model, I use the terms appropriate for a scientific model. When I'm playing in a philosophical model, I use the terms appropriate for that model. When I put on a Christian hat, I use the terms used by people who live in that model of reality. When I play with 'magic' I use the terms that are used in that model.

Just as an earlier post misused the scientific quantum model, some people misuse the 'magic' model. Some people think that quantum physics means that there is no reality until we look for it, that doesn't mean that there's a problem with QP, only that there's a confusion in their ability to read the map. The same seems true for 'magic'. In every model of magic that I've studied, (Wicca, Thelema, Chaos Magic) there's no discussion of rabbits in hats, or sleight of hand... no fireballs getting thrown from bellies, no flying etc etc etc, in almost all of the cases, we're dealing with metaphors which are more aligned with psychological manipulation, rather than manipulation of the physical world.

That's the reason Crowley added the 'k' to magic, to separate the 'stage magic' from the stuff of consciousness change.

We could discuss magic in entirely non-magical terms. I have a great book which is called Mind Hacks, put out by O'Reilly and Assoc. It has experiments and exercises that nearly mirror those in Liber Null and Liber Kaos and The Book of Atem (all chaos magic books). However, (and this depends entirely on one's opinion of how neurology works) it may be much easier to effect changes through some metaphors than others (considering that no matter how direct Mind Hacks tries to be, its still using metaphors).

For me, I play in magic sometimes, not because I think it works, but because I like to examine reality through as many tunnels as possible. It seems to me that we can spend our life looking for THE ANSWER (which may or may not be possible), we might spend our life in one single model/map and experience only the stuff that gets labeled on that map, we could spend our lives asleep like the poor pinks and norms... not even realizing that they're looking at the menu, rather than the meal. For me, I choose to try as many metaphoric restaurants as possible... I don't mind if the Menu is in French, German, English or glowing on a big board behind the cashier. I don't think it will get me closer to THE ANSWER... but I do enjoy getting to experience the different perceptions and ideas used by different people. Further, it means that if I'm talking to a Christian, I can use words, terms... the model, that they are familiar with and sometimes describe new concepts to them using their own map. When I'm talking to an Atheist, the same ma be true. When talking with a Chaos Magician, I can use their metaphors and when talking to a Wiccan, Buddhist or Hindu, I can use their metaphors.

I don't necessarily understand all of those maps as well as a person who spends their entire life looking only at a single model... but I'm ok with that.

The Menu is not the meal. Magic, based on my experiences, references a set of symbols on a particular map. You can choose to not use the map, but that doesn't invalidate the map or its symbols.

Bantu: To avoid any impressions of fawning...that's neither here nor there.

I think you've [LMNO - Cain edit] explained your positions with clarity enough for a layperson to understand and with little room for dispute. Cains last post especially was the icing on the cake.

I've enjoyed reading the all varying opinions and ideas here, cheers to Cyd too.

I've come late to the realization of the elements of Fundamentalism in prevalent in Paganish belief systems. l always thought that one could hold certain 'beliefs' for what they were and then recognize what is measurable scientific theory with ease in these systems. I've seen and experienced some pretty incredible things I don't yet understand or can find explaination for. That doesn't make it manisfestations of supernatural energies. In my 'beliefs' the supernatural is somewhat antithetical.

And UPG covers my ass. Okthxby.

LMNO: Well, one thing I found intersting in this thread was that no one said, "ok, big guy, so what do you think is going on here?"

There was pretty much just an assumption I was like James Randi, and thought it was all bullshit.

So, here goes:

I believe the universe is wierder than science can currently account for. The history of science has shown itself to be islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance.

I believe that things happen that cannot be explained easily.

I think most forms of "magic" are combinations of yogic practices, NLP, self-hypnosis, the placebo effect, psychology, metaphor, reconstruction of the BIP, self-delusion, and unadultarated bullshit.

I think that people who try to describe the wierd shit in the universe using scientific terms are deluding themselves.

I think the people who "know" that their magic practices create weird shit are making false correspondences.

I think that some people who are adept at certain kinds of magical practices have a greater tendencey to either belive their own metaphors, or see the BIP more clearly.

I think more research is needed in all areas of study that lend themselves to scientific research.

I think people who use fairy tales to make themselves feel better aren't necessarily bad, but also make boring dinner guests.

Cydira: I'm pretty sure that the explanation of why magic works is grounded in a combination of psychology and physics, though I haven't been able to establish what precisely is the reason. I've been trying, but no real success.

I'd like to see one of two things happen. Either a new term needs to be invented to describe the phenomena that results from successful magic, thus leaving the term magic to retain it's socially accepted connotations, or a change in the connotations associated with the term magic. As I highly doubt the second will happen (despite the flailing and other efforts of the Pagan sub-culture among English speakers), I think a new term is needed.

I just don't know what the hell to call this.

The people who oppose the use of the scientific method and decry it as opposed to occult studies are fools, in my opinion. The scientific method is a highly valuable tool that we use on a regular basis. The process of developing a theory, testing it, and evaluating the results is done daily in a wide array of arenas. Sure, we're not dressed in lab coats, running tests on chemicals, recording the results, and submitting papers detailing our findings to any of the scientific publications. But we use this process to evaluate why something isn't working, how to navigate problems that arise in the workplace, and address other quandaries that come up in our lives.

It also forgets something important. The use of the scientific method is a continuation of a long line of occultists's work. It just happens to be accepted into mainstream society and the places where it is used are no longer hidden under a veil of secrecy. One can still argue that rituals are still used in scientific study today. The donning of protective gear and the setup of laboratory equipment is no less an act of ritual then putting on robes and lighting candles. The distinction made is that the use of protective gear and setting up laboratory equipment is viewed as practical and necessary by the general public, where as the rituals of religion and occult studies are viewed as superstition by the general public.

All of that said, I've got to say that there's alot of crackpot occultists out there who irritate the hell out of me. I can't stand the people who lie and insist that one must blindly accept the lie. Outrageous claims are hard to accept, but arguments can be presented to persuade some one. To refuse to attempt that and expect blind faith, it's just something that stinks of a con being pulled on me and I will actively resist it.

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