Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Transcendentalism vs Transcendental States of Consciousness

I have been reading about a kind of back-and-forth argument between magicians about the usefulness of Platonism and the Qabalah, the fact that Neoplatonic models espouse a transcendental reality that ultimately devalues the material world, and that a practical approach to magic should use the more archaic Shamanic, immanent world view. I find that I agree somewhat with both sides, since I can see where a transcendental perspective is useful as well as an immanent one. They look at spiritual reality from two different points of view, but their source is one and the same. I believe that religions in the west tend to emphasize the transcendental aspects of deity and reality over the immanent, even though the foundation of Christianity has the Deity defined with both attributes. It is a discussion that has no real resolution, and from a completely practical perspective, it belies the fact that the practice of magic generally produces transcendental states of consciousness.

I have never had much of head for either philosophy or higher mathematics, but practical logic and critical thinking skills were something that I learned early on, mostly by making mistakes and blundering my way through life. A friend of mine likened this argument to a confusion between ontology and epistemology, which is to say it is an argument between the nature of the universe as it really is, which none can fully know, and as it is perceived by all of us. We all have our opinions, but they are based on what we have experienced and what we know, individually and also collectively. From a purely practical perspective, this argument is hollow and fairly meaningless. Models, paradigms, constructs, and analogues all suffer from the limitations that they use analogy to describe something that is beyond description - what is seen and understood by the Eye of Spirit vs. the Eye of the Mind. The only thing that I think is essential is to understand that the analogy is not the thing that it describes. Models are useful tools, but they really don’t share in the numen of the thing represented unless we load them with mythic and mystic qualities. Doing that deviates from the usefulness of the model, and human nature being what it is, we are often mistaking the operational tool for the reality it represents.

My rule of thumb is to use whatever model works, but don’t over use them. Don’t try to extend a model to be universal, since it will then fail as a useful tool. When models or tools fail to explain something that you have experienced then it is time to either adapt another model or to create one based wholly on that experience. It is the nature of the human creature to name things, and to make meaning and connect things into a context when there is none. I see this as a way of enrichening the experience and significance of one’s reality, but it can also be a way of fictionalizing whole areas of our lives. Sometimes it is important to simply see something without any kind of narrative. I am beginning to discover that having that ability is the best approach.

The discussion of different models or perspectives at work in the world of the magician as a form of ontology seems to miss the whole nature of magic itself in that it produces paranormal experiences and generates transcendental states of consciousness. This seems to be true no matter what kind of magic is performed, whether low or high magick. In some ways this propensity for paranormal states of consciousness may be what attracts some folk into either learning to practice this art themselves or to hire someone who can do this for them. The field of consciousness of magic is full of paranormal phenomena and varying degrees of transcendental states of consciousness. Mystical and religious practices appear to produce the same kinds of phenomena and states of consciousness, and perhaps this is the basis of the religious and philosophical perspective on transcendentalism. Meditation and religious rites, or magic, produces these states in abundance, so therefore the spiritual world and the nature of deity itself must be transcendental, further postulating that these states are quite beyond all material reality.

As a ‘nuts and bolts’ kind of practical magician, I wonder if this is a case where a model or a constructive paradigm was used beyond its scope of usefulness, since in order to believe it is to reject the whole aspect of spirit and deity that is immanent, or that is within each and everyone of us. However, I have found that the transcendental states that I have experienced in magic has led me to see the nature of deity and spirit both within and all around me. It is to say that my dealings with spirit and magic have taught me that an exclusive adherence to either immanent or transcendent definitions of reality is too limiting. The true reality is somewhere in between or something altogether different, and it defies a neat model or convenient philosophy to explain it. Here again approaching this phenomena with an open and unbiased mind is the best approach.

Use what is useful, but don’t overuse it. Don’t rely too much on one theory in exclusion to others. Be open to contradictory evidence, and don’t be afraid to be wrong about practically everything at some point or another. Practice the magic and experience it fully, and be mindful of what is really going on inside you. Question everything you read, hear or experience. Base your opinions on the results of a thoughtful analysis of your actual experiences instead of what you have read or learned from others.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Some Interesting Thoughts About Magic

These days of winter, while I engage in long hours of working in Richmond on an IT project, my thoughts find themselves puzzling over this arcane subject of magic, writing words that are somewhat poetic and yet cut through my many years of magical belief and practice, and I think, my overall hubris. As a magician I am seemingly forever plagued by the folly of men and women, and by my own folly, as well. We are all fools, but may we find some wisdom in our folly.

There is something that has always amazed me about the study and practice of magic, particularly in how it is marketed to others, to the uninitiated or unenlightened. Life has boundaries and limitations, and nothing can miraculously change that fact. We are born, we live and then, hopefully later on, we die. It is an unalterable fact of existence. Magic is a phenomenon that lives between these limitations, seemingly giving the promise of escape, but never really producing it. The seductive promise of unearned wealth, health, fame and fortune is always a part of the mystique of the art of magic, but for those who are seduced by it, it is a way of delusion and a harmful deviation from the true path of magic. Like all paths of wisdom, whether they be religious, mystical, or magical, the way itself is hard and the upkeep of such a discipline amounts to something of a burden to life, which is already burdened by limitations and ultimately, death. We need to keep this in mind, for magic is a path of wisdom, first and foremost. All else is but a fool’s errand. 

The true path of magic is a path of gnosis, self-transformation, and a discipline that requires decades to finally reveal its overall goal; the realization of the true state of the world and one’s place within it. The cycle of this continual revelation is a form of katabasis, the ascent and descent that is a major part of the cycle of life and death - from this is the gateway of true awakening. Yet the enlightenment that is achieved is more of a surrender and immersion into what is grounded in the simple truth of life and existence. We already know this truth when we start our path, but we truly realize it in the core of our being when we finally reach our end. All of the seductions, the myths, mysteries, fantasies of the domain of magic melt away to reveal the greater truth, which is the revelation of the true self that is interdependent, finite, empty of individuality, but united with all of conscious sentient life. In this place there is no death, no fear, and no sense of an immortal self - just the full and vibrant emptiness of the ocean of consciousness and the endless emergence and divergence of a myriad of continuation bodies. These leap momentarily into life and then fade back down into the oceanic ground of consciousness, where all being and all life resides.

Therefore, to continue to pursue unearned and fantastical things that might but never will be, the errant magician misses the greatest signal message of the import and meaning of life. He passes through the illusions and delusions that beguilingly assail him and is consumed by their promises, filled with hope and motivated by fear. He talks to ghosts and spirits, and sends them on mindless errands, and uses his all too subtle paranormal abilities to influence events that ultimately lead to nowhere. He listens not to the gods or to his spirits, seemingly and insularly absorbed and otherwise engaged with his ego-driven passions and fantasies, and in the end, does little more than what he might have done without all of the pretense. That is the folly of magic, and it is also the folly of religion and mysticism.

Even so, the truth is all around us, at all times, but it is both sweeter than heaven’s balm and more bitter than death. If we could, but for a moment, harness our magical beliefs and viewpoints to realize the world as it truly is then the magic we work might be the greatest thing that we have ever done. Yet the mystery of this magic is that it is empty of self, liberating and disengaging. Instead of grasping for the material gain as all magic seems to do, we let go, and deal with the world with an open hand and a mindful heart.

These are some of thoughts that I have been having lately, as I continue my Buddhist studies and feel them mingle with my thoughts and practices of magic. It seems that I am formulating a new kind of magic, but I suspect that it is just the culmination of many decades of puzzling over the art of magic, and seeking to know what it really means and where it ultimately leads, for all those who are following it.

Frater Barrabbas