Huddled Against Chaos:
Spengler, Spare and the Re-Election of George W. Bush
from "Magick and Monotheism" (forthcoming)
by Stephen Mace
- A Curious Situation
By invading Iraq, the United States of America has wedged the national foot into a bucket of tar. The two alternatives--stay or go--both inspire visions of horror. If America stays, it must bind the country together with Blood and Iron until some sort of unifying government, however despotic, can be imposed upon its people. If America goes, then Iraq will more or less swiftly divide into Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni governances, each of which will become entangled with its neighbors--Iran, Turkey and Syria--spawning a conflict that will make the Thirty Years War look straightforward and short.
National borders in the Middle East are a legacy of Empire--not just European, but Ottoman, Arab, Byzantine and all the way back to Babylon and Assyria--the logic of Realpolitik inscribed upon the land without regard for the ethnic identities of the people who live upon it. And Iraq is the epitome of this ethnic conglomeration, the state most at variance with its political reality, and so of necessity requiring the most despotic government to keep it together. It has been said that nations deserve the governments they get, and though I would never say the Shiites of Karbala deserved Saddam Hussein, the political entity that is Iraq demanded him, for only a leader such as he could keep such an ungainly state together. Now the United States has taken it upon itself to call Saddam a criminal, and to insist that he be replaced with a democracy. Criminal he may be, but to propose that this political hodgepodge can be ruled by any other sort is farfetched, and the notion of democracy seems absurd. The United States has removed the bonds of tyranny that kept Iraq's ethnicities together, replacing them with its military might, but if ever this fails, 3000 years of political repression will be released. Nor will the fissures that start in Iraq end there, but will spread along lines of ethnicity and sect throughout the Middle East. A sort of Balkans with oil, Israel and nuclear weapons, the chaos there could last a century before it finally sorts itself out.
So how did the President who, by his own volition, got the world into this mess get himself re-elected?
This is a question of World Historical importance whose full implications will be the focus of this essay.
Exit polls declared that those who voted for Senator Kerry were most worried about "Iraq" and "the economy." Those who voted for President Bush were concerned with "terrorism" and "values."
Iraq and the economy are pragmatic concerns. America is perceived as being overextended militarily and going heavily in debt in the process. A vote for Kerry was a vote for someone who promised to take care of these problems.
Terrorism and values are emotional concerns. America is perceived as being under attack from both Islamic radicals and social depravity. A vote for Bush was a vote for someone who promised to hold the line against nihilism.
Those who voted for Kerry hoped for a rational approach that would find success in an interconnected world. Those who voted for Bush fear the world is liquefying beneath their feet.
This, if you leave the fear out of it, is not an entirely unhelpful way of looking at it.
2. Cultural Morphology
One thing you have to understand about America is that it is big, and the overlay of civilization is not that thick. Imagine it like layers of paint. In Europe, there have been so many coats that wherever you dig below the surface you find more layers. In America, there has only been one, and the elemental reality beneath shows through all too easily.
America could never have been so quickly dominated by any culture other than that of the West, for it was the only one that has had the technics that could do it. It took the full-rigged ship for Europeans to reach America in force, and the gun and the railroad to subdue it. If the Europeans had not invaded, one can imagine America going through a slow civilizing process--the Aztec culture rising, spreading through Mexico and what is now the American South, and then declining, but perhaps inspiring (say) a Cherokee culture to rise up out of its remnants, creating a literature in the process, and then it would decline to also be replaced--a continuing slow plod just like the succession of Egyptian inspiring Minoan inspiring Classical around the Mediterranean, though perhaps even more slowly due to the lack of any practical beast of burden. But only the culture of Western Europe could so dominate the three dimensions of space that it could impose its reality so suddenly onto the vast, elemental landscape that is America.
This notion of distinct cultures with limited life-spans and unique characteristics calls to mind the historical morphology of the German philosopher Oswald Spengler, and with his theory as a model we may begin to examine the coming fate of the West, and its devotees' efforts to deal with it.
Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) saw cultures as multinational social organisms with millennial life spans that go through phases of youth, young adulthood, maturity and old age before they enter the indefinite period of senescence that Spengler called "civilization." This entry marks the end of creative development in the culture and only a slow decline, characterized by pernicious social ossification, can follow. When the civilization becomes brittle enough it cracks and is shattered, and the fragments remain as a raw material for possible incorporation into subsequent cultures. When his Decline of the West was published in 1918, Spengler saw the West as well past its maturity, and he believed the only way Germany could flourish was to embrace the reality of the decline and act accordingly. Since a characteristic feature of all cultural declines is imperial rule, this caused him to espouse a frankly belligerent German conservativism. Spengler failed in his efforts, the imperial prize going instead to the United States. But Germany's defeat says nothing about Spengler's model, which held true throughout that contest, and during the six decades since as well. Nor was Spengler any sort of Nazi, for he despised their racial theories, their casual brutality, and their political ritual. If he could have had his way, I suspect he would have brought back the Hohenzollerns.
In any case, I find it most convenient to consider him an enlightened reactionary, and treat his historical dynamic as something entirely separate from his politics as a citizen of the Reich. Politics change with each generation, but Spengler's dynamic can be applied to history since the days of the pharaohs. And so will I apply it to Pax Americana to try to explain its bizarre behavior these days.
Spengler's dynamic of cultural evolution is too complex to be recounted in this short essay, but for our purpose here we can reduce it to this: the people who inspire, bring to birth and establish a new culture will recognize a unique sort of space hitherto unperceived--even though they have been living in it, or perhaps "adjacent to it," all along. It is an undiscovered country to be explored, exploited and dominated. And it is the work of accomplishing this conquest that will produce the material, aesthetic, political and social forms that we recognize as the products of high culture.
As each space is unique, so is each culture. A culture may assimilate fragments of past cultures, but only to the extent that these help it dominate its unique realm. A culture's space is a prime symbol. It isn't explicit, no more than water is to a fish, but the culture's approach to its circumstances will be based on the unstated assumption that this space is where one finds True Reality. The culture's whole destiny is wrapped up in its conquest of the space, and the pursuit of this destiny lends the culture coherence and form until--after about a thousand years--the conquest is complete and satiety replaces all aspiration. Then the only motive aside from the pursuit of self-interest is to hang onto this coherence, even as reality moves beyond it and it becomes obvious that the things that matter aren't contained in just that space at all.
Obviously all this would be more clear if I gave some examples of these so-called spaces. Though Spengler asserted that there have been eight cultures so far, he was principally concerned with three--the Classical, the Magian (Byzantine, Jewish, Persian, Arab, Ottoman), and the Western, which he named the "Faustian." I'll just add his take on the Egyptian for good measure, and that should give an idea of what he had in mind.
For the Egyptians, life played itself out on a linear path from birth to death to rebirth in the afterlife. The model for this space was the linearity of the Nile Valley; Pharaoh was the ruler of upper and lower Egypt, and it was the union of these two segments of the line that inaugurated Egyptian culture. The people received a magickal orientation in this linear space through the cult of the dead. And the space was given architectural expression through linear temples and tombs, where all was organized around the processional way, the straight line from the entrance to the mummy or god.
Members of the Classical culture organized space with a focus on the immediately present. The political unit was the polis. The aesthetic standard concerned itself with the perfection of the human body, the temple standing on a hill, the euphony of the tuned string. Classical religion was focused around the local cult, with each polis having a patron deity. Greek mathematics was concerned with organizing what could be immediately perceived, whether the relationship of lines drawn in the sand or the motions of the planets. Unseen abstractions, even as basic as the number zero, were not welcome.
For the Magians, destiny was found in a realm wholly abstract: the dogma space delineated by the sacred texts of True Religion, within the span of time between Creation and Apocalypse. The political unit was the Community of Belief, a state which would prosper through the orthodox devotion of its members, and be shattered by heresy and schism.
For the Faustians, the space dominated has been the three dimensions of physical space, and the tool that attained this dominion has been physical technics. From musketry to nuclear missiles, from the full-rigged ship to the space shuttle, from the printing press to the Internet, Faustian technics ensures that there can be no place anyplace able to resist its influence. Its dominion is now, for all practical purposes, an accomplished fact. There is much more to be done within this space, of course--nanotechnology, genetic engineering, stem cells--but all will be carried out by institutions operating routinely for the benefit of the institution, according to its mission. There is no more quest, but only a job. The attitude is secure; the subjective "science" space has been dominated. The destiny has been completed, and so a certain ennui has set in.
The Faustian enterprise has reached a conclusion. Without the drive toward destiny to generate the coherence that focuses its vigor, the collective current of psychic energy has split itself into millions of separate, disparate and even mutually exclusive personal and clan interests. But with this dissolution of organic unity, only the hard hand of the State remains to ensure political order. Thus do we have the impetus toward "Caesarism," the authoritarian rule that Spengler's model predicts for the end-stage of "civilization." With the dissolution of cultural coherence, the original, organic political forms of the culture become ever more materialistic and corrupt, less able to provide the political stability required for simple order. So sooner or later circumstances call up and install a strongman and give him a mandate to sweep aside the corruption and replace the old forms with his personal vision of good governance. This can work very well for as long as worthy Caesars succeed one another, but when the chain breaks, it will be reforged in the heat of civil war. Then all is more brittle than before, and more breaks follow, until the whole civilization lies shattered, never to be pieced together again.
But this could take centuries. There is still the inertia of the old tending to keep things as they were. The three dimensions of space have been tied up with the tools the Faustians designed and built in order to dominate them, and these preserve the lives of some three billion people who would be dead without them. But the only social impetus is toward either personal aggrandizement or preservation of what has already been obtained. And there is much to protect it all against, particularly the resentment of cultural remnants passed over and dominated in the Faustian rush to greatness, for instance those of the Islamic Magian, longing for martyrdom and Apocalypse.
Such remnants can be deadly. There is plenty of precedent for civilizations falling before the onslaught of apparently obsolete cultural currents. The Classical succumbed to tribes of Goths, Huns and Vandals. The Magian and Chinese civilizations were almost destroyed by the incursions of the Mongols. So it is wholly realistic for the Faustian to harden itself against what is left of the Magian, now swollen with an exploded population and rich with oil. But it is oil we would all starve without, and so we confront our dilemma.
The United States won the great wars of the 20th century, but there is no peace, and no prospect for it anytime soon. War brings no victory, only the illusion of control; peace means only a further regimentation of the human spirit with hyper-technology and corporate hegemony. It seems the future is incapable of improvement, offering only more crowding and regimentation and more substitution of automation for every kind of honest labor. There no further quest to discover Faustian space, only to endure it. When it finally becomes unlivable, the spaces beyond it--whether empty and open or seething with the resentments of a thousand years-- will be so obvious that some may wonder how we could have ignored them for so long. Our vehicle into the future has run out of gas, and we are not alone on the road.
This brings us to what Spengler called "the Second Religiousness," and also to the answer to our original question: how did this person who has wedged the West into Iraq get himself re-
elected President of the United States?
3. The Second Religiousness
In the issue of Time magazine dated 22 November 2004, published about two weeks after the re-election of President Bush, columnist Joe Klein wrote an essay entitled "The Values Gap." In this he remarked that while John Kerry proposed many economic solutions to beleaguered middle-class voters, they seemed like only more of the usual political fraud, given their cost, the lack of money, and Kerry's promise to reduce the deficit. George Bush, on the other hand, offered nothing but "faith and strength." Klein noted that Republican social policy promotes the mutual support offered by the members of religious communities, rather than dependence upon government programs. "Liberals scoff, but the balm that comes with being part of a religious community--the Bible study, youth groups, choirs and, yes, the moral absolutes that often accompany such communion--is real and comforting." (p. 29) The community serves as a seeming bulwark against sex, drugs and the depraved weirdness that spews forth from the mass media. Or as Matt Taibbi noted in an article in Rolling Stone (no. 960), wherein he told of his experiences while infiltrating the Bush campaign in Florida, none of Republicans he met while working there showed any interest in appearing "cool." "Most Republicans hate 'cool,'" he wrote. "Many of the parent volunteers I met were especially bitter because they think that cool is what liberals use to lure away their children. Which they may well be right about, of course." (p. 72)
The world they were raised in is crumbling, the demons from the pit of chaos howling for the flesh of their first-born. What can they do but embrace the faith that helped their ancestors subdue the wilderness, in hopes that it will hold back the far more malignant forces of moral stagnation and cultural collapse?
For Oswald Spengler the Second Religiousness is a clear symptom of the end of a culture and the entry into its terminal phase of civilization and empire. The Second Religiousness appears as a return to the religious monomania of the culture's youth, a sort of spiritual second childhood. It displays the same dogmatic certainty and devout sincerity of its beginnings, but without the purpose of promoting the destiny of the culture, the purpose that made the faith so splendid back when it was new. That destiny having now been accomplished, the Second Religiousness offers instead a place to hide from the social disintegration attendant to this exhaustion of purpose. The magickal and spiritual techniques that once drove the culture toward its destiny now hold back the chaos that threatens now that that destiny has been satisfied. Of course the ancient faith cannot be enough, for the civilization always disintegrates in the end. But this is something the devout do not know, or will not allow themselves to consider, for then they must lose all hope. Refuge in obsolescent belief, however unrealistic, is their way to keep from going mad.
And in this context, the re-election of President Bush appears to be a perfectly logical response.
Of course it would be a lot more so if the Faustian civilization were somehow alone in its world, for instance like ancient Egypt, hidden behind impenetrable walls of desert. But of course it is not. Faustian destiny was devoted to bringing the entire world into its sphere, and so now the Faustians must live in it with those who do not share their fervor or, worse, have a mutually exclusive fervor of their own. Which is to say, the Faustian Second Religiousness isn't the only one around. There are three others that are quite militant: the Jewish, the Islamic and the Hindu. They were all that was left of two mighty civilizations that had faded into remnants, but with the dissemination of Faustian technology (which can be had by anyone with money), they have inflated themselves out of their stupor. This is not to say they have somehow become vigorous cultures again; this self-inflation has nothing to do with destiny. Rather, they search for a way to redefine themselves as somehow unique even after they have been thoroughly contaminated by the Faustian current. Each huddled against the others, they cherish their weapons and nurse the grievances of a thousand years, even as they look warily at the arsenals of the Christ, capable of exterminating life on earth several times over.
It is not a promising situation. The beliefs we all of us use to create our worlds threaten to annihilate the planet. It would seem that the only solution lies in coming to grips with the mechanisms of belief itself. Then might we create and destroy our beliefs at will, according to our circumstances, rather than being pulled by them this way and that until they shatter against one another and we all fall into oblivion.
4. Psychic Energy
So what can we do about it? We have the underlying dogmas that have been bedeviling humanity for three thousand years--each predicated on reality-presumptions that are as likely as not mutually exclusive to those of its rivals, each prepared to countenance the degradation of those rivals to assure its own certitude or safety.
It would seem the only approach possible is to address directly the mechanisms of belief, and discover a solution by manipulating the problem at its source. This can't be any sort of detached study. One cannot depend on expert opinions about belief as such, for these opinions are beliefs like any other, and subject to the same dynamics. To embrace the problem we do not require theory, but technique--skill in manipulating the substance of belief, and in believing (or not) as our wills might require it.
As for how to press into this wilderness, there are only a few paths available, many of them unsatisfactory. Academic psychology and philosophy may attempt a study of belief, but they insist upon the illusion of objectivity, and of the expert who believes well enough to know it when he sees it. Religion, on the other hand, works with some effectiveness to use belief to manufacture reality, but the belief is dogma, and so resistant to any sort of dispassionate manipulation.
Modern magick--experimental religion at its most audacious--is the one field of inquiry that directly confronts the contents of consciousness and calls into question the usage of belief itself. In fact, a fundamental theme of modern magick concerns the question of whether there is any such thing as "occult truth" at all. Beyond such facts as the existence of psychic energy, some general tendencies of its behavior, and the more obvious features of the subtle body (e.g. the Kundalini), most modern occultists admit there simply isn't much occult truth out there. But there are a plethora of beliefs and techniques that enable us to organize psychic energy, more or less effectively, and cause it to behave in ways that promote our wills. Thus magicians are as likely to address a belief according to its energy dynamics as they are according to whether they think it "true" or "false." Truth and falsehood are matters of perspective, timing and attitude--easy variables to shift around as needed. But conservation of energy is forever, regardless of how or why you look at it.
This denigration of "truth" is a development of the 20th century. Before that the general assumption among occultists was that there really were specific, objective powers out in the world that could be contacted and made to obey if only we knew the secret symbolic keys that would activate and control them. One of the last masters of this approach, Aleister Crowley, was also one of the first to recognize its arbitrary nature.
In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth, and the Paths, of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things that may or may not exist.
It is immaterial whether they exist or not. By doing certain things certain results follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophical validity to any of them.
Crowley first published these words in 1909 as part of an introduction to his "Liber O," which offers the Golden Dawn application of Rosicrucian symbolism to conjuring. And so does he warn the reader to use the Rosicrucian system as a tool rather than as a vision of reality. In spite of this open-mindedness, Crowley remained wedded to Rosicrucian symbolism throughout his life, framing all his magickal experience in its terms. After giving a sketch of the magickal hierarchy according to Rosicrucian Qabalah in his Magick in Theory and Practice, he declares:
The reader will remark that all criticism directed against the Magical Hierarchy is futile. One cannot call it incorrect--the only line to take might be that it was inconvenient. (p. 4)
And then Crowley goes on to suggest that even any inconvenience is obviated by the fact that the Tree of Life is expandable into four "worlds," with ten Sephiroth in each world and even ten Sephiroth in each of those Sephiroth, ignoring the possibility that there may be power arrangements completely incompatible with this rather static map, no matter how detailed our rendering of it might be. The point to keep in mind for now, though, is that he uses the same criterion for the value of his symbolic map as he did for the techniques in "Liber O:" effectiveness. By doing certain things with the entities used in "Liber O," certain things follow. By using "the most convenient" symbolism, we can best articulate the powers we must manage. In both cases, the criterion is efficacy, not truth.
But the one who first attacked this problem directly was Austin Osman Spare.
For Spare, the whole notion of belief in "the secret keys to occult truth" was absurd. In his Book of Pleasure he writes, "What is there to believe, but in Self? And Self is the negation of completeness as reality....We are what we believe and what it implies by the process of time in the conception; creation is caused by this bondage to formula." (p. 1)
Another way of saying this is that reality is the objective residue of a subjective process. We impose what we believe--more or less effectively--upon our environments; all the other subjectivities impose what they believe upon their environments; and the resultant of our collective efforts precipitates out as the solid stuff we see all around us. These beliefs may be elemental, biochemical, genetic, anatomical, instinctual, unconscious, emotional, rational, or spiritual; in one way or another they all are included in the consensus that is the product of their combined input. And so reality.
Magick, of course, holds that an unconscious psychic impetus is just as effective for spawning reality as deliberate, conscious work, and in some ways even superior. As Spare asserts in The Book of Pleasure, "Conscious desire is non-attractive." (p. 37)
Conscious desire must rely on available circumstances, present connections, current knowledge--all confined by our limited perspectives as single individuals. Unconscious desire looks far beyond these. It spawns its own circumstances out of the coincidence of happenstance and the ordinary. It attracts connections from the other side of the planet. Knowledge comes to it as it needs it. And the unconscious is confined by no individuality at all, but comes from a part of the brain that we share with the serpents.
Ceremonial magicians reach the unconscious through all the paraphernalia of ritual magick: the incense, robes, chants, circumambulations, by all the symbols they associate with their conceptions of both the unity of the universe and the particular powers it is their will to invoke. By keeping their "ritual space" separate from their "mundane space," they ensure that that the energies raised in ritual will not discharge through mundane fantasy, and so these must find their way out through the unconscious, the more effective route for creative manifestation.
Spare's strategy was more straightforward. His approach was simply to charge arbitrary sigils with psychic energy and then to suppress all thought of them, thereby "making the desire organic." The energy would thus be forced out through the unconscious, ideally as a "coincidental" event that could be seized and exploited to bring on the fulfillment of the desire. The sigil--for Spare a monogram made up of the letters forming a sentence that specifies the desire--serves to focus the energy into the purpose without burdening the magician with a complete symbolic scheme like the Qabalists' Tree of Life. The energy itself can be generated through ritual or found in less formalized settings. Sex, dance, acceleration, manipulation of the subtle body and the use of the Neither-Neither principle to dismember limited beliefs all work to provide the raw power that can be focused into the sigil. For Spare, it does not matter where the power comes from so long as you feel yourself full of it and can devote it to an intense visualization of the sigil that designates your desire.
Though Spare held to his underlying principles throughout his life, his attitude toward their application considerably mellowed in his old age. When he wrote The Book of Pleasure in 1913, he insisted that all religions are evil, and that ceremonial magick is a field for poseurs and charlatans. He was enamored of the Absolute and insisted that any belief short of love for the Absolute Kia is essentially a mistake, especially since any limitation makes the experience of the Absolute impossible. But by the end of his life in 1956, he had realized that without belief, one could do nothing, and even the dogmas of theistic religion were better than no belief at all. As he wrote in "The Logomachy of Zos" (first published in Zos Speaks!), "The Absolute is unbecoming and sterile if unbelieved." (p. 178)
Unless we believe something needs to happen, we have no desire. If we have no desire, we have no impulse toward its fulfillment. Without that impulsion, there is no creation of form as a means to achieve satisfaction. Pure self-love in Spare's early sense ultimately becomes the Absolute gazing at its own navel, and escape from the ultimate boredom of this state is why it went to the trouble of manifesting to begin with.
So it isn't a question of the legitimacy of belief, but of how we can choose the beliefs that are best for our situations and apply them so they generate reality according to our wills. We must be able to assimilate the beliefs we need and dispose of those that are no longer effective--not an impossible task since the assumption of any belief makes its opposite necessary, and if we only have the courage and insight to find this opposite, we can combine the two (in the operation of Neither-Neither) to release energy for conjuring.
5. The "As If"
To work magick, then, we do best to regard belief not as "what we can understand about reality," but instead as a tool to make reality from scratch. Belief gives form to the energy of awareness, and the result is the reality we impose in ways mundane and occult, singly, with our fellows, or as participants in the biosphere as a whole.
Beliefs are appropriate to the context they were designed to address. They can become awkward and even self-destructive when applied outside of it, or if the context changes and they do not.
Monotheism, for instance, is very effective when you want to weld together a group that has lost its other cohering influences, or never had any to begin with. Aside from uniting the group with custom, ritual and shared expectations, the assumption of the monotheistic attitude will make conflict with other groups more likely, and this will require a strengthening of group solidarity simply in order to survive. And on the psychic planes, belief in a personal god "who has a plan for you" opens an avenue for effective magickal working.
On the other hand, monotheistic beliefs are detrimental if you need to tolerate a lot of diversity within your body politic. And with the recent triumph of transportation and communication technology, we're all one world now, and diversity is the operative condition. Thus the belief that people who do not believe precisely as you do are all going to suffer in hell for eternity is no longer effective. We must deal with believers of all sorts, and it appears that if we are to master this, we must address the mechanisms of belief itself. This is not a task a religion is equipped to handle. Though often expert in the manipulation of psychic energy, religious practitioners are generally enamored of the prospect of finding the True Faith in which to believe, and so have no inclination to turn a cold eye on the mechanism of belief itself. Magicians and sorcerers, on the other hand, being instead enamored of the possession of power, are eminently suited to manipulate belief to create whatever webs of power they may need.
This is precisely what Austin Spare does in his approach to magick. As Kenneth Grant quotes him in Images and Oracles:
I believe in the power of belief, and that sincerity integrates sufficient will for our purposes. I accept the 'as if' to evoke from my unknown self a means of transcendentalism and the magic of dynamic change. (p. 52)
If we believe in something with sufficient sincerity, we will reflexively generate the integrated psychic impetus that will make it real. The way we manufacture this sincerity is by energetically acting as if the belief were true, thus by our actions imposing the belief on the deepest levels of consciousness.
And with this introduction of the words "as if," we may introduce the fact that Spare had adopted the epistemological principles of the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, and then turned them on their head and made them magickal!
Austin Spare first encountered the thought of Vaihinger in 1949, when Kenneth Grant gave him a copy of Vaihinger's The Philosophy of 'As if': A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind. According to Vaihinger, many of the logical propositions that we accept as true, and which are essential for the maintenance of our cultural reality, have no basis in "Truth" at all, but are merely useful fictions. Vaihinger does not condemn a reliance on fictions, but simply tries to describe their characteristic behavior in thought and prescribe methods for their error-free use. For Vaihinger the epistemological rules for using fictions are different from those that apply to propositions that aspire to truth. Fictions need not be true, but only useful. Their efficacy determines their value.
As an example of an efficacious--even essential--fiction, we may offer the one most commonly used in daily life--the number zero. Unlike the natural numbers, it cannot be demonstrated in actual experience. If you have three apples, you can count them one, two, three. Take three away, and you have nothing to count, nor even any way to demonstrate the concept "apple." Strictly speaking, "zero" is an abstraction, and abstractions are not real. We can only act as if they were real, and if they are effective at producing the results we require, that is enough.
Vaihinger notes that the use of a fiction engenders contradiction, and in the case of zero, this is the creation of infinity--which is produced any time we divide a positive number by zero. But infinity does not exist, neither the infinitely small nor the infinitely great. The universe is very large, but probably not much bigger than 1010 light years; it is said by quantum scientists that there may be nothing smaller than a Planck length, about 10-33 centimeters--very small, but not quite nothing--making reality "foamy" at the smallest levels.
Nonetheless, the concept of infinity is useful in a philosophical sort of way, and zero as a number is essential to everything from accounting to building bridges. And from it we may generate more complicated fictions, a prime example being the differential calculus. Here the assumption is that curved lines may be treated as if they were made up of an infinite series of tiny little straight ones. They clearly are not, but by treating them as if they were, problems involving such lines may be solved with utmost precision. By using a false concept as if it were true, we get an accurate result, but, again, a fiction need not be true, only effective.
Differential calculus is, of course, the foundation for all modern technology. Our technics are real enough to destroy the world, but the mental tools we created in order to master them are pure fantasy, real only to the extent that our use of them makes them so.
The critical distinction Vaihinger makes is between the epistemological status of an hypothesis and a fiction.
An hypothesis purports to be a statement on the way things are, and is judged by whether it is true or false. The gas laws are a good example of a successful hypothesis. So also, in spite of Vaihinger's reactionary resistance, is the atomic theory. But a fiction only hopes to be useful, and is judged by its success in this. Do differential equations help you build bridges that don't fall down? Does an invocation of Venus help you win the girl of your dreams? That's enough! By enabling your mind to do the correct calculations or call up and focus the correct type of psychic energy, your will is accomplished, and it does not matter whether infinitesimals or the goddess Venus 'really' exist or not.
The most pernicious error here is to allow one's logical vigilance to relax and begin to treat the fiction as an hypothesis, perhaps ultimately even to elevate it to the status of dogma.
This last error appears to be a general human tendency. Vaihinger declares: "Man's most fallacious conclusion has always been that because a thing is important it is also right." (p. 69) He notes that it is easy for the viewers of a play to slip into the illusion that the action on stage is real, and the tendency carries over to our mental stage when we allow it to present as reality abstractions that merely help facilitate thought, and have nothing to do with what is really out there. And although Vaihinger doesn't seem to like to come out and say it (at least in the English translation, which contains about half the text of the German original), the same thing applies to any religious belief that makes a claim to exclusive Truth. As we have made clear thus far, this is not a problem with modern magick, concerned as it is with how most effectively to manipulate the real stuff of psychic energy. It is a very serious problem, however, with any sort of monotheism, that being the most pernicious thought-virus ever spawned within the mind of man.
To help prevent this, Vaihinger prescribed a corrective mechanism that must be applied, either consciously or unconsciously, whenever fictions are used. Basically the correction involves removing the fiction as soon as it has done its work so it is not part of the final result, and the technique for doing so Vaihinger called "the method of antithetical error." For instance, in order to solve an algebraic equation, you may introduce an extra term, z. Then, once you have solved it to your satisfaction, you can declare that z = o, and remove the null terms. If you use differential calculus, your use of infinitesimals will be limited to the act of generating a regular function. The infinitesimals are the tool, and if you cannot put the tool away before you wrap up the finished product, you aren't doing it correctly.
Spare's accomplishment here was his recognition that Vaihinger's approach to fictions is as useful in dealing with raw psychic energy as it is in dealing with logical thought, and so can be profitably applied to the symbolic tools of the magician.
Both logical thought and magick involve the use of psychic constructions--either logical structures that help us draw reasoned conclusions regarding the best application of conscious effort, or symbolic structures that manipulate the flow of unformed psychic energy through unknown channels within unconsciousness. Spare realized that what magicians did was fabricate symbolic schemes and then act as if they were populated by actual entities that possessed power to move real reality. Through the establishment of such a model we create mental machines to move psychic energy--not as it manifests in rational thought, but as the more primal energies like emotion, sexuality and the excited Kundalini that are fit to accomplish magickal change.
Vaihinger's safeguard for using fictions--the method of antithetical error--is also commonplace in magick--having been established quite elegantly over centuries of magickal practice.
To travel to that fictional place called the astral plane, I must first separate my astral body from my physical body. Then when I come back, I must be equally careful to reunite astral with physical, so as to keep the fictions there within their place.
Whenever I conjure a spirit--whether on the astral, in my mind's eye, or in a physical circle--I am careful to banish it once I am done with it. I put that tool back into its virtual state even as the real energy I conjured with it works on the world to fulfill my desire. Then when the energy discharges as an event serving to promote that will, the spirit will be nowhere to be seen, and I can exploit that event without reference to its occult origin.
But though psychic energy is a real stuff, and the symbolic tools we use to manipulate it are only fictions, they are nonetheless effective to move psychic energy. If we work in their terms, our psychic energy acts accordingly, and we take on the consequences as if the symbols were as real as rocks. And so they can hurt us if we use them badly.
For instance, if one uses the fiction that is the spirit model, one addresses psychic energy as if it were invariably personified by some discrete entity, presumably self-aware, which must be made submissive to one's will. We use our own psychic energy to animate the spirit, causing it to appear in concentrated form, ready to work our wills. But though the spirit is fictional, the energy is real, and so one needs mechanisms to control it--to keep it from invading one's consciousness while in this exalted state and taking over--and for this we have all the tools of sorcery: the circles, weapons, anointings and consecrations for more elaborate workings, and the indispensable tools for daily use like banishing. Banishing is essential to put you within a clean mental space when you begin any operation, and equally essential to clear away any psychic residue when you are finished. Also, habitual daily banishing tends to define and harden the aura, a good preliminary for any work with the subtle body.
Banishing is insufficiently potent to expel any established aspect of psyche, so you needn't worry that you are repressing any part of yourself through banishing. All it does is clear a space to work, and make sure what you called up is truly gone when you're finished with it. Banishing in sorcery is sort of like keeping a clean kitchen. It won't get rid of an infestation of cockroaches, but if you don't do it, and you do cook, you will eventually acquire an infestation of cockroaches.
But then there is more than one way to act unconsciously.
There is the deliberate way I have been calling magick, and there is the usual way, where one does it all through habits programmed since birth. The forms spawned out of such ingrained beliefs are as real as those made with the best magick, and a lot more common, but it is impossible to apply the method of antithetical error to them. As widespread expectation, they define our whole culture. But when expectations lose their coherence, then the flow of energy grows diffuse, and even the most venerable forms begin to look doubtful. And when civilization itself begins to look doubtful, the reality of the chaos that lies just beneath it becomes all the more certain. And so we come back to the political aspect of this essay, and once again must regard the West's inevitable doom.
6. Psychic Space
So we have Oswald Spengler to explain the re-election of George Bush, and Austin Spare and Hans Vaihinger to perhaps help us avoid the clash of rival certainties that threatens to consume the world.
Events over the last century have only confirmed Spengler's vision. In his scheme, the last centuries of a culture's millennial life-span will be devoted to wars that determine which of the nations within the culture will claim imperial rule over the others. The 20th century has confirmed this process for the Faustians, with the United States winning this role in spite of the deepest aversion of its populace. And with the establishment of Pax Americana, destiny has been accomplished and there is no further impulse towards it. Desire has been replaced with satiety, the psychodynamic equivalent of entropy. There is no way out of this energetic hole; both the impetus of security and the impetus of profit demand that it we descend deeper into it. Within the Faustian space, there is no more hope.
But the Faustian space is clearly subjective, its six solid directions offering a narrow view of what is really happening. It is an abstraction, as were the Egyptian and Magian and Classical spaces before it. And the manufacture and implantation of abstractions involves psychic technology--which is to say, magick.
Cultural spaces are fictions, and the members of a culture conquer them collectively within their own minds. They are so deeply embedded that they are more than beliefs, having become habits of perception and response. By the act of addressing the objective world as if it really were organized in terms of the special space, and seeing the course of their destiny as if laid out within it, the members cause their society to cohere so tightly it spawns the forms and artifacts of high culture out of their collective intent.
Now the fictional nature of these spaces is obvious with the Egyptian and Magian, totally obsessed as they were with religion, and also with the Classical, where the fiction rises out of the unrealistic focus on what can be perceived. But what of the Faustian, concerned as it is with the manipulation of physical stuff? How can this be considered a cultural abstraction, doomed to obsolescence? But the stuff itself lies in a different place than the space we have dominated as a way to master it. What we master is our ability to create an accurate model in our minds, a model from which follows procedures for manipulating the stuff, which lies outside our minds and thus outside both our model and the cultural space. The stuff is real, but the only way we can reach it is through the model. This model having been largely perfected, the contradictions inherent within the fiction become conspicuous and the cultural space loses its aura of certainty. From here it doesn't take too much imagination to realize that beneath the space there could be only chaos. And so it may be, if no new coherence is formed that has the power to attract what is most productive of human aspiration.
For the present, we are confronted with a question of timing: how long will the Faustian hold together until it becomes unlivable? While in Spengler's view, cultures tend to fulfill their destinies in about a thousand years, civilizations vary in their abilities to endure. If they are blessed with physical isolation, like ancient Egypt, or if they are big enough and wealthy enough to assimilate their would-be destroyers, like ancient China, they can keep going for thousands of years.
The Faustian doesn't seem to have such strong legs. It's destiny having been to use physical technics to force the whole world to submit to it, it has no isolation at all, and since any people with money can adopt its technics as well as it can, it has no special advantage there either. All it has is an attitude, and that has gone stagnant. On the other hand, having imposed its gloss on the whole world, the whole world has been tainted by it, and in one way or another must participate in its fall. Of course this may take a few hundred years--the Faustian is just entering its time of empire and Caesarism--but then what happens? One thing that is certain is that without some sort of outside intervention, the whole Faustian infrastructure will be either wrecked or made irrelevant, vast structures either looted or allowed to decay because the power and water needed to make use of them will not be available. And vast amounts of technical knowledge will be lost for much the same reason. And then after some centuries of barbarism a new culture may rise up out of the wilderness and rubble to quest after its own unique destiny. But never will it be able to attain the physical magnificence of the Faustian, simply because the easily available resources will all have been used up, and so it will be impossible to build up physical magnificence from scratch.
Thus it must be that unless we begin to spawn the new culture now, within the beginnings of the Faustian decay, then the zenith of the human species will have passed. If, however, we can bring a fresh culture to birth within the body of the old, we may use the old infrastructure as tool to nurture the new while it is still sufficiently intact to be useful. And there is historical precedent for this process. According to Spengler's reckoning, the Magian first came to birth around the year One within the midst of Classical (i.e. Roman) Civilization. Though it was distorted at first by the oppressiveness of the Classical forms, it also benefited by being able to continue physically where the Classical left off. Because of this the Eastern Empire never had to suffer from the Dark Ages that the West had to endure, maintaining its prosperity and social vigor until the Magian began to suffer its own decline after the year 1000.
Now Spengler believed that each culture was unique, standing up on its own and then falling into oblivion without affecting or effecting the cultures that came after. I differ with this formulation, seeing each culture as a stone to step upon as humanity makes its way toward whatever ultimate destiny it may attain, each new culture striving for what is attainable next, given the progress granted by those that came before. And now that the three dimensions of space are under our control, we must begin to control ourselves, lest in our passionate intensity we use our mastery of matter to destroy ourselves.
Of course in Spengler's scheme, the fundamental work of each culture is to address and conquer a unique sort of space. For Spengler this space is never directly addressed by those who actually attain the destiny. It remains subliminal, but it is the context for the culture's every achievement. Now that Spengler has revealed all, however, it is no longer realistic for us to remain oblivious to this necessary context. It is better to address it directly so we might more decisively master it while there is still time.
It is in this spirit that I offer psychic space as the context for the next culture, wherein we may learn to control psychic energy and the structures of belief, both subliminal and conscious, that spawn event both within our psyches and beyond them.
Psychic space is justified as a field to conquer a millennial destiny because it is an effective way to organize and manipulate psychic energy, which is real...
just as the conquest of three-dimensional space was justified because it is an effective way to organize and manipulate matter, which is real...
just as the conquest of Magian dogma-space was justified because it was an effective way to cause self-sustaining communities of belief to cohere, creating social rapport, cooperation and unity, which are real...
Just as the conquest of Classical immediate space was an effective introduction to rational living, teaching humanity how to deal logically with a sensual world, that is real.
Psychic space may be seen as fictional and subjective, a model to serve as the context for our work, but then so were the others, and it is complex enough that the conquest of each and every one of its ramifications is a millennial task if ever there was one. We cannot predict the outcome of this work, because to accomplish it will be to make a world as unrecognizable to us as the Rome of Cato and the Gracchi would have been to Agamemnon. But only by working within it may human behavior be mastered, and without this mastery we may expect only chaos and ultimate doom.
To master belief requires a mastery of the engines of psyche. The tools needed to obtain this can be found within the traditions of magick and sorcery, and the epistemological standard we must hold to is that of the "as if," the same that applies to all abstractions and fictions, whether those who use them are aware of what they're doing with them or not. By relying on this standard we may leave questions of truth and falsehood aside and instead embrace efficacy. Thus empowered we may exploit belief as a tool for turning intent into reality, rather than submitting to it as an approximation of the way things must be.
But enough abstraction! For a population to conquer a cultural space, they have to want to do it, so if self-interest is in any way contraindicated, the space is unrealistic as a field for destiny. If there isn't personal advantage of some sort involved with the day-to-day work of attaining destiny, no one will ever bother, so if for the majority there is not the promise of reward, the space is unrealistic, for it simply will not be realized.
Those who act according to a belief without compulsion, because they want to, can act "as if" and establish the fiction as a real thing, their psychic energy molded by the belief so it will precipitate out as solid stuff. Those who are forced into a belief and to act according to belief, on the other hand, do not act "as if." Even if they carry out the actions and mouth the fictions as ordered, it does not work on the subliminal level where unconscious desire attracts conforming results. On the unconscious level there is instead revulsion and rebellion--struggle against the coercing authority--and so the reality that precipitates out is either spite and chaos or apathy and stagnation.
Thus we must design our magick to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. It is the habitual belief of the mass of humanity that reifies the space wherein destiny is pursued, once the pioneers of the culture have defined it. Thus it would seem that the task for us theorists of psychic space is simply to encourage people to carry out their "selfish" actions as magickally as possible. When the masses can attain their purposes through magick, the field of magick--psychic space--will be reified in their deepest beliefs, making it a realm solid enough that domination of it becomes a destiny worthy of a thousand years.
In any event, even the most prosaic occupations should be opened to a magickal approach, and if we do not offer techniques to make them so, our work will remain the obsession of an esoteric fringe, of no real importance to anyone. Some examples:
1.) If a person is a truck driver, let him create the psychic tools to search out power spots along the more lonely stretches of his route, so the route itself becomes an ally, its spirit bound to his service. Then might he perceive the power dynamics of everything from the weather to traffic flow to the ecologies human and natural that he encounters along it, enter rapport with them as it suits him, and draw their power to serve his will.
2.) If she be a cook, let her have the magick to perceive the life-force in all the food that she prepares, so that her kitchen becomes a magick circle, and her meals eucharists that empower and inspire her diners, so they might honor her, and give to her of their wealth and power.
- If he or she be a mathematician or a scientist or an engineer, let him or her be constantly aware of the fictional web he or she weaves around the stuff to be manipulated, and the unreality of this web, no matter how effective it might be in manipulating the real behavior of this stuff. Let him or her revel in this fictionality, and even accentuate it out of lust to see how for it can be extended without losing the effectiveness that validates it.
Let our only admonition be that we must regard the situations we encounter in terms of psychic energy. We must look at how our magickal tools manipulate them, and how these manipulations impact on the psychic energy "budgets" of the circumstances in their entireties. That is to say, we should be aware of where the energy comes from, how much we can store, how much we must spend, just which realities this spending creates, and if we really want to create these realities at all.