Monday, December 14, 2009

Seeking the Baby in the Bathwater.


Before I proceed further I want to explain the purpose of this blog entry so that my goal, whether or not I manage to coherently convey the meaning behind it, is fully understood. I hope to examine three things: faith/belief, initiation, and the numinous experience. My hope is that by pulling from different schools of thought, be they regarding the occult or religious and underlying assumptions about them, I can crystallize them into gestation point and give others something to think about. To this end I will use some hopefully stripped down language and at some points catch-all phrases. By discussing things as generically as possible, I hope to make my thoughts accessible to anyone. One thing I want to stress is that at no point am I dismissing any school out-right. This is the reason that I'm going to use multiple examples from varying places. At each point I will try to link sources and then directly quote, followed by my response.

The first, and most important, point I wish to make is that initiation does not imply one has earned a given title. This is a common misconception with rather drastic ramifications. In many of the 'Traditions' of magick the process of initiation is instead meant to unveil the process that one takes toward the goal; it is not, by any means, achievement of the goal. This is equally true of self-initiation and possibly one of the reasons that those who have undergone a trial-by-fire may become deluded into thinking they've “made it” to the goal of a given state of being. Indeed: many initiates are inducted into deeper areas of a given tradition not because they've earned it (though they may have, which is a good thing!) but because they have the capacity to rise into the position they've been allotted.

Initiations may confer the keys by which we can more easily encounter the Numinous, but do not mean that we will. A key fits into the lock; but on its own it is merely that: a key. To open the door you still must engage the process of unlocking the door, and then step through it. Some initiates do. Some do not. This is not a reflection of the school or path: it is just a reflection of the individual.

The 'current' (bu-dum-dum!) of discussion currently circulating around this lovely “blogspot,” whether stated or unstated, seems to relate to the trinity of factors above. Ranging from dismissal of other paths based on personal disillusionment, condemnation based on personal assumptions about the processes implied and the end-goals of certain schools, or assumptions about systems due to flaws of the major individuals involved in promoting them: they all coalesce into the reasoning behind this entry.

The first place to begin examining things, then, seems to be this very website and the entries by individuals I happen to enjoy reading from. As such the first comment I will examine will be the most negative.

Recently Fr. Barrabbas discussed his thoughts on the “Left Hand Path,” and dove-tailed into the following statement: “So it’s for this reason that I believe that followers of the left hand path, particularly those who espouse forms of Satanism, are ultimately twisted, warped, alienated and forced to either change (and conform) or become society’s great losers. Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan, did not die a rich and powerful man, mourned by a nation of followers. He died in obscurity and poverty, much to the chagrin of his few remaining followers and contrary to his legend.”

This was much to my chagrin, but I still understand what he meant and where he was going with it. However he seems to have missed the point of Antinomianism: engagement with the beliefs of the status quo, even if it is the process of rejection, can allow one to better understand what they personally believe; rejection forming a filter by which they can refine their spiritual pantheon and thoughts in such a way that they can instead distill just the sort of personal ethical system he espouses. Speaking magically: a ritual which is designed to exploit taboos so that one may strip and mine power from them, tends to create stress points. These stress points are supposed to lead one into a state whereby they can better examine how they wish to live.

Furthermore: generalizing all Satanists based on the life of Anton Lavey is downright silly. It is no different than judging Wicca based on the personal failings of its principle advocates, or judging Thelema based on the failings of its advocates. There is no such thing as perfect prophets to my mind: some followers may, due to the extremes of blind faith and blind beliefs, think they are perfect but one should always remain skeptical of such blindness. In the occult world one of the easiest ways to disenfranchise a group is to examine their particular advocate and his or her failings and then declare that anyone who chooses to engage in the tactics or beliefs they employ is, as he stated, “twisted, warped, alienated and forced to either change (and conform) or become society’s great losers.”

This does not mean he's necessarily completely wrong, however. That's why one of the general guidelines of the magician is to remain silent. By doing so you do not have to engage society head-on and instead may secretly and stealthily perform The Work without the burden of the judgment of others. On the other hand: beliefs are not always distributed into popular consciousness by doing that. So if you wish to spread a system you're going to have to open your mouth. There has not been a single path, tradition, advocate or belief that hasn't come under intense scrutiny by the magical community at large (especially due to who advocated it) unless it is so insignificant as to pose no worth to a given discussion.

When one is discussing individuals it is all the more poignant: be it Z. Budapest, Aleister Crowley, Alex Sanders, Anton Lavey, Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, Robert Cochrane, Mcgregor Mathers, or William Butler Yeats: each and every single one of them has said, done, or believed something that others will find distasteful.

If one is looking for perfection then I suggest they return to Christianity and the fervent belief in Christ as the Perfected Man and Avatar of God. You won't find it in any given system, advocate, or belief. Becoming Whole, the ideal behind The Great Work, does not necessarily mean Becoming Perfect.

There is a reason for these failings and why they are instead important to the processes of magick: without them, we would not choose to engage in a way such as to discover the Numinous or 'magical power and authority'. Ultimately the magician or witch is something of a selfish creature: they realize something is wrong: be it with themselves, society, or religions and choose to correct it and go their own way. In doing so they've distinguished themselves from society at large and are deciding that they know better contrary to any information otherwise. It is often precisely their failings, traumas, or marred experiences that causes them to do this. Thus, at the root of this, there is still a form of unconscious dismissal. It is, however, unfair to extend judgments onto any system due to the failings of its initiators or advocates. In the case of Satanism, there are exceptions to Fr. Barrabbas' point such as Sammy Davis Jr. being a Priest of the Church of Satan for a duration. He was quite clearly , for a time, influential and a Satanist. He was also friends with Anton Lavey for a time. So clearly some influential people, even if they later had a falling out, were compatriots with power.

When put like that I suppose the question becomes: what do we do about it? Where do we look?

One of Fr. POS's pals recently made a comment (which he, POS, then cross-posted) that I think allows from some reflection and rumination on this: “Unfortunately for a lot of people it seems the goal is to just do whatever has them at the moment and they forget about knowing themselves, finding their angel, becoming adepts, or whatever else one would like to call it...”

To sort what I think is good about it, I will begin with what I disagree with: the inherent transcendental bias and assumption of the HGA as necessary. The Fraternitas Saturni have a magical system which does not rely on gaining the so-called Holy Guardian Angel, and their system works just fine and even seems to have some of the same alchemical work as the underlying structure of the OTO's system, the Golden Dawn's system and so on. It may be a different system but that does not mean that 'personal work' does not occur. Simply because some things are important and helpful does not make them necessary or true. But there is a seed of something in the comment I love: “knowledge of self.” Regardless of any system that is necessary. You cannot distinguish between the Numinous and delusion if you do not know yourself; nor can you distinguish between what you agree with or disagree with unless you examine yourself first.

You will not understand how to use any Power gained unless you can use it on yourself first. In fact some years ago I might have verbally aped Lon Milo Duquette and said: “I can't change anything with magick but myself!”

That, actually, is something I think is clever and helpful. But it's also bullshit. I can change quite a bit other than myself, or at least attempt it. Nonetheless: you must turn inward before you look outward at the world around you. Until you understand cultural influences, norms, values and underlying beliefs you will progress no further than your own nose in using power for Change. An essay with a spell encoded to deliver it to those you seek to reach, can easily change the life of someone else for better or worse. We constantly impact the world around us because we are constantly interacting with it: magically or otherwise. The second we forget that we're treading dreadfully close a form of magical solipsism. This might not necessarily be bad: if you reduce all cognitive effects down to the roots of consciousness, and note that consciousness might be the soul, then you're also capable of opening a line of reasoning rather close to the Golden Rule. If consciousness is all that we may experience, then everything with consciousness becomes equally precious. It also can all become equally flawed.

The final outcome of such thoughts is really based around value judgments made based on consciousness: that my thoughts are more important or true than yours because I know them... And that is where many who embrace solipsism often fail: assuming that simply because all one might know exists in their mind, then other minds do not exist. You can easily rip that aspect out of such a philosophical standpoint, however, and make great use of it. Consciousness is infinitely malleable, and sufficiently complex as to allow one to near endlessly play with it and the thoughts and tangents that float through it. (One of my major 'flaws', I've been told, is that others cannot always distinguish what I actually believe since I routinely attempt to attack the roots of belief and then reshape them. I may even disagree with things I've written here a week from now. And trust me: it drives my significant other crazy at times when I play Devil's Advocate... Which is at least once a day. I see it as important to my path, and myself. It is not until I can find underlying assumptions in any given belief and assault them that I can begin crystallizing the power of belief into something useful!)

This of course brings me around to the power of faith or belief and magick.

I know someone who's recently become aware of a personal sense of freedom in... well, having no faith. Now, I have no problem with Atheism. But let me clear to those who'd think they've become free and faithless: you have not become without faith by embracing Atheism. You have instead placed your faith, or belief if you prefer, behind something else.

The primary power of conversion Atheism has these days derives from Scientific Reasoning. The root behind this is Scientific Empiricism. And Empiricism, like so many other things, is just one way of experiencing things. It allows for us, due to repeated demonstrations in exactly the same settings, to better understand the world around us. But placing faith in empiricism is not so different than placing faith in a religion. In either case one is placing their belief firmly behind a philosophical or theological school of thought. There is an act of faith behind both the devotion to God (however one chooses to see It) and in the admonition that science can prove God does not exist. The idea that Atheism is more rational than religious thought is something I consider pure bunk. It all depends on the definitions employed in regards to what “God” is, not to mention how one goes about discussing how science could prove It doesn't exist.

I also see no small amount of irony in the very idea of using science to “disprove” God. This is largely because the very reason science was used to examine the world, initially, was often so that one could become closer to God by better understanding the world. That was the foundation of Descartes' belief, as well as Newton's. Science was founded to discover the truths of this world, and in the West the idea of “Truth” was often seen as being the exact same thing as God. Simply because something is rational does not make it true. And rationality, one of the very reasons Atheists embrace their faith, can blind one to the world around themselves.

Psychology, one of the relatively newly founded soft sciences, has often made this mistake by trying to reduce consciousness down to being “just” a byproduct of having an extensive nervous system. The increasing tendency to materialize existence is a another byproduct, too, and one which many Atheists cheerfully choose to ignore. When psychologists began taking this line of thought, in an attempt to win the embrace of the hard sciences of academia, they opened the flood gates for Prozac and Aderol to become “wonder drugs” which would “fix” the problems of consciousness and existence. Of course: neither of them have. They've merely duped a rather large portion of America into believing that they're “all better, all problems solved” without doing any work on themselves. This is not to mention the sick and disturbing problem of over-medicating children, who's neurological processes may become forever altered by having buffered forms of Cocaine or Amphetamines shoved into their systems before they've even finished formatting themselves. Neural nets don't tend to become fixed into specific patterns until one nears adulthood; nonetheless, one may witness a continual onslaught of drugs being given to kids as young as six years of age. These drugs merely treat symptoms, they don't fix anything in their own right. However: since a man in a white coat, with a degree from a University, tells many parents it's a cure, they believe it. Because they have Faith in Science and think the process they are engaging in is rational. And the second one thinks this kind've bullshit is any different than believing that Satan is the reason for all the problems in the world, then they are just as deceived.

There are many ways to experience things, philosophically and otherwise, and science and rationality only promote one path toward viewing the world around us. One may lose faith in God by seeing science demonstrate follies in the Bible (which should probably not be treated literally in most cases), but that does not mean one has lost Faith itself. One has merely switched where they place their faith. In the end the only place we can go is to self: does any given philosophy or belief, hell Faith, seem to aid or abet you life? Does it add a level of depth of feeling to what you do?

Then use it. Especially if you're a magician. Despite the inherent flaws to belief, and the blindness it can promote, it is none the less can confer confidence in what one does. No matter how hodge-podge, systematic, silly, rational or irrational a given belief is it can be transferred into Authority. And that sense of authority is necessary to the practice of magick.

There are of course drawbacks. A good example, in discussing magick, is how the eclectic Wiccan view of the “Three-Fold Law” (hereafter TFL) is often presented. By placing blind faith in the silly idea that it implies all things are amplified by three if used by magick, it has stunted and even kicked a few individuals in the ass. I recently read a comment on a forum where one magician noted that 'wealth,' such as the wealth won by lottery players, is often a curse that leaves them even worse off than before. As such one could curse one's opponent with wealth and then get it back three-fold... And to anyone that's ever done anything reasonable with magick the mere supposition of the TFL is plainly a form of belief. It also has the sad tendency of enforcing guilt, which is the real reason for backlashes from rituals. Of course explaining this to it's adherents, especially those who “discovered it was real!!!111” is nigh impossible, no matter how hard one tries. So while belief is useful, and a tool, it can always be used in the wrong way if one is not careful.

And this is the primary reason I harp on the Models of Magick here on this blog. When one chooses to use one of those models, one should be very aware of the suppositions that come with it and what might become as real as brick once a model is fully integrated into their system of practice. Of course: sometimes we only discover how these suppositions will affect us after we've already headed down such a path. One should also be sure to sort value judgments pressed into belief in the integrity of practice: the negative value applied to so-called 'negative energy', for example. The mere addition of a word 'negative' conjures all manner of things to the mind, and it's easy to apply moral outlooks to such things. And with them we can be kicked in the face just as hard as if we had decided to fervently believe in the TFL in a silly manner.

In short: let us begin leaving the goal of perfection (unless it's realized as unattainable, and thus: the goal I have so that I'm always pushing forward) out of our equations and begin looking at things reasonably, making value judgments only so that we can determine what works best for us. Monasticism for monks, and magick is for magicians. (Of course: the two can coincide, but that isn't necessarily the ideal and should never forced upon everyone around us.) I didn't become a magician to give up sex, drugs, or “black magick.” I became a magician to make mistakes, better myself, and learn more about world around me so as to influence it. My end goal isn't perfection, either. It's to walk through walls. I will probably never do it. That doesn't bother me: the unattainable goal is so I keep pushing hard.

If you lot want to be Adepts? That's totally cool with me. But I'm not really concerned with such a sense of becoming. It will happen if it happens, and if I use the keys given to me to open the doors to such things. Otherwise I'm pretty happy being a guy with a leg up in the world... A guy who can magically aid friends, family, and himself and not feel guilty about it.

One last thing: in writing this I realized I've assaulted one occult institution constantly due to my own prejudices and biases. I was wrong about Theosophy. It isn't for me, but I suppose it has to work for some. As such I will finally salute them as peers and fellows on the path. It's about time to let go of my own BS and move on with what matters: my own work.


As always:
Be seeing you
,
Jack Faust.

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