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  Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
Magick Posted by Nathan W. Bjorge on October 08, 2000 @ 12:58 PM
from the tractacus-logico-hocus-poceus dept.

On the face of it the whole idea of coming up with some kind of theory of Magick is a bad one. It's simply hubris to think that one could intellectually encompass Spirit. Conceiving of Spirit as some static configuration of things, present at hand before us, to be subjected to analysis -- this approach is part and parcel of our technological attitude. This attitude sees all beings and being itself as paraded before a detached, separate and cynical Cartesian subject. A subject which assigns any value itself, with no criteria other than its own autonomous reason, which sees all beings and being itself as available for use, for manipulation and exploitation as plastic medium devoid of inherent value.

Spirit cannot be approached with this profane attitude. Spirit is what seizes us from outside the borders of our conceived world and overturns limitations. Spirit seizes us; it is the actor. We do not seize Spirit, except through Spirit. But, therein lies the key to a possible real discourse about Spirit ('theory' if we must use the word). For the supposed separate, manipulating, active subject is itself passive to what posits its possibilities of positing. There is a reciprocity between world and subject that is itself the result of an ontologically prior unity. If we respectfully and with due reverence enter into an exploration of this relationship between self, world and the gathering together of these then we can proceed.


It is quite unnecessary to have a fully worked out theory of magick in order to do magick. We can see this is the case with any skill or practice undertaken by human beings. A driver does not need a fully worked out intellectual theory of what a car is in order to drive one. Indeed, it can be argued that a really complete theory of anything is impossible. This is brought out in certain of the Platonic dialogs, where the character of Socrates deconstructs the preconceptions of his debating opponents, showing that radical intellectual inquiry will always destroy any merely intellectual position upon its own plane. Right action derives, not from intellectual consideration, but through orientation to one's True Will, which includes the rational faculty as an integral component, but not as an autonomous thing-in-itself.

Plato understood real knowledge, therefore, to consist in noesis or direct apprehension of the Forms (as he called them), the divine, underlying principles of reality. Dianoia, or dialectic, the merely discursive reason, does not in itself reach the level of noesis, but it can be used to dissolve false knowledge to pave the way, so to speak, for noesis. The Hindu conception of Jnana Yoga is cognate with Plato's views. Also, the very word Gnosis, its understanding and use within the Western esoteric tradition, derives very directly from Plato's conception of noesis.

It is this kind of spiritual understanding that is the fount of knowledge behind any real theory of Magick. We will need to draw upon this fount as we now attempt to outline just such a theory. Our method of access to the source will be two-fold. First, the perennial philosophy -- the tradition of those who have gone before us on the path, acquired this gnosis and attempted its articulation. This tradition will provide us with our basis, our map for further magical exploration. This map cannot be taken on faith, but must be tested in practice. We will touch upon some of these methods of verification in the second half of this paper. Our second source will be this personal verification itself. The upshot of which is that this theory of Magick is based to a large extent upon the personal spiritual experience of its formulator. It will therefore necessarily reflect his perspective, and also not primarily be a rational exercise of establishing premises and arguing positions based upon these premises. One cannot encompass encompassing itself with what is encompassed.

My highest noetic religious experience of reality is of an epiphany of pure light, modified in and through itself to create multiplicity. By designating The Reality as light I mean to include energetic light. All physical phenomenon are modulations of energy. This energy is a subset of the pure light, but the pure light cannot be reduced to the physical energy, as the pure light is by no means a merely physical phenomenon. It is a spiritual phenomenon. The spiritual includes and encompasses the physical, but not vice versa. Referring to the light as 'light' is also not merely a linguistic metaphor. It is an accurate description of the phenomenon.

The model we will be using to describe the modulations of this light is the traditional 4 worlds of the Jewish Kabbalistic system. Analogues of this scheme are found explicitly in the Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist systems. A good case could be made that that it is implicitly present and usable to describe on some level or another all esoteric religious systems. This paper will not attempt to do so. Both Ken Wilber and Huston Smith have made attempts to try to do so.

The 4 worlds model divides reality into 4 planes or ontological levels. These are

  • Atziluth -- pure divinity,
  • Briah -- the celestial or archetypal level,
  • Yetzirah -- the Imaginal realm, and
  • Assiah -- the spatial material world.

There is a necessary hierarchy to this model. The higher levels are ontologically prior to and are 'more real' then the lower levels. At the same time there is an often ignored integral component to the 4 worlds as well. The lower levels are not best seen as fallen or corrupted shells or flawed creations of the higher levels, but as places of completion of the work or activity of higher levels.

Therefore the forth world is called Assiah, the world of Action. This name gives us a symbol towards its understanding. The fifth power of the sphinx is to Go, and this is most possible in Assiah. John Russybroek asserts, following the tradition of Meister Ekhardt, that the godhead always creates out of itself through a kind of divine fecundity -- which implies, as the Indian tradition asserts, that Assiah has always existed since beginningless time.

Perhaps this is speculation. One thing is clear. Assiah is the world of action. What action? The action of the divine spirit, in almost every conceivable multiplicity. Each arbitrary point event is, seen from a certain mystic view, a perfect eidolon of the infinite light -- an expression of a certain divine name, if you will. There are therefore an infinity of such names, but these are subject to categorization into types. In the Jewish tradition there are ten names that encompass all possible subcategories. There exist other possible systems, the 99 name system of Islam, for example, or any correspondence set, but these do not concern us at this time. These 10 names or Sephirah contain all things and all things are contained in them. By invoking them we remember the presence of divinity. We see that divinity manifest through sacred correspondence. Correspondence, properly approached, is non-dual. The Sun corresponds to the divine beauty because it is the divine beauty, the color green reminds us of the divine victory because it is the divine victory. And so forth. As the Sufis say: the Name is the Named.

This is Assiah. Assiah is not a meaningless collection of matter in motion in space. Assiah is the light shining in the darkness. Meditation upon the banner of the West in the Golden Dawn system can produce some interesting insight into this aspect of the world of action. Also the opening verses of the Gospel according to John.

On the tree of life Assiah corresponds to the Sephirah Malkuth -- the divine Kingdom ruled and directed by Spirit. It is this relationship of sovereignty that gives the name 'Lord' to higher levels of reality.

At a subtler or less coarse level of reality is Yetzirah -- the realm of formation. My preferred description in English is the Imaginal realm, a term created by famed esotericist Henry Corbin. What is the nature of this realm? Corbin writes:

". . . Between the universe that can be apprehended by pure intellectual perception (the universe of the Cherubic Intelligences) [i.e. Briah] and the universe perceptible to the senses, there is an intermediate world, the world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of subtle substances, of "immaterial matter". This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe 'where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual,' a world consisting of real matter and real extension, though by comparison to sensible, corruptible matter these are subtle and immaterial. The organ of this universe is the active Imagination; it is the place of theophantic visions, the scene on which visionary events and symbolic histories appear in their true reality." [Corbin, pg. 4]

Yetzirah is the in-between zone, where pure spirit takes on form, and where that which is physical takes on a subtle or spiritual aspect. Eliphaz Levi calls it the astral light. It exists as a kind of parallel creation, laid over and sustaining the physical realm of Assiah.

It is not merely accessible to some kind of rarified visionary consciousness, however. Here's a simple exercise. Imagine a red rose in front of you. Now this rose has qualities. It has a sort of fugitive spatial location and it has duration, so it's a temporal phenomenon. Yet it doesn't exist in the way a table does. It's not a physical phenomenon. It doesn't exist in Assiah. It exists in Yetzirah. Now Yetzirah, we can see includes the whole realm of the imagination, and so it is called the Imaginal. This is the place of visualization, thought, dreams as well as emotion, intuition and abstract thought. The subtle energies of the body and of nature have their being in Yetzirah. Prana, chi, inner heat, kundalini, odic force, orgone etc. There are a variety of names.

Though there is a subjective aspect to some manifestations of Yetzirah, this is by no means always the case. There are auras and energies which can be perceived by multiple individuals. Often these effects can be visual -- but it is a peculiar, subtle visual experience -- like one's eyes were out of focus. Lowered ambient light can assist. This phenomenon is difficult to describe. It is seen, but not like a physical object.

Yetzirah has its own geography -- a kind of orientation of sacred space. This can be experienced either in pure visionary space or in our experience of the world about us -- through sacred architecture, in ritual space and in certain types of comportment to the natural environment. The most important type of orientation is up and down. Eliade calls this orientation the axis mundi. Located at the center of the universe at the beginning of time is a mountain, world tree or lingam, which stretches from heaven to earth and to the underworld, linking all planes of existence. Emanating out from this spiritual axis or pole at the moment of creation are the four directions or quarters, which spread out into Assiah, and constitute the material world centered in this spiritual axis -- which is found nowhere and everywhere. If one ascends the pole in the spirit vision one will find oneself at that place beyond. There is the center of rotation, the primium mobile. This is Briah, the next higher world of divinity as such.

Yetzirah corresponds on the tree of life to Sephirah 4-9. These Sephirah constitute 2 trinities -- the reflection of the Supernals in the microcosmic and macrocosmic aspects of Yetzirah.

Briah is the second level of reality. It presents some difficulties to discuss due to its strictly deific character, for Briah is the divine realm as such. The various symbols and forms emerging in the astral light of Yetzirah, or the physical forms of Assiah derive the source of their sanctity from Briah. The sacred is Briah.

Traditionally, western thinkers describe Briah in Platonic terms. To continue the same example used to understand Yetzirah -- the rose we visualized exists in Yetzirah, but the roseness of the particular visualization -- its meaningfulness itself as a rose -- is Briatic. In Platonic terms -- the form of the Rose. Roseness itself.

Atziluth is usually translated 'archetype' in English. If, however, by archetype we mean something like Carl Jung does in speaking of the collective unconscious, then really Briah is the realm of the archetypes, and of the collective unconscious. Yetzirah then functions as the personal consciousness into which various symbols are projected by Briah and cognized.

On the tree of life, Briah corresponds to Binah and (in my preferred scheme) to Chokmah. It lies above the abyss, and so is unity, but there can still be a perception of duality.

Beyond Briah is the absolute unity as such of Atziluth. Atziluth is never separate from the other layers, as its unity heads all things. As such it is somewhat outside of, or transcendent to, the progression of the other 3 worlds. If separation ends so does progression. There is no phenomenon that does not possess the taste of this unity. In Meister Ekhart's system, if Briah is God, Atziluth is the Godhead. It is Kether upon the tree of life.

I would like to not write further concerning Atziluth, other than to note that all phenomenon of the other 3 worlds are always already presupposed by its existence.

Having completed our discussion of the 4 worlds, we should now turn to the personal application of this map of the magical universe. To be a proper theory of magick, this paper must address itself to practice, for theoria and praxis are two sides of the same coin, never fully separate. We see this understood in the Mahayana system where wisdom and skillful means, prajna and upaya, must be conjoined and jointly realized to produce enlightenment. This is represented by the bell and dorje held in both hands during meditation by the vajrayana practitioner.

How then, do we realize the reality of the divine presence of these 4 worlds? For Thelemites, we have inherited a system for accomplishing this. It is known as the A.'.A.'.. The order A.'.A.'., we will recall, is divided into 3 collages or sub-orders. The precise delineation of this division is modeled by creating a map of stages of mystical and magical progression based upon the tree of life. This tree represents simultaneously the constitution of the universe or macrocosm, as well as the complete human being or microcosm. There is no difference. As above, so below. Exploration of one entails exploration and gnosis of the other. Therefore an interior exploration of one's self based upon the sacred tree will involve an uncovering of the 4 worlds upon that tree.

The three colleges or orders of A.'.A.'. are the Golden Dawn, or initiates, the Rose Cross or adepts, and the Silver Star, or A.'.A.'. proper, comprising the masters. There are many ways of understanding these 3 stages of spiritual development. Our way, in this paper, will be to orient them against the background of an advancement in understanding or attainment of the 4 worlds. The initiate, therefore, is centered most strongly in Assiah, and works with Yetzirah in an attempt to get to Briah. The adept has mastered their control of Yetzirah, 'reached' Briah, and works with Briatic levels of consciousness to realize Atziluth. The master is one who has realized Atziluth.

If we have a properly integral view of the 4 worlds, we must recognize that this ascent through the worlds does not eliminate or 'free us' from the lower levels, but instead informs us with regard to them. Informs us with regard to our True Wills -- our trajectory of becoming through all 4 of these planes.

The initiate works first then with Yetzirah. Not surprisingly, therefore, the first power systematically acquired by the A.'.A.'. initiate is that of the path of Tav. This is astral projection, using various shamanic techniques of active imagination, contemplation, visualization, and meditation. All of the various ritual activities engaged upon are likewise intended to build up one's persona in the realm of fantasy and imagination. Robes, capes, incense, swords, and strange conjurations; these are the trappings of Magick. Now all of this either becomes a method solely of ego aggrandizement, and therefore ultimately of black magic, or else these techniques and tools are directed towards the attainment of Briah.

Now Briah can be seen as the plane of the personal god, and the relationship to that personal God, which in Thelema we know as the Holy Guardian angel. The HGA is the most personal a personal relationship to God can be because there is nothing collective about it. One's own HGA is one's own HGA and not somebody else's. Developing that relationship to the HGA is the chief task of the initiate to become adept. The method is love, love directed to God. (Can I say 'God' in this ignorant age and dare to mean something by it?) Therefore "love under will," which is the very essence of our Holy Law.

This attainment is symbolized by the Sephirah Tiphareth. Our S.'.H.'. Frater Achad declares in The Egyptian Revival concerning the adept in Tiphareth: "The Beast, or Man of the Sun, represents, as I understand it, the Soul of Humanity, or of Man, between Spirit and Matter, ashamed of neither since both are essential to his existence." [Achad, pg. 75]

Symbolically, the absolute quality of pure love of the angel is signified by the planetary symbol of Venus, which when laid over the tree of life covers all of the Sephirah. The exception is Daath, and so there is no falsity in true love.

This true love of the angel must be cultivated. Soror Meral speaks of 3 levels of love, through which one progresses to this refinement of rapture. The first type of love is the most immediately available and the least in quality of perfection. This is the love of another human being (or some other) on the basis of our psychological projection -- on the basis of what we want them to be or see them as, rather then of how they actually are. The second, more developed type of love is to love another in such a way as to allow them to be who they are without interference. This is a more Thelemic type of love, as it expresses an acknowledgment of others freedom to follow their own True Wills. Unless one can experience and respect the freedom of others, how can one recognize and respect one's own freedom? Also, this type of love is appropriate to develop the love of the angel upon, as one must be passive and receptive to this relationship, giving up oneself to it. One does not make demands of the angel. The third and highest kind of love is pure Bhakti yoga, union of the lover and the loved in Samadhi -- the infinite giving of love under will.

The attainment of Briah transcends language, and so we can't limit ourselves to the previous formulation. We could simply call it Samadhi and drop all this nonsense of talking about "God", as the Buddhists do. On the other hand, insofar as what is meant by the use of the idea of attaining communion with God by the traditional metaphysics is Samadhi, we might as well keep the term.

The next step for the adept of love under will is to achieve mastery of this Samadhi. The adept has achieved Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA, now she must create a relationship with said attainment. The initial experience of Samadhi must be expanded. The Master of the Temple is said to be a master of Samadhi, and so the adept must master said consciousness.

The non-dual consciousness of Samadhi is called by the Tibetan tradition the mind of clear light. Now the clear light does not interestingly enough arise only through advanced meditation. It is mind in its natural state and therefore appears in normal everyday life. These moments are the moment of orgasm, the moment of slipping from dream to dreamless sleep, and the moment of death. It can also occur in moments of shock, when passing out for example. The mind untrained by meditation will not be able to properly utilize these states of consciousness.

The Thelemic adept, experienced in meditation, and having experienced Samadhi during attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of their angel, can more effectively utilize these naturally occurring moments of non-dual consciousness to enhance their identification with Atziluth. This is the chief task of the adept, to actualize the attainment of Atziluth, thereby constituting oneself as a master of the temple of the universe. Various techniques exist to accomplish this. Two of the most powerful are developed by the adept along the paths of Mem and Teth.

The traversing of the path of Mem involves the acquisition of the power of the Sleep of Siloam. In my understanding of the A.'.A.'. system this is analogous to the practice of clear light dream yoga in the Vajrayana system. Crowley describes the state achieved as follows:

"... to him whose physical Needs (of whatsoever kind) are not truly satisfied cometh a physical or lunar Sleep appointed to refresh and recreate by Cleansing and Repose; but on him that is bodily pure the Lord bestoweth a solar or lucid Sleep, wherein move Images of pure Light fashioned by the True Will. And this is called by the Qabalists the Sleep of Shiloam ...". [Crowley, pg. 18]

To continue our Vajrayana analogue, the path of Teth corresponds quite explicitly to the yoga known as Karmamudra, or 'action seal'. That is, sexual intercourse with a real or imagined consort. The mind of clear light then arises at orgasm.

The key distinction between the work of the initiate and the work of the adept is that the adept practices at the stage of Completion with regard to her yoga, whereas the initiate, prior to Samadhi is still in the stage of Generation. The outward rituals practiced by both may be the same.

One last consideration must be addressed in finishing this paper. The previous discussion of the 3 colleges of A.'.A.'. has been to a degree arbitrary. In achieving mastery or Atziluth or whatever one never finds oneself ultimately in other than this reality. This reality is Atziluth. So rather than following some path of graduated enlightenment, positing as a goal to achieve something that one already is, one could also attempt to realize immediately The Reality. This is called the way of sudden enlightenment.

Within Thelema, the path of gradual enlightenment is embodied by the A.'.A.'. sequence of work and attainment, and cognate systems. The way of sudden enlightenment in Thelema is the longstanding tradition of simply taking the oath of the abyss and seeing what happens. Crowley's immediate spiritual successor, the S.'.H.'. Frater Achad, attained in this manner, and he has been imitated ever since. Enough so, that I believe this method (if one can call it that) forms its own school within Thelema. It is perhaps the most ultimately rigorous, non-compromising school, for it accepts no mediation between self and reality. Few of the aspirants to this method have lived up to its challenge.

Ultimately, of course, the distinction between the paths of graduated and sudden enlightenment fades in the realm of actual practice -- though both serve to provide maps for individual practitioners to articulate their spiritual practice to themselves and others. Different practitioners will find different maps appropriate to their practice. Different ways of discussing, describing, and articulating spirituality. Different theories of Magick. This has been mine.

Works Cited

  1. Achad, Frater. The Egyptian Revival. Samuel Weiser. New York, NY. 1973. Pg. 75.
  2. Corbin, Henry. Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn' Arabi. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1969. Pg. 4.
  3. Crowley, Aleister. Liber Aleph vel CXI. Samuel Weiser. New York, NY. 1991. Pg. 18.


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    Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
    by Craig on Wednesday October 11, @04:36AM
    the terror of reality
    down a long hallway of dreams
    we have come to the dead
    end in sight
    the blind spot
    there the green glows
    of time and eternity
    the lost games are played
    and old gypsy moon rolls on
    we have come to this
    many lives before
    like a gold coin
    a god that once knew
    what it was to be human

    what it was to be an ancient
    one, so full of ecstasy
    and the fire in the darkness
    of ages, transformation
    is radical, we will leave
    the terror of reality behind
    and by will return
    to her naked lust
    by the edge of an abyss
    of mind, so the night
    once knew Nuit

    old nirvana of the curse
    the black rose's decent
    speak gibberish of cause
    spew bitter omens of never
    craped creeds in faces
    of fear, Tibetan poets
    drip philosophy of poppys
    no pain no dogma rain
    a thousand demon years pass

    unconscious streeming Nile
    we decipher the dreams past desire
    moving through the purple flames
    tongues speaking of the gods and
    goddesses, speaking of a bird
    like a revolution of language
    speaking of the death of visions
    and the visions of death, the sun
    comes and goes in the dark voice
    sleeping in the awakened words
    understanding the river of light
    in the diamond glyphs of night
    tomorrow is vanishing today

    we have become death in the mirror
    an image on an skull of crystal
    the ghost in the word turning
    around on itself, forms and fades
    on the strange air, blood disolves
    like a wicked tattoo flower
    in the breath that haunts in us
    consciousness is the opiate
    white light is 666
    we are tring to get down
    so we can go up from here

    like the writings unravel like mummys
    and wonder the bornless lone spells
    so far and so stony the deep lit cell
    the giver of impossible images
    lame angels in ritual rags
    wormy fingers clutch the found snake
    object and crumples to dust
    we can recieve the transmissions
    everything is disintegrating
    your absurdity of bliss
    and a tantra yantra suddenly appears
    we are annihilated
    for an infinite instant
    we see the brimstone gate
    and sperms of pure perception

    the old rune dice roll
    above the tiny black fire glyphs
    into the long tunnel passage

    the spirits dance
    deep pits of eyes smolder
    in the forgotten place
    the deathly gates slowley
    move back, the pale rose
    of dawn removes it's emblamatic
    costume of nocturnal whispers
    the dying flames of fallen shadows
    sweep the mists away, fallen idols
    that we are putting on the gray
    gloves of morning, into oblivion
    the flickering arcane figures
    are put away, sleep slithers
    between two imaginary pillars
    the first rays through the archway
    anything could happen, in the vapors
    veils of yesterday drawn down
    scarobs moving in the embers
    phantom Egyptian kings
    coalesing in the abandoned sight
    white feathors of shining ages
    great portals opening
    beyond the cast away robes
    of tradition, she wraps
    herself in moonlight
    as the shrouds of twilight
    drift down once again

    all my mad dreams are wraped in paradise
    somewhere along the ghostly writing
    like the nothing last words i toss off
    past the hell tower of history, the words
    go down dark streets and are swallowed
    in the book of the maw closes and bursts
    into laughting, i pass in evil citys...
    old wise whores of Babalon, openers of
    the way before the endless, linger near
    the forbidden opening in the great gate

    i turn the holy burning pages...vel xxx
    the phantom redhead in lacy black veils passes
    we nod and dream the enchanted shimmering nowheres
    the candle flame finger gutters out...

    Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
    by Tim Maroney on Wednesday October 11, @11:28AM
    Hello Nathan,

    Thank you for inviting me to comment on your article. I think it shows an impressive grasp of cosmological thinking in religion both classic and new, and I think for many people you will help them build significant bridges between different ways of thinking about the subject matter.

    As you know, though, I'm an atheist. I hesitate to say materialist -- I have not seen a modern materialism that takes into account peculiar findings at the quantum level -- or even scientific realist -- because that seems to fall back on the crypto-Platonic lines of reasoning put forth by Karl Popper and even the otherwise sainted Bertrand Russell, in which theories are pre-existent higher-world objects only awaiting discovery and successive approximation. I am also well aware of sound theoretic objections to naive models of scientific progress and scientific totalism -- though I must say I think your implicit rape analogy goes a bit far. To open something for use is not necessarily to violate it. It may enhance it.

    Science is limited. We do not know what science is and so could hardly be said to be practicing it perfectly, but as you say, we do not need a perfectly sound model to practice. There are benefits to the scientific mode of engagement and I do not see the spirit as necessarily any less amenable to scientific engagement than other psychological phenomena are. The spirit is a mode of engagement in itself and so it will always be less than complete when translated into another mode, but the translation may be useful.

    The approach I take could be called psychological nominalism -- psychological in contrast with ontological, and nominalism in contrast with idealism. Yours is more of a cosmological idealism as I see it. I would prefer to start with observable properties of the nervous system as a theoretical basis, rather than to start with a traditional idealist framework built on the hoary concept of the spirit world and its planes.

    What we could be trying to model scientifically is why people have spiritual experiences and how those experiences relate to other experiences and with persistent properties of the nervous system, and with the rest of the biological organism and society. While this does not involve promoting the hierarchical world-schema of a traditional faith to a major theoretical object, it is not demeaning to the visionary experience of that schema in a phenomenological mode.

    You start with the assumption that spirit is paramount over matter: "the pure light is by no means a merely physical phenomenon. It is a spiritual phenomenon. The spiritual includes and encompasses the physical, but not vice versa. [...] The higher levels are ontologically prior to and are 'more real' then the lower levels." Why not start with the opposite assumption, that spirit is a class of phenomena produced by and deeply involved with the apparent biological physical basis of cognitive processes? To postulate the invisible and untouchable should be a last resort, if we have eliminated all else. Perhaps spirit will be just that kind of neutrino, that kind of discoverable ghost, once we have eliminated as explanations all the neuropsychological effects involved in the phenomena of spirit.

    Starting with speculative spirit worlds -- for which personal visionary evidence is no argument against a psychological explanation -- seems to tell us nothing but what the mystics have already discovered, which is a largely contradictory mass of ambiguous and sometimes confused statements. The kind of validity they have is not a scientific kind. You ask us to start with the perennial philosophy. I would have to ask which one, and why that rather than some other? World traditions of the sacred are not as cross-culturally coherent as synthesizers have them. The four worlds are a particular system to which others can only be translated imperfectly. The mystics and other contributing religionists have been, like us, thinking and reflecting creatures in a social matrix, and their own thoughts on these subjects often provide important insights on critical questions for us studying the subject today. This full human intelligence and complex social process has resulted in an enormous diversity. World religion only seemed to hold out a master mythological plan when we had yet to really learn much about it.

    The four worlds and the devolutionary process from pure light to matter, which you posit as a theoretical backbone, seem to be traditional models which omit not only the harder physical and biological sciences but softer sciences like psychology and anthropology. It's not only that they don't start there; there is not really an expressed dialogue with scientific models. Where does that odd thing, the brain, fit into all this? The strings "brain" and "nerv" and "neur" do not appear. What about the existence of religion as a social entity, within which particular persons live and work, and which preserves itself in ways that serve roles different from spiritual development? How could we understand spirit without engaging these basic issues about it? Mystical tradition does not provide good answers, because these issues don't fit well into a traditional mystical framework. Biological facts were not known; society itself resisted and resists open self-description; and mystics are shut up in their caves.

    A solution to a scientific problem about mysticism, such as how breathing practices interact with particular diseases, or which parts of the brain correspond in their activity level with high self-reports of some reproducible trance state, is a solution that it could very much benefit us to know. Theories are all partial approaches, but spirit's approach to itself is also partial. A scientific theory may never itself be spiritual for most people in the way that a visionary experience is. A cosmological diagram or schema such as yours, an attempt to unify all within a coherent and poetic whole, may be beautiful, moving, inspiring, and transformative, but it is also partial in its self-understanding, partial in a way complementary to the incompleteness of scientific theory.

    --
    Tim Maroney tim@maroney.org

    • Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
      by Xnoubis on Saturday October 14, @06:56PM
      > the crypto-Platonic lines of reasoning put forth
      > by Karl Popper and even the otherwise sainted
      > Bertrand Russell, in which theories are
      > pre-existent higher-world objects only awaiting
      > discovery and successive approximation.

      I strongly disagree with this characterization of Popper and Russell. I'm rather surprised that you don't find Popper to be in substantial agreement with your own views. (Of course, this has no importance to the subject at hand.)

      > There are benefits to the scientific mode of
      > engagement and I do not see the spirit as
      > necessarily any less amenable to scientific
      > engagement than other psychological phenomena
      > are.

      There is some difficulty in engaging scientifically with the psyche, in that psychological manifestations are often greatly influenced by the conditions of observation, especially by the expectations and beliefs of the observer and the subject. There may be still greater difficulties in the engagement of the spiritual realm. But I agree that it's worth trying.

      > The spirit is a mode of engagement in itself and
      > so it will always be less than complete when
      > translated into another mode, but the
      > translation may be useful.

      I don't view spirit as a mode of engagement, and am not sure what you mean. I would say that there are modes of engagement that are suited to spiritual knowledge, and that the translation of these into the scientific mode may be useful.

      > I would prefer to start with observable
      > properties of the nervous system as a
      > theoretical basis, rather than to start with a
      > traditional idealist framework built on the
      > hoary concept of the spirit world and its
      > planes.

      I think that a more fruitful way of integrating science with spirit would be to start from spiritual experience and allow it to be a source for hypotheses about the spiritual domain to be investigated scientifically. From the perspective of immediate experience, the nervous system is a concept. It is a concept that has proved its usefulness through its integration with the history of medical observation and experiment, and found to be part of a model that can be tested in a repeatable and precise way. Within the moment, though, it is a only a structure based upon past experience, and can be applied to the moment only upon reflection. I find, and I believe much traditional mystical writing agrees, that what is of interest in an inquiry about spirit does not survive this reflection.

      This is not to defend the usefulness of the Four Worlds model, which is something I have yet to discover personally.

      > You start with the assumption that spirit is
      > paramount over matter: "the pure light is by no
      > means a merely physical phenomenon. It is a
      > spiritual phenomenon. The spiritual includes and
      > encompasses the physical, but not vice versa.
      > [...] The higher levels are ontologically prior
      > to and are 'more real' then the lower levels."

      I would be more reluctant than Nathan to attempt to define the relation between spiritual light and physical light, since physical light is defined within a scientific world view. Part of the experience of spiritual light is that it is "all that is." Relating that to scientific epistemology might be difficult.

      > Why not start with the opposite assumption, that
      > spirit is a class of phenomena produced by and
      > deeply involved with the apparent biological
      > physical basis of cognitive processes?

      I think that it is misleading to consider that spirit is a class of phenomena at all. It might be more correct to say that spirit is noumenal. But the question of its involvement with classes of phenomena remains.

      > Starting with speculative spirit worlds -- for
      > which personal visionary evidence is no argument
      > against a psychological explanation -- seems to
      > tell us nothing but what the mystics have
      > already discovered, which is a largely
      > contradictory mass of ambiguous and sometimes
      > confused statements. The kind of validity they
      > have is not a scientific kind.

      True. About the ambiguity of mystical propositions, the parable of the blind men and the elephant is probably still the best illustration. Since language is not particularly well suited to mysticism, it is very difficult to use it in a way that remains true to the requirements of mysticism and language simultaneously. I'd like to point out Time, Space, and Knowledge by Tarthang Tulku as a shining example of successfully bridging the two worlds, but that was a demonstration of rare ability.

      > You ask us to start with the perennial
      > philosophy. I would have to ask which one, and
      > why that rather than some other? World
      > traditions of the sacred are not as
      > cross-culturally coherent as synthesizers have
      > them.

      Not linguistically coherent, no. The biggest change in my life in the wake of my earliest epiphanies was that I suddenly perceived the coherence between the traditions in a way that had evaded me before. Recognizing the "elephant" within each of them, so to speak. The difficulty in the idea of the perennial philosophy is that it is only observably perennial to those who hold it.

      > World religion only seemed to hold out a master
      > mythological plan when we had yet to really
      > learn much about it.

      I would assert exactly the opposite.

      > Biological facts were not known; society itself
      > resisted and resists open self-description; and
      > mystics are shut up in their caves.

      You're close to making what I consider to be an important point: society and the individuals within it resist open self-examination, and true mystics attempt to overcome that resistance. The nature of the spiritual domain makes it difficult to describe, but that is due to the limitations of description rather than of spirit.


    Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
    by Mordecai Shapiro on Thursday October 12, @11:37AM
    >Right action derives, not from intellectual consideration, but through orientation
    >to one's True Will

    Right action derives, not from intellectual consideration, but from knowing and doing your will. The pretentious terminology of "True Will" is unnecessary and misleading. See: http://www.egroups.com/message/thelema93-l/4624

    >Plato understood real knowledge, therefore, to consist in noesis or direct apprehension
    >of the Forms (as he called them), the divine, underlying principles of reality.
    >Dianoia, or dialectic, the merely discursive reason, does not in itself reach the
    >level of noesis, but it can be used to dissolve false knowledge to pave the way, so to
    >speak, for noesis. The Hindu conception of Jnana Yoga is cognate with Plato's views.
    >Also, the very word Gnosis, its understanding and use within the Western esoteric tradition,
    >derives very directly from Plato's conception of noesis.

    "To fall into a Mordecai-fashion nit-pic-cum-pun" as Tim would put it, or to go on a "tangent off under the pretense of making 'objections', so as to take the conversation in interesting directions" as you yourself have put it, I ask if you can give references for this interpretation. Certainly the words 'gnosis' and 'noesis' derive from different roots. The former is cognate with "know" (and with "cognate" for that matter) and is more an intuitive than intellectual process, while the latter comes from the Greek nous which means Mind.

    • Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
      by Tim Maroney on Thursday October 12, @12:47PM
      Mo wrote, 'Right action derives, not from intellectual consideration, but from knowing and doing your will. The pretentious terminology of "True Will" is unnecessary and misleading.'

      I believe we are in some agreement on this point; see http://www.egroups.com/message/thelema93-l/3506. I wonder, though, why throw away the "True" and not the "knowing and doing"? Do we need to "know" will for it to be efficacious or to produce "right action"? And does it need to "do" anything in order to express itself?


      • Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
        by Mordecai Shapiro on Saturday October 14, @09:19PM

        As is often the case Tim's questions are quite thought-provoking. Does will need knowing and doing? I went to the Book of the Law to try to figure it out, and I must admit I couldn't find any overt justification for the necessity of knowing one's will. However, of sixteen occurrences in the text of will (or wilt or willing) in the volitional sense, four, or fully a quarter, were explicitly connected to doing, and eleven others were involved with some sort of action(s).

        One verse makes the connection particularly emphatically, "If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought." In fact the only verse which does not explicitly connect will with action is "For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect". Perhaps the distinction which makes will "pure" in this context is an absence of action, and once action intrudes itself perfection is no longer possible. But this imperfection is nonetheless will as it actually manifests.




    • Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
      by Nathan W Bjorge on Friday October 13, @11:59AM
      93,

      While the basic argument: that Plato's philosophy influenced gnosticism is, I think, sound, you are correct that my etymology here was entirely bogus.

      93 93/93,
      -Nathan


    • Re: Ruminations on the Theory of Magick
      by Xnoubis on Saturday October 14, @07:01PM
      For those who haven't been following this theme in an earlier thread, not everyone agrees with Mordecai's assessment of "True Will." More on this can be found here.



     
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