Recently a student at Arcanorium College brought up the subject of insanity, and what that means for magicians. Are we madder than most? Should a magician losing their grasp on reality try to hold on to normality, or go with the crisis in the hope of reaching a kind of breakthrough?
I could only answer from my own perspective, which seemed largely in line with the others who responded. Insanity, imho, exists as a definition particular to each cultural context. In many ways, going nuts/mental/having a mental illness episode reveals a lack of choice or more accurately, a lack of ability to choose, one’s beliefs and/or behavioural strategies.
In addition to this cognitive confusion, if the individual lacks the ability to interact socially (e.g. lack of self-care, rudeness and aggression, or the opposite social extreme, an inability to talk with people) then the individual is even more likely to become ostracised, which exacerbates the state where they cannot function; the human brain works in connection with others.
Do those who practise magick have an increased likelihood of sliding into this vortex of detached obsession with an abnormal way of acting?
Such a hard question to answer. I can only speak of the people I’ve known over the years. There is, I would say, an increased interest in how the mind works, where they may well be extra validity given to areal occurences, from magicians and those whose worlds contain non-normal experiences as valid parts of their lived experiences.
Indeed, magicians aim to create these non-normal, or areal, events!
Some magickal practices emphasise the solitary retreat as a way of escaping the shackles of consensus reality (ie a non-magical world view). The Abremelin method of living alone for 6 months in seclusion in order to reach a state of mind where angels appear, or the extreme self-engineering by using complex rites of Thelema which seeks the same end, result in the magician’s world changing enough to allow these visions of another higher intelligence to become real enough to provide inspirational spiritual education.
It could be said that many artists or writers also follow a not dissimilar path, of solitary self-observance, in order to enter their own worlds of make believe, which are nevertheless real enough to demand exploration and materialisation through various media.
In that sense then the magician tries to induce a deliberate condition of what some would regard as ‘madness’ (although not usually for much more than a temporary visit; for most magickal acts that is sufficient).
However, in order to function in the world, a magician must retain one foot firmly in the consensus reality of the normal; living between the worlds, “in the world yet not of it” as the oft used phrase goes.
Going back to the context of our culturally normative reading of ‘madness’… Many magickal practices cultivate awareness of other people, the skills of being able to critique objectively one’s own habits and behavioural activities, and increase social interaction & character development to enable a pleasant and creative daily existence. Chaos Magick by its very nature should enhance these attributes, as it explicitly encourages the ability to enter into the dialect of other’s reality tunnels without scorn, with the basic concept that by doing so one does not have to give up on one’s own, thus (in an ideal scenario) allowing for meaningful and effective communication and collaboration with those who on the face of it may hold different world views from oneself.
As with any category of people, there will inevitably be those of us who experience an episode of mental illness whilst we include magickal or ritual works as a part of our lives. Sometimes the distinction between mental illness and magickal belief depends very much on the eye of the beholder. Other times, the descent into madness has clearer adverse effects; an individual suffering from PTSD, for example, would do well to desist from any magickal belief system which encourages paranoiac or persecution complexes, such as demonology or matyr paradigms. Without the sense of humour and self-deprecating mockery essential to flirting playfully with these types of belief, the individual sinks rapidly from rationality, losing the empathy so necessary for perceiving the influence of one’s actions on others.
For this reason, I would encourage any magician (and anyone else too!) who wishes to maintain the best chance of avoiding mental health problems, to keep their organism in a healthy and robust state, in order to provide the best environment for the emergent bodymind thought constructs. Sleep, eat, drink, exercise, socialise, get out in the open air, take up a bodywork discipline (yoga, a martial art, or a physical fitness training regime such as crossfit), give yourself every chance of having the resilience you may well need when facing the more bizarre denizens of the abyss.
Banishing before and after clearly focussed magickal activity helps to keep this somewhat non-sane (in our shared mundane world of rationality!) activity outside the realm of the normal, allowing an attitude of non-attachment/non-disinterest to thrive. Laughing at one’s zany wacky beliefs is also a healthy habit to adopt.
None of these things will guarantee the ability to pass as ‘normal’, and for most of us that is not the issue. I would suggest though, that by maintaining a degree of social integration and self care skills, we do allow ourselves the best chance to manifest our magickal desires in a way mutually symbiotic to our precious mundane realities, which in the end is the proving ground of our magickal works.
Indulge the madness of the divine possession state, but retain an ability to step away from the wand; a magician controls the external universe, yes, but the magician who wishes to stay an integrated member of society (whichever part of their local behavioural smorgasbord they chose as tribe!) controls what happens inside their head too.