“Man’s last and highest parting occurs when, for God’s sake, he takes leave of God.” Meister Eckhart
Magic can be a funny old business. I recently had an interesting car journey with a friend who had tried to read some of the posts on this blog, and was frankly struggling with the idea that I actually believed that Magic worked.
As a reasoned apologist, I started by stating that I thought that the psycho-drama of ritual practice was primarily focused on transforming ourselves. Whatever else Magic may or may not accomplish it aims to transform our own awareness so that we become more effective. By self-willed memetic infection, the change that we seek becomes more likely as we sensitize our perception to themes and opportunities. So far so good, but after this in all honesty my explanations started to get a bit blurry. As I sought to wax lyrical about probability enhancement, chaos theory and the power of placebo, I felt increasingly like some sort of new age snake oil salesman. While these hip sound-bites were pointing towards complex and subtle realities, I felt that I was doing a rather shit job at describing why I pursue the spiritual path that I do.
If for a moment I surrender my self-identification as a magical practitioner and ask “what do I actually find myself doing?” the answer is arguably far more interesting and multi-faceted. Stepping back from some sort of spiky, black-clad magical stereotype, the actual phenomena of my spiritual practice is often far from sorcerous go-getting. Looking back through old magical diaries I see lots of hatha yoga, lots of mindfulness practice, mantra work, crazed speculations and wondering. What I tend to see is an exploration of the bodymind and a testing/re-testing of various hypothesis about what might be going on. So think less black-clad Crowley wannabe, more disheveled Colombo wondering and wandering.
When I first got turned onto the esoteric via the work of Carl Jung, it was his interest in the unconscious and synchronicity that flicked a light switch for me. As my friend and Jung scholar Lloyd Keane might observe, old Carl Gustav was in pursuit of mystery and depth. In reflecting upon my on-going pursuit of Magic as a spiritual path, it is not an end in itself but rather a set of approaches that make the exploration of Mystery possible. While the passivity of faith sought to continually reassure, Magic often aims to provide a Gnostic tool-kit via which the brave (or foolhardy!) may plumb the depths of initiatory possibility.
The fantastic quote from Meister Eckhart highlights that the more we work with something, the more it seems that we need to be willing to let go of how we initially understood it. When we place ourselves on an initiatory journey that seeks to explore the unknown, the spiritual detective must be willing to re-evaluate cherished past orthodoxies that no longer hold as true. This is a high-stakes game in which previous colleagues turn away and in which terms like “heretic” are bandied about. This process of redefinition and conscious surrender is often the work of deep chaos.
Whether we frame such voyages as “crossing the Abyss” or as confronting Apophis, the core process seems similar. We come to a point where language and concepts falter as the Void calls out to our inner ache for liberty. When we push out into the deep waters, what we thought of as “Self” is swallowed up by Leviathan. We are gone, floating in a pregnant darkness where time and direction mean little. Traditions may vary in describing this as an annihilation of Self or in a greater unfolding beyond the egoic, but these are often limited spatial metaphors that we employ in trying to map the numinous.
However these states are induced-be it through sitting meditation, trance dancing or their spontaneous arising, their impermanence means that eventually a more active expression of consciousness will re-emerge. When we emerge from these states of absorption, while the demands and pleasures of our waking life remain, we cannot return unchanged. Our understanding and the favoured techniques that got us started on the path may no longer feel relevant and may in fact run contra to new insights gained.
Magic like anything subtle is by its very nature difficult to articulate and needs to be subject to on-going revision. Magic for me is strongly related to Heidegger’s idea of mood, and it’s hard to articulate the power of its performativity as a distant observer (see HERE). Ariel Glucklich is helpful in trying to capture the idea of “magical consciousness” in his study of magical practitioners in Banaras. For him magic is both relational (between practitioner and client) and it takes place in a liminal state of consciousness in which the micro-analysis of linear causation is suspended. To try to understand Magic outside such an enlivened discourse seems inevitably limited.
Magic by its very nature needs to be immersive and to understand it you need to risk doing it, and in doing it you need to be willing to abandon what you thought it was.
(To check out Part Une of this essay click HERE.)