Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion"

Want to know how modern magicians develop their personalized magical systems? Read this paper - "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion" by Alfred Vitale. It's long and difficult in spots if you're not used to academic writing, but it might just completely transform your perspective. It certainly clarified mine.

Alfred is an OTO brother and a member of the Association for the Study of Esotericism. He presented this paper at the first ASE conference and I was so impressed that I cited and summarized the basic model in my book. It is the most accurate analysis of the process I go through when I develop rituals that I have ever seen.

Alfred identifies six distict stages in the development and dissemination of a personal magical system. I really can't do his paper justice in a few words, but here is a basic summary of the model.
  • 1. Identification of Pure Esoteric Sets. This stage consists of the study of existing spiritual traditions. Generally speaking, spiritual traditions that have been practiced for a long time are still with us because their methods for transforming consciousness work. All magical operations depend on the manipulation of consciousness in order to produce realization and changes in the objective world.
  • 2. Deconstruction into Functional Parts. This stage consists of separating the tradition as a whole into discrete components, which may be informative (such as correspondences), practical (such as ritual techniques), or theurgic (such as a pantheon of deities). In this way, spiritual traditions may be treated as collections of technological systems with similar components.
  • 3. Extrication of Functional Parts from System. This stage consists of separating a component identified in stage 2 from the tradition as a whole explored in stage 1.
  • 4. Re-Integration of Parts into a Unique, Individualized System. This stage consists of combining the component extricated in stage 3 with the magician's overall practice according to similarities between components identified in stage 2. The system is then tested with the new component in place to determine its effectiveness, and is either accepted or rejected on the basis of efficacy as defined by the magician.
  • 5. Proselytization of System to Gain Adherents. While magicians rarely proselytize in the same way as conservative religious groups, most want to explain their magical systems and teach them to others. Currently, this is most commonly done through the medium of published magical texts, though classes and online discussions represent other vectors of transmission. As a matter of fact, I'm doing it right now.
  • 6. Data Integrity. This is the stage at while dynamic spiritual systems slowly become dead traditions, giving way to orthodoxy. A living tradition loops through the first five stages over and over again, integrating new data as it gains adherents who do their own research and then report back. However, it is a human tendency to identify with ideas and once adherents become attached to the methods of the system they tend to resist changes to it.
This model is, simply put, amazing. The stages match those used in my personal work and in that of just about every effective ritual magician that I have ever known. Read the paper, think about it, and if you're so inclined let me know if the model matches elements of your own work.

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