Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on Magical Models and Ethics

For today I have a couple of thoughts on two blog articles that I recently came across.

On Strategic Sorcery, Jason Miller has an article up discussing several different models of magick. The three main models that practitioners generally adopt are (1) magick is accomplished via energy work, (2) magick is accomplished via some sort of mental psychic power, and (3) magick is accomplished by spirits external to the magician. Several books have been published in the last few years extolling the virtues of the classical grimoires, and a number of practitioners following the various grimoire systems have started putting forth (3) as a dogmatic position that implies (1) and (2) are not only incorrect, but irrelevant. However, Jason points out that the spirits summoned by the grimoire-only folks often do teach them techniques that are curiously similar to what the rest of us might call energy work, and furthermore that there are plenty of magical techniques in the old grimoires that rely upon sympathetic magick and similar methods rather than calling upon spirits.

Like Jason, I see the dogmatism of the spirit-only approach as pretty silly. In my experience all three models have a role in magick. Individual magicians can cast spells without summoning spirits, and when they do those spells are generally a combination of (1) and (2) - energy work provides the force and mental concentration provides the direction, much like a vector quantity in physics. Spirits external to the magician also can play a role when they are summoned as part of a ritual, and they are more than just internal mental constructs. If this were not the case, you could summon up fictional entities like creatures from the Lovecraftian mythos and still get decent practical results. In the Pseudonomicon, the book that got a lot chaos magicians working with Lovecraft's entities, Phil Hine essentially admits that this is not the case, describing the Great Old Ones as "devoid of sorcerous potential." He goes on to explain that he believes this to be because the Great Old Ones are "unconcerned with humanity" but to me the simpler explanation is that they are fictional. They simply do not exist in macrocosmic reality, and as a result have no power to act within it. On the other hand, most if not all of the traditional spirits do and therefore rituals involving them are objectively effective.

Jason goes on to say that practitioners should not be adopting magical models that limit their practices, and while I agree to a point I also think that when combined with empirical observations magical models can be helpful precisely because they help to define the limits of what we as magicians can or cannot do. The key is that pesky "empirical observation" component. A model that is adopted simply because it seems logical is not of much use, and as in any other science to treat a model as dogma gets in the way of developing an accurate understanding of reality. If we ever find ourselves dismissing evidence because it doesn't fit our model that's a pretty good sign that the model needs to be revised to fit the new data, and if we are to be effective magical practitioners we always need to be on the lookout for this tendency in our own work. As Thomas Kuhn outlines in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions this tendency is present in the physical sciences as well, even though in physics empirical observations are much more clear-cut than they are in magick. It is thus unsurprising that in our own field it can be an even bigger problem.

On The Experiments of Magicians, Taylor Ellwood has an article up discussing magical ethics and the lack of discussion on the subject in much of the published literature. The Wiccan "Threefold Law" is the most common ethical proscription that gets written about, but in fact as any good ceremonialist should realize the Threefold Law is a technical feature of the Wiccan magical system rather than an ethical one. When you invoke magical energy before casting it at your target it is just about inevitable that some of it will "stick" and you will experience some portion of whatever you intended for your target. If you evoke the energy into a containment structure instead this phenomenon is completely neutralized and the target will receive all of the energy of the spell. It should be clear that fixing this technical glitch in no way changes the ethical characteristics of a given spell.

One of the reasons that I think there is so little discussion of ethics among ceremonial magicians is quite simple - the ethical considerations are obvious. Magick is a technology like any other, not some special class of phenomena that requires its own set of rules. Magical ethics are therefore exactly the same as regular ethics. If accomplishing something by non-magical means is unethical, the same should be true of accomplishing it by magical means. Full stop. Magick is therefore ethical if it is used in a conventionally ethical manner, just like physics or biology or economics. The philosophical question of which criteria we should use to judge the best system of ethics remains, but this is not a question that is unique to magick. Personally I follow a Thelemic and fairly utilitarian ethic in my own magical work, just like I do with everything else.

UPDATE: Yesterday Rufus Opus presented his own "Spirit Model" of magick in response to this article and Jason's. Interesting stuff. Jason has also posted a second article on this subject clarifying his position on the use of magical models.

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14 comments:

Dohmnaill said...

A great post.

1) "When you invoke magical energy before casting it at your target it is just about inevitable that some of it will "stick" and you will experience some portion of whatever you intended for your target."

-great point.

I always figure that every task has some risk if you are doing it wrong... baking a pie can get you a burn unless you use oven mitts. Sadly, common sense is not common.

In my opinion and experience, many "non-ceremonial magicians" tend to be a bit lax on the planning side... myself included. I have "sampled" things due to poor planning or impulsive actions.

2) "A model that is adopted simply because it seems logical is not of much use..."

- another great point.

As I commented in Jason's post, I have done this. I allowed my skepticism to overwhelm my observation.

Not the first time that I allowed a particular understanding that was helpful in one context to become a dominant paradigm.

Gordon_Finn said...

>>However, Jason points out that the spirits summoned by the grimoire-only folks often do teach them techniques that are curiously similar to what the rest of us might call energy work, and furthermore that there are plenty of magical techniques in the old grimoires that rely upon sympathetic magick and similar methods rather than calling upon spirits.

What the dogmatic position for the spirit model also talks of is about where do things originate from and working on a more underlying control for focus.

It might be better if we started calling them 'models of manifestation' than 'models of magick'. It'd be more accurate because then, you'd also have the more material aspects of working manifestations, like chemistry, pharmacology, herbalism, potions, metallurgy, etc. When using material magick, it's not just the higher levels forces invoked to cause a material change. It's the material forces worked with, too.

>>In the Pseudonomicon, the book that got a lot chaos magicians working with Lovecraft's entities, Phil Hine essentially admits that this is not the case, describing the Great Old Ones as "devoid of sorcerous potential." He goes on to explain that he believes this to be because the Great Old Ones are "unconcerned with humanity" but to me the simpler explanation is that they are fictional.

I asked in the chaos forum at occultcorpus something similar to this. If fictional characters are at best servitors, wouldn't you still see their effects as they're presented in fiction and with their speed, if you believed enough in them. One poster said that they felt the ficticious ones actually invoked real forces, but with a different appearance. They used Buffy as an example and said you'd probably call up Kali with Buffy's look, since they are of similar bents.

I've spoken with spirits, such as Octiothus, who told me that they are really a trait that spirits have. I asked how and it said everything is spirit. This is consistent with other 'spirits' I've called up and talked with, such as the spirits of inanimate objects, chakras, etc. and had a regular back and forth conversation with them, like I was speaking with a spirit, like Bune or Raphael or Metatron.

>>On The Experiments of Magicians, Taylor Ellwood has an article up discussing magical ethics and the lack of discussion on the subject in much of the published literature.

Aside from the law of reciprocity and 'you reep what you sow', what else is there to say about magick and ethics? A lot of magick is taking responsibilty for what you do and don't do. You make your bed and you have to lie in it.

Even when it comes to love/lust spells, it's no different. But, if people were really concerned with not mind controlling another, they shouldn't shave, bath, dress well, be polite, etc. After spending enough time with them, if you don't stick around for the tough times and when they're not at their best, you're seen as a pig-headed jerk that's beneath them.

It's all still mind control. You are just able to see it. If people could see the love and lust spells they put on each other or on themselves (and even in the form of just thinking things to them and the other person 'catching it', like a virus), it'd be no different than bathing and dressing well. You'd be expected to take more responsibility because you know it's there or should know. Many object because the target doesn't know, but the problem is that a part (and at times many parts) know this has been done and goes along with it.

And a lot of forces used in magick have nothing to do with ethics, given that a lot of ethics are social constructs of limited perspectives.

Ananael Qaa said...

What the dogmatic position for the spirit model also talks of is about where do things originate from and working on a more underlying control for focus.

I guess my point (and, I think, Jason's as well) is that most of us who practice know from experience that things like energy work are quite effective. Maybe all magick does come from spirits, but I'm a spirit too that happens to reside in a physical body and I don't see any reason why the spirit model would exclude my using my own power.

It might be better if we started calling them 'models of manifestation' than 'models of magick'.

Fair enough. Magick is certainly a broader discipline that is not limited to thaumaturgy.

One poster said that they felt the ficticious ones actually invoked real forces, but with a different appearance. They used Buffy as an example and said you'd probably call up Kali with Buffy's look, since they are of similar bents.

Well, maybe so, but why would you? It seems to me that going at a force using a fictionalized representation of its nature is one more step removed than calling on the force itself. And that also doesn't explain why Phil Hine couldn't use the Lovecraftian entities for practical work even though he's supposed to be the big expert on them in the chaos magick field.

Even when it comes to love/lust spells, it's no different. But, if people were really concerned with not mind controlling another, they shouldn't shave, bath, dress well, be polite, etc.

As I see it casting a love spell on yourself to bring a suitable partner into your life is akin to bathing, dressing well, and so forth. What's more like mind control is casting a love spell on a specific person who presumably doesn't love you (because if they did you wouldn't need the spell). From a Thelemic perspective, I see the former as completely reasonable and the latter as unethical. There is a sigificant difference between the two methods.

And a lot of forces used in magick have nothing to do with ethics, given that a lot of ethics are social constructs of limited perspectives.

In a sense, because magick operates outside the bounds of social constraints I think you could make the case that magical ethics represents one of the purest manifestations of philosophical ethical understanding, unbound by conventions and traditions that serve no legitimate or reasonable purpose. As a Thelemite, when I talk about ethics I am referring to how well our individual choices correspond with our personal philosophies of right action, not the social constraints that often conflict with our ability to act along those lines.

Gordon_Finn said...

>>Maybe all magick does come from spirits, but I'm a spirit too that happens to reside in a physical body and I don't see any reason why the spirit model would exclude my using my own power.

What the spirit model is talking about is that it 'starts' with spirits and uses that as a focal point. Claims that the starting point is the only point is a misappropriation of the spirit model.

>>Well, maybe so, but why would you? It seems to me that going at a force using a fictionalized representation of its nature is one more step removed than calling on the force itself.

In the modern age, people are more removed from the actual stories of spirits, whether you're more the 'back to nature' type or a clubber. Using pop culture symbols are more accessible to many and with TV and movies, those symbols are more easily 'summoned' for feelings and thoughts and repetitions to reenforce the forces summoned, especially with things transfered into digital formats. There's very little degredation of the 'source material' and they might feel a stronger connection to the pop cultural stuff of today than stories of yesteryear, especially with the video and audio.

>>And that also doesn't explain why Phil Hine couldn't use the Lovecraftian entities for practical work even though he's supposed to be the big expert on them in the chaos magick field.

From the sound of it, it's because he didn't have enough faith in them. For starters, if it's true he felt that way of the old ones, he's not gonna be bringing the forces they invoke when properly believed in because he doesn't believe in them.

Gordon_Finn said...

>>From a Thelemic perspective, I see the former as completely reasonable and the latter as unethical. There is a sigificant difference between the two methods.

When just meeting face-to-face and talking, when one is more interested in the other, their words have a higher level existence that's being broadcasted and absorbed by the receiver, as is their overall aura. The variations over time (both long and short time spans), as well as the higher level forces of situations they are involved in or not in is just more of the same. There is always gonna be the influence of desire in the causal sphere. And force of will can manifest situations that make one person go into the arms of the other. The love/lust spell might be stretched out over a longer period of time and manifest as events in the other person's life and doesn't nudge them in the other person's direction so immediately (because they are dictating that this happens, as they feel the emotions), but it's still a love spell that's no less effective. It just looks differently and can have varying lengths of time for effect. It's still a love/lust spell.

Just because you're aware that you're imposing your will on another doesn't mean the mechanics are changing. It doesn't mean that you aren't trying to change their mind on a higher level of reality. Love/lust spells are attraction link formers. The occult stuff of a love/lust spell is fundamentally no different than the occult stuff of the link that forms from flowers and nice talking.

And love and lust are 2 emotions that are of no greater or lesser importance than any other emotion and plenty of people have no problems redirections other emotions in different directions. There's nothing wrong with directing someone's love your way. Just because you form the link doesn't make them a robot.

Using love and lust spells for expressing love and lust fulfills the desires of both parties. Directing someone's love and lust your way and using them as a punching bag is no different than using magick to send them into the path of a car and they get their legs broken. Just because love or lust are the emotions used doesn't make it more or less 'evil' or unethical.

And the desire to fulfill their love and lust wouldn't override anything else, if it wasn't a primary concern for them. When the link is formed with love and lust spells, it tells both the body and the spirit that what they are looking for that takes such a long time to develop (the definition of long is determined by how much love and lust you're looking for and what types) is right there for them. Knowing that such a strong source of love and lust is right there waiting for them to just step up to the plate makes them say 'okay, there is what I've been searching for, so let's go for it.

One of the reasons love and lust spells work so well is because they have really zero basis in the area of just using people for their own selfish and humiliating drives. It's more powerful than that, it's more 'pure'. It just happens to go along side with more base stuff because people add more base stuff to it, other people see the more base stuff and just focus on that.

Love and lust spells also have other applications than actually getting into a relationship with someone else. Love and even lust have their place in regulating body systems, as well as releasing burdens that make people do bad things to themselves, so they can live a better life. This is what people do to themselves when they are involved in love spells, they just don't know this is going on.

Love and lust spells are pretty much what you use when wanting to bring someone into your life that could fulfill your desires. If they weren't interested, they wouldn't come into your life.

Ananael Qaa said...

There's very little degredation of the 'source material' and they might feel a stronger connection to the pop cultural stuff of today than stories of yesteryear, especially with the video and audio.

I totally don't buy this, at least for me and most of the magicians that I've worked with over the years. I'm not saying that it's necessarily impossible that somebody's psychology could work this way, but I honestly can't wrap my mind around it. There is a sense of depth and awe in working with the traditional spirits that I find totally lacking in pop culture symbols. Furthermore, I'd think you would run the risk of semantic confusion if you are trying to, say, equate Buffy and Kali. Even though the two share some characteristics there are aspects of the Buffy character that bear no resemblance to those of Kali and vice versa.

From the sound of it, it's because he didn't have enough faith in them.

I don't buy this either. Belief is not the end-all, be-all of magick. If it were, schizophrenics who wholeheartedly believe that they have magical abilities would be the most powerful sorcerors in the world. They are not. In fact, most of them can't do anything at all.

Just because you're aware that you're imposing your will on another doesn't mean the mechanics are changing. It doesn't mean that you aren't trying to change their mind on a higher level of reality.

From a Thelemic perspective, though, I do think the ethical considerations are different. Rather than trying to interfere with the will of another specific person, a general love spell instead removes barriers and obstacles that separate you from someone else whose will has the same vector as yours. It has the additional advantage that it's easier, since most individual wills are at least to a degree resistant to manipulation by magical means.

Dohmnaill said...

Regarding belief and methods:

Obviously, belief alone is not sufficient; otherwise, the aforementioned schizophrenics would be the most powerful. That being said, there are a few strong psychics here and there that straddle an interesting line between the two extremes.

While I tend to lean on the psychological model (I am a big fan of the magician's reflection), as well as completely digging the chaos style, I would agree that making things up as you go is not always the most effective.

Belief doesn't just happen, regardless of how adept you are at switching paradigms. It is a devout and often personal connection helps focus that belief into results.

I would not expect to have the best results just because I used a traditional ritual/spirit/godform/etc... especially if it was one that I had no personal or cultural experience/knowledge/emotion to link to it. As a Neopagan, I should no ability to connect with the traditional "Solomonic" spirits.

I have had better than acceptable results with intuitively "created" spirits. This is to say that rather than choose a specific pre-existing pop cultural or traditional figure, I attempt to intuit/channel a figure that I did not previously know about. I anchor a specific gesture/sigil/etc to the figure that will contain the energy.

By using this method, I have worked with Ruam and Malphas... two spirits from the goetia. I often attempt to "google" names or words I receive. To be completely honest, most don't return anything.

Any direct attempt to work with them by more traditional means has failed.

I am completely undecided on what model this method fits.

Dohmnaill said...

Regarding ethics:

This is always a sticky subject. I believe morals to be situational and societal, while ethics are your own internal rules - those you never break.

I don't believe that subtle influence in any form is bad. This includes both personal grooming and presentation; Body language; magickal removal of barriers; specific tone of voice, intentional word choice, and repetition; profiting from intuition, precognition, or presentiment; as well as what advertising considers "soft sell" - Part of being a member of society is using and gathering social capitol.

I cannot endorse the use of overpowering brute force as a means to an end. Sadly, as Noam Chomsky reminds us "Violence works." You might be able to force a love spell on someone, but I doubt it would have a lasting reciprocal nature. A spell to gain a promotion might get you promoted to a level of incompetence, where you end up getting fired.

Gordon_Finn said...

>>I don't buy this either. Belief is not the end-all, be-all of magick. If it were, schizophrenics who wholeheartedly believe that they have magical abilities would be the most powerful sorcerors in the world. They are not. In fact, most of them can't do anything at all.

They would be, if they'd be able to focus. The strength of the belief by a mundane only goes so high. That's why that even if they don't beleive in magick, they still run the risk of being effected by it.

When it comes to constructs like this, even a trained chaos magickian has to supply a certain level of belief in it. If he doesn't believe both consciously and unconsciously, how is it gonna have any real life. It might have been 'summoned' by thinking of them, but then because he doesn't think they're gonna do anything, it'd either go away or wander aimlessly for a while till it gets scooped up and eaten by something else.

>>Rather than trying to interfere with the will of another specific person, a general love spell instead removes barriers and obstacles that separate you from someone else whose will has the same vector as yours. It has the additional advantage that it's easier, since most individual wills are at least to a degree resistant to manipulation by magical means.

If this is true, how would you explain odd couplings showing up?

Ananael Qaa said...

Obviously, belief alone is not sufficient; otherwise, the aforementioned schizophrenics would be the most powerful. That being said, there are a few strong psychics here and there that straddle an interesting line between the two extremes.

Yes, because there are other variables involved. See my take on this here. Belief isn't even one of the key variables, though I classify disbelief as a form of Resistance.

When it comes to constructs like this, even a trained chaos magickian has to supply a certain level of belief in it.

While you're right that some degree of belief is a necessity for magick, I classify disbelief as Resistance because I have found that its role is better understood as a potential negative that can getting in the way of magical operations. Once you believe in something I seriously doubt that you can "believe in it more" in order to make your spells work better. I can at least say that's never worked for me.

I can't speak for Phil Hine, obviously, but in The Pseudonomicon he certainly writes as though he believes in the reality of the Lovecraftian entities, even going so far as to offer an alternative explanation for their lack of potential for practical magick that doesn't threaten their validity as real entities. I see no reason to suspect that he may not have believed what he was writing and every reason to suspect that the Great Old Ones are simply powerless outside the realm of imagination.

If this is true, how would you explain odd couplings showing up?

Well, speaking more as a Thelemite than as a magical technician I believe in the reality of will as a force in the universe. The individual will can be thought of as a vector quantity that is moving in a certain direction with a specific amount of force. What makes a good relationship is a fairly specific set of circumstances that most people naturally desire.

That means the odds of someone you might come into contact with during the course of your daily life being a suitable partner are actually pretty good. So if you magically break down the situational obstacles around you you're likely to be successful at finding love - though not necessarily with the person you would immediately expect.

Gordon_Finn said...

>> Once you believe in something I seriously doubt that you can "believe in it more" in order to make your spells work better. I can at least say that's never worked for me.

No, it's true. Once you believe, you believe. But, the issue is how much of yourself can you back up the belief. It's like going from mundane to trained to be focused doing magick. It takes time to get more of yourself to back the belief up.

el oso said...

Anyone have comments regarding Donald Tyson's directional arrangement of Enochian Tablets ? and/or Vincent Bridges' "Complete Enochian Handbook" as found at:

http://library.syncleus.com/OldEnochian/enochian%20handbook%20by%20Vincent%20Bridges%20(graphics).htm

Gordon_Finn said...

>>Jason has also posted a second article on this subject clarifying his position on the use of magical models.

I couldn't help but bust a gut laughing at the insistence of a particular way 'magick work bests' for the masses. I haven't read it, but I can tell you this. If it's specific, it's crap, if it's general, it's not a model. It's more reminescent of basic logic.

I looked at the amazon page of The Sorcerer's Secrets, I suppose this is the book in question to the blog entry. On that page, there's a list of 6 things in the book and he's gonna teach you to think, then think, and think again, think, manipulate people and think one more time.

I'll pass on being charged to think.

Ananael Qaa said...

Anyone have comments regarding Donald Tyson's directional arrangement of Enochian Tablets?

Off topic, but what the heck - Tyson Enochian is one of my big pet peeves in magick.

Tyson's arrangement is junk. It doesn't work. I experimented with it and several other arrangements for over a year and the results were inferior to both the Golden Dawn and Tabula Recensa arrangements. Recensa worked best, so that's the one I use.

Tyson did a nice edition of Agrippa years ago but when he writes about Enochian he brings in so many of his own ideas that you really can't call it the original Dee system even though that's what he bills it as. And a lot of those ideas are, quite frankly, ridiculous.