Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wrapping Up the "Hexagram Controversy"

I'm an old computer hacker from way back. These days the term usually refers to individuals who work at breaking into digital security systems, but it used to mean anyone who was really into fiddling around with computer programs and seeing what they could make the machine do. I started learning programming at 8 years old, spent my teen years socializing on computer bulletin boards in the 1980's, and even wrote my own BBS software when I was in high school and ran a system based on it for about a year. I suspect that I'm good at my job to this day because my brain developed from an early age around programming concepts, and as a result I can sometimes intuitively see ways of solving problems that other developers will miss.

This mindset extends to my work with magical forms. To an old-style hacker there's a big difference between making something work and making it work optimally. I routinely experiment with variations on magical forms just to see what will happen, and occasionally I wind up making a useful discovery. To date, one of the most significant of these is the operant field, which is the root of what Frater Barrabbas has termed the "hexagram controversy." So far Barrabbas has posted this and this on the subject, and Donald Michael Kraig has weighed in on his blog as well. As Barrabbas notes, to anyone who doesn't use the Golden Dawn forms the crux of this debate is largely irrelevant. When all is said and done what we're quibbling over is whether you trace your hexagrams clockwise or counter-clockwise when performing the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram. Seriously, what could be more insignificant? Believe me, if I hadn't tested this out for myself I wouldn't have believed it could possibly make that much difference either. The thing is, at least for me, it does - and I'm also not the only magician working with Golden Dawn-style forms for whom that appears to be the case.


Will it work this way for everyone? Probably not. There are a million different ways to perform a ritual. Many magicians don't like Golden Dawn forms at all, let alone variations on them. Jason Miller commented on this just today over at RO's blog, and I think that he's right on. Most of the time when magicians find success with a particular method it means that the method is especially suited to their individual talents and inclinations. But the thing about it is that if you never try out a method you'll never know if it might work better for you. When I figured out that my use of the operant field method massively improved my magical work, I looked around the community and saw that nobody was teaching the Lesser rituals that way. I resolved to do so myself, and to be as vocal as possible about how successful I had become making use of them in that manner. That way, rather than seeing the LBRP/LBRH method as the only possible way to work students could see that there were other options worth trying. As an advocate of the method I remain convinced that it will work better for a significant number of people and I highly recommend testing it out if you never have done so. You may encounter the same sort of impressive success with it that I did, and I assume that every magician wants his or her spells to be as effective as possible.

So how would you do that? As far as testing the differences between magical methods goes, what I generally rely on for this sort of work is probability testing. What I want is the highest variation from chance when a spell is cast against a known probability spread out over a reasonably large sample size. I've been working on the idea of testing magical effects with EMF detectors lately as well, though the problems with that at this point are (1) my sample size is still too small and (2) I have yet to establish if there is any connection between the EMF shift from baseline during a conjuration and the resulting real-world probability shift produced by the rite. When comparing two techniques the one with the higher probability shift is ruled the most effective, and for opening a ritual with the operant field versus the banishing field the difference turned out to be quite substantial. My current explanation for why this is the case remains a working hypothesis, that opening a ritual in this way interlocks the microcosm and macrocosm into a unified field in which magical effects can be conjured more easily, but so far I've come across nothing in my work that would suggest a better alternative explanation.

The advantage of this sort of testing is that it is measurable and quantifiable. Confirmation bias can be a huge problem with any sort of subjective magical work. In fact, when you try out a new method it often subjectively feels better or more powerful simply because of its unfamiliarity. When you've done the same ritual the same way a thousand times a neural mechanism called desensitization sets in and the ritual can start to feel a little "old hat." This doesn't make it less effective in measurable real-world terms, but it does alter the subjective perception of "power" while you're working with it. So if a new method works for you at all it's going to feel "stronger" or "better" when you first start using it. That's why probability testing is so important - no matter how a ritual feels to you, the shift it produces is a solid number that can be compared with the shift produced by any other. The main thing you need to look out for when working this way is sample size. If you only try something a couple of times your results can easily be swayed by random variation in the shift. When testing out the operant field method I worked on this for over a year and performed more than a hundred individual trials. Maybe that strikes you as excessive, but nobody has ever claimed that the hacker mentality doesn't include a strong component of obsessiveness.

The best explanation given during the course of this discussion for why the current Golden Dawn orders teach the LBRP/LBRH for both opening and closing rituals was given by commenter Sincerus Renatus over at Barrabbas' first blog entry on the "controversy."

The reason for starting with banishings is to clear the working space from any undwanted Energies, both Elemental and Planetary. The reason for the closing banishings is to close the portals to these forces which, if left opened, could inflate the Sphere of Sensation (Aura / Energetic Body) in an uncontrolled manner.

In Hermetic and Qabalistic Magic, according to the Golden Dawn Tradition, the Sphere of Sensation is infulsed and activated with the forces invoked during a short and set time frame. Even if you "shut down" the forces, this will still leave you with a charged and activated Sphere of Sensation; only the free flow from the realms of the invoked forces are hindered. The logic behind this is that a system will always be changed, even after the force that did the changing has been removed.

The path of initiation is a steady and slow process of gradual unfoldment and development, like in alchemy. If you leave open the doors between the subtle planes and the manifest matter you risk serious strain both to the nervous system and finlating your psyche or ego.

Regarding the effectiveness of spell effects who could be hampered, this is easily and technically solved with the use of Talismans, which are wrapped afterwards. Wrapping a Talisman signals that it is left unaffected by the banishings.

He is right about the talismans - one of the ways to get around the "full shutdown" effect of the closing LBRP/LBRH is to link all of your spells to talismans or other external anchors and wrap them before you banish. The downside of that is there's a lot of extra work involved, and also if you're trying for a really big probability shift you might not want to use it because according to my testing a talisman produces only about 80% of the shift you get from a straight spell. I'm not sure why that is exactly, but that's how the probabilities seem to fall. At the same time, a talisman doesn't draw on your consciousness the way that a straight spell does, so you can often get better results with two talismans than you can with two simultaneously running spells. As the number of concurrent spells goes up, the talismanic method looks better and better. But I'll add that for me at least a talisman constructed using the operant field method works a lot better than one constructed without it.

As far as the rest of the comment goes, I found myself surprised at how much of it I disagree with. The model that I currently am working with has apparently diverged more greatly than I had realized from that used by the various Golden Dawn orders. In composing my most recent articles along those lines one of the things that became clear was that the model I use has a lot more similarities to Patrick Dunn's communications-based model than I had thought when I first encountered it, even though mine includes a role for both energy work and spirits. As I see it, opening an operant field and then tuning it (LBRP - LIRH - GRP or GRH) is like turning on a radio and setting it to a particular frequency. When you want to disconnect the radio you don't have to do anything about the frequency it was set to, you just need to turn it off. And since your consciousness is the radio, the only closing you really need is microcosmic - the LBRP. It sounds like the model described in the comment is more of a straight energy model, where it's like connecting your sphere of consciousness to an electrical circuit that you need to "power down" when you're done in order to keep it from overloading.

So which model is closer to objective reality? Obviously I prefer mine or I wouldn't use it, and as supporting data I can point out that I've worked without closing LBRH's for years without experiencing any sort of "overload." But if you do try working with my method and start to feel stressed or over-energized the solution is simple - do the LBRP/LBRH to shut down whatever is causing you to feel that way. The key is to keep up the experimentation so that your practice can continue to evolve towards full optimization and to keep your mind open to new techniques. As it turns out, the "controversy" isn't much of one after all - just an injunction to keep on experimenting and refining your techniques in as scientific a manner as possible. Also, I would be very interested in hearing about experiences any of you are willing to share regarding working with the operant field model. To a scientist, and an old-school hacker for that matter, you can never have too much data.

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3 comments:

Enki said...

Great stuff, very insightful.
Did you experiment with LBRP/LBRH/LIRH sequence? In terms of communication theory banishing is like clearing channel and eliminating noise and LIRH is like estabilishing connection with Macrocosm. Additonal LBRH reset all previous connections and therefore it may result in creating better, less noisy channel.

Enki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ananael Qaa said...

What you wind up with doing that is something that feels sort of like the Opening by Watchtower: banish micro - banish macro - invoke. In terms of probability shifts that method doesn't work as well for me as the simple LBRP/LIRH.

It's certainly worth experimenting with, though, to see if that method might work better for you. What I recommend to everyone is to set up the best experimental conditions you can given that you're working with magick and try out all the different variations. Then see which one works the best over as many trials as you can manage to record.