Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thoughts on Rob's Laws of Magick

A while back Rob put up a post on the laws, rules, and rights of magick. As his article is 33 pages in PDF format a commentary on the entire thing is going to be lengthier than I would like, so I'm going to break it up into three parts. This first one consists of my comments on Rob's first section, the Laws of Magick. I also recently posted another article dealing with the types of magical links, which is a more detailed treatment of the Laws of Opposites, Contagion, and Similarity.

The Law of Attraction

The law of attraction is stated as “like attracts like”, and sometimes with the corollary “and dissimilar things repel,” which, as we’ll discuss, is redundant.

This law is the basis of New Thought and was recently repackaged and popularized as "The Secret." Rob brings up several excellent points about the Law of Attraction that I haven't seen elsewhere. He notes two key nuances which help to explain why this law does not work as well as many of its adherents claim - that "like attracts like" doesn't mean "like attracts same" and that it is not necessarily correct to think that the more similarities two things share the stronger their attraction will be. These nuances make a lot of sense and reflect a more sophisticated understanding of the law than one usually finds in popular expositions of it.

There's another point regarding the Law of Attraction, and in fact most other magical laws, that needs to be added here. Magical laws are statistical, not deterministic. In other words, similar things are more likely to attract each other than dissimilar things, but that doesn't mean dissimilar things will never be attracted to each other. Furthermore, in my experience some magicians have the ability to produce stronger probability shifts than others. This does not seem to be related to the content of their thoughts but rather some physical, neurological, and/or bioenergetic factor.

Hermetic Law

The Hermetic Law is typically simplified to ‘as above, so below’, and is sometimes stated as “as on Earth so in heaven”. The law is fully stated as ‘that which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above’, which better explains it.

Rob's description of this law is basically correct, in that it implies the laws under which magick operates are part of the same consistent system. However, what he calls "environmental factors" are much more significant than some of his examples suggest. I don't see, for example, how this law implies that gravity always operates in the dream realm. Dreaming and physical reality are similar from a microcosmic perspective in terms of how the information is being processed, but dreams are not necessarily bound by any of the macrocosmic laws of physics because they essentially consist of pure thought. Also, it is not a "failure" of "as above so below" to observe that while black holes exist in the universe they don't exist in our bodies. They do exist in our minds - that is, we can comprehend the idea of them. Microcosm is thought and macrocosm is matter, so in fact black holes do exist in both realms.

Law of Reversals

The Law of Reversals states that ‘anything that can be done can be undone, or can be done in reverse’.

While accurate in a literal sense, from a practical standpoint this law is particularly susceptible to probability gradients - that is, the physical principle of entropy. It is much easier statistically to wreck a house than it is to put it back together because wrecking the house is following the path of least resistance along the entropy gradient while putting it back together is moving against it. This is also true of spells, though the point that there is no such thing as a spell that cannot be undone or defended against is a good one that all magicians should keep in mind.

Law of Opposites

The Law of Opposites states that ‘for everything that exists there is also an opposite thing’.

In my article on magical links I've already covered the limitations of this law in terms of describing physical reality. It is an important principle to understand in terms of mystical realization, in that opposites are semantically connected. For example, if you define "Good" whatever is "Not-Good" can be though of as "Evil" and vice-versa. Transcending and unifying such seemingly opposite ideas is part of the internal alchemy of the magical path. However, to state that men and women or fire and water are "opposites" in the same manner as abstract ideas can be is not correct in any physical sense.

Law of Contagion

The Law of Contagion is one of Frazer’s two laws. Frazer never gives an exact definition of the law, but it is sometimes surmised as ‘any two objects that have been in contact with each other will continue to act upon each other after contact is broken’. The law is better stated as ‘any two things which have been in contact with each other will continue to remain in contact with each other indefinitely, or until both things are destroyed.’

Rob's description of this law is mingled a bit with the next law, the Law of Similarity. Contagion is mediated by direct contact, though in the case of line of sight it can be mediated by contact with photons or particles that have interacted with the target. This is because the law is mediated by a known physical principle - quantum entanglement. If you're communicating over the phone or over the Internet, or using a visualization of a person that's not contagion you're exploiting but rather similarity.

While it is true that you can use previous contact with someone as a contagion link even if some time has passed, it is also important to understand that particle entanglement has a limited lifespan. This is a phenomenon that was discovered only a few years ago called "entanglement sudden death." This observation implies that if too much time has passed between your contact and casting the spell you won't be able to send it via contagion, though Of course the memory of the person can still be used to visualize an effective similarity link. This exact interval is hard to predict, and depends on a lot of other factors, so you should use recent contagion links if you have the ability to do so.

Law of Similarity

The Law of Similarity is Frazer’s other law, and Frazer outright states this law, which is ‘like produces like’.

As Rob notes the Law of Similarity has much in common with the Law of Attraction. If two objects share a similar property that property can be used as a link to transmit a spell. While the Law of Attraction does not always adhere to the principle that the more properties two things have in common the stronger the attraction will be the Law of Similarity does seem to follow this principle. An photograph or strong visualization of the spell's target is the best sort of similarity link.

You can also combine similarity and contagion links. The apocryphal voodoo doll, for example, should be designed to look like the target (similarity) and also incorporate hair, fingernail clippings, or perhaps fabric from an article of clothing that the target wore (contagion).

Law of Repeatable Achievements

The Law of Repeatable Achievements states that ‘any event or phenomena which has occurred can be reproduced so long as all relevant variables are also reproduced.’ The Law also states that ‘If a very specific variable is used in order for the original event or phenomena to occur, that variable may be changed and the event will still be reproduced so long as the new value meets all of the same relevant conditions of the old value’.

While this law holds if all the variables of an action can be duplicated, it is countered by the idea that "you can't step in the same river twice." That is, variables are in a constant state of flux and a particular achievement will only be repeatable so long as none of the relevant variables change. As I noted in another previous post, using the resurrection of Jesus is not a very good example. Even if we regard the entire Gospel account as accurate, there's no "law of magick" that indicates he couldn't have been a unique creation, and most Christians in fact do believe that. So one of the variables necessary for the resurrection might have been "being Jesus" in which case he would be the only person able to resurrect himself. I don't necessarily believe that personally, but the existence of this law does not mean the idea should be rejected out of hand.

Adept's Law

‘an adept is able to do whatever they wish so long as it is within their own power to do so.’

I've never heard this one stated as such, but it's self-evident, isn't it? Not just for Adepts, but for everyone. Any person is capable of doing whatever they want so long as it's within their power to do it. Many such things are bad ideas in that they lead to negative consequences, but those courses of action can still be chosen. "Every man and every woman is a star." I don't see how Adeptship changes that, aside from making one's power that much greater.

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Pallas Renatus said...

I don't disagree on any particular point, though I get the feeling the "Adept's Law" was referring more to getting in your own way than anything external. We might have all the power and opportunity in the world to make a particular thing happen, but if we can't get over our own self-limiting patterning/neuroses/bullshit, we can still fail spectacularly.

With any luck, an Adept will have cut through a lot of this, get in their own way far less often, and be able to bring about the results they want more often.

Ananael Qaa said...

Maybe that's the point, then. It just seems to me that when stated as a "law" it creates something of a tautology - stating that you can do whatever you have the power to do, when whatever you have the power to do is defined as what you can do. An Adept may have no reason to limit him or herself, but when you get right down to it neither does anybody else.

Rob said...

I probably didn't express the Adept's Law very well. I often find myself using it a lot though. It's meant to render appeals to authority, or the idea that someone is not allowed to do something or shouldn't do something mute.

Most commonly I find it useful as a counter to, "You can't do that because my/our high priestess says you can't," or "because [insert favorite author here] says you shouldn't."

It also works as a counter to purely invented moral arguments against certain magical practices. Balthazar's recent argument against eclectic practice because it rapes cultural heritage is a perfect example of one of these arguments which is nullified by the adept's law.

The law also counters the idea that in the mentor-student relationship the mentor is in control and the student has to follow them, even after the student has reached adepthood. And it counters the idea that leadership in a spiritual or religious hierarchy has any real power over membership at the adept level.

Of course anyone can do whatever they want to do, and I covered that specifically in the same article a little later on. However the realization of this, along with the realization that appeals to authority are meaningless, at least in regards to oneself, are essential to becoming an adept, and as such the behavior is always exhibited by adepts (where as we don't see the same behavior in non-adepts, i.e. many neophytes will always follow the orders of their high priest/ess, and often won't even think about the alternative).

I posit it as a law because of the fact that if a person doesn't subscribe the ideology that they can do whatever they want by virtue of being an adept and exhibit behavior in accordance with that belief, then they aren't yet an adept.

Ananael Qaa said...

@Rob: Thanks for the additional explanation. That makes a lot more sense - a hedge to prevent social conventions and/or pressure from trumping direct spiritual realization.

I still think it should be obvious - once you've established your own reliable source of spiritual insight you shouldn't let anyone else's opinion prevent you from exercising it - but given how common appeals to authority and so forth are in the occult community it nonetheless bears repeating.

Undercrypt said...

Hermetic Law: I like "The Pattern corresponds to the Manifestation, and the Manifestation corresponds to the Pattern."

Law of Reversals: You can't un-use something for the first time. Once you have done X, you can no longer be someone who has never done X. Most of the odd exceptions seem to be in the realm of knowledge and identity.

Adept's Law: I like the self-selection built into it.