Friday, June 24, 2011

Thoughts on Rob's Rights of Magick

The third section of Rob's article on the laws, rules, and rights of magick deals with what he calls "rights," which he defines as a special subset of magical rules. Generally speaking, like the rules discussed in the previous section these are treated as functional rather than ethical. That is, they are largely defined in terms of what can or can't be done rather than what's right or wrong in any abstract sense.

Rights are kind of like rules, in fact I’d classify them as a specific type of rule. First off magical rights, like civil rights or any other kind of right, is something that you are granted by virtue of existing. Sometimes you may have to meet some other criteria, such as being incarnate in this world or being the first spirit to possess the body you’re currently residing in, but for the most part these rights are fairly easy to obtain. Unlike civil rights though these rights are not granted by some higher government authority, they can’t be taken away by that higher authority, and you don’t have to go to court to defend them.

As a Thelemite I follow Aleister Crowley's Liber OZ in terms of what I consider to be my rights as an individual. While OZ articulates these rights in a manner that imply nearly total freedom, there are several caveats that must be kept in mind. First of all, nothing in the text should be taken to imply freedom from the consquences of one's actions. Second of all, the panoply of rights detailed in OZ apply to everyone, not just me, in a universal fashion.

In other words, I may have the right to work as I will and rest as I will, but nothing in the text implies that I should always be able to make a living regardless of what I do. I may have the right to paint as I will, but I have no right to freedom from criticism should my paintings turn out to be terrible. I may have the right to write as I will, but as can be seen from my current Amazon sales rank hordes of consumers are in no way obligated to buy my books. In a likewise manner, I may have the right to love as I will, when, where, and with whom I will, but this in no way implies that any particular person is necessarily going to feel the same way about me as I do about them.

The concept of rights as Rob articulates them is similar and in most cases completely compatible with the rights outlined in OZ. In effect both treatments are rooted in the idea of the magician as a sovereign individual who is free from the controlling influence of social conventions and arbitrary judgments. Depending upon the goals of a particular magician he or she may choose to act in an outwardly conventional manner, since it is often advantageous to do so, but the key point is that such behavior is deliberately and willfully chosen rather than the result of automatic social conditioning.

Right of Freewill

The Right to Freewill states that ‘a sentient entity with a connection to a higher source has the right to take actions or refrain from taking actions as per their own personal choices’.

There is some discussion in the field of psychology regarding how "free" our actions truly are in this regard, since the thought patterns that allow us to decide to do one thing or another are shaped by both our genetics and our upbringing. Nevertheless, I am of the school that while our actions are constrained to a degree by such factors within those limitations there are still many possible choices open to us at any given moment. Or as OZ puts it, we have the right to think what we will. However, as I also noted above regarding OZ, Rob points out that the caveat to this is that we are in no way shielded from the consequences we may incur exercising our free will along particular lines.

Right Against Possession

The Right Against Possession is stated as ‘a foreign spirit cannot possess a physically incarnated body which is still possessed by its original spirit without first obtaining the permission of a spirit already possessing said body.’

Unless you are a walk-in spirit that is possessing the body you’re using to read this article on a computer screen, you are the original spirit which possesses your incarnate body, and so this right applies to you.

The Right Against Possession pretty much says that no other spirit can enter into or possess your body without your permission. What does permission mean? Well it can mean that you said out loud that a spirit may possess your body. It can also mean that you said this in a channel. And it can also mean that you have a strong intention in your mind to be possessed by a spirit.

While I've never encountered it personally, I'm not sure I believe that no spirit can ever possess anyone without their permission. I do believe that for a spirit to do so it pretty difficult, however. All the literature I've seen suggests that possession works kind of like a mind-control spell cast against another person. The better-warded and more magically gifted they are the harder it is to gain control, while explicit permission bypasses those defenses and makes it relatively easy. My point here is pretty much that I don't think you can say that if you find someone to be possessed you can automatically conclude they invited the possessing spirit in. In my experience some people are just weak-minded and easily overcome.

Right of Divine Communion

The Right to Divine Communion states that ‘all things have the right to petition any true deity in any manner they see fit, through prayer or through direct communication, and that these acts of communication cannot be hindered or blocked from their recipient in any way. Furthermore a person has a right to receive both messages and energy from any true deity at the deity’s discretion, and that these messages and energies cannot be hindered or blocked in any way. Also a deity may initiate a communication or direct contact with a person in any way they see fit at their own discretion, and this communication or contact cannot be hindered or stopped in any way.’

While this one is generally true I would definitely say I consider more of a "rule" than a "law," in that I can think of a few special cases in which it might not apply. For example, a stronger deity can in theory block communication from a weaker one, though this is a rather uncommon situation to say the least. Similarly, there are ways to inhibit (though, I will point out, not completely block) another individual's capacity for gnosis, unsavory and unethical though such methods are.

Rights of Incarnation

Rob defines these as a collection of "rights" inherently related to material existence. The first five of these are:

  • Right of Existence in a Plane of Being
  • Right of Manifestation
  • Right to Enter Areas
  • Right of Physical Manipulation
  • Right of Communication

I'm not going to discuss these individually, but just make the observation that they are somewhat circular in nature, of the form "you have the right to do x if you have the ability to do x." Well, of course you do, since these rights are cast in functional rather than ethical terms. It's not completely clear to me how many of these are all that relevant to magick, aside from outlining some of the properties inherent to being incarnated. You have a body. You occupy physical space. You can enter unsecured areas. You can move objects. You can communicate.

Perhaps these are conceptually similar to the Adept's Law from the first section, in that they are meant to imply that you can do these things regardless of whether or not somebody else thinks you should, and if so they are again a lot like the points made in Liber OZ. Note that as before these rights don't shield you from consequences - if I accidentally leave my house unlocked and you make use of your Right to Enter Areas to walk inside and then make use of your Right to Manipulate Objects to smash everything you can find, I'm going to have you arrested no matter what your theoretical "rights" might be.

I'm thinking that this situation is what the next of these, the Rights of Dominion and Residence, are intended to address.

Right of Dominion

The Right of Dominion states that, ‘Any incarnate being has the right, through declaration, force, or any other means which are available, to claim dominion over an area within their plane of incarnation.’

It sounds confusing, but all the right really says is that a person that is incarnate can have spiritual dominion over an area of land. Spiritual dominion is usually gained by making a declaration of dominion over an area and then enforcing that dominion through force. Dominion may also be achieved, at least partially, through other means as they develop, for instance purchasing a plot of land and then partially enforcing that dominion through the laws of society.

I'm not completely clear on whether or not this next group of rights are drifting into ethical territory or not. Is the point of this that you can claim whatever dominion over an area that you can enforce, or does it go further than that? As an example, let's say my neighbor has dominion over her yard and I have dominion over mine. Does this principle mean I have the right to extend my dominion to include her yard if I have the power to do so, or does it mean that because she has already established her dominion there I lack the right to claim it even if I have the power to take it over?

Rights of Residence

The First Right of Residence states that ‘Any incarnate person or entity residing within an area has the right to continue to reside within that area’.

The gist of this right is that once a person or spirit comes to inhabit an area, they have the right to continue to inhabit that area indefinitely. The person or spirit can however leave of their own freewill, or they can be physically forced out of the area, at which time they will lose their rights of residence within the area. All this right guarantees is that there is not a natural force within the universe which will remove a person or spirit from an area or location (in contrast there is a physical force which may deny a spirit entrance into an area or location).

Even though this one reads like an ethical right from the elaboration it is clear that the intent is to articulate a functional principle. But I have to admit I kind of don't get it. Should "natural force" here maybe read "magical force?" That would make more sense. A tornado is a natural force that is certainly capable of removing a person from an area though maybe not a spirit.

The Second Right of Residence states that ‘any incarnate being residing within an area on their plane of incarnation has the right to physically and spiritually use and exploit that area in any way they wish’.

Is this a case, then, where overlapping areas of dominion are intended to settle disputes? Let's say that I discover oil in my back yard and build a miniature petroleum refinery and power plant there. I know, not very practical, but this is for the sake of argument. The chemicals leaking into the air from the refinery are noxious and the plant itself puts out a huge plume of smoke. Would my neighbor have the right to stop me from running my power plant on the grounds that the fumes and smoke are poisoning her yard? Or is this another case where her rights depend completely on her ability to physically or magically stop me?

The Third Right of Residence states that, ‘in regard to the Second Right of Residence, the rights of use and exploitation of an area by a being currently incarnated in that area’s plane of existence supercede any rights of use and exploitation of an area by a being not currently incarnated in that area’s plane of existence.’

I'm not sure if I believe this one to be functionally true, at least in terms of what I think is being referred to as "spiritual exploitation." I can imagine a situation in which the spiritual power of a place could be utilized by a spirit in such a way that a magician might be prevented from doing the same. There are cases where ghosts, for example, seem to be much better at manipulating psychic forces in their vicinity than most magicians are. However, it is true that since spirits don't have bodies they are going to have a much harder time exploiting physical resources than an incarnated person would.

Right of Transference

The Right of Transference states that, ‘any being which currently enjoys any of the Rights of Incarnation has the right to grant any or all of the rights they enjoy, except for the Second and Third Rights of Residence, to any being which resides in the same area or an area they have dominion over and which does not currently enjoy those rights.’

This means that since you, by virtue of being an incarnated being, have all of the Rights of Incarnation and you can grant these rights to different spirits. For instance if there was a spirit living in your house, you could give this spirit the Right of Manifestation, which would allow it to take on a physical form visible to the naked eye. Of course the spirit would still have to be powerful enough to physically manifest and chose to do so even after it gained permission, but prior to gaining permission the spirit would not be able to physically manifest at all. Likewise you can tell a spirit to knock once for yes and twice for no, and in doing so you’re giving the spirit the Right of Physical Manipulation.

First off, why can't you transfer the Second Right of Residence to a spirit? I ask because I think I may have done it if I'm reading this right, at least in terms of "spiritual exploitation." I have in the past built servitors that harvest Qi from an area and then use it to perform various magical tasks. Or doesn't that count?

As far as the rest of the quoted section goes, my last question for Rob is whether or not he's ever known a magician who had a spirit that could manifest and move objects around on a consistent and reliable basis once granted the appropriate rights. Because I've totally wanted one of those for years and would love to find out where I could get one. So far the best my conjured spirits can generally do are EMF shifts, though they're otherwise excellent at getting my will done in the world.

I'd like to wrap up this short series by thanking Rob for putting together such a thorough and detailed outline of his take on these basic magical principles. There's a lot of good food for thought there, and hopefully it will continue to fuel discussion of these ideas well into the future.

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