Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does "Intuitive" Mean "Esotericist?"

It's pretty obvious to just about everyone that esotericists are by their nature relatively uncommon. The study of magick has never been a subject pursued by the majority of people, and even before the rise of scientific materialism it remained in the hands of a small group of intellectuals who generally had ties to or were themselves members of the aristocracy. Some of the reasons for this are obvious - Renaissance peasants, for example, spent so much time and effort working the land that little was left over for the pursuit of any scholarly discipline, and in fact the Renaissance itself was mostly a movement confined to the upper eschelons of society. However, it also is true that throughout history the percentage of spiritual technologists, including practitioners of everything from shamanism to what today is called "high magick," has remained both small and relatively constant.

I came across this article the other day talking about the differences between what are called Sensing and Intuitive types on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, a personality test that has been widely used for many years in both business and academia. While the article is written in an informal style and intended for an audience of musicians rather than psychologists, I studied the MMPI pretty extensively back in college and its basic facts are correct. Intuitive types are substantially rarer than Sensing types, and while "Intuitive" in this sense has to do with a style of processing information rather than anything paranormal like psychic intuitions, many of the personality traits exhibited by Intuitives are quite similar to those that I commonly observe in other magical practitioners.


70-75% of the population take most of their input directly from their senses. In the Myers-Briggs profiling system we call them ‘Sensors’. They live in a world that’s oriented towards concrete reality, verifiable proof, sensibility and security. They want things that can be verified by their senses and they typically don’t have much patience for abstract theory or far fetched ideas. They tend to seek security, contentment and pleasure and in most cases feel basically the same as other people (unless there’s a good reason – i.e. they’re 8 feet tall).

The rest of us are the weirdos. We take in information through a process of abstract pattern recognition called intuition. We look for bits of information and map them together to create a pattern or understanding of things in our minds. We often have little patience for following rules and instructions because our brains don’t naturally process things in neat and tidy sequences.

We like deep conversation and we seek meaning. We’re the ones who don’t want to adapt to the world. We’re built to change it. We’re not the ones who get married at an early age and buy houses with white picket fences and have 2.3 children and live happily ever after.

This suggests a line of research that could prove quite interesting. I'm a Myers-Briggs Intuitive myself and so are most of the people close to me, at least those who've taken the test, and it would be quite revealing to see if this pattern holds for other occultists and esotericists of various stripes. The book that the article links to suggests that there is a fundamental physiological difference between Sensing and Intuitive types, and if this is the case it could go a long way toward explaining why magick remains such a fringe pursuit. It may just be that some of us are wired for it and others are not, and that could also explain why nobody even got rich writing occult books. The fundamental level of interest just may not be out there, and more to the point it may never be.

Of course, the speculation there is a couple of levels deep, and in order to support or disprove that assertion some solid data is going to be required. It seems to me that an academic psychologist could get away with it too, under the guise of cognitive research. After all, there's nothing necessarily paranormal about investigating a correlation between an interest in magick and personality type so long as the question of whether or not the magick actually works can be kept out of the picture.

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8 comments:

V.V.F. said...

I once shared a link to the Meyers-Briggs on G+, and about a dozen of my occult friends decided to take it. Nearly all of them tested as INFP. (One or two were INFJ.) Apparently this is supposed to be the rarest combo, or is among the rarest at least. So there could be something to your theory.

Scott Stenwick said...

That's cool to hear about - more data is always a good and happy thing. I'm INTP, which as I recall is about as rare as INFP (because T and F are about evenly distributed across the population). It would be really interesting to do a larger controlled study and see if similar data points keep showing up in other social circles of occultists. Let's just say it wouldn't surprise me one bit.

Scott James said...

Interesting post. Thanks for the shout out! I'm pretty confident that you're hypothesis is correct. I could maybe see some sensor-judgers being esotericists, though it's a bit of a stretch. Probably even more rare amongst sensor perceivers. I would say the vast majority are intuitives and what VVF said sounds credible to me. Though I'd imagine the overall percentage of INFJ is a little higher than the split in that sample.

Frater Serpentis et Aquila said...

Fascinating post. I just took the test (it's been years) and I am an INFP as well. I've been theorizing on the esoteric end of things that certain astrological signs or aspects lend themselves to interest and/or talent in esoteric pursuits.

I think your theory holds a lot of weight, honestly, and it has a lot of potential for further study and observation. I would like to couple this with the theories I am working out.

For instance, I am a Scorpio with Scorpio rising and Mercury in Scorpio. That sets me up strongly for the pursuit of occultism, IMO. But I have encountered a disproportionate number of fellow water signs with similar pursuits, or at least the strong ability to grasp what I think and convey about esoteric subjects. There are some underlying traits there which can be easily assimilated to this type of psychology.

Also, various occult disciplines and traditions seem to attract different types. I have encountered an astounding number of Leos within the Thelemic and OTO community (Solar signs, much?), while my Pisces friends tend to have an interest in astrology, New Age thought, and varied forms of Neo-Paganism.

Overall, there seems to be an incredible amount of fixed-sign natives in general amongst the occult community at large.

Obviously, not everyone can be so easily categorized. But there are definite trends and patterns here.

Hypnovatos said...

Thought I would throw my 4 letter word on the list. I am an ENFP, so still in the intuitive side, so your hypothesis still remains intact, though I appear to be an outsider with my big ol' E flapping in the breeze. At least in the present company.

Scott Stenwick said...

@Scott: There almost certainly a few SJ esotericists. I'd guess they would be the worst match for esoteric interests, but any psychological study is going to be less about determinism and more about statistical tendencies.

@FSA: Astrologically we have a lot of Virgos in our local OTO body. Personally, though, I'm a Taurus so I would fit your fixed sign hypothesis. I haven't met a lot of Taurean magician, but I will say the ones that I know of are for the most part quite good.

@Hypnovatos: One of the best magicians I've ever met is an ENFP, so you're in good company there. Personally, I fall on the I side but my I and E are pretty closely balanced.

Frater Serpentis et Aquila said...

@Scott: Virgos? I would not have expected that and that's definitely not the case at my Oasis. Of course, as you refer to another commenter, this isn't so much about determinism.

My observations are early and I've got some good ideas underway.

I think that, with diligent research in both natal astrology and Jungian psychology, it would be possible to hash out consistent parallels between natal charts and personality types. If there is any value in natal astrology (and there is), this would simply have to be the case. It would give an astrologer or psychologist an interesting and insightful edge to be working with both subjects toward the same end.



Darth Darren said...

I was given the M-B test by a clinical psychologist and I was found to be an INTP. Been involved in the occult for 30 years, but was raised Roman Catholic (rejected it by the time I was 12 years old).

(Just checking out the archives here)