Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Thoughts on Sigil Magick

So this is a "Magick Wednesday" post. Monday was New Years Day and stuff has been kind of crazy around here over the long weekend. One of the things I did get around to, though, is starting to read through Gordon White's latest book, The Chaos Protocols. For anybody who doesn't know, Gordon is the guy who runs the excellent chaos magick blog Rune Soup, which I have been following for many years.

The Chaos Protocols basically represents what I consider the cutting edge of chaos magick techniques, and as Gordon quips in the book, people who pick it up off the shelf will probably flip right to the chapter on sigil magick. For better or worse, sigil magick has become the defining technique that most people think of when you mention chaos magick. It has the "bang for buck" advantage over a number of other techniques, it that it may not be quite as effective as a full ceremonial operation, but it is far simpler to perform.

Gordon writes that this is akin to the work done by pioneers of human-powered flight who finally solved the problem by designing a flying machine that could quickly be reassembled and reconfigured every time it failed a flight test. Since their machine could be rapidly modified every time it failed, they were able to go through far more iterations in less time than other engineers working on the same problem who put a lot of time and effort into designing and building what they considered the perfect flying machine, only to have to start again from scratch when the machine failed.

At any rate, Gordon mentions several points that I find highly useful for understanding sigil magick and how it works. Unlike a lot of chaos magicians whose work I have read, he points out that the whole psychic censor/forget your operation idea is based on an outdated model of psychology and should be abandoned. The psychoanalytic schools have this idea of an "unconscious mind" that is akin to a sort of "separate mind" from what you experience as your conscious awareness. That is, it has goals and purposes, and in some meaningful way "thinks."

But this just isn't true, and I've been teaching my students accordingly for years. Neuroscience has shown that conscious thinking processes already consume the vast majority of the brain's resources. There is an "unconscious" in humans akin to what is found in other animals, but it is essentially just the conditioning system that runs on something like four rules. It prompts you to repeat behavior for which you have been conditioned in the past, and that's it. That's all it does. It has no goal, no awareness, and no capacity for "thought" as we generally mean it.

The implication of these discoveries is that you don't need to "bypass a psychic censor" to get a sigil into "the unconscious," you don't need to "forget your operation" in order for it to work, and it isn't "the unconscious" that does magick. Gordon points this out, and I fully agree with his conclusions. Magick is done by the full force of your consciousness, which is primarily conscious in nature. You do need to align your thoughts (thinking system) and emotions (feeling system), and not let yourself be derailed by your conditioning system, but that's about it.

Gordon's big contribution to the ongoing development of magick theory is a concept called shoaling. Much like schools of fish swim together in a common direction, shoaling describes the process of breaking a larger magical goal down into small pieces and enchanting a separate sigil to perform each piece. It's fairly logical that this idea should work, but previously I had a few reservations about it due to how the math works out in the operant equation.

Specifically, when you have ten separate operations running at the same time, your available magical "power" (measured in terms of probability shift) gets divided ten ways. So if you're trying to to do something that is 100-1 against, and you ten five different steps, each step only gets about 10-1 against. But with the way Gordon describes it in the book, I finally got it. He probably has the same explanation somewhere up on his blog, but I just didn't see all the ramifications when I read it there.

Gordon uses an example of a coin toss. Each individual toss has a probability of .5 to come up heads or tails. So in a series of tosses, what you have is a collection of small probabilities that add up to a larger one. Basically, shoaling works, even with the division of magical power, because of excess capacity. You don't need 100-1 power to flip a coin toss to head or tails, which is only 2-1. So even with your power divided ten ways, you can bring 10-1 power to bear on each individual toss. That's more than you need, and it probably still will work.

The odds of, say, ten heads in a row are 1024 to 1 against. So even if your magical power is a tenth of that (which is pretty good) you can still in theory make that happen pretty reliably with shoaling, whereas if you tried to do it with a single operation would only have a 10% chance of success. This has implications for traditional magical operations as well. It means that a properly directed series of operations has a better chance of success than one large operation dedicated to a single goal.

An example of a more traditional use of a similar idea is Rufus Opus' Seven Spheres operation. The idea there is to work through the seven planetary spheres as you call upon the corresponding angels and so forth in a short period of time, so in effect all seven operations are running simultaneously by the time you are done. Each planetary angel is charged with working on the area of your life that falls within its sphere of influence, and a number of people have reported amazing results with it.

And as a point, you could do the same thing with the four elements or the twelve signs of the zodiac. Aleister Crowley writes that the elemental realm, the planetary realm, and the zodiacal realm are all complete systems in and of themselves, and that every complete system corresponds in some way to every other. So I expect you would be able to do a four-element plus spirit set just like you could do a seven spheres plus the eighth that unifies them together and get at least somewhat similar results.

The main takeaway there is that my warnings against running multiple operations at the same time have an exception, and that is multiple operations performed at the same time to address different aspects of a single, larger goal. In other words, you should limit the number of operations you have running simultaneously unless you are deliberately running them together as part of a shoal focused on a larger objective. This concept is ripe for experimentation.

One of Gordon's point that I'm a little more dubious about (at least at this point) is the idea of the "robofish." The idea is that when you create a shoal of sigils, your first sigil should represent something unrelated to your goal that is basically guaranteed to happen, like "I will eat dinner tonight" or something like that. I'm still at a bit of a loss as to why that would work, and I've never experimented with anything like it because it never occurred to me to try it.

The math above would suggest that dividing your power out for one additional sigil that basically doesn't do anything is a waste of potential. So in theory, a "robofished" shoal should produce a slightly reduced probability shift from a shoal without it. If it does work, though, about the only explanation I can think of is something to the effect of Rupert Sheldrake's morphic resonance hypothesis, in which an initial success would essentially "condition" the universe towards the operation's success.

Much of Sheldrake's work does integrate with current models of magick, so it's not clear that this "conditioning" idea is necessarily wrong if the data on "robofishing" does turn out to show that it increases your final probability shift. But so far, the effects of morphic resonance are hard to quantify in the context of a simple equation. For example, it's pretty much the only mechanism that anyone has put significant work into that explains how similarity links can work.

Contagion links are probably based on quantum entanglement, which fits pretty nicely into my quantum information model of magick. However, there's no physical property we've been able to identify that would explain how a quantum information connection can form between two objects that look similar. The physical properties behind morphic resonance are not currently known, and of course study of the subject is met with the same skepticism as most other paranormal research. Sheldrake has compiled a lot of examples, though, that show at the very least a weak morphic effect is present in many different situations.

As a magician I would say that entire universe is permeated with the stuff of consciousness, whatever that turns out to be, and at some ultimate level all consciousness is connected to a single continuous field - if you will, the "most high." You could call this massive field of consciousness the dynamic ground of being, or if you prefer, the mind of God. I would also propose that this field has a sort of fractal self-similary, in which similar shapes and forms repeat as you move through the various levels. So morphic resonance would work by allowing quantum information to pass between objects with strongly associated consciousness-stuff that share a high enough degree of similarity across the entire consciousness field.

And yeah, that totally sounds like a bunch of New Age gobbledygook. But it's kind of what I get when I try to write down an explanation of something that looks totally clear in my mind. Still, that's all just a guess and could be entirely wrong. We'll have a better idea about how that is all put together once we have a decent scientific model of consciousness, for which we will need some sort of device that lets us measure consciousness. Until then, there really are far too many possibilities to formulate a coherent answer. Consciousness might turn out to be a non-local emergent phenomenon consisting solely of quantum information. Or it might turn out to be an exotic form of matter or energy, like "dark matter" and "dark energy."

Personally I lean towards the former, but I will admit that the latter has some amusing possibilities for those who consider themselves "materialists." If consciousness is a form of matter, they will have to admit that they've been overlooking something totally essential to the universe for a long time. Watching conversations with materialist skeptics over a discovery like that would probably be downright hilarious, at least for those of us they've been calling deluded all these years.

So take a look at The Chaos Protocols, and don't necessarily be turned off by the subtitle about the "new economic reality" or the bit in the introduction talking about the "Kali Yuga" (Context: I have a rule that has held up until The Chaos Protocols that the minute any esotericist mentions the Kali Yuga with any degree of seriousness, I know that they're full of shit. Hey, it's usually a rule to live by!).

That's not all the book is about. It includes a lot of useful magical techniques from where the cutting edge of chaos magick meets the "blogosphere school," and they can be used for all sorts of things besides securing prosperity in an uncertain world. And of course, as you should probably realize by now, that's not to say that prosperity is ever a bad thing.

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Anonymous said...

Aha. I see where shoaling going towards and I think I understand the logic behing it. But let me get this straight. If I am to cast for money in 4 consecutiv rituals with 4 different spirits - Ghob, Sachiel, Bune, Muriel - it will work better if I am to ask each of them to deal with a particular part of the problem which prevents me from having/getting money? And it will work poorly if I'm just asking all of them to "give" me money, period.

javier said...

To me the sigil technique proposed by Frater Barrabas, it seems very interesting to me that sigil is consecrated and purified, and then it is put for example on a tarot card and launched, "to that internal landscape", I find it very interesting a detail that offers Gordon, concentrate on the result already obtained, not on the lack of that result, for example I am healthy, would not you put my will to cure this disease, since to heal you have to get sick before, I think sometimes not you hear what one says, and in Magic is important, in addition a sigil can be recorded in candles, written on land and much more, curiously Frater Barrabas proposes putting this sigil before a spirit, the visualization of the objective in present already obtained and the declaration can be done, while the sigil is drawn, or once the symbolic way of activating it is done by means of a spiral vortice in the sense of the clockwise, I have done this in the Table of Tritemium, while throwing this stealth to the Elemental King Ghob, and it is very very powerful

Rodav said...

I read "The Chaos Protocols" recently as well, after you mentioned it in an answer to a question. I agree with you on Robofish and I've developed my own system of "shoaling" where I'll charge several sigils over the course of a day as I find it too tiring to do them at the same time. I've found my sigil work to be a little hit/miss with regards to external circumstances but have used it with great success on personal work. I do have a question though. Recently I started getting pain in my left shoulder, I think it was bursitis which I had about 10 years ago and the only thing that was effective then, was a shot of cortisone. In regards to the recent bout, I ignored it for 2 months in the hope that it would go away but it got worse and worse, so I charged a sigil on healing my shoulder. The pain changed over two days and then disappeared, I was really pleased, but then a week later my right shoulder got some pain. I'm old enough to think it was not unusual and just a coincidence, so I cast another sigil, and it got better in one day. But now my left elbow is getting pain. I'm thinking now that somehow maybe it's not a coincidence and the pain is staying in my body but just moving. what do you think and do you have a suggestion ?

Rodav said...

Also, the way I interpreted the "psychic censor" idea was that it bypasses the possibility that our rational thoughts will derail the intent or affirmation by deep down thinking "that isn't possible". I actually try not to think too much about this type of thing. Do you think that sometimes overthinking or over-intellectualizing magick could be counter-productive ?

Scott Stenwick said...

@Dacia: That would be the idea, yes. Break your goal down into components that correspond to each element, and charge the appropriate King with doing that part.

@enokiano1: There are a number of different ways to integrate sigils with spirit work, and Barrabbas' method does work. In my experience, calling on a spirit in connection with your sigil makes the result much stronger.

@Robot: You probably are running into the same issue I do with trying to heal asthma and other chronic conditions. If your joints are having issues because of regular wear and tear or something like that, the magick will work for a period of time but it usually reverts back within a couple of weeks. So to keep the effect going, you have to keep casting.

As for your second question, my answer there is "sort of." The problem is usually not "over-intellectualizing" - as I see it "intellectualizing" just means thinking, and a lot of that goes into making magick work. Problems can show up, though, if you obsessively ruminate over whether or not your operation is going to work while it's running. I've seen a number of magicians mess up their spells doing that, and I think that's probably why Spare recommended trying to forget your operation in the first place. It's like one of those "fence" religious rules that keep people far away from what the real problem is.

When you have an operation running, you can remember it and think about it - as long as you do not focus your full directed attention on the operation and/or how likely it is to work. This is especially true if you're doing it using your own power and not necessarily quite as much a problem if you are also working with a spirit, since the spirit is an external entity that help maintain the operation's coherence.

Anonymous said...

Way cool! So that's what I've been doing all along with my style of casting on an issue from as many angles as possible. Thank you!