Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Palatable Occultism?

Slate has an article up today about the resurgence of occultism in popular culture. Or, more specifically, the resurgence of certain occult-related practices that don't go as far as doing actual magick. The author of the article calls these practices "the palatable occult." As I see it, this is a good start but it has a lot further to go before we are ever going to see magick itself go mainstream. I'd love to see that, of course, but my question is whether enough people are ever going to be ready for it to become a real mass movement.

“New Age,” as ye old boomers called it in the ’70s, has come back in a major way this decade, shedding its corny rep for well-designed apps and sleek websites. What once was considered fringe or weird or from another era—talking about astrological charts on a first date, getting your aura read with friends, sound baths—is now kind of just regular among millennials (at least according to various market research firms who track the spiritual industry, one pegging the “mystical-services market” as a $2.2 billion industry). I call it “the palatable occult.”

My first genuine experience with the palatable occult didn’t happen until 2017. Several of my friends were already occult curious or occult serious, and I had smelled my fair share of ancient burning wood, held crystals at friends’ homes, and got a tarot reading from a guy I dated briefly. (I pulled the “death” card, which he quickly explained didn’t mean I was going to croak but was a metaphor for transition.) I remained cynical. The trend seemed silly and manufactured, a distraction from the all-consuming Trump-era resistance, and the result of a nefarious and ascendant wellness industry that just wanted to take my money.

What I find fascinating about this is that "palatable" here feels a lot like "ineffective." Not that there's anything wrong with Tarot or astrology, you understand - I use both all the time in my personal practice. Crystals too, at least when I'm making talismans and the like. But the thing is, I have magical operations posted here, on this blog, that really work. I don't mean they kind of work, like doing casual Tarot readings and checking out horoscope websites. The Enochian magick in my published books really works too. And for the whole time I've been putting this stuff out, it's been a struggle to get people to pay any attention to it.

The deal is that it seems like the "palatable occult" doesn't involve spells and the like. I published my first Enochian book, Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy, in 2011, right around the start of this supposed occult resurgence in popular culture. But if some big revival was going on you could have fooled me. Magick remains as much of a niche interest as it ever was, even as astrology and Tarot and "witchiness" has gathered steam. I realize that Enochian has a reputation as weird and technical, but still, you would think that all things occult would be more popular in general and that would increase interest over all.

One would like to think that maybe magick is the next big thing, as people become more comfortable with casual practices and their interest is piqued for more. But part of me wonders if that will ever be the case. A case could be made that the "palatable occult" is palatable precisely because it works, but not all that well. It certainly doesn't work well enough that practitioners have to worry about things like taking responsibility for transforming their circumstances. In that way, there's no such thing as a powerful practice that is truly "harmless." Magick that can do the right thing can also do the wrong thing.

I get asked all the time if magick is dangerous, and my answer is generally something to the effect of "no in the way that you mean, but yes under some circumstances." Magick is not even remotely dangerous if you make mistakes in how you perform a spell - a spell done wrong doesn't do anything because it won't work. The primary danger in magick comes when you're good enough to cast a spell properly but then are careless about your charge and intent. The most common problem magicians run into in my experience is the "Monkey's Paw" problem, where you get what you ask for but by some means that is not at all what you wanted.

I've put a lot of energy here and elsewhere into "de-mystifying" magical operations. As I see it, magick is a technology like any other and there's no reason to keep it secret or be scared of it. Ceremonial magick is different from going to church and praying for stuff only in the sense that the technical bits are highly optimized so you can get more of what you want much more quickly and with greater focus. That's it, really - magick is optimized prayer. It also is optimized "visioning," like what you see with the whole Secret craze - but again, the technical bits are aligned so that it works much better than focused attention on its own.

Not everybody agrees with my approach - there are still a lot of folks out there who see magical secrecy and the like as a good thing. But as I see it, that's been our problem for centuries. The physical sciences have gotten so much further than the technology that is magick precisely because they embraced openness, peer review, and the scientific method. Now those of us who want to see magick keep developing and improving are stuck trying to catch up.

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