Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Defensive Occultism by Robert Rubin

Back in January Robert Rubin sent me a copy of his book, Defensive Occultism, to review. I read through the book when I received it, but only now have gotten around to writing up my review. My impression is that it is an excellent introduction to magical self-defense, especially for those who know little about the magical arts. Experienced practitioners will likely know much of the material, but everybody starts somewhere - and any experienced practitioner who doesn't know much of it probably should.

Robert Rubin is an occult investigator from the Philippines. As he describes it in the book, an occult investigator is kind of like a cross between a paranormal investigator and the ceremonial magick equivalent of an exorcist. When confronted with an individual who claims to be under psychic or magical attack, he investigates the situation and attempts to devise a solution that will resolve the problem.

It should first be noted that the book is mostly targeted to what I imagine would be Rubin's clientele - individuals who may have never given much thought to the existence of magick or paranormal phenomena, but find themselves confronting a problem that they can't explain. So it includes a fair amount of the sort of introductory material found in other beginning magick books regarding the reality of magick, and assurances that encountering paranormal phenomena does not imply mental illness.

That being said, as with the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism the first and in some ways the most important step for an occult investigator is to verify that an actual attack is taking place. Rubin correctly notes that many people who believe they are under psychic or magical attack are actually suffering from psychological problems or mental illness and would be better treated by a therapist or psychiatrist. When this is the case, clients are referred to the proper medical authorities.

In my experience, inclusion of this step tends to be one of the main differences between fraudulent practitioners and real ones. Every few months I see another story about a purported psychic who took advantage of a mentally ill client, telling them that their suspicions of being under a curse were absolutely correct and that the only way the curse could be lifted was by paying the psychic large sums of money or other valuables.

I am of the opinion that magical attacks are not that common, and that when presented with a case skepticism is the proper attitude until you obtain some sort of proof. I'm speaking from my own experience there, and from discussions with other practitioners I know that some of their experiences differ from mine. Still, I think it's important that you not jump to any conclusions when dealing with individual cases and deal with each of them on their own merits.

At any rate, once an attack has been identified the next step is to determine the type of attack and its source. Much of the book serves as a sort of "field guide" to aid in this process and suggest possible fixes based on the information uncovered. For example, an attack by a spirit may vary substantially from a curse cast by a "rogue occultist" and require a completely different remedy to resolve.

The book includes a number of remedies for various situations. The only explicitly ceremonial ritual it includes is the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and I would have liked to have seen the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram included as well. The Lesser Pentagram works well against psychological influences and intrusions into your sphere of consciousness, but combining it with the Lesser Hexagram allows the banishing to extend into macrocosmic space. When dealing with an actual entity such an external spirit, this is far more effective and more likely to get the job done.

At the same time, though, the book also does not fall into the trap that I see in many beginning books, the idea that banishing rituals such as the LRP and LRH can resolve any sort of magical attack. There are a lot of approaches to spellcasting, and some of them respond better than others to ceremonial rituals. There are also a number of ways to design a spell so that it will be especially resistant to such techniques, though I find that usually by the time a practitioner learns them he or she is unlikely to throw curses around willy-nilly.

One of the things I would like to have seen Rubin elaborate more on is the category of "dark arts." He explains that those who practice such techniques do terrible things in exchange for power, or at least the promise of it. However, he gives no explanation whatsoever of how that's supposed to work. I don't doubt that he's run into such practices in the Philippines which has all sorts of indigenous magical traditions, some more sinister than others. But the mechanism behind it makes little sense to me.

Specifically, I've never been able to figure out how that sort of magick is more powerful than the kind of work that I do in terms of actually creating measurable change. In fact, the whole idea that "to have power that others do not, you must do things that others will not do" strikes me as classic just-world fallacy. If, to use an African example, you believe that you have to kill albinos for their body parts in order to cast effective spells, in my book you're just ignorant - because you can cast effective spells without doing anything of the sort.

In the context of the book, though, making a clear distinction between such people and those who are simply serving their own self-interest is relevant because while it may be possible to reason with the latter or change the situation such that an attack is no longer necessary, someone who is doing "evil for evil's sake" is not going to change their mind or care about their own circumstances. In fact, I suspect any occultist who pursues such a path is likely at the very least a psychopath if not hopelessly insane.

Likewise, Rubin's emphasis on the existence of "real metaphysical evil" is a point of contention for me as a Thelemite. I find that it makes more sense to treat entities and other practitioners as allied, opposed, or neutral towards me - that is, basically friendly, hostile, or unconcerned. The problem with an absolute definition of evil is that such moral qualities depend upon the perspective of the individual or entity in question. Most pursue whatever they consider to be their own self-interest, which may clash with the self-interest of others.

Still, such a nuanced discussion might very well make the book more confusing for beginners. When you encounter a magical attack, I can see where it doesn't really matter if your attacker is "evil" in some absolute sense - what matters is they mean you harm and have to be stopped, and in that regard the additional certainty implied by a black and white view of the universe may prove helpful to a novice confronting an actual enemy.

Readers who may have found that books like Jason Miller's Protection and Reversal Magick require more knowledge of magical techniques than they have may find this book more to their liking, as it pretty much assumes some readers will be starting from scratch. Rubin is a clear writer and explains himself well, and the book provides much of the basic knowledge needed to engage with more advanced works. It serves as an excellent starting point and practical guide for engaging the magical world with relative safety, even as a novice.

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Nerd said...

I think there is some grey area here. "Mental illness" phenomena CAN overlap with "possession" or demonic influence, imo. Kierkegaard defines the demonic in terms of the person's "will" being directed back against himself. So from that standpoint, it would originate in the self. However it could make one vulnerable to outside influence, as we see in The Mass Psychology of Fascism or The Geneaology of Morals.

I just received a recording of Jeffrey Yuen lecturing on the 13 Ghost Points of Chinese Acupuncture too. Might do a post on that.

However I do agree that paying large sums of money to a tv preacher is probably not the best course of action. LOL. In fact, I would look at that as an example of demonic influence.

I look at contemporary Christianity in it's culturally philistine form as a very demonic religion.

Scott Stenwick said...

You are certainly correct that the presence of mental illness doesn't mean that no attack is present. Furthermore, it's quite possible to design a curse that will cause mental illness in a target - I can think of a couple ways to do that right off the top of my head. Still, in my experience I've encountered more people with mental illness issues who were deluded about being attacked than people who seem like they might be actual targets.

Jason Miller and I had a long conversation about that awhile back. I come at it from the perspective of a fairly isolated individual practitioner, whereas he comes at it from the perspective of a professional sorcerer who has clients with problems seeking him out. I expect that our different perspectives skew our biases in opposite directions, so the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Anybody who asks for tons of money to "break a curse" - especially more than once - is pretty clearly a fraud in my book. That includes everyone from TV preachers to would-be psychics.

As far as Christianity goes, I think it depends. I agree with you on "fire and brimstone" fundamentalism - in some of those churches The Devil gets more mention than Jesus does! On the other hand, like the Poor Oppressed folks, those denominations tend to be out of the mainstream. I grew up liberal Lutheran and don't have much a of a bone to pick with Christianity as a religion in general. Some of the particular manifestations of it, though, really make my skin crawl.