Monday, August 29, 2016

Regarding Magical Models - Part One

This article wound up being much longer than I expected, so I decided to break it into sections. This week I will be discussing how I classify the various magical models used by practitioners, and my original "solution" to some of the conflicts between them that I published here back in 2011. In subsequent sections I will move on to a more precise explanation of how my 2011 model evolved into the model I use today, why I think it works the way that it does, and how I go about interpreting some of the latest ideas in theoretical physics and cosmology to explain my observations and experiences.

At this point in time, nobody knows exactly how magick works. I and a number of other authors have devoted quite a bit of time to figuring it out, but we are fundamentally impeded by a lack of accurate measuring instruments. As I've mentioned before, what we really need is a "consciousness meter" that can objectively measure internal states of mind. Note that this is different than measuring the activity of the brain and central nervous system, which are not necessarily the same thing. However, I do believe that there's a close enough relationship between the two that we may be able to obtain some of that information indirectly.

Those studies are currently in their infancy, and mostly rely on brain imaging work with advanced meditators. The EEG work up until now has been largely solid, but unfortunately it came to light earlier this year that many of the results obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging may have been distorted by a software bug. The bug was corrected in May of 2015, but may have affected a decade or more of studies that now have to be redone. Some of those results were pretty interesting, like the presentiment study mentioned in that article, but at this point we have no idea if the data from those experiments is good.

So why should we bother? I have been asked this by other practitioners from time to time. Their argument is that as long as what they are doing works, they don't need to know how. But I consider that be a short-sighted attitude. It is valuable to have some idea of whether or not a magical operation will work to resolve a particular problem, and if so, how effective it will be. Without a model, thinking strategically is basically impossible. Given the state of the current data any model that we propose is likely to be wrong in some respects, but even a flawed model is in my opinion better than nothing.

At any rate, a number of different models have been proposed to explain how magick works. They fall into several basic classes, all of which have some merits. At the same time, I think that as cliché as it sounds, much of the debate has to do with the old "parts of an elephant" problem. That is, I believe that a truly correct model of magick would include elements adapted from all of the different approaches combined in such a way that it explains all the experiences reported by practitioners. In 2011 I took a stab at that here and here, and generally speaking I still am happy with what I came up with.

Here's my list of the current magical models that are generally employed by practitioners. A lot of folks just break it down into four classes - psychological, energy, spirit, and information. But my list tries to take into account differences in approaches within those classes.

1. Microcosmic Psychological Model: This model proposes that the only way in which magick works is essentially by hacking your own individual mind. It can change your life, but only by changing your attitudes and behaviors, which in turn may affect the reactions of others. There are no external spirits or other entities aside from mental and/or symbolic projections, no subtle energies, and no paranormal forces that directly affect anything in the external world.

2. Macrocosmic Psychological Model: This model treats spirits and subtle energies just like the Microcosmic Psychological model does, but does not dismiss the idea of paranormal forces. According to this model, paranormal influences are essentially hidden powers of the human mind that may be activated by magical practice. This is essentially the "psychic model," in which mental activity can directly affect the physical world to some degree, but not through the actions of anything outside your individual sphere of consciousness.

3. Individual Energy Model: This model postulates that paranormal effects are mediated by some sort of subtle energy not yet well-understood by conventional science. In effect, the energy model is similar in some ways to the Macrocosmic Psychological model, in that it does not automatically include the concept of external entities such as spirits. The key piece of data supporting this model is that energy work, such as Qigong and related practices that rely on building up, manipulating, and projecting forces conceptualized as "energy" seems to have a strong positive effect on magical practive.

4. Collective Energy Model: Like the Individual Energy Model, this model proposes that magick is accomplished by some sort of subtle energy. However, at least some portion of this energy is thought to originate outside the practitioner. Examples of this include healing systems like Reiki, which call upon some sort of "universal energy" to which the practitioner is "attuned," but do not involve much in the way of what is usually considered energy work, like breathing exercises and so forth. Magical systems that rely on "egregores" or non-spirit energetic structures like "ethereal software" fall under this model.

5. Spirit-Only Model: This model proposes that spirits external to the individual magician exist and mediate all magical effects. They are effectively independent personalities rather than mental projections or constructs. Under this model, the magician has no real paranormal abilities of his or her own, and must call on some sort of spirit to produce each and every magical effect. Personal magical practices are largely irrelevant, aside from building and maintaining relationships with various spirits, since the spirits do all the work.

6. Spirit-Plus Model: Like the Spirit Model, the Spirit-Plus model proposes that external spirits exist and can produce magical effects. The difference is that according to this model, the individual magician plays a role when spirits are called upon, and also have a certain amount of magical power that he or she can bring to bear in a paranormal sense. Magicians who follow this model work on their own magical development in addition to cultivating relationships with spirits.

7. Information Model: The newest of the magical models, the first form of the Information Model was proposed by Patrick Dunn in his 2005 book Postmodern Magic. It treats all magick as a form of communication, though much of the "how" remains vague. Dunn rejects both the Spirit and Energy Models, and argues that communication is what really is going on. According to this model, the only factor that determines the effectiveness of a magical operation is the precision with which you intent can be communicated.

It should be noted that in my experience, most practicing magicians work with composite models that combine elements of the models listed above. The idea that these are different approaches pointing to the same underlying reality is nothing new, and given the state of research into the nature of magick, should not be surprising in any way. We find ourselves in a similar position to that of psychologists in the late 1800's who were trying to develop working models of the mind. General principles had not yet been established, so the work that could be done was highly subjective and introspective.

The Microcosmic Psychological model is the only one listed here that can definitively be proven by current science. It is a fairly trivial assertion that your thoughts and attitudes influence your behavior, and that there are techniques you can apply to change your thoughts and attitudes. Magick is only one way of doing this. Most forms of psychotherapy purport to do the same. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has repeatedly been shown to be more effective than sham therapy, and it employs the same mechanisms as magicians who follow this model employ.

The existence of psychic abilities is controversial and widely debated, but if you can show that they exist to any degree at all, the Microcosmic Psychological model morphs into the Macrocosmic Psychological model. This follows logically. If psychic powers are triggered by mental activity, and mental activity can shifted and altered by magical practice, psychological manipulation should lead to paranormal agency. It is also possible that only certain people have heightened aptitude for psychic phenomena, so even if this model is entirely accurate it may be that only a certain percentage of practitioners can take advantage of it.

Even though the psychological class of models is the most scientifically palatable, some aspects of it are nonetheless undermined by modern neuroscience. The idea that mental projections can behave like independent entities is probably not true, since the psychoanalytic model of the unconscious mind has been shown to be profoundly flawed. The brain runs some unconscious processes like the activation of behavioral conditioning loops, but none of it is even remotely complex enough to behave like an autonomous individual mind. This also suggests that there's no need to "send your intent into the subconscious mind," because there's no coherent "subconscious mind" there to receive it.

The main piece of evidence in favor of the Energy Model is the degree to which "energy work" practices affect magical operations. They make them much more effective, as just about any practitioner who has seriously worked with them will tell you. The main evidence against it is that the "energy" it employs does not appear to be easily measurable or quantifiable. In individual terms, it does seem that you can associated heightened energy with heightened neural firing, which expends tangible biochemical energy. Beyond that, though, it is difficult to say. It could be the case that a more psychological mechanism is responsible that is triggered by the neural excitation that is the result of the practice.

The Collective Energy model is more difficult to explore. We're not really clear on what a collective energy structure would even look like, given that the "energy" here appears to be something completely different from the usual physics definition. There are practices in the magical tradition for creating egregores, which are seen as a sort of pool of energy that a group can draw upon, but there's not much experimental data showing whether tapping into one makes any practical difference in terms of physical probability shifts, or even shifts in consciousness. Orders are sometimes accused of exploiting beginning students by teaching them rituals that "feed the egregore" in a way that the leaders can draw upon, but it's not clear to me that such a thing is even possible.

The Spirit-Only Model is pretty rare in my experience, but I have seen it brought up online so I include it here. Even the occasional person who professes to be Spirit-Only will admit when pressed that personal development of some sort is relevant to how effectively you can conjure and work with spirits, so in effect this model is really more like the "low end" of Spirit-Plus. The Spirit-Plus model recognizes that human magicians have spirits too, so we can accomplish certain operations on our own. Bringing in more spirits, though, makes for stronger effects, which I have noticed in my own experimental work.

The biggest problem with the Information Model is that it fails to take into account (1) the observation that energy work improves magical results substantially, and (2) the observation that calling upon spirits improves magical results substantially. This can be noted with no change whatsoever to the ritual's intent and how it is communicated, which is supposed to be the only controlling variable. Otherwise, though, in combination with some of the elements of the other models, treating magick as communication is a useful idea that explains some aspects of how the process works.

My main contribution to the debate over the Information Model was to propose a variation based on information theory rather than semiotics. Dunn is a linguist, and I'm a software developer, which probably has a lot to do with our respective approaches. In information theory, a meaningful distinction is made between the content of a message and the carrier wave on which it is transmitted. A radio station with a 100 watt transmitter will transmit the exact same message as a radio station with a 1000 watt transmitter, but the latter will transmit further and with greater intensity.

So the basic idea is that increasing the "energy" that corresponds to neural firing with energy work practices doesn't change the message, but it gives you a bigger "transmitter." Spirits fit into the model in that they have their own "transmitters" which likewise can act upon circumstances in the physical world. When you conjure a spirit, the effectiveness of the resulting operation corresponds to your own power combined with that of the spirit. Incidentally, this is also how group operations work. Your own power can combine with that of other magicians in addition to any number of spirits the group calls upon.

All that power is then used to transmit the intent of the rite, which will be more effective if it can be formulated as precisely as possible in exactly the way that Dunn recommends. In effect, my model can be thought of as a second form of the information model, a physical information model rather than a semiotic one. Not only can my version explain the effectiveness of energy work and spirits, it opens up a number areas where its principles may touch upon some of the newest ideas in theoretical physics and cosmology.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble


Anonymous said...


I'd like to say something about the egregore. It not tangible proof, but something I've seen very often as a soccer fan and a former player (even though I didn't go pro). I'm going to use soccer as an example because it's the most loved sport world wide and it has often lead to fanaticism - British hooligans, machine gun shootings in the stadiums in South America and so on.

I think in sports, as with all areas of Life where a group of people form a team, an egregore is formed around that group. A simple gas station has one, created involuntarily and unknowingly by the people who work there. Ships have an egregore, and even a family has one. Now think of soccer. Most id not all the teams were created by workers, or policemen, people living together in the same neighborhood, or people from the same parish, like it was in England. They were proud that they created a team who represents them and their social particularities. They put lots of thoughts, emotions and feelings into their team and want it to be the best - or at least better than their local rivals :)

All that human energy added to the existent team egregore and it made it stronger. This is why home teams are considered to have and advantage over the visitors - of course in this day and age the visitors could be a wealthy team with lots of stars and they would end up kicking the home side's ass, but I'm talking in general. The home fans would put pressure on the opponent team by shouting and cursing their players, and at the same time encouraging their own. This would act to empower the egregore even more. But the egregore would also act on both teams, even before the start of the game. When the home side arrives at the stadium they feel more confident, while the visitors start to shiver. This would be due to the influence of the egregore residing in the stadium. The more passionate the fans, the more powerful the egregore, and the more impact it would have, even on the oponent's veterans. That would definitely be felt in their game - tactical errors, weak passes, poor attempts to score. A visiting team with a strong egregore can overcome this.

During my long period of experiencing this sport I've witnessed many peculiarities during games, especially between too teams evenly matched. On certain occasions the game was decided by a goal scoared after a series of events with a weak probability to happen - the commentators have a saying for these occurrences "the soccer god favored the victors". I think in those cases one of the teams had a stronger egregore and it shifted the scales just enough :)

You may probably find this amusing, but I've seen it happening often in over 25years.

As with the master that feeds of the egregore in which the students project energy, I think it would be similar to a player that feeds off the egregore which the fans empower.

Scott Stenwick said...

I have also observed that effect in sports, but my question is this: suppose that maybe 1 in 50 people has some real magical talent capable of influencing the world. A stadium can hold 50,000 or more. So in a stadium that size, you on average would have about a thousand people with magical talent in the crowd.

At a home game, most of those people will be fans of the home team, and I think it would be safe to assume that all of them want the home team to win. So collectively, the probability shift those people could produce just by willing their team to win could be substantial.

But that is not an egregore. That is a thousand magically talented people, all focused on the same outcome. To demonstrate an egregore at work, you would have to show that the overall probability shift was larger than the shift those thousand individuals could produce.

Personally, I think that's kind of a hard sell. The data can adequately be explained by a simpler model, and I find that tends to be the case as far as egregores are concerned.

Anonymous said...

I hear you and i also consider the fact that a certain percent in the crowd would possess a native magical talent, thus the ability to shift the probability of the game's result in their team's favour. Sorry i'm unable to fully explain what i'm thinking of in terms of the egregore - i'm unable to materialize my thoughts into words even in my native language :)

Consider this - the Green Bay Packers are considered one of the most formidable teams in football (or at least that was the case/that's what i've heard about them - doesn't really matter for this example). Every team scheduled to play GBP would feel different than the way whey would feel if they played any other team, because of that reputation, even if the Wisconsin team are having a bad season. I think this is because the egregore created by that team and their fans over the years is strong enough to affect the opponents and to strengthen the Packers' players. It doesn't matter if the Packers would end up loosing or not, but the opponents would have still faced a team with a strong egregore, thus the game would have been harder for them, because the players were affected by that egregore. Now consider a franchise that moves into another city. Part of that egregore would follow, but most of it would be left behind, because the fans can't move with the team, and neither can the stadium. That franchise would also change their name and logo, so their initial egregore would mostly be gone and a new one would be formed around the new ID. This would take time, as the new fans would have to start loving their new team. I don't have any statistics of the success franchises had after relocating (Brooklyn Dodgers, Charlotte Hornets), but i don't think they won any trophy in the first few years after relocation.

Hope you make something out of this :)

Scott Stenwick said...

I still am not sure that this really fits the concept of an egregore. The key is that you need to in some fashion demonstrate that the whole is measurably greater than the sum of its parts to show an egregore at work, at that turns out to be pretty difficult. So either there are no egregores, or the effect is weak enough that it is hard to measure even by magical standards (which is saying something).

Many years ago now there was a study showing that golfers did not play as well when in a tournament with Tiger Woods, who at that time was the top rated golfer in the world. The effect was small, but measurable. The experimenters suggested that players going into a match expecting to lose do not play quite as hard, because the harder they play, the greater the chance becomes that they could suffer an injury.

Again, I'm not saying that's the full explanation. But it certainly seems like in an injury-prone sport like American Football, it could be part of the explanation, as could the magically talented percentage of fans pushing for their team. How much of the shift, then, is left for the egregore to explain? It seems to me that the answer is not very much.

Frater.Barrabbas said...

Hi Scott - this is one of best articles on this topic that I have read in a long time. I guess I should examine the previous articles as well. I have been trying to work with these concepts for years now, but you have really succinctly explained them in a manner that I will gratefully refer to in the future.

One note, though, the Spirit Only model of magic was the primary model during the Renaissance and later Grimoire period, and it has its sources in antiquity. The Grimoires were written with a Spirit Only perspective, so those who espouse a Grimoire-only approach to magic would seek, in their quest for purity, adopt a Spirit-only approach. It wasn't until the advent of Mesmerism in the 18th century and other discoveries about the undiscovered potential of the human being, in the 19th and 20th centuries, that this model became obsolete.

Thanks for writing this article and the part 2 one as well. I can now think and talk about this topic without getting all befuddled, as I have demonstrated in the past.


Scott Stenwick said...

Glad to hear it! It seems like everybody wants to talk about their pet models rather than comparing them to each other. I want to do that too, but I need to set everything in context first. I'm biased, of course, but I think my "quantum information model" is pretty good and deals with many of the seeming contradictions inherent in the various approaches.

Part of the reason I didn't go into the history of the Spirit-Only model is that honestly, I don't really care that it has roots in antiquity. To my way of thinking effectiveness rather than age is what conveys authority. If I didn't have data suggesting that it's an incomplete approach, I might have spent more time on it. But it's pretty clear to me that Spirit-Only is extremely limited and basically incorrect.

Anonymous said...

This guy talks a bit about the GD using their orders' egregores. This is similar to what I was talking about in the sports example, although the GD are aware of using them, and they also know how to use them.

Scott Stenwick said...

And I am aware of that position. But personally, I have not found that GD ritual forms like the LRP and so forth work any better for GD initiates, so as I see it that data point is a challenge to the egregore model. If the egregore is so powerful, why don't we see a noticeable difference? It's possible that the difference in effectiveness is small enough that it is hard to quantify, but if that's the case, why bother with the concept at all?

I suppose you might be able to make the case that my forms work as well as they do because of the operant field method, which the GD orders don't teach, and if they did begin teaching the forms that way they would suddenly become way stronger than me. But I kind of doubt it, to tell you the truth. At least, I've never seen any evidence that would suggest it might be a worthwhile line of inquiry. Note that I'm not necessarily saying that the GD egregore doesn't exist, but I am saying that it doesn't seem to be all that powerful or effective.

For all I know there's an "OTO egregore" that gives me the same kind of effects, though I can't say that there was a point where my forms suddenly got way better after taking a particular initiation. The biggest jump was changing from banish-banish to operant field, and that was an innovation based on research and testing.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I'm not saying an egregore is a powerful entity that pours its energy into a ritual to make it X times more powerful, but it might add the straw that broke the camel's back, the extra kick that a spell would need to manifest.

Scott Stenwick said...

Maybe. I just think that if the effect was all that significant, it should be easier to measure than it seems to be. And if it is not that significant, why bother with it at all? I've heard from a couple of people now who have told me that they joined a GD group and their forms got worse - which really makes no sense if the egregore model is correct as it is usually stated. So in my mind, the jury is still out.

Anonymous said...

I find that weird to know. Ever since I started practicing the LBRP I came across affirmations that said when you're doing it, you're picking up the energies of all the people who have ever done it, since it was invented. By that I understood that you're accessing the ritual's egregore.

Perhaps those people had it hard to adapt their style to the GD, and that could have worsen their forms. I don't know.

I guess I'll leave it as it is for now, because I can't think of a way to accurately test if these things can be contacted (summoned) and interrogated like one would a spirit.

Scott Stenwick said...

It can possibly fit into a couple of them, depending on how you believe the connection between universal mind and personal mind works, whether or not either can accomplish paranormal effects, and really how you think the universe is put together from a metaphysical standpoint.

If you see everything as mind, and mind as something with paranormal abilities, I would say that falls under something like a psychological-plus or psychic model. That's basically a version of the New Thought model.

Lon DuQuette talks about how "it's all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is" and posits that paranormal effects work by reality selection according to the "many worlds" model of quantum physics. Basically, every possible quantum mechanical solution exists within its own world all the time, and magick is how you use your consciousness to navigate to the one you want to experience. Depending on your metaphysical outlook, your model may fall along those lines too.

An xyz-only model of magick is likely in error, just as I postulate in this series. What you describe may be exactly how magick works for you, whether or not it works that way for others. I suspect based on the diversity of reported experience that different magicians engage with each of the various non-exclusive magical models I outline here to varying degrees based on their personal makeup, if that makes sense. The challenge is to work out how they all fit together into a larger metaphysical framework.