What is magick?
In recent years this is a question that has gained ever increasing relevancy within a certain segment of the populace. To the layman magick is still magic, a pleasing illusion for the entire family. In the underground, views can vary depending upon whether one approaches the topic from a 'right' or 'left' origin... I dislike bringing up these kinds of political labels as they no longer have any meaning in the 21st century, but for our purposes here they will have to do. Thus, the right leaning side of the underground will interrupt magick from a modern Christian world view that sees any such practice as evil. Conversely the left leaning side sees magick as the true predecessor to science, and thus a boon to humanity.
The later view has become particularly prevalent of late with the oft repeated Third Law of Clarke showing up in several major science fiction pieces, most notably The Box. It simply states: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
This is in keeping with a view stated by James Frazer in the The Golden Bough that magick was the predecessor to the scientific method:
"Wherever sympathetic magic occurs in its pure unadulterated form, it assumes that in nature one event follows another necessarily and invariably without the intervention of any spiritual or personal agency. Thus its fundamental conception is identical with that of modern science; underlying the whole system is a faith, implicit but real and firm, in the order and uniformity of nature. The magician does not doubt that the same causes will always produce the same effects, that the performance of the proper ceremony, accompanied by the appropriate spell, will inevitably be attended by the desired result, unless, indeed, his incantations should chance to be thwarted and foiled by the more potent charms of another sorcerer... Thus the analogy between the magical and the scientific conceptions of the world is close. In both of them the succession of events is perfectly regular and certain, being determined by immutable laws, the operation of which can be foreseen and calculated precisely; the elements of caprice, of chance, and of accident are banished from the course of nature. Both of them open up a seemingly boundless vista of possibilities to him who knows the cause of things and can touch the secret springs that set in motion the vast and intricate mechanism of the world. Hence the strong attraction which magic and science alike have exercised on the human mind; hence the powerful stimulus that both have given to the pursuit of knowledge.Frazer is basically saying that while magic and science are closely related in practice, science is superior because it deals primarily with fixed natural laws. Of course, natural laws have become ever increasingly subjective things since the rise of physics, but that's another topic. The primary focus of magick is not with the physical world, but with the psychological -With reality. Science attempts to determine a fixed concept of reality. Magick attempts to bend the fabric of reality to the will of the magician.
"The fatal flaw of magic lies not in its general assumption of a sequence of events determined by law, but in its total misconception of the nature of the particular laws which govern that sequence... The principles of association are excellent in themselves, and indeed absolutely essential to the working of the human mind. Legitimately applied they yield science; illegitimately applied they yield magic, the bastard sister of science. It is therefore a truism, almost a tautology, to say that all magic is necessarily false and barren; for were it ever to become true and fruitful, it would no longer be magic but science. From the earliest times man has been engaged in a search for general rules whereby to turn the order of natural phenomena to his own advantage, and in the long search he has scraped together a great hoard of such maxims, some of them golden and some of them mere dross. The true or golden rule constitute the body of applied science which we call arts; the false are magic."
(The Golden Bough, pgs. 45-46)
To this end any number of tactics can employed that go well beyond those of ritual. For this reason most would be magicians, shamans, and the like would go through some form of initiation process that would simulate death and rebirth, this effectively rewiring the initiates' perception of reality.
"The essence of initiation... is death and rebirth. In puberty rites, the childish self dies that the adult self may live; the shaman is dismembered and resurrected, dying to his old bodily perspective and rising again with a new daimonic perspective. Many tribal peoples sanction 'secret socieities' whose purpose is to initiate adults into the mystery of death and rebirth via rites which are the same in kind as, but less extreme in degree than, shamanic initiation. This was the norm also in ancient Greece, where everyone who was anyone was initiated into the Mysteries which took place in Eleusis...
"...the kind of death associated with initiation. -the heart stopping sensation of having one's bodily perspective dismembered and turned around, of being wrenched out of literal reality, out of this world and the attachments to it. This can be a more painful death than physical death because it is the death of everything that we think of as ourselves. It is also the beginning of a new kind of self, a rebirth.
"Like initiates into the Mysteries... all shamans stress the terror of initiation, including even the encounter with their helping or tutelary spirits, who can appear fearsome. But, as an Australian shaman advised, power can be gained from the spirits as long as we are not intimidated into panicking. There is no indication, in other words, that fear and pain are bad or wrong, as modern secular ideologies and psychotherapies tend to suggest. Dreams are full of fear and pain. So are myths. So are religions."
(Daimonic Reality, Patrick Harpur, pgs. 234-236)
More from Robert Anton Wilson:
"...I have undergone a number of occult initiations and have become aware of the basic similarity of such rituals in all traditions. This is the pattern of death-rebirth which even today appears symbolically in the Roman Catholic Mass and the Masonic 'raising' ceremony. The Investigator is betraying no secret when we say that, in serious occult orders, such performances are not mere rituals but real ordeals. Insofar as possible within the law, the candidate is often brought to a state of terror similar to the emergency condition of the nervous system in near-death crisis. What occurs then, and is experienced as rebirth, is a quantum jump in neurological awareness. In Leary's terminology, new circuits are formed and imprinted.
"Obviously, the first shamans had no teachers; they simply went through the illness-rebirth transition accidentally, as it were. Later, schools of shamans developed techniques (psychedelics, rituals of terror, yoga, etc.) to catapult the student into such experience. In most of those schools there is great reliance on an entity or entities of superhuman nature who aid in the initiatory process, sometimes for years."
(The Cosmic Trigger, pg. 139)
Once the magician had completed his initiation he then in turn would use the various tools of initiation to bend the reality of his adversaries. In his epic The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology the mythologist Joseph Campbell recounts the use of terror amongst several Eskimo shamans to manipulate the community around them:
"...at Nome, an old scalawag named Najagneq, who had just been released from a year in jail for having killed seven or eight members of his community. In his distant village, Najagneq had made a fortress of his house and from there, alone, had waged war with the whole of his tribe -and against the whites too -until he had been taken by stratagem by the captain of a ship and brought to Nome. He was held in jail there until ten witnesses of his killings could be fetched from his settlement; but when these were confronted with him they dropped their charges, much as they would have liked to see him done away with. His small piercing eyes roamed about wildly, and his jaw hung in a bandage that was much to slack, a man who tried to kill him having injured his face. And when the ten men who wold have accused him met his look in the witness box, they lowered their eyes in shame...
"Najagneq's powers of imagination had been stimulated in the big town of Nome. Although knowing nothing except earth huts, sledges and kayaks, he was not at all impressed by the large houses, the steamers and the motor-cards. But he had been fascinated by the sight of a white horse hauling a big lorry. So he now told his astonished fellow villagers that the white men in Nome had killed him ten times that winter, but that he had ten white horses as helping spirits, and he had sacrificed them one by one and thus saved his life.(pgs. 52-53)
No reason is given for why Najagneq would begin killing his fellow villagers other than power -His ability to wage a successful war against his own tribe single-handily while escaping the legal system of the whites seemingly convinced others of his supernatural powers. Thus, surrounded by the modern world, a tribal world view prevailed amongst Najagneq's people. This is but a primitive example of psychological warfare, and a very successful one at that.
From time to time on this blog I have tried to draw attention to the similarities between magicians and intelligence officers. This is a concept that is virtually impossible for the layman and even many in the underground to wrap their heads around. Yet many of the most famous magicians of the modern era, including John Dee and Aleister Crowley, were themselves intelligence assets. The overlap between the occult and the secret services has always been great and has arguably grown even closer in the 20th century. Many of the recent 'cutting-edge' techniques of the intelligence community were, in fact, derived from the occult.
"All of these techniques -hallucinogenic drugs, hypnosis, acts of terrorism, disinformation -share an ontological purpose: to manipulate perceptions, tor-create reality. As we noted above, the German word for psychological warfare translates as 'worldview warfare': a battle of perceptions, of consensus realities... As the men of the OSS, CIA, and military intelligence developed from the armchair scholars and academics that most of them were before the war years into soldiers fighting the Cold War on fronts all over the world, they became -in a very real sense -magicians. As we will see, the CIA mind control projects themselves represented an assault on consciousness and reality that has not been seen in history since the age of the philosopher-kings and their court alchemists."
(Sinister Forces -Book One: The Nine, Peter Levenda, pg. 144)
Levenda is perhaps being to modest -what the magicians of the CIA accomplished in the 1960s was one of the greatest magical workings of any era in terms of the reality shift in brought about. I have already written extensively on the shift here and here in terms of the spread of entheogens and propaganda, respectively. With these things in addition to the spread of occult arts in the 1960s a most profound consciousness shift underway indeed. Writing in the 1970s, researcher John Keel proclaimed:
"We are witnessing a world wide phenomenon today: mass illumination of millions of people, particularly young (under thirty) men and women in all walks of life. This process is quite well understood but never openly discussed in the mass media... Illumination is basically a sudden, overwhelming insight into the whole structure of the cosmos and man's relationship to it. Suddenly, for a few brief seconds, the percipient understands everything with incredible clarity. In some cases the process occurs over a long period in the form of short flashes of insight that gradually add up. In others it takes place instantaneously with the percipient seemingly bathed in a reddish glow or caught in a beam of brilliant white light cast down from the skies (thus we have the ancient phrase, 'He has seen the light').
"No one is ever exactly the same after an illuminating experience. Mediocre men become great leaders, preachers, statesmen, scientists, poets, and writers overnight! Others divorce their spouses, quit their jobs, and embark on new careers that catapult them into unexpected prominence. Some fear for their sanity at first because their experience is so overwhelming. Some are unable to cope with it and disintegrate into various kinds of fanatics."
The prospect of mass illumination was something that individuals from the 1960s counterculture such as Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary hailed as the next stage of human evolution.
"This theory, at its best, only partially explains the ugliest and most publicized aspects of the revolution -the reckless drug abuse characteristic of the immature. It says nothing about the millions of respectable doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc who have turned away from second circuit intoxication with booze to fifth circuit rapture with weed.
"A more plausible theory, devised by psychiatrist Norman Zinberg out of the work of Marshal McLuhan, holds that modern electronic media have so shifted the nervous system's parameters that young people no longer enjoy 'linear' drugs like alcohol and find meaning only in 'non-linear' weed and psychedelics."
(The Cosmic Trigger Volume One, pg. 207)
Given the current state of affairs, Wilson's theories don't seem to have much merit. Wilson assumed that the drive for self illumination would be so overwhelming in most drug users that they would eventually move on to a purer pursuit of knowledge. Clearly, many prefer to remain mired in hedonism. Using Leary's 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness theorized that we were moving up the chain from more bodily drugs (alcohol, opiates, etc) to those that primarily enhanced the mind (weed, psychedelics, etc). For a time this indeed seemed to be the case, but with the rise of prescription med use in the 90s it seems that we are reverting back to the bodily state. Even when factoring in the ecstasy scene it seems numbness is a greater pursuit for many drug users than illumination.
Further, even when one uses entheogens and other aspects of the occult for self illumination there's no guarantee that something positive will come from this. In fact it can be quite dangerous as Wilson himself, recounting Aleister Crowley's advice, acknowledges:
"Other Crowley exercises the author tried are not described here, because they are too dangerous for ordinary or casual experimenters. Crowley always insisted that nobody should try his more advanced techniques without (a) being in excellent physical health, (b) being competent in at least one athletic skill, (c) being able to conduct experiments accurately in at least one science, (d) having a general knowledge of several sciences, (e) being able to pass examination in formal logic and (f) being able to pass an examination in the history of philosophy, including Idealism, Materialism, Rationalism, Spiritualism, Comparative Theology, etc. Without that kind of general knowledge and the self-confidence and independence of thought produced by such study, magick investigation will merely blow your mind. As Brad Steiger has said, the lunatic asylums are full of people who naively set out to study the occult before they had any real competence in dealing with the ordinary."
(The Cosmic Trigger, pg. 72)
For those of you wondering why various secret services would deliberately spread the tools of illumination, there you have it. Historically illumination followed an extensive period of initiation which, as previously stated, was quite terrifying. In most societies, only certain individuals were selected to even attempt the process of initiation, to say nothing of dabbling in the occult arts. In priest driven societies, such as ones of the Near East and Europe in antiquity, typically only individuals of substance were initiated into the Mysteries. In the shamanic tradition the world over normally anyone could be initiated, though typically they were only taught the greater secrets if they showed a particular talent for the spiritual. In both cases initiation was treated with great seriousness and much spiritual training, especially in regards to the dangers.
In the modern era, with the Drug Revolution and the Magical Revival in play, no such training is typically available. And rarely are individuals who experiment in these areas serious about what they are getting themselves into. Thus, the illumination achieved is typically a false one, and this can be even more dangerous than ignorance. John Keel states:
"But as in all aspects of the general phenomenon, there seem to be other forces imitating this process and producing false illumination. Young people experimenting with LSD and other hallucinogens sometimes have experiences that they believe are contacts with the Cosmic Consciousness but which ultimately prove to be destructive. Charles Manson is a good example of this. Some LSD users do, however, appear to undergo a pure form of illuminism, but it is likely that they were already illumination-prone and would have had the experience eventually anyway."
(Our Haunted Planet, pg. 202)
Indeed, Manson is a fine example of what can wrong with false illumination, as I've chronicled link here and here. And given the ever growing rise in serial killers, spree shootings, the copycat effect, and so forth, it seems the fall out of false illumination is beginning to come to a boil. Just a little over a month ago we witnessed another in a long line of mysterious assassins, this time in the form of Jared Lee Loughner.
Many in the underground have speculated that Loughner was some kind of Manchurian Candidate, but as I noted in a prior article, I can find no overt evidence of this. The most striking thing to Loughner is that there is so little mystery -he was an angry individual that began to dabble in entheogens and the occult for the wrong reasons. In the process he achieved some degree of illumination, but because of the baggage he brought with me, simply deteriorated mentally to point where he became the animal the Cryptocracy desires. Well, there probably is more mystery than that - I do believe something touched him during his inititation -but that is beyond the scope of this article.
Robert Anton Wilson, obviously a great proponent of reprogramming, acknowledges that he was well prepared for this process by undergoing several psychotherapies in his 20s. While he never states it, I also suspect that having a wife and several children -a strong family network in other words -also greatly stabilized his illumination process. The greatest challenge to illumination for many individuals seems to be coping with the social alienation that a distinct world view can bring with it. Without the kind of friend and family network that Wilson and the like possessed it can be incredibly destructive, as our modern prison system and mental wards are a testament too.