A Useless Tool: Peter Carroll on Neo-Platonism

An article on Peter J. Carroll’s website, “The Neo-Platonic Chocolate Screwdriver” (2014), sets out to examine why so many magickians and mystics “seem quite unaccomplished or dysfunctional on the material plane and so frequently penniless”. Carroll’s answer lies not in anything obvious, such as inequality of opportunity, or persons having different criteria for accomplishment from his own, but in the adoption of the neo-platonic worldview.

He characterises Neo-Platonism as:

positing the separate existence of the ‘essences’ of phenomena […] Basically in Platonism ‘whatever you can think of’ acquires some sort of a transcendental reality as an ‘essence’, and sometimes as a ‘sentient essence’ as well.

The problem with this worldview, according to Carroll, is its “insufficient reference to observed reality”. Essences cannot be sensed, and thus Neo-Platonism has “very low predictive power”, losing out to mechanistic thinking, which by focusing instead on what things do and how they work (rather than on pointless abstract speculation about what they somehow really are) is able to engage with reality more effectively.

Already we have arrived at the central issue: the assumption that to know how to work a thing is to know it fully. But in his rush to have “strangled the last astrologer with the guts of the last spiritual master” (2000: 46), Carroll never properly investigated what the latter might have offered: an actual means of knowing things as they really are.

Suppose I sit and stare at a blank wall. I experience the whiteness of the wall, its granularity, its undulations and cracks and scars. The details of the wall are endless, inexhaustible, revealing newer facets in each moment; indeed, what sense does it make to say this wall has some kind of singular “essence”? “Phenomena remain mutable, not fixed by essence”, Carroll asserts. “[P]henomena consist just of what they actually do, they don’t also have a separate abstract form of ‘being’, except in our minds […] phenomena lack any form of ‘otherness’”.

But what he overlooks is that we also have the experience of our experience of the blank wall. This has none of the attributes of the blank wall (whiteness, crackedness, lumpiness, etc.); all of those are within the experience of the blank wall. The level of experience I am pointing to is the shape taken by experience itself; not anything in experience.

A cartoon rainbow with a face, hard-hat and screwdriver.
Let’s go to work, with Neo-Platonism!

It usually takes considerable time and effort to develop awareness of this level of experience. Carroll’s talents are considerable, but a flair for meditation seems not to be among them. His meditative exercises for novices in Liber MMM (Carroll 1987: 14-16) are not suitable for developing this level of insight. Other forms of contemplation, however, can cultivate this level of experience that is the experience itself, from where it can be seen how any experience is the same as any other experience, regardless of its contents, or of who is having it. This provides access to a level of awareness that is universal, and casts an interesting and (at first) unexpected light on who can be said to be “having” this awareness, and on what its supposed object is.

The biggest problem with “essence” is understanding what the word means. It is from the Greek, ousia. This may come as a surprise, but the level of experience I described above is what the neo-platonists actually meant by it, rather than what is understood by the terms it is usually translated into: “essence”, “substance” (ouch), or (slightly better) “being”.

Here is how the philosopher Pierre Grimes describes ousia:

[T]o understand the forces and ideas that operate in our problems, we must turn our attention around and reflect on those things that escaped our notice. This turning about of our very being is what is called in Greek ousia, and in that motion there is a turning about of the mind toward a reality beyond mere existence. […] For Plato this reflective turning about is inherent in the very nature of Being, and when this feature is stressed it is called ousia. Thus, through our existence we can touch upon Being and participate in Being as ousia. (Grimes 1998: 50)

As Carroll suggests, essence (ousia) is not “observable” or “testable” but, as Grimes asserts, it may be grasped through becoming it. To do this, we turn the mind about upon itself, through contemplation, transcending sensory appearances to participate in Being directly. Essence (ousia) is not simply a concept or supposition, but a direct understanding attained through a practice.

The idea that Neo-Platonism tried to set itself apart from questions later raised by psychology or phenomenology is mostly a product of the mistranslation and misunderstanding of ousia. Consider the following proposition as another route into Neo-Platonism: the thing we know the least about is matter.

Why does an atomic particle act the way it does? We can perceive it, observe it, learn to predict its attributes and behaviours, but we cannot comprehend it “from the inside” in the same way as when we ask of another person: Why did he say that? We cannot predict with certainty the behaviours of even those closest to us, yet nevertheless we understand them deeply. Like us, they are a being, and so we can participate in their being; from the inside we grasp their “essence”. But the essence arises from our participation; it is not a separable thing “in” something.

Carroll writes that for nineteenth century occultism, when it became apparent that “the adept can more or less manufacture gods and spirits to order”, this was another “crack” in the edifice of neo-platonic thinking, but hopefully it is clear by this point how it was nothing of the sort. Would the great minds of the Platonic tradition really have concerned themselves with a worldview so patently broken as the one Carroll describes?

The earliest known analogue computer is the Antikythera mechanism, which has been dated (at the latest) to around the time of the destruction of Plato’s original academy (86 BC); in other words about 500 years before Neo-Platonism. Mechanistic thinking was already fully available to Greek civilization and its predictive power was well-understood; the Antikythera mechanism was an astronomical calculator. Yet by this time Plato’s ideas had already flourished for 400 years at the original academy, and would return again as Neo-Platonism (410-529AD). Why would the Greeks retain this so-called “chocolate screwdriver” if, apparently, they had a perfectly fine set of metal ones?

A corroded, rusty mass of cogs and metal.
The Antikythera Mechanism: the predictive power of mechanistic thinking, five centuries before Neo-Platonism.

Rather than providing understanding through participation in being, for Carroll Neo-Platonism is “a set of unfalsifiable ideas that have very low predictive power”. Regarding the hapless mages who lend credence to these useless ideas, “the more they let the Neoplatonic style influence their everyday activities the more of a mess they seem to get into”.

Carroll was one of the figures responsible for re-inventing magick based on the concept of paradigm-shifting. He would not claim that the neo-platonic paradigm is wrong (because that would be a backdoor through which a notion of “truth” could creep in), but that the “mess” is caused because Neo-Platonism is a less useful way of negotiating the world.

Yet seeking a useful paradigm is nevertheless to act on a basis of opinion and belief, because our choices are then guided by what we want. What is right and what is adventitious are not necessarily the same, but, as Socrates says: “what gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the good” (Plato 1997: 1131 [VI, 508d]). In other words, understanding is aided by the greatest possible good. But where we are guided by want, rather than goodness, then what we merely believe to be best can come to stand in place of what is genuinely good. Mechanistic thinking delivers predictable outcomes, within its paradigm, but buying into the paradigm itself can confuse predictability with goodness.

“We obviously don’t actually have fixed selves or souls or ‘essences’”, Carroll declares. “Watch a child grow, or more disturbingly, watch dementia take an elderly person.” But the neo-platonists watched children grow, and dementia was not unknown to them. These were as great a joy and tragedy to them as to us. Nevertheless they adhered to a meticulously reasoned and developed notion of the soul. Perhaps Carroll believes they were breathtakingly more stupid than he, or maybe he prefers the predictability of his own paradigm to the idea that, just perhaps, by “soul” is meant something different from what he has understood.

Replacing truth with utility, and dismissing understanding for observation, has led to a “mess” that is, unfortunately, at the very heart of chaos magick in its present form. Carroll’s half-baked views on Neo-Platonism cast little light on his odd non-question about why others make less money than he, but perhaps some light on himself: he seems to regard the measure of a mage as his or her bank balance, and he is maybe projecting inferiority onto others.

Other writings on his website suggest he will be joining, in spirit at least, the knees-up at the Brexit after-party, with Farage, Rees-Mogg, BoJo and company (Carroll, 2016). Their superior mechanistic reasoning renders their motivation inscrutable to the neo-platonic hoi polloi, but I would hazard a wild guess it might be, perhaps: stay rich, and get richer.

References

All quotations in this article are from Carroll 2014, unless otherwise indicated.

Peter J. Carroll (2014). “The Neo-Platonic Chocolate Screwdriver” (specularium.org).

Peter J. Carroll (2016). “Keep Calm and Carry On” (specularium.org).

Peter J. Carroll (2000). PsyberMagick: Advanced Ideas in Chaos Magick, revised second edition (Tempe, AZ: New Falcon).

Peter J. Carroll (1987). Liber Null & Psychonaut (York Beach, ME: Weiser).

Pierre Grimes (1998). Philosophical Midwifery (Costa Mesa, CA: Hyparxis Press).

Plato (1997). The Republic, trans. G.M.A. Grube & C.D.C. Reeve. In: Complete Works (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett).

The Crisis of Chaos Magick

The cover of Dark Star Rising, by Gary Lachman.
Troubling reading for all chaotes.

We have sermonised previously on unwelcome developments in contemporary chaos magick. Now, Gary Lachman’s latest book, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (2018), delivers another body-blow to the chaos magick current. Consider this passage:

Where the liar knows the truth and respects it – he does not want to get caught in his lie – the bullshitter [i.e. Trump] couldn’t care less about it. He isn’t interested in the truth […] He is interested in the effect his bullshit has on his audience […] For chaos magick and postmodernism, whether something is true or false simply no longer matters. Truth or falsehood are beliefs which we can take on or put off as need be. (Lachman, 2018: 75)

Tracing lines of influence between New Thought (aka “positive thinking”), postmodernism, and chaos magick, Lachman shows how the ethos of “Nothing is True; Everything is Permitted” has enabled ideologues of the far right to secure their hold on power.

Trump is more directly a product of New Thought, a philosophy which avers that imagining an outcome strongly enough will cause it to materialize (and is probably partly why Trump imagines he is the best at everything), but there is evidence that others who supported him into power – such as Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer – have done so with a more explicit awareness of chaos magick theory, and having employed techniques such as “meme magick”.

Lachman’s book is a warning. Chaos magick is its villain. Without an ethical framework, chaos magick techniques can be appropriated by anyone. It is chilling to read quotations from the works of Julian Vayne and Phil Hine (just standard stuff about shifting beliefs, nudging reality; nothing disagreeable) in contexts that illuminate the alt-right’s agenda.

Dugin giving a talk before a chaos star banner.
Alexander Dugin, aka “Putin’s Rasputin”.

Chaotes who do not want chaos magick to become confused with neo-fascism need to wake up. The chaos star is already the emblem of Eurasian nationalism, thanks to Alexander Dugin. The strength of chaos magick is its weakness. Unlike other traditions, it does not tell its adherents what to believe; that would be silly, because adoption of belief is precisely one of the practical tools it offers for changing reality. Consequently, chaos magickians tend to do far more actual magick than traditions that offer a worldview rather than just a set of techniques. But without a worldview there is simply no frame of reference for assessing whether those techniques are used well or responsibly.

Consider belief-shifting, which, argues Wahid Azal, can become “the vehicle for self-realization and understanding of the coincidentia oppositorum underlying all phenomena” (Azal, 2016). However, “with Dugin and his acolytes the issue is not linked specifically to any spiritual practice and its realization per se but rather it is purely about political praxis and the will to power in its crudest form” (Azal, 2016). In other words, belief-shifting and its effects are not a means of arriving at a greater understanding of the true nature of a world that can be affected by changes in belief, or the true nature of a self that can turn upon itself in this way, but simply as a means of imposing ego upon the world.

Those of us who reject the far right are not necessarily comfortable with neo-liberalism as an alternative. This is where Dugin, Spencer, and their ilk are especially dangerous, because although much is attractive in their criticism of neo-liberalism, everything in their proposals for where we must go instead is skewed from the outset.

Dugin writes:

The logic of world liberalism and globalisation pulls us into the abyss of postmodern dissolution and virtuality […] The usual phenomenon now is the loss of identity, and already not simply only national or cultural identity, but even sexual, and soon enough even human identity. (Dugin, 2012: 84)

Dugin wants to resist the dissolution with which liberalism confronts him. But chaos magickal praxis, with its basis in exactly the postmodernist thinking that Dugin wants to defend against, insists that identity is by definition fluid. How can manipulating one’s identity be supposed to make it non-manipulatable thereafter? Retention of identity, from a chaos magickal perspective, could only be in a paradoxical sense of conceding that it never existed in the first place.

The “active metaphysics” Dugin ominously calls for, in order to “realise the end of times” (Dugin, 2012: 100), will bring about his desired change of reality through a shift in belief. But in that case reality will be shown to have exactly the fluid, malleable nature that Dugin wants to guard against.

Lachman points out the same fundamental contradiction in Richard Spencer and the alt-right, who shift identities and beliefs in order for their meme magick to work, yet at the same time insist “race is the foundation of identity” (cited in Lachman, 2018: 80).

Activists holding Pepe the frog banner.
Activists of the alt-right, engaging in a spot of meme magick. Seattle, January 2017.

Those who are appropriating chaos magick in order to realise the aims of the far right are using tools that do not match their aims. But the tools work, so why worry? This is the problem with chaos magick: there seems to be no requirement to develop understanding. You do not need to look deeper into chaos magick in order to get it to work. Unless you actually want to understand what it is that you are really doing, and who that really makes you.

A fascism that has been realised through shifting beliefs and meme magick is not what it seems. Do the likes of Trump, Putin and Farage actually have objectives that are more than a corollary of their own aggrandisement? Dugin appears to confront this:

This personality is the political man’s simulacrum. It is something that imitates the political soldier, in the same way that postmodernity imitates Modernity. [… W]hat we see is the undisguised, rotten liberal post-human and the pseudo-human, the pseudo-soldier, within whom the general substance of this phase of history has found itself. This is why we have the phenomenon of contemporary fascism, which is an excellent illustration of this condition. Every last vestige of fascism that was embodied by political soldiers ran out in 1945. Each and every declared fascist after 1945 is a simulacrum. (Dugin, 2012: 95)

Dugin recognises that the methods he proposes yield a politics that is not what it appears, but he is content to ride with it. As Azal describes this, from the perspective of those even harder right than Dugin, “he has in recent times moved […] into what some neo-Traditionalists would probably characterize as ‘counter-initiatic currents’ and the ‘Counter-Tradition’” (Azal, 2016).

Its lack of an ethics or worldview accounts for another oddity of chaos magick that many have highlighted, but none engages with as a glaring flaw: how almost every book on chaos magick is a book for beginners. With the clue in its title, an exception was Alan Chapman’s Advanced Magick for Beginners (2008), which dared to reinstate and re-clarify the Great Work as an obligatory goal for chaos magickians.

The methods of chaos magick will most likely continue to be appropriated by and become associated with the aims and agenda of the far right. Unless chaos magick grows up and accepts that a worldview and ethics is an intrinsic part of magickal practice, then it will become subsumed within these movements. The way to resist is to show the alt-right, and others, how their appropriation of these methods undermines their aims; the fascism produced by these means is self-contradictory and fake. We do this by allowing our own practice of these methods to lead us, through experience, to a deeper understanding of what reality is, and who we truly are.

References

Wahid Azal (2016). “Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism” (counterpunch.org).

Alan Chapman (2008). Advanced Magick for Beginners. London: Aeon.

Alexander Dugin (2012). The Fourth Political Theory. London: Arktos.

Gary Lachman (2018). Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. New York: TarcherPerigree.

 

A Fire Kasina Retreat: Elemental Magick and the Holy Guardian Angel

A few weeks ago I returned from the toughest meditation retreat ever. Twelve of the roughest, most humiliating days. Rough, because suicidal ideation is never fun. Humiliating, because I was the gibbering nutcase of the group. After thirty-odd years of practising meditation I had supposed I was past getting my arse kicked so badly.

A castle in Europe
A castle in Europe.
It was an independently organised event; nine of us, in a small castle on the edge of a forest somewhere in Europe. Our practice was fire kasina – not a common one these days, although this type of meditation is described extensively in the classical Buddhist manuals.

A kasina is a physical object that acts as a target for concentration. Kasinas come in various forms, sometimes as coloured disks (blue kasina, yellow kasina, etc.), or sometimes with elemental properties, such as a disk made of clay, a bowl of water, or an empty aperture of some kind (respectively, the kasinas of earth, water and air). We chose what is perhaps the most convenient form of fire kasina: a simple candle flame.

Kasina practise involves focusing on your chosen object with eyes open, for a relatively short period, until a retinal after-image develops. At this point the eyes are closed and the after-image is taken as the object of concentration proper. Next, peculiar things begin to happen. The meditator enters a realm where the distinction between perceptions and mental images is less apparent than in daily life. As one’s baseline level of concentration increases, so the boundary between external perception and internal mentation becomes increasingly attenuated.

Kasina meditation is a means of access to the realm of the siddhis (psychic powers). It cultivates a state of mind in which visions, out-of-body travel and contact with discarnate entities become vivid, lived experiences. Veridical telepathic and clairvoyant experiences are less common, but may also make an appearance within this state.

Its connection with siddhis is probably one reason why this practice is not commonly taught. Another is that twenty minutes daily, albeit not without benefit, is simply inadequate to develop the concentration required to experience the dramatic stuff. This demands retreat conditions; at the very least, ten days of concerted effort.

A kasina retreat is an occasion for practising magick in a Buddhist style. In secular terms, I would describe it as a long, slow journey into psychosis, and (hopefully) back again.

Bat-shit crazy

I had some stressful psychological issues before the retreat, and was hoping to use it as an opportunity to confront them. I set an intention to meet my Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) in the ultra-realistic vision-space that kasina practice provides, hoping for powerful healing effects. Things started well enough. After a couple of days focusing on the candle and stoking up my concentration, I closed my eyes on getting into bed and my visual field was scored with a luminous sigil. When I opened my eyes it was gone, but back again each time I closed them. Not quite a perception, yet more than a mental image, it conveyed a sense that something had me marked for attention.

Two days later, 4.45am, I was woken by three loud knocks at the bedroom door. The rhythm was forceful, urgent, and sent my heart pounding in my throat. No one was outside and my roommate had not stirred. Both incidents signalled that my angel was on its way, but during the days that separated them, somehow, my concentration had fallen apart. I could not focus on the candle for even a few seconds. Unhelpful thoughts started to make themselves heard: “If I cannot do even this, then what do I have left?” I was sucked into deep and painful depression. My whole life seemed a failure. I hadn’t enough painkillers in my luggage to do the job, so the only option was to hang myself in the woods. I also kept falling into episodes of panicky derealisation; a line from Dick’s Ubik seemed to encapsulate this: “He felt all at once like an ineffectual moth, fluttering at the windowpane of reality, dimly seeing it from outside.” I was locked out from what was truly real, barred from getting back in, yet terrified that if I succeeded I would only be overwhelmed by what was inside. The meditation was harmful; it would only send me mad. How could I get through the following days without killing myself or going bat-shit crazy with panic?

A sliver of me retained enough sense to talk with the teacher. What helped was his reassurance that I could let myself panic, go nuts, whatever; the group would take care of me. Strengthened, I climbed back onto the saddle, and realised I had been resisting the build-up of concentration, fearful of re-entering states similar to my recent, traumatic dalliance with LSD. But once my concentration really was up, it actually wasn’t so bad. The rest of the group now had three days’ march on me, and were hitting the dramatic stuff. The best I could hope for now was a meeting with the angel just before the retreat was due to end.

Stream flowing through woods.
The magicks of earth and water.
During the preceding dark days I came down with a cold, including wheezing lungs and coughing fits. In the communal practice room I was disturbing others, so I went to the woods to practise. Because I had set an intention to meet my HGA, then at dawn, midday and dusk each day I stood by the same tree stump, surrounded by a rough circle of young trees, and performed “The Bornless Ritual”, an invocation used by Crowley specifically for this purpose. Nearby, a stream meandered through the wood. By its bank were older trees, their base and lower flanks dressed in spongy moss. On dry days, the leaf litter seethed with spiders and vicious-looking ants, so I made my seat upon the cool, damp moss, leaning against a gnarled tree trunk, beside the trickling water.

I learnt much about elemental magick on this retreat. Although there was a part of me never in any doubt my angel would appear, predictably this occurred in a totally unpredictable manner.

Spirits of place

There was no candle flame out in the woods. For a few days, it rained softly. I put on my waterproofs and sank gently into the earth for hours. Psychologically, I was frazzled; fire was probably the least suitable element for me to be working with, but in the woods I could surround myself with water and earth. I learnt that whatever kasina you choose, it penetrates into your mind, revealing strange insights.

You stare at the kasina until a retinal after-image forms, and then you close your eyes. A yellow candle flame would be expected to produce a bluish retinal after-image that fades after a few seconds. But this is not what happens. Instead, concentration on the after-image produces an ovoid shape of vivid, yellowish-green. Within the oval, minute filigree details, resembling golden gears or cogs, can be observed; and sometimes, around its edge at regular intervals, exquisitely tiny blue-green dots. This curious visual object is called the nimitta. As concentration develops, the nimitta undergoes distinct changes. From the ovoid it transforms into an intensely bright red dot; next, a crater-like black dot; then it fades entirely, and the background of the visual field assumes prominence. This is the most challenging phase of the practice, but if the concentration can become wide and expansive, yet without straining or spacing out, then, eventually, out of the murky greyness of the background will emerge intense multi-sensory visions.

Initially, the candle flame was required to produce the nimitta. But, after a few days, everyone was reporting the nimitta showing up spontaneously, or at will, without the need for any physical object to produce an after-image. It is as if kasina practice builds an internal reservoir of concentration that, after a certain point, becomes self-sustaining.

A couple of days into the retreat, when I closed my eyes I could see a circulating mass in the centre of the visual field. Again: it was neither a perception nor a mental image. The more I practised, the stronger it seemed to grow. In the woods, I only had to focus on it and the nimitta would appear from out of it, proceeding through its usual stages. The pulsating mass persisted for a few days after the retreat, but gradually faded. It had a strange sense of agency, as if it were something internal but somehow with its own character. Although others were experiencing spontaneous appearances of the nimitta, none seemed to recognise my description of the circulating mass.

I would visit the practice room when my lungs were better or no one else was there, but increasingly I carried the woods with me indoors. Indoors, the nimitta would arise from the candle flame, shining brightly, but against a mass of living, growing tendrils and roots. These slyly formed an arch, the nimitta at its apex, a lamp lighting a passageway deep inside the earth. In the vision space, sometimes I descended into these spaces, sinking down past roots and swathes of cold, wet moss, from within which a single eye would open for a moment and sluggishly close. Impish, mocking faces with a faery vibe would sometimes form. They took delight in the difficulties I experienced with the practice. Others had encountered similar beings, and one day we performed a banishing in the practice room, in case obstructive elementals were finding their way inside.

The most intense visions of the retreat, such as my concentration could provide, for I didn’t reach the level required for the high-end stuff, were encounters with spirits of place. For instance: out in the woods lay a giant made of flint. He was partially buried, partially disinterred, and endured this state forever: never completely emerging from the earth, never completely concealed. Another time, a board buried in soil was turned and, stuck to the other side, a giant, mottled grub, its flesh soft like a caterpillar’s, and papery, like the fabric of a wasp’s nest. Then something insectoid, green, and with compound eyes came creeping across leaf litter on long, black, filament legs. From its pipe-like mouth it breathed an iridescent blue vapour.

These spirits of the woods were only passingly interested in me, but mostly preoccupied by their own mysterious functions. They seemed personifications of geological processes; amalgamated images of what thrives in subterranean damp, or on the dry forest floor. I learnt that when you give yourself to an environment, focusing on its objects to the exclusion of what might otherwise occupy your mind, then that environment extends inside you to reveal things otherwise unseen. The gift of these spirits was the cooling, grounding, stabilising properties of water and earth. I had not until then properly appreciated the revitalising qualities of these elements.

Abramelin in twelve days

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage is the standard ritual for attaining contact with the HGA, but ever since an earlier and different translation of the text was found from the one published by S.L. Mathers, there has been disagreement among occultists over whether the Abramelin working should last six months or eighteen. In the heat of this debate, it has been overlooked how Aleister Crowley, having previously attained contact via the orthodox, Abramelin route, very specifically describes in John St. John (Liber 860) a different style of attaining the very same result – but in a mere twelve days.

Knowing that this was possible prevented me from losing hope that my HGA would appear in time. The sigil and the three knocks were signs he was coming. Performing the Bornless Rite three times daily seemed like overkill. One evening, two colleagues expressed an interest in seeing the ritual. “It’s just a middle-aged bloke saying things,” I warned them. Sometimes the atmosphere in the woods seemed altered by the words into expectancy and presence. But often, nothing special happened.

Person on a lawn turning to look at rainbow cloud.
A curious rainbow cloud.
After the three of us had attended the ritual, at dinner we noticed an unusual rainbow cloud near the southern horizon. It is the duty of the magician to interpret everything as a message from God to his or her soul. A rainbow, of course, is the classic symbol of hope, of the covenant between heaven and earth, so I took it as another sure-fire signal of my angel’s arrival.

Yet the problem remained that, because of my meltdown near the start, I hadn’t achieved the level of concentration needed for the immersive, multi-sensory vision that I had been aiming for. Some of the others were already enjoying such experiences but, as the penultimate day of the retreat began, I was still in the “dark night” phase: I was irritable and sick of the whole thing. Part of me expected to end the retreat back where I had started, and wanted only to finish now and go back home.

In the afternoon, I sat in the woods with the sunlight on my face. I noticed that complex sigils were appearing spontaneously against the visual field. They had a yellow or yellow-green colour and seemed composed of alphanumeric characters from unknown alphabets, with woven-in fragments of geometric designs, and little glyphs resembling stylized faces and animals. It looked like a kind of mock “Aztec” writing. Each sigil arose spontaneously out of nothing, endured for a moment, then faded before it was overwritten suddenly by the next. This spectacle produced in me a feeling of endlessness and pointlessness.

I had a headache I could not shake, and kept deciding to take some pills, except the pain seemed a useful object to practise with. My concentration was shot, so I had resorted to vipassana rather than kasina, just for something to do. By then it was evening. Sitting again in the woods, I noticed the headache had gone and my ability to concentrate was back. It seemed I was in the next phase of the practice, “equanimity”. This conclusion held as I tried to “break” the newly-found state by thinking intentionally about all the upsetting things that had previously wrecked my concentration. The new state was spacious enough to allow all thoughts to come and go without being swept along with them.

Just before lunch on the final day, even as my mind filled with thoughts about the journey home and the impending return to daily life, at last the angel came. In the woods, sitting in the sun, I noticed again the “Aztec” writing, only this time I saw how each preceding sigil was not appearing suddenly, but gradually morphing from the one preceding it. Instead of the sense of pointlessness this evoked the day before, it struck me as the communication of a complex message, some intense and lengthy incantation.

Tree stump surrounded by a rough circle of trees.
An altar in the woods.
In the distance a gust of wind gathered and began its approach. The treetops swayed and sighed as it sought me out and swirled the leaf litter with a spiral eddy. At my right hand, like a tall and ancient tree, a magnificent presence: vast, luminous, and sweetly fulfilling. Beautiful beyond all words. And then it dawned on me that the internal nimitta, that “circulating mass”, is the HGA.

I was looking right at it. I had been looking at it, all along. That which I had longed and hoped for, and had been participating in the practice to attain, was already here; it was the practice. There had never been anything to do for union with my angel other than turn attention to it, for there it was, always at hand.

Not in the way I had supposed, nevertheless my intention had been realised. The retreat was a success. (Except, in magick, in a sense there is never any failure, because only an understanding dependent upon causality can produce an experience of something that does not work, and this is not the understanding of a magician.)

I was not anywhere close to the standard of concentration required for a full-blown, high resolution vision, but the angel had found a way to manifest regardless. The experience was not even a “fruition”, the technical term in Buddhist vipassana meditation for the climactic, self-obliterating moment of full insight into reality. It was simply a magickal result, a synchronicity. But this was a new revelation as far as I was concerned: the love of the HGA is so great, it stoops to connect and communicate through whatever sufficient conditions the magician is capable of extending.

Spritual Practice Versus Mental Illness: a Divine Comedy

An intense meditation retreat was the occasion for my first panic attack. The triggers have been various, but in each episode there has been an overwhelming need to escape, yet nowhere to go, and a feeling of being completely alone.

Mindfulness therapies and techniques are currently lauded as a panacea for emotional distress, yet stories circulate of practitioners running into dangerous psychological difficulties through meditation. “An underlying psychosis” is the explanation rolled out by those with an interest in preserving the reputation of mindfulness. Meditation veterans tend to the view that run-ins with psychosis are part of the territory, more likely to be encountered the longer we explore, regardless of our baseline nuttiness.

Perhaps all spiritual practices are both a cure and a poison; they can dramatically improve mental health, but also they put it at risk.

Dante, be thou my guide

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a text operating on many levels, but fundamentally a poetic description of three spiritual realms. In Hell, the damned suffer torments from which they can never escape. Every moment is a desperate longing for relief that can never be realised. The damned are isolated in their suffering for eternity. During a panic attack, I know how this feels.

Heaven everywhere is paradise, / Although the Great Good’s favour does not rain / In one mode. As, when one food might suffice / Yet craving for another might remain, / We thank our stars and yet we are bereft. (Paradiso, Canto 3.)

In Heaven, the blessed are perfectly fulfilled. Even though they are situated at various distances from God, their wills are aligned with God’s. The soul in Heaven furthest from God is as fulfilled as the closest, because all rejoice in divine will (“True Will”) as their own. I know that paradoxically complete fulfilment of non-dual emptiness, which is just my own paltry experience of it.

Purgatory speaks most to the spiritual practitioner. Here, souls endure torments not dissimilar from Hell, but do so willingly. Suffering operates as a penance for sins, which gains the souls entrance to Heaven. Indeed, Purgatory guarantees Heaven; it is simply a matter of time and effort.

Maybe it’s significant how Purgatory has no explicit basis in Christian scripture, but was a doctrine developed later. Given Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is a means of transition; less of an end-point, more of a methodology.

Dispelling the stench of Sunday school

To prevent anti-religious hackles from being raised, we can read these allegorical realms not in terms of “should” but “is”. The compulsion upon souls in each realm is imposed not from outside but arises from its own nature; a soul in Purgatory does not “have to” burn off its sin, but might be said to be in Purgatory if and when it does. If the word “sin” is difficult to tolerate, then “psychological issues” or “karma” will do instead.

There is no way ahead / Unless you brave the fire and feel its sting. / So enter, holy souls, and then be led / With open ears by what the voices sing. (Purgatorio, Canto 27.)

As meditators, we endure long hours of discomfort, frustration and despair; countless dark nights in return for luminous glimpses. No one forces us to do so. The ups and downs of my spiritual practice are due to factors personal to me.

These “sins” are my own psychological issues; in actuality, I am never lost and abandoned, but something in my nature makes it seem so. The fault lies in me, even though it is not necessarily my fault. It is simply that I am the fault, although – ultimately – there really never was one. If Heaven is free of sin, then Hell is where we live out its full effects. And if something different happens in Purgatory, it’s because here we confront our issues willingly and with awareness. Spiritual practice is the atonement of sin. Whereas some atone because they think God demands it, the rest of us do it just because we know it works.

Famously, at the entrance to Hell is written: “Abandon Hope All Who Enter”. The only difference between Purgatory and Hell is the fact of an exit, and with the hope this offers in Purgatory all the horror is vanquished. What is hope, other than knowing that what we must confront will one day change?

Psychiatrists, awaken!

Russell Razzaque is a psychiatrist who experienced awakening after taking up meditation. He noticed significant parallels between his own experience and that of his patients. In Breaking Down Is Waking Up he formulates a model of psychological suffering as an inversion of awakening. Whereas spiritual practice gradually dismantles the ego, in mental illness the ego reacts to psychological stress by expanding, but eventually cracks appear as the ego collapses under its own weight: “as it was not a process that was sought, planned or gradually worked towards – with any awareness of a reality beyond the ego – the experience becomes a frightening and distressing one” (Razzaque 2014: 142-3).

Small hope of pausing to take stock / Of whether anguish might not soon abate / At least a little, and no hope at all / Of peace. (Inferno, Canto 5.)

In the same week I was reading Razzaque, I attended a talk by Daniel Hadjiandreou, a psychologist who (admitting a tendency to take things to extremes) practised for seven hours straight a meditation technique supposed to be practised for only one minute per day. The result was a traumatic dissolving of reality that necessitated a difficult process of recovery. His talk provided a number of simple, psychological techniques to help anyone affected by experiences of “unshared reality”.

I highly recommend Razzaque’s book; it is a radical re-visioning of psychiatry in relation to spirituality, and is likely to be of practical use to anyone undergoing psychological difficulties on a spiritual path. But I do not share his view of mindfulness and meditation as necessarily beneficial. Whereas, for Razzaque, meditation was a gateway into Purgatory, for Hadjiandreou – initially, at least – it was an entrance into Hell.

Razzaque suggests a continuum between enlightenment and psychosis; Dante offers a model of three distinct realms. The advantage of Dante is an explanation for how practice is evidently not the sole determinant of experience. Mindfulness is commonly presented as universally helpful, and next in line (it seems) are psychological treatments combined with psychedelics. Yet for every person whom these assist through Purgatory and into Heaven, some will be led straight into Hell.

Forgive us our trespasses

Someone with a tendency to take things to extremes practices meditation. Discovering another reality, the current one seems totally false, and must be utterly meaningless…

Someone who grew up in an over-protective environment undergoes ego dissolution. It feels like complete abandonment and eternal separation…

Our own psychological issues filter the experience of what lies beyond ego. What comes from inside the ego can seem to be what is “real”, in which case there is no way out from it and suddenly we are in Hell. The purgatorial pledge to confront our sins has been swept away, and, with it, hope.

Whatever our practice, sometimes it plunges us deeper into Hell. Dante’s model reminds us of the importance of reference points. Maps are helpful: knowing where you are and where you are headed can sustain the purgatorial sense of an exit, the consoling knowledge that, one day, this too will pass. Also helpful are guides: through Hell and Purgatory Dante has Virgil by his side; but for navigating Heaven, only Beatrice will do. Different guides offer different perspectives, and it needs to be recognised what those perspectives are.

Psychotherapy has proved helpful for uncovering my “sins”, the issues that distort my understanding and plunge me into Hell. My therapist seems to have little appreciation of spiritual practice. She questions my self-exploration outside the therapeutic context. But she has helped me through difficult times, and I have found her insights grounding. She is more of a Virgil to me than a Beatrice; for spiritual guidance, I turn elsewhere.

What Dante offers is an unwelcome illustration of an unfashionable truth: that spiritual practice alone is insufficient. We must also atone for our sins, in the sense of recognising our own psychological stuff, a means of preventing us from mistaking it for reality. As long as we can do this, hope is preserved, and the exit into Heaven guaranteed.

References

Dante Alighieri (2013). The Divine Comedy, translated by Clive James. London: Picador.

Razzaque, Russell (2014). Breaking Down is Waking Up: Can Psychological Suffering be a Spiritual Gateway? London: Watkins.

 

Divination and the Holy Guardian Angel

A prerequisite for working with the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) is to attain its Knowledge and Communication. The HGA has been defined in various ways: as the true or higher self; as a dualistic representation of the non-dual; or as the future magickal self. Despite the various methods for attaining the HGA and the diverse definitions of what it is, one characteristic remains constant and implicit: it is wiser than I am.

Recently, I confronted a life-changing choice. I had to decide between two courses of action. The first offered radical change, freedom from what I had long wished to escape, but a risk of serious material hardship. The second entailed biding my time, enduring the limitations on personal freedom I had already tolerated for so long, but remaining materially secure.

An angel with properties.
Box Angel, by Chickie456. From the Deviant Art website.

I was most inclined towards the first, the direction my heart wanted to take me, but this was not entirely free of anxiety and fear. The second seemed more sensible, yet contemptibly so; I had been wasting my life for too long already, and if now were not the time to break free, then when?

Loved ones expressed concern over what I was proposing to do. In response, I flared up in anger. Did they not understand I had put up with enough already? How little they knew about what I was feeling! As the days passed and I wrestled with the decision, I fell into depression. I was losing sleep and feeling ill. Finally it occurred there was only one way through: I would have to consult my HGA.

I do this rarely and never take it lightly, because experience has shown that my HGA is never wrong. By definition, it cannot be wrong; it is my true or higher self, after all. So I banished the temple space and invoked the angel with a ritual so simple it barely deserved the label: inwardly I recited his name, until I felt his presence. Then I asked my question and drew three runes from a pouch.

The runes provided a response resoundingly pertinent and clear, but it was not the answer I wanted. The message instructed me in no uncertain terms that the time to act was not quite yet. It would not be long, but I had to wait. Things would remain tough, but I had to suck it up. My preferred option would only make things worse in the long run.

Runes: NIED, EIHWAZ, ISA.
An infallible and precise message: NIED, EIHWAZ, ISA.

This was not what I needed to hear, and it hurt like hell, but soon I started to feel better. How odd, that advice I would not tolerate from loved ones, I could accept from a discarnate being with no material existence! My HGA is never wrong, so there was no question whether this was the right course. Things could indeed be nothing other than shitty for a while, but now I had the backing of my HGA and I knew my interests were – by definition – safeguarded. If this was what the HGA said was best, then I could and would endure it.

There is something special about divination by HGA that sets it apart from a run-of-the-mill tarot spread or I Ching reading. The message received is known to be faultless advice, because its source is tailored specifically to the interests of the questioner. But there is also the sense that, on our part, we are obliged to follow it; to pursue another course would be grossly self-deceiving and self-destructive.

Having access to an infallible oracle makes particular demands upon the magickian. Omniscience is a precious resource and requires protection. Should you wish to develop an oracle with similar properties for your own use, you might like to consider the following:

  • If the response is always correct, then it is pointless to consult the oracle on questions we could answer for ourselves. This oracle should never be consulted on questions answerable by another means. For issues on which the questioner cannot decide, but which demand an infallible answer, then consult the HGA. For anything else, another oracle will do. Or try Google.
  • If the response is always correct, then it must be adhered to. It is not a “possibility” or a “suggestion”; the answer that comes back is binding. If the response is not treated in this way, then it has the status of merely an option or opinion. And what kind of HGA would provide you with only its best guess?

To any skeptical objections, concerning whether this is merely an exercise in self-delusion, and whether it is conceivable that the HGA could have any sort of objective existence, let alone “infallibility”, I make the following reply: these comments are not arguments for or against such things either being or not being the case, but a recipe for creating a certain experience.

“Infallibility” is an experience of such, and to arrive at that experience a certain attitude requires cultivation, in the way I have suggested. That attitude could be described as retreat into delusion, or as a calculated alteration to perception with discrete psychological benefits.

If you feel you might occasionally find it useful to draw on an unfailing and faultless source of guidance (and I have certainly found it helpful down the years) then these are some thoughts that may perhaps enable you to find a means to do so.

Protection

Sauteed Tofu with Chinese Mushrooms

“I have two protective spirits”, a co-worker told us over lunch.

We had been discussing religion and spirituality, a topic that arose since the Chinese restaurant where we were having lunch was right across the street from an impressive religious building. Next to our table was a little altar to Chinese deities, burnt-down joss sticks in front of a heavenly court made of porcelain.

My co-worker’s family had emigrated from a Southeast Asian country a generation or two ago. They still have family ties to the old place, and once in a while family reunions take place, presided over by the most senior grandmother.

During one of those stays, years ago, he told us, the family insisted on calling in a local wise man to conduct a ceremony which dedicated two protective spirits to watch over him. He joked about the fact that he had two such guardians, and speculated that this might be due to his living in a far-off place on another continent, so twice the protection would be required.  Or maybe because he was always making mischief.

Our lunch arrived at this point in the discussion, fragrant plates of sauteed food and bowls of rice. Chopsticks and spoons were sorted out, orders for additional drinks had to be placed.

After a mouthful of tofu with Chinese mushrooms, I remarked how this ceremony resembles the child-blessing sacraments of other religions. He agreed that it was similar, and we explored the social pressure surrounding this type of religious event. My wife and I never had our child baptized, and received a certain amount of disapproval for it from our relatives, I told him, even though they were not religious at all.

Others on the table joined in to the discussion, which then diverged over such topics as nominally religious political parties like the Christian Democrats or its counterparts in Turkey, church tax (an issue in this corner of Europe), and cults like the one in the large modern building across the street.

Village house in Southeast Asia

Finally we got back to the actual choreography of the guardian spirit ceremony our colleague had been subject to all those years ago. Interest in the exotic aspects of Southeast Asian folk religion had increased during our meal, he was asked for more details, and he indulged us in good-natured fashion.

“Now this year, the wise man wants to do another ceremony, because this thing only lasts so long”, he told us.

Understanding nods around the table. Everyone was relaxed and satisfied after a nice meal. The earth-bound spirituality of a far-off people with their ancient traditions had given the afterglow of the Chinese food a pleasant romantic tinge.

“Only now he says it will cost the equivalent of three thousand Euros. And that’s at the current exchange rate, not some kind of wage equivalent.”

This marred the atmosphere a bit. People suggested to tell the holy man to get lost.

“Yes, that’s what I’d do myself”, he grinned. “Only, if we do that, the protection will go away, you see? People back there take this kind of thing seriously. They all paid their fees to the wise man, so if we don’t, then that makes them look stupid, and there is also the superstitious aspect.”

Protection Racket
Guardian Archons

On my way back to the office, I had black thoughts about supernatural protection rackets, and riots in heaven, about tearing down spiritual hierarchies, smashing celestial spheres, and watching the aethyrs burn as we dance on the debris and rubble of an overthrown cosmic order.

Any magician will have done banishing rituals and maybe contacted some kind of guardian spirit. Protective servitors are also popular. But are they effective against social pressures and the transcendental insurance salesmen offering protection against fragile things breaking because of clumsy people in a bad mood?

The supernatural protection racket situation hinges upon several parameters:

  • there are “bad guys” in other realms. In this paradigm, the protective spirits are getting something profitable to them out of the arrangement. Their motives diverge from the pure, wholesome image conveyed by the term “guardian spirit”.
  • the social control mechanisms which fail to prevent mobsters from doing their thing in this world equally fail to do keep the mobster spirits under control in other realms. The archontic police forces may be impotent or corrupt.
  • in this realm, social pressure accumulates at the bottom of the pyramid. The rich and powerful take advantage of social norms and expectations, harnessing them for their own purposes: Delegate influence and responsibility to the man with the beard or the suit. On top of this the would-be guardian spirits also hook into these convenient patterns of behavior: Blindly believe in what you are told, submit to spiritual authority.
Project A

There have always – or at least as far back as we have documented history, and probably before that given human nature – always been those who thought about or even attempted to implement more egalitarian modes of coexistence in human society: Mutual aid and solidarity rather than reliance on the benevolence of bullies, decentralization instead of concentration of power, direct action, and voluntary participation as opposed to hierarchies.

Let me unpack this long string of left-wing buzzwords and apply them to the subject of spiritual protection.

A Freebox in Berlin, Germany 2005, serving as a distribution center for free donated materials. (source: Wikipedia)

Mutual Aid: this amounts to a slight paradigm shift in the time-honored system of making a sacrifice which is a staple of magick both ancient and modern. Rather than viewing the sacrifice as a payment for a service provided by a spirit, sacrifice in the vein of mutual aid has the quality of a flea-market exchange: everybody and -spirit brings their goods and services along, and from this pool, everybody and -spirit can get what they need.

Decentralization: magickal systems tend to be highly structured, with tables and lists and precise prescriptions, rituals with elaborate choreography or at least rigid rules on how to improvise, grades and degrees and hierarchies of recognition… even Chaos magick has produced paradigms and institutions that emulate these to an extent. In a decentralized paradigm, small self-organized groups form networks according to their interests and needs. Information control, which is a mainstay of institutionalized power both in this realm and spiritual ones, is replaced by open access to knowledge. Of course magick without secrecy, grand titles, and the hosts of heaven and hell seems unappealing. In the specific context of guardian spirits however, these are the aspects which make the supernatural protection racket work in the first place.

Direct Action: examples are strikes, blockades, occupation, sabotage, and civil disobedience. Chaos magicians will recognize these readily, summarized in such foundational quotes as, “nothing may be true, everything may be permitted”, the basic premises of tantric practices, and the generally heterodox outlook of the chaos magick subculture.

To get back to the question of how to approach the conditions which facilitate abusive spirits to pose as guardian angels, let me boil all of this socio-spiritual analysis down to something pragmatic:

Foster mutually beneficent relations with a diverse and egalitarian group of humans and spirits. The group will have the means to protect its members. Do not pay for individual spiritual protection. Do not delegate this to cosmic institutional hierarchies.

A Response to Fascism within the Chaos Community

Recently I unfriended several occultist Facebook contacts. I do not regard unfriending as a particularly significant gesture, but their posts sickened me: calls for racial segregation; eugenic purging of the poor and the “stupid”; the economic futility of educating women; alleged conspiracies of Moslems and Jews… Accuse me of living in an echo chamber, but I cannot have this trash in my newsfeed. By all means suggest that I am rejecting “alternative viewpoints”, but my considered rejection of these views makes me what I am, and I will do all I can to stand apart from ideas like these.

The most upsetting aspect was not the views themselves – their reasoning was risible – but how they were being spread by people whose company I have enjoyed.

Young men operating a mortar wearing t-shirst with an eight-rayed motif.
Neo-Eurasianist fascists in Russia, led by Aleksandr Dugin, have unfortunately adopted an eight-rayed motif as their emblem.

So did I call them out in public? Have I expressed my feelings in person? The answer in both cases is “no”.

The activities of the magickal organisation to which they and I belong are private. Any political differences between members – if these existed, or, indeed, the lack of them – remains also a private matter between individuals. Chaos magick by definition is a broad church. But I have noticed how the reaction from the chaos community to these posters on-line is frequently a seemingly deliberate silence.

This ought to tell the posters something important about the on-line friends they are so fortunate to have. Refusing to challenge noisily such extreme views might seem at first disingenuous, or an abdication of responsibility, but it could also be seen as allowing the poster some space to immerse themselves fully in the belief-system they have chosen.

Typically, a chaos magickian would not engage in magickal action against a sibling – indeed, I imagine that many would not engage in magick “against” anyone – but contradicting a magickian’s choice of belief would be tantamount to this. If the principles of chaos magick teach us anything, it is that we do not adopt beliefs without experiencing their consequences or results. For instance, believing that a minority or ethnic group is conspiring to make your life a misery will simply ensure an experience of this being the case. It should be considered carefully by the magickian adopting such a view whether this is really the kind of reality he or she wishes to inhabit.

It can be no accident that the people I unfriended were male, white, and may have been finding life recently – for all sorts of reasons – difficult. Opportunities for living a comfortable and meaningful life are shrinking across the board and young, white men are confronting perhaps a sharper check to their aspirations, because formerly those aspirations were disproportionately accommodated in relation to other social groups. Regardless of who we happen to be, a question that faces us all is how we deal with frustration and disappointment. Finding an object outside ourselves to hate offers psychological relief, but at the harsh price of stranding us in a world populated by those hated objects.

Perhaps, like me, you sometimes feel powerless. Perhaps, like me, you consider yourself a magickian. If so then your life, like mine, is a means of manifestation by which beliefs can come to be realised in the world. In that case, what beliefs will most effectively transform your reality into the world you want? First, a chaos magickian contemplates this, and then makes his or her choice.

A Guide To Sigil Magick

An hubristic title for this piece, which should really be called “Boffo’s Modest Contribution To The Already Extensive Literature On Sigil Magick.” Or “Stuff You Might Like To Have A Think About In Case It All Goes To Shit.” Or just “Think On, Pal.” You get the idea.

There is material on working with sigils throughout the literature on Chaos Magick. If you need good guides to the fundamentals before reading further, you could go to Chaos Matrix or Rune Soup or Disinfo. They’re all useful.

If you’re not too daft about your aims, sigil magick works. Therein lies both encouragement and warning.

Here are mine: I do not encourage you to practise magick of any sort, and expressly warn you against it. For so it is written: speak not of magick, Clodhopper, and delve not into the arcane arts, for weird shit happens and you will lose your grip on consensus reality. You are hacking your software and overclocking your hardware. It is entirely possible that you will brick yourself, and there is no factory reset. There is only onwards, or a pretence that that weird stuff never happened, or wasn’t in fact weird at all. Which only ever partially works.

But because your old pal Boffo has been about a bit and knows a few things about the ways of people, he knows that’s not going to stop you, is it, incorrigible rogue? So back to the encouragement and warning. It is extremely encouraging how well sigil magick works and it’s as well to be warned about a few things.

How it works is open to discussion. Let me say a little about two frames for understanding (but you could otherwise go quantum, information systems etc.).

“Spirit” magick might involve calling on the deity or spirit relevant to the task, working out the correct correspondences (planetary hour, temple decoration etc.), evoking/invoking the aforementioned deity and winging your desire off into the cosmos to hatch and come to fruition with that deity’s help.

A psychological account of magick might argue that no supernatural forces are at work, and that even when shit gets really weird we are working with equipment which is wholly ours. So on that account in the case of sigil magick we are firing our desire not into the cosmos but into our own unconscious, our deep mind. And indeed, there is evidence suggesting that when we inject into the unconscious something towards which we are motivated, we expand the probability of its occurrence when we are able to drop conscious censoring (Verwijmeren et al, 2011). So on the psychological account you can arguably use a stripped-down, bare bones methods of sigil charging and not involve any deities at all and the sigil will work just as well.

But of course these accounts are not exclusive or incompatible. You might believe in the ontological reality of your favourite god/goddess. You might not. When Gabriel and I evoked Thor and got the only roll of thunder that evening at the conclusion of the working, that’s a good moment whether or not you believe in the objective existence of the Norse pantheon (when we nearly wet our pants while evoking spirits of place out in the woods at night, that was also a moment. Contrary to the reputation of a lot of chaos magicians, we banished properly that night).

Just as the presence of a helping relationship seems to potentiate a rich array of placebo responses (Czerniak et al, 2016; Price et al, 2008), the theatre of magick, its setting and accoutrements, can potentiate the workings of the unconscious. And what’s “The Unconscious,” anyway? A linguistic device to encompass phenomena and experiences, and the way you define it (it’s all narrative, kids) will funnel your experiences of “unconscious” phenomena .

Thus you might believe that we can contact a divinity that is beyond us or you might believe that we have archetypal godforms within us, a capacity for an experience of the numinous into which tales of gods and goddesses fit like a key into a lock. For our purposes here it does not matter in terms of effectiveness, but the different beliefs will give your workings different hues. Choose your beliefs accordingly.

So we’re back to encouragement and warning. Be careful. If you evoke a godform or spirit to charge and launch a sigil, you are invoking that phenomenon into the deeper strata of your psyche. This might be a good thing if you have a commendable aim and have chosen your godform wisely.

These putative mechanisms are very good reasons not to use sigils for less than positive purposes or deploy in their creation entities whose attitude towards you is less than wholesome. Do not, for example, enlist a denizen of the Goetia to enslave someone to your sexual desires. If you are considering such workings, be aware that, apart from the ethical impoverishment of such actions, the process will pollute and debase you even further than you have already become polluted and debased in wanting to bring about such effects. Put simply, do not be a shoddy creep. Entreating a powerful goddess, who has the erotic flavour for which you aim, to help you develop an erotic allure more generally, might be more the ticket.

Further, because mechanisms are unclear and possibly variable, formulate your intent as tightly as possible. If your intent prior to sigilisation is “It is my will to have a penis as large as a horse,” you are opening up a world of potentially unwelcome possibilities. You might land an appendage which makes you the talk of the gym locker room, but that might be because it’s swollen to equine dimensions after dropping a dumbbell on it. Remember also, insatiable wretch, that there are ways to have a penis as large as a horse that the phrase “eye-watering” will not encompass. Am I making myself clear about formulation of intent (cf. Gabriel’s previous post on the monkey’s paw effect)?

You are limited only by your imagination and any risk assessments you do. Get your ethics and your formulations sorted out and it’s playtime.

References

Czerniak, E., Biegon, A., Ziv, A., Karnieli-Miller, O., Weiser, M., Alon, U., Citron, A. (2016) Manipulating the Placebo Response in Experimental Pain by Altering Doctor’s Performance Style. Frontiers in Psychology. 7: 874, 1-10. Retrieved at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928147/pdf/fpsyg-07-00874.pdf

Price et al (2008) A Comprehensive Review of the Placebo Effect: Recent Advances and Current Thought. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 59:565-590.

Thijs Verwijmeren, Johan Karremans, Wolfgang Stroebe, and Daniel Wigboldus (2011) The workings and limitations of subliminal advertising: The role of habits. Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 21, Issue 2, 206–213

Desire Paths, by Roy Bayfield

I read a book called Desire Paths by the psychogeographer and poet, Roy Bayfield, and I keep returning to the following passage:

If I was the most important element of the landscape, if everything revolved around me, then the growth of blanket weed in the canal, the fading paint on the narrowboats and the additions of graffiti on the underpass would have been measured to quantify my absence. The St. George flags on the new canalside apartments would be there to celebrate my slain dragon. But none of these things were the case so we were free to just walk and notice: meadows visible through the hedges; a heron, with a whole fish in its neck; features of rail and canal architecture collapsing into the natural environment; empty chairs at the back of a factory. (Bayfield 2016: 22)

A trodden track branching off from a formal pathway
Desire Paths, by Roy Bayfield (Axminster: Triarchy Press, 2016)

I admire the way he combines magick, art and spirituality. The book is a nexus of all three. This passage shows how he achieves it: a delicious letting-go of any sensible, central I.

It is because none of us is at the centre that we really are free. Things are never more themselves when unmeasured in relation to us. Letting drop the urge to find ourselves in everything is a hallmark not just of psychological maturity, good poetry, and meditative practice, but also – evidently – of Bayfield’s unique flavour of psychogeography.

Accompanying him in his enchantments of meaning from space and place is a vicarious and intense magickal pleasure.