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"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."


THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

THE LOOKING GLASS


Let's get our definitions out-of-the-way first;

Objective universe: the part of existence which can be sensed and quantified. It is the mechanical/organic cosmic order characterized by its regularity and predictability, by the presence of laws.

Subjective universe: the "world" of any sentient entity within the universe. There are as many subjective universes as there are sentient beings, each is the particularized manifestation of consciousness within the universe.

THE FIRST THING you learn as a magician is that there are two worlds, the one of the senses, and the one inside our heads. The second thing you learn, is that a great deal of mischief arises from confusing the two planes. Uber magician Aleister Crowley, once warned his students before beginning on any magical curriculum;

1. This book is very easy to misunderstand; readers are asked to use the most minute critical care in the study of it, even as we have done in its preparation.

2. In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.

I have often thought a similar warning should preface the Bible.

Because "objective reality" and "philosophic validity" is exactly what too many religious people ascribe to the gods and spirits in their respective religions. Over the years, I have met people ready to attest to the palpable presence of Allah in their lives, or the Buddha, or Krishna, or Jesus Christ. And I believe them; I have no doubt that these entities are absolutely real for them. But this is where I always remember Crowley's warning. Just because they are real for them in their subjective universe does not mean they exist as objective realities, and more harm than good arises from believing that they do.

But this is also the mistake that atheists and positivists make. Simply because your microscope tells you differently, doesn't mean that Communion doesn't really become flesh and blood. It does; but inside the confines of the subjective universe. All the gods that ever were are totally real, even if they did not leave a shred of DNA evidence behind. And yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. They exist on a separate frequency from the material, the same frequency that the imagination vibrates upon.

Which does not in any way make them less real than a virus, or gravity. Make no mistake; ideas too can kill. This is the third thing that every magician must learn to understand; that the boundaries between the objective and subjective universes can be crossed. Alice can pass through the Looking Glass, but so too can the Red Queen.

We all know this but we forget. Objective experiences become memories, thoughts, and impressions all the time everyday of our lives. The subjective universe is a mirror that reflects images of the objective world. But it is also so much more than that, and that is the gift of being human. The reason that magic is classified as an "art" is because it takes something born in the subjective world and moves it into the objective. Like all arts, both fine and industrial, it is all about taking an idea and using it to reshape the objective world. It is about turning the mirror around so that the objective world reflects the subjective. This is why, of course, it is ridiculous to dismiss subjective realities as simply delusions or dreams. Too often they escape the confines of their cages and rampage around the "real" world.

As a magician my purpose is to go deep into the subjective world and summon things out of it. This dovetails nicely with my work as a writer. But that's nothing new; the connection between the Word and magic is deep and ancient. We speak of spells and spellings, grammar and grimoire. And all the old gods of magic--Hermes, Mecury, Odin, Thoth--were patrons of communication too. The spirits conjured by great writers have touched millions; who doesn't know Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, or Ebeneezer Scrooge? They move invisibly around us, occasionally seizing possession of actors, not unlike the loa of voudon. All writers--and artists--are magicians, and vice versa.
And here is where we come to the point.

The secret that magicians possess, the one that positivists and theologians lack, is that the objective reality of the spirits we conjure is wholly irrelevant; what matters is their ability to effect the world. Just as the identity of light as photons or waves changes with perspective, so too does the reality of gods and spirits depending on whether your vantage point is in the objective or subjective world. Theists and atheists will squabble endlessly over the existence of God, but the magician knows they are both correct. Further, he is more interested in how "God" effects things than proving or disproving him, just as with any other subjective being. And in the end this might be the greatest point of contention between magic and religion; the magician is concerned with what the gods can do for us, not what we can do for them. This is why it is impossible for me to bow down and worship a god; I am by extension bowing down to the magician who conjured it, and whether his "spell" is meant to control who I sleep with or to persuade me to fly an airplane into a skyscraper, I would be a poor magician indeed to fall under it. I am, however, entitled to listen to the gods conjured by other people. Jesus of Nazareth does not need to be the Lord and Savior of my own subjective universe for me to give him an ear. As a magician, I am free to listen to and to learn from any god, spirit, or devil and weigh what they have to say equally.

Which brings me to the fourth and final secret that being a magician has taught me; the definition of what a "spirit" is. It is more than just the personification of a phenomenon, it is the imposition of meaning on phenomena. We know this when we talk about the "spirit" as opposed to the "letter" of something, or the "spirit" of how it was intended. The objective universe is completely devoid of meaning; it just "is." But our inner subjective worlds are fraught with meaning, bursting with it. Magic, and art, are struggles to bridge the two worlds and infuse our lives with meaning, with spirit, but to be fully aware that we are the ones doing the defining. We must avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of accepting that life is meaningless or that it comes already defined. It is our job to do magic, to transmute lead into gold, and to give meaning to our own existences. That is the greatest magic there is.

Since I began with Aleister, I would like to finish with him as well.  

"...WHY should you study and practice Magick (sic)?  Because you can't help doing it, and you had better do it well than badly."

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