Well of Galables - John M. Greer on the Occult

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
Explaining the World

"That’s the point of this blog. For the time being, I plan on posting here once a month, on or around the time that the Sun passes into a new astrological sign—for those that aren’t magically literate, that’s around the 21st of each month. As that timing might suggest, I’m not going to limit the topics of discussion here to those that fit comfortably within the lowest-common-denominator worldview of early 21st century industrial society; more generally, those who like their realities prechewed and predigested may not find this blog to their taste.


Mind you, it’s only fair to say that much of what I’d like to discuss here will be unfamiliar, and quite possibly unsettling, to those who’ve studied magic in its standard modern forms. That can’t be helped. Too much of what passes for occult philosophy these days consists either of rehashing metaphors from the Renaissance that have been stripped of the context that once gave them meaning, on the one hand, or adopting pop-culture notions of magic and trying to make them work in the real world, on the other. For reasons I’ll discuss down the road a bit, neither of those approaches seems particularly useful to me, and I propose to take a different approach instead.

I want to begin by explaining the world."
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
The Clenched Fist of Reason

I mentioned in last month’s post here that our familiar term “world” is a rounded-off version of the Old English weorold, “man-old,” the time or age of human beings. That bit of etymology conceals more than one important insight. As I noted last month, it reminds us that this thing we call “the world” isn’t something wholly outside ourselves, something we experience in a detached and objective way. It’s something we create moment by moment in our minds, by piecing together the jumble of unconnected glimpses our senses give us—and we do the piecing according to a plan that’s partly given us by our biology, partly given us by our culture, and partly a function of our individual life experience.


That point is astonishingly easy to forget. I’ve long since lost track of the number of times I’ve watched distinguished scientists admit with one breath that the things we experience around us aren’t real—they’re just representations constructed by our sense organs and brains, reacting to an unimaginable reality of probability waves in four-dimensional space-time—and then go on with the very next breath to forget all that, and act as though matter, energy, space, time, and physical objects exactly as we perceive them are real in the most pigheadedly literal sort of objective sense, as though the human mind has nothing to do with any of them except as a detached observer. What’s more, many of those same scientists proceed to make sweeping claims about what human beings can and can’t know and do, in blithe disregard of the fact that these very claims depend on the same notion of the objective reality of the world of experience that they’ve just disproved.

It’s a fascinating example of doublethink, and we’ll be talking about its implications more than once as this discussion proceeds. That said, there’s another insight hidden in that deceptively simple term “world,” which is that the world, the man-old, the thing we’re used to experiencing as an objective reality independent of our consciousness even though it’s nothing of the kind, is defined not by space but by time. It’s not a place but a time of human beings, and it has a history.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#3
The Course the Nations Run

It’s one of the more common modern form of doublethink, as I commented in a previous post, to allow that of course the universe we experience is a mental construct rather than an objective reality, and then to turn right around and insist that some currently popular features of that mental construct—the deadness, mindlessness, and meaninglessness of the cosmos, for example—are objectively real truths, while features of mental constructs that our culture doesn’t encourage—the presence of life, mind, and meaning in the nonhuman cosmos, for instance—are just plain wrong. We’ll be contending with that sort of doublethink over and over again as this discussion continues.

For now, I’ll simply point out that experiencing the world as a community of living and thinking beings leads to one set of behaviors and attitudes toward the rest of the universe, while quite a different set of behaviors and attitudes follows from experiencing the world as a dead and mindless mass of raw material that has only whatever meaning and value certain human beings choose to give it. Which of those behaviors is more useful in the present predicament of industrial society is another point worth considering, and we’ll be discussing it, too, as these posts proceed.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#4
The Unicorn, the Phoenix, and the Dragon

The key to the magical dimension of historical cycles lies in a detail of history that Vico and Barfield both grasped firmly: the fact that human beings don’t think the same way at one stage in the historical process as they do at other stages. Barfield’s claim was that all of humanity passes through a single process of change in consciousness, starting with his hypothesized “original participation” and ending in his equally hypothetical “final participation.” Vico’s, far more troubling to the modern mind, was that each nation goes through predictable changes in consciousness, and that modern societies are repeating the same stages that can be traced in the classical world. It’s always possible to claim that Barfield is right on the largest scale, since it’s possible to claim anything at all about that without risk of disproof, but in terms of time frames that are subject to verification, the facts support Vico instead.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#5
Three Fallacious Arguments: An Interlude

...The point that’s most relevant here is that magic, the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, works with two distinct sets of processes. One of them is acceptable to even the most extreme materialists, but the other depends on something that, according to current versions of science-as-product, does not, cannot, and must not exist.

We could plunge into a discussion of that “something” right now, but an alternative approach will be more useful, for a curious reason. It so happens that these days, any attempt to raise questions about the claims of science-as-product inevitably fields a flurry of counterclaims, and all these latter depend on the same handful of canned arguments. What makes this all the more interesting is that the arguments in question are all based, in turn, on a set of classic logical fallacies. There’s a rich vein of irony here, since nearly all the people who trot out these fallacies like to present themselves as defenders of logic and reason, but we can let that pass for the moment. What I want to do here is look at the fallacies one at a time, see why they don’t prove what they claim to prove, and thus (with any luck!) get past the rehashing of canned arguments to the actual issues at hand when next month’s post begins talking about the relevant dimensions of magic.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
Two Impossible Realities: A Second Interlude

The logical fallacies discussed in last month’s post here on The Well of Galabes aren’t simply a product of sloppy thinking. As already noted, they serve a specific purpose, which is to protect a particular set of beliefs from criticism. Every society in what I’ve termed the Dragon phase of its history, the stage in which it fossilizes intellectually around the achievements of its past, makes use of some such set of dodges to defend its preferred belief system against all comers; every society in the Dragon phase of its history, equally, insists at the top of its lungs that this isn’t what’s going on—no, it’s always presented as the noble defense of truth and reason against an inexplicably rising tide of sheer craziness.

Some of my readers last month insisted, though, that they’d never actually seen anyone use any of the three fallacies I outlined. I find that easy to believe; it’s only a minority among us who spend our time in contexts where what historians of ideas call “rejected knowledge” comes under heavy fire from the defenders of scientific orthodoxy. Fortunately there are topics that always bring on a counterattack of this sort, and it so happens that one of those topics also makes a solid if roundabout introduction to the side of magic that isn’t applied psychology: the side that depends on something that according to the conventional wisdom of our time, does not, cannot, and must not exist.

My own experiences as a longtime participant in the occult scene give me a fairly broad knowledge of the topic in question. It so happens that, at least in America, old-fashioned occult schools routinely got into alternative methods of health care. There are sociological reasons why this was generally the case, and also reasons woven into the theory and practice of magic, which we’ll discuss in a later post; the point that’s relevant just now is that, if you got the kind of traditional occult education I did, during the years when I got it (or for most of a century before that time), it’s a safe bet that you learned at least one, and more commonly more than one, of the health care modalities that our current crop of rationalists like to denounce as so much delusion and fraud.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
Surfing the Astral Light

In making sense of the astral light, the concept introduced in last month’s post on The Well of Galabes, it’s worth keeping in mind that operative mages are by and large more concerned with using magic than they are with proving its existence and efficacy to hostile skeptics The concerns of materialists or, for that matter, the dubious logic generally deployed in attempts to defend materialist skepticism these days, aren’t of great interest to most of the serious practitioners of magic I’ve met; if the skeptics don’t wish to help themselves to the practical benefits of magic, why should the mages care?


Thus the concept of the astral light is not presented by magical literature as a falsifiable scientific hypothesis. It’s probably necessary to point out that this doesn’t make it meaningless. Falsifiable scientific hypotheses are extremely useful in that large but not limitless realm to which the methods of science apply—broadly speaking, those aspects of human experience that are subject to replicable quantitative measurement—but they reach no further. Such statements as “I love you,” “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives me also,” and “government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed” are not falsifiable scientific hypotheses, either, but I hope most of my readers will admit that they mean something, and in their own spheres, something of importance.

So, too, the concept of the astral light. Because magic deals with consciousness and the whole systems that relate to it, it’s fiendishly difficult to quantify, and even harder to replicate exactly under controlled conditions. (How do you control for, say, the difference in the lifetime’s worth of experiences between one human mind and another?). Thus operative mages make use of concepts that are, strictly speaking, little more than rules of thumb, rough generalizations that reflect the experiences of magical practice. The only justifications for this practice are that, first, since the subjective phenomena of consciousness aren’t quantifiable or strictly replicable, generalizations are the only tools we’ve got; second, the generalizations in question do a very good job of reflecting the experiences that people encounter when they take up magical practice; and third, they also have an important pedagogical function.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#8
A Seafood Dinner in Lost R'lyeh

Many other writers have explored the horrors of infinite empty space, but what made Lovecraft’s universe appalling to most of his readers was precisely that it wasn’t empty: it was all too thickly populated, and its inhabitants were not merely superhuman but serenely uninterested in humanity’s loudly repeated claim to be the pinnacle of evolution, the conqueror of nature, and so on through the rest of the pompous twaddle so heavily featured in our species collective self-image in his time as in ours.

As I suspect some of my readers will have guessed already, that’s exactly why I find Lovecraft so funny. The pompous twaddle just mentioned strikes me as, well, pompous twaddle, and while I’m understandably a little more concerned with the species of social primates to which I happen to belong than I am with some other species, I suffer from no delusion that Homo sapiens is of any greater importance in the grand scheme of things than any other species of megafauna. What’s more, I’m not horrified by the thought of a cosmos crammed with intelligent beings, some of whom are as far beyond us in terms of sentience as we are beyond blue-green algae, and most of whom are not particularly concerned with our species’ nature and destiny at all. I’m used to that idea, and indeed entirely comfortable with it—since that’s the cosmos as portrayed by magical philosophy.
 
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