Sex and Occultism, Part Two: The Pitfalls of Polarity

It’s always struck me as rather odd that so many people think that occultism is inseparable from sex. The habit goes back a long way; the Jewish prophets, when they denounced their fellow Israelites and neighboring peoples alike for worshipping somebody other than the storm god of Mt. Sinai, routinely mixed accusations of sexual deviance with the magico-religious kind, and that same rhetoric was adopted lock, stock, and barrel once Christianity brought out a pirate edition of the Jewish scriptures as the first two-thirds or so of the Bible. To this day, if you care for that sort of thing, you can read plenty of denunciations of magic from the more bigoted end of the religious-literature market that don’t seem to be able to mention magic without talking about kinky sex in the same breath.

This seems odd to me because occultists, in my experience, are no more obsessed with sex than anybody else. You do find people in the occult scene for whom polymorphous perversity is a way of life, but no more of them per capita than you’ll find elsewhere, and the various orientations and kinks are no more common in occultism than outside it. Quite a few occultists, for that matter, have very tame sex lives, and you also get occultists who don’t have sex at all, due to an asexual orientation or for any of the other usual reasons. It’s rather like the equally odd insistence that anybody who practices magic must by definition worship the Christian devil; that’s not even remotely true, and fifteen minutes of unbiased research will show that it’s not true, but the rhetoric keeps churning away. One gathers that “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” somehow got left out of a lot of Bibles.

Still, the lushly imagined connection between magic and hot sex has had certain effects on the history of occultism, if only because there have always been a certain number of people who took up magic because they thought they could get laid that way. The sex cults discussed in last month’s post drew much of their success from that fact: an aspiring sex cult entrepreneur who set up shop in a reasonably large city and made appropriately veiled hints about phallic religion, Tantric mysteries, the cult of Venus, or what have you, could count on a steady stream of customers of both sexes whose interest in occultism was a filmy garment covering plenty of bare and sweaty flesh. Between the sex cults and the pop-culture confusion between occultism and sex, that sort of thing was inevitable.

It was equally inevitable that the same sort of thinking would start shaping some of the more innovative currents in serious occultism. In June’s post here, I mentioned the remarkable Hiram Butler, who came to believe that redirecting sexual energies through strict celibacy and appropriate spiritual exercises would result in physical immortality. There were also people such as Paschal Beverly Randolph, who convinced himself—with somewhat better evidence—that simultaneous orgasm was the ultimate key to magical power. (He reached this conclusion, mind you, at a time when the medical profession insisted that women were incapable of having orgasms, and had come up with something called a “hysterical crisis” to explain what it was that women were having when they appeared to be having an orgasm. The modern scientific habit of insisting that facts must be made to conform to theories, rather than the other way around, goes back a good long way.)

The interpenetration, so to speak, between sex and occultism that I want to discuss this month took a different route. It was the creation of the remarkable Violet Firth Evans, better known by her magical nom de plume Dion Fortune, who was by most measures the twentieth century’s most influential and innovative occult theorist. Fortune, as we may as well call her, found her way to occultism by a long and winding route, and one of the places she visited on the way was Freudian psychology, which she studied intensively—I don’t think she ever practiced professionally, but she had the credentials to work as a therapist in Freudian depth psychology.

Freud himself deserves much more attention than he usually gets these days. His was the awkward fate that awaits somebody who cures a disease that nobody wants to admit they have. Before Freud, all through Europe and America, one of the most common mental illnesses among women was called hysteria—its link to the hysterical crises mentioned earlier will become clear in a moment. Countless thousands, perhaps millions, of women suffered from it. It had bizarre symptoms—“glove anesthesia,” in which one hand would suddenly go numb and lifeless and stay that way indefinitely, was one; sudden crippling phobias were another—and nobody could figure out what was going on until Freud.

What Freud figured out was that hysteria was what you get when a person who can’t bear the thought of having sexual feelings has sexual feelings. A woman who’s sexually unsatisfied for whatever reason gets the hots for the handyman, masturbates, and then gets so caught up in guilt, shame, and a range of other unhelpful emotions—heavily larded, of course, with the conviction that God was going to give her the boot in the face forever for having sexual feelings, which was being screamed at top volume from every pulpit in those days—and the hand she used to masturbate freezes up completely: result, glove anesthesia. Another woman, let’s say, is walking in the park and happens to notice that she’s sexually attracted to another woman; she freaks out completely, and thereafter can’t set foot in a park because it reminds her of the feelings she can’t bear to think about: result, phobia. The annals of early twentieth century psychologists are packed to the bursting point with such cases.

Freud’s clinical work was something of a mixed bag by most accounts. His writings, though, made it impossible to ignore the link between hysteria and sexuality, and as a result millions of respectable middle-class women came to terms with the fact that they had sexual feelings. Hysteria went from a massive public health problem to a condition so rare most psychiatrists these days have never seen a case. The return of the repressed being what it is, though, one consequence of the Freudian revolution was that sex went from something nobody talked about to something everybody talked about all the time, and its importance came to be as overrated as it had previously been underrated.

That was the background to Fortune’s theory of polarity magic. The magical lodge in which she had her original training had members of both sexes, which was a little unusual in those days; the magical order she founded after she finished her training, the Fraternity (these days, Society) of the Inner Light did the same thing; and she apparently noticed, in the course of ritual work, that rituals abruptly became much more powerful if one of the two main officers was male, the other was female, they were sexually attracted to each other, but they didn’t do anything about it on the physical plane.

We should probably pause here for a moment and talk about magical power. In lodge work, it’s not an abstraction; when a ritual’s finished and everyone heads out to the dining room or the nearby Chinese buffet to wind down and talk it over, everybody knows just how much power got raised and how well or poorly it was handled. The participants don’t have to judge this by secondary effects, either: what’s called magical power is a tangible reality in the most literal sense of that word.

Try this experiment before we go on. Rub your hands together vigorously for thirty seconds or so, and then shake your hands with loose wrists so they flop freely. Then extend your arms to your sides, stretch your fingers gently outwards—not enough to tense them, just so that you can feel the muscles extending them—and breathe slowly and deeply seven times. When you breathe in, imagine that the breath is flowing in through your hands and arms to your lungs; when you breathe out, imagine that the air flows out through your arms and hands.

When you’ve finished the seventh breath, bring your hands forward and hold them before your chest, arms gently bent and relaxed, and hands cupped as though you were holding a basketball. Hold them perfectly still and take three deep slow breaths, without imagining anything in particular. Once you’ve done this, move your hands slowly toward each other and away again, repeatedly. Notice the sensation in your palms and the inner surface of your fingers—for some people it’s a tingling, for others it’s a feeling of pressure like the repulsion of two magnets, while others have other sensations. That’s a very mild version of what magical power feels like in a lodge working.

(I’ve noticed with some amusement, by the way, that when scientific materialists do this exercise, one of two things generally happens. Either they immediately lurch around trying to explain away what they just perceived, or they turn as white as a sheet and refuse to discuss the subject ever again. If this is your reaction, dear reader, please take several deep breaths and relax. Nobody’s going to tell your atheist friends that you just experienced something that’s not allowed to exist.)

In a lodge doing polarity magic a la Dion Fortune, there are various ways of working with magical power, but there are certain things commonly done as a first step. You have, let’s say, a male officer sitting in the big chair in the east, and a female officer sitting in the big chair in the west. The altar is in the middle between them, and not coincidentally covering all of them from the waist down. They are, by the way, fully clothed, and not in anything particularly alluring, either—plain loose robes are pretty standard. The two officers find each other sexually attractive, but don’t have sex with each other. They raise their hands to shoulder height, palms turned forward, so that the male officer’s left palm is directly facing the female officer’s right palm, and vice versa. If the two of them know what they’re doing, the lines of force linking palm to palm make the air crackle—and that energy is then directed into the ritual working, producing a rush of power that accomplishes the purpose of the ritual.

That’s a glimpse at Fortune’s method. The model of magic she developed on that basis assumed that what was going on when the two officers raised their palms must be all about sex, and she developed an entire theory of polarity magic based on that assumption. In the process, being who she was and living when she was, she imported a great deal of the then-standard English notions of sexuality into her theory. Thus she insisted, for example, that heterosexuality was essential in lodge work, apparently because she didn’t find gay men or lesbians attractive enough to get a polarity reaction with them. Remember what I said earlier about many occultists having fairly tame sex lives? She seems to have fallen well over toward that end of the spectrum.

You can still encounter her rules for polarity being passed on as though they’re inviolable truths. The interesting thing is that at least some lodges that work in her tradition have learned in practice that there are many other ways to get the same result. I recall one magical lodge I worked with for several years that used a variant of Fortune’s methods. There were two women who belonged to the lodge who couldn’t stand each other; they were both perfectly decent people, but their personalities grated on each other unbearably. Being sensible individuals and competent occultists, they kept their mutual irritation under strict control so it didn’t interfere with the working of the lodge.

The presiding officer of the lodge, who was very well aware of their mutual hostility, now and again put them in the north and south of the lodge, facing each other across the altar, so they would work in polarity. It was amazingly effective; their animosity was just as powerful as sexual attraction in generating magical power, and the two main officers in east and west were able to pick up that energy and bring it to bear on the focus of the ritual, with incandescent results.

I’ve been told, though I don’t happen to know this from personal experience, that there are plenty of lodges that do polarity work with people of the same sex who are attracted to each other. The lesson I’ve drawn from my own experience, though, is that you don’t have to use sex to get polarity. You can do the same thing with any shared emotion.

That’s the real secret of polarity. The only requirement is that the emotion isn’t being expressed on the physical plane. If the two members of the lodge just mentioned had had screaming fights on a regular basis, they couldn’t have raised any amount of power between them. Have you ever, dear reader, been in a really explosive, yelling, screaming, crying fight with someone you care about, and felt after it was over and done with that some charge of energy had somehow drained away? That’s a discharge of polarity; a fight releases animosity the way that lovemaking releases libido. Magic can also release either one, but it does so indirectly, and depends for its effect on the buildup of pressure you get by denying the emotion a direct release.

I’m pretty sure that the reason Fortune came to see polarity as a matter of sexual force, pure and simple, was partly her Freudian training, and partly the fact that the British occult scene in the 1920s and 1930s was full of people who had come to terms with the fact that they had sexual feelings but hadn’t yet gotten to the point of being willing to act on those feelings outside of marriage. That meant that at any meeting of her magical lodge, she could count on having plenty of members who were sexually unsatisfied and attracted to one another, and so that was the strongest readily available shared emotion. Under other conditions, other shared emotions are more convenient. You can do it just as well with nonsexual modes of affection; you can do it with admiration; you can do it with a shared passionate commitment to a project or a cause, or what have you.

You can also establish polarity by way of what’s called mediation. Let’s say your lodge uses Egyptian symbolism and you have two main officers. One of the officers uses standard magical methods to invoke the presence of the god Osiris into himself, visualizing and feeling and experiencing himself as a vessel for the living presence of that deity; the other does the same thing with the goddess Isis. Once that’s done, it’s the two deities who raise their palms toward each other, and their love for each other that sets the air crackling. That’s harder to do because mediation takes plenty of skill and practice, but the results are worth the investment of time and effort.

You don’t have to mediate deities, by the way. I’m aware of lodges working the Arthurian mysteries, in which each of the participants mediates some figure out of Arthurian legend, and the polarity you get from the love, loyalty, and admiration of Arthur’s knights for their king and Arthur for his knights is potent stuff. You can mediate impersonal forces, though it’s a good deal harder than mediating real or fictional persons, since the emotional dimension is much easier to get going when you’ve got personality to work with. Still, anything—absolutely anything—that stirs the emotions in a common direction, and directs the emotions of each participant on someone else who is feeling the same emotions, will get the power flowing.

Is there any advantage to be gained by using sexual attraction rather than any of the other available emotions? As with so much in magic, it depends on what you want to do, and what the available toolkit happens to contain. If the two most skilled members of your lodge are sexually attracted to each other but for whatever reason don’t choose to have sex, doing the straightforward sexual polarity thing is very likely your best bet. If you don’t happen to be in that situation, something else might be a better option. The most important thing here, as elsewhere in magic, is to be clear about your purpose and your priorities, and choose accordingly.

Our culture’s tangled relationship with sexuality being what it is, though, achieving that sort of clarity when sexual attraction is involved seems to be more difficult than with other emotions. Very often, in fact, when a magical lodge or other working group starts getting into the sexual dimensions of magic, things very quickly turn into slap-and-tickle in funny robes.  That’s all very well if slap-and-tickle is what you’re looking for, and funny robes are no more shocking these days than any other paraphilia you care to name; still, it’s not necessarily helpful to confuse this sort of entertainment with magic.

I’m thinking here, among many other things, of a book on polarity magic published a few years back that includes a ritual in which the two participants, one male, the other female, go into the ritual space wearing nothing but jewelry. He lies down on his back, representing the bed of the river Nile. She wiggles over him from head to foot, representing the waters of the Nile flowing over the bed. I doubt many of my readers will have any trouble at all figuring out where this will end up. Again, if a hot night in bed is your goal, there’s nothing at all wrong with that, but it confuses communication to take a bit of ornate foreplay and call it magic.

If, as Dion Fortune liked to say, magic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, that last word—will—is not to be neglected. Every magical working starts with a specific, clearly defined purpose and ends with the fulfillment of that purpose. Getting laid is a valid purpose; there are entire realms of magic devoted to that highly traditional goal; but there are also things you can do with sexual and emotional energies that don’t have that goal. Polarity working is one of them, or it can be one of them, if the participants can stay out of the pitfalls noted above.

112 Comments

  1. Related differences produce flows.

    If they are too different less happens.

    If they are too similar less happens.

    If the flow is not discharged it could stand
    independently and indefinitely depending on the quality of isolation.

  2. I can't help thinking that one of the reasons sex is so often associated with magic is that the two share many of the same goals. And for the magically challenged, sex often achieves those goals with less effort and discipline. Some of the uses (or misuses) of magic include binding a relationship together or tearing it apart; sex can do either very effectively. Also, people use magic to attract wealth. Prostitution is only the most obvious example of how sex is used for the same end. Another goal of magic might be to achieve power over another person. Rape is the most brutal and repugnant way that sex is misused for the same purpose, but not the only one. Magic can be used to pursue spiritual enlightenment. That's also the goal of tantric sex. And finally, there is the desire to make something new materialize. Done properly by a fertile couple, sex can produce an entirely new person, which is at least as impressive as pulling a rabbit from a hat.

  3. This is an extremely important blog post for me. I knew that you could get polarity with same-sex participants, or with the genders reversed (a gay male as priestess and a lesbian as priest), but was totally unaware of the rest of it.

    Although someone else clearly knows about raising power through antagonism. I downloaded some Darkover anthologies for light reading a while back and one of the stories, called “Strife” dealt with a Circle working in perfect harmony with mediocre results, picking up someone totally incompatible and finding that the more trouble they had with this person, the better results they got! I do know some of the authors are or have been magic practitioners of one sort or another, and this one may have been based on first hand experience.

    At any rate, thank you! This one will be printed off for my notebook.

  4. So the whole idea that there is a thin line between love and hate applies here? Well love and hate are polar opposites (pun intended)no doubt. But I can't help to think that in societies,definitely American society, always want one peculiar feeling over the other. I think its crucial to remember love and hate goes together inside or outside the lodge.

  5. Hmm, well, my understanding is that from the Christian point of view, it's not that an occultist is acquainted with Mr. Satan per se, but that all worshipers of any religion are by definition worshiping demons. (“The gods of the pagans are demons/idols.”)

  6. “…rituals abruptly became much more powerful if one of the two main officers was male, the other was female, they were sexually attracted to each other, but they didn’t do anything about it on the physical plane.”

    When I read this I thought right away about Francis and Clare, the celebrity monastics of the early thirteenth century. Not that they were working magic in an occult sense (far from it), but again and again your descriptions of magic here resonate with things I've experienced or read about that most people would definitely NOT call 'magic'.

  7. I've been aware of the energy between the hands for many years. Anytime I brought my palms close (1/2 inch) together and focused my attention on them I could feel a push/pull effect. Repulsive if I moved them slightly toward each other and a pull if I drew them slightly apart. Your preliminary to that made it a great deal stronger and I could feel the effect with my hands a foot and half apart.

    The polarity magic you describe I find very interesting and would like to work with something like that. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there are no Magical lodges in my immediate vicinity (Port Hadlock/ Port Townsend on the olympic peninsula). So I am a lone practitioner working to complete the Ovate grade in the CGD. I am assuming there is methods or Rituals to generate those energies for the individual practitioner. Perhaps in the Bardic or Druid grade? In any event I continue the work. I intend to do the self initiation on the Winter Solstice.

    Steven

  8. Interesting that the discovery that there is magic in sex is considered so profound. There is magic in breath, in thought, in food, in carpentry, in joy, in sorrow, in urination, etc. etc. Sex magic is “different” only because our world considers sex to be “different”…

    At the other end of the pair who have an unreleased emotional tension between them, long-term couples always have complex and ongoing emotional dynamics between them, tense and balanced, shifting and swaying. Some of them also learn to use this tension for magical purposes to great effect.

    I had a friend who referred to the sexual process between a long-term sexual couple as “The Great Never-Ending F…” By this he meant that it has its ebbs and flows, its buildups and releases, but it is all one thing, from the first spark of attraction to the final end of the relationship, perhaps a lifetime later. Even when you are fully clothed and interacting in an overtly non-sexual way, that too is part of TGNEF. Every apparent consumation is just one more point on the ongoing F…

  9. Inohuri, in the real world nothing exists in isolation. There are simply greater and lesser degrees of interaction and flow. When you have more pressure than can flow through the obvious channel, it enters a non-obvious channel: that's one of the basic secrets of magic.

    Lili, hmm. Since magic has many more uses than sex does, what you seem to be saying is that sex is a very narrow and more or less biologically specific form of magic. I'm not sure I'd agree, but it's worth reflection.

    Patricia, very likely so. Too much harmony in the bland, we're-all-happy-together sense doesn't generate much power.

    Liberty, there's love, there's hate, there are dozens of other emotional states, take your pick. The thing that kills polarity is apathy.

    Onething, I've heard a great many fundamentalist Christians insist at the top of their lungs that anyone who practices magic must be a deliberate and knowing worshipper of Satan, because magic is Satan worship. It really does baffle me that they can spout that and still read the Ten Commandments — but then the same people are just as willing to tell lies about gay people, for example.

    Dylan, au contraire, they were working magic in an occult sense. Since they did it in the context of the religious orthodoxy of the day, everyone pretended that it wasn't magic.

    MayHawk, I've begun developing a set of exercises along these lines for the Celtic GD tradition, so you're in luck. It may be a while before they're published in book form, but members of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn get access to things first.

    Bill, the shocked expressions that come with the discovery of magic in sex are a hangover, in the head-pounding, stomach-churning, kneeling at the porcelain altar while repatriating all last night's party snacks sense, of Puritan attitudes that insisted that sex was always and exclusively physical. Of course there's magic in everything — but to get that, you have to get past the notion that magic and spirit and wonder are all locked up in one, conveniently abstract corner of human experience, so that the rest can be handed over to business interests to defile.

  10. This post was initially one of those that felt like it went over my head, and then you said this: “There are simply greater and lesser degrees of interaction and flow. When you have more pressure than can flow through the obvious channel, it enters a non-obvious channel: that's one of the basic secrets of magic” and two thoughts immediately crystalised.

    The first is that detecting and opening blocked flows is also a “secret” of acupuncture, which gives me a point of reference from which to build an understanding of the rest of your thought. And also, that it is not always the case that a person with an apparent “flow blockage” needs or wants it changed – a subtle part of the clinical negotiation – and that because its alternate flowing in “non obvious” channels has produced unforeseen benefits.

    The second relates to a James C Scott book I just finished “Dominance and the arts of resistance” which outlines a theory of hidden transcripts generated by people in a subordinate situation, from which challenging the dominant transcript is risky. He documents many instances of magic to illustrate his argument, but concludes with a discussion of the power that is inevitably unleashed by a moment of speaking the hidden transcript in public. A resonance…

  11. And then you said this: “you have to get past the notion that magic and spirit and wonder are all locked up in one, conveniently abstract corner of human experience, so that the rest can be handed over to business interests to defile.”

    And there is a notion I've been working on (sorry if it is still a bit unformed) which has to do with the debt we owe the earth from which we receive life and sustenance. It seems to me that the primary feature of this defilement is the fact that these “business interests” see fit to misdirect all our energies and gifts we would otherwise be lavishing upon the earth and her living creatures and one another, to the enrichment of themselves… Sacrilegiously treating themselves as if they were gods, and our payment of debt as their own due.

  12. I just started reading this blog and i'm still hung up on the first few posts. How could the ancient Egyptians view the world in a different way? was everything two dimensional to them or something? I'm imagining flatworld here.

  13. JMG, I was really just trying to account for the general confusion of sex and magic, but I suppose I am saying that sex is a form of magic because I've always thought of it that way. Clearly sex falls short of the definition you use in that it produces changes in consciousness, but not always (or rarely) in accordance with will. For example, the state of limerance, or being infatuated, is a change in consciousness, but any intention is generally left in the dust.

    Sex as magic is not confined to the fevered response of the intolerant heterodox to occultism. There is a large and lively body of song which conflates love and magic (I Put a Spell on You, Betwitched, Bothered and Bewildered . . .), But what you describe as the relationship of the individuals involved in polarity, where what goes on between them determines whether the energy generated and the experience it produces are powerful, wonderful, comically bad, or thoroughly traumatic, does sort of sound like the workings of a sexual relationship. On the other hand, if you're a sports fan, you probably achieve the same range of results through a committed relationship with your local baseball/football/hockey franchise.

  14. “John Michael Greer said…

    Inohuri, in the real world nothing exists in isolation.”

    Do you mean complete isolation? I see isolation by degrees and types to contain energy. Insulation is a type of isolation. In my view this goes beyond the real world. Does the kissometer read the actual potential or a physical universe byproduct?

    The air in a balloon.

    The electrons in static electricity or a capacitor.

    The building of energy in sex acts.

    When these are released there can be a strong short flow. When the isolation is exceeded the balloon breaks, the static sparks. Physical shudders after emotional relief or sex.

    If there were no isolation there could be no accumulation. It would be like a dead short in electricity.

    While in isolation there is Potential. This can stand and sometimes be perceived. The balloon is round and the rubber is thin, the isolation could easily fail. The person is so angry they are about to blow up.

    A balloon can be popped or left to deflate. The pressure could also do work such as spin a toy.

    Rebalancing energies and freeing flows (energetic Healing and acupuncture) deal with this. When I do healing I shudder so much I wonder if it is detrimental to my health. I can slow the release and not shudder but then I have less available attention.

    IMHO these detrimental standing fields can persist through many lifetimes.

    < <>>

    I don't understand “non-obvious channel”. Obviousness depends on the perceptions of the viewer and would vary widely.

    I can't see auras but a few others say they are obvious.

  15. JMG,

    I’m not sure that this detracts too much from the main thrust of your argument, indeed, if Freud’s (and society’s) over-emphasis on sex is in your crosshairs, it perhaps supports your general point:

    “…a condition so rare most psychiatrists these days have never seen a case.”

    Eliot Slater, I think, made the case that hysteria was often little more than a catchall for otherwise unexplained or undiagnosed illness. Needless to say, some disagreed with his analysis but, rightly or wrongly, it appears that it had quite an impact, and the diagnosis became unfashionable. That said, far from having disappeared, does it not live on in the guise of conversion disorders, amongst others?

  16. Hi JMG,

    I'm well aware of the energy that we as individuals can access and direct and I use that in my everyday life – in conjunction with my partner too. At the same time it is only very occasionally that I (or we) overdo it as that lesson has been learned well after two decades at this. It is a good way to make something beautiful in this world though.

    I get having a relationship with a spirit (or entity) and that makes sense to me too on many levels.

    In the business world I've healed groups and brought them into a semblance of cohesive working order which was challenging, but rewarding.

    However, the thing I did not understand in your essay – and I'm very curious about this question – is why would a person conduct magic in a lodge or group setting?

    The reason for my curiosity is that as you may recall many groups that I've encountered recently seem to be afflicted with an odd sort of dysfunctionality and I've been pondering that issue for quite a while now. I'm beginning to wonder whether it is the artificial existence which a great deal of the population find themselves living in which causes those same people to overlook social niceties and consequences? Dunno.

    As usual there is always much food for thought here.

    Cheers

    Chris

  17. Max:

    An analogy that may be helpful. I'm told by linguists that have studied Australian indigenous languages that many of them have no word for colors, and indeed no concept of color. That doesn't mean that they can't see colors: speakers of those languages are perfectly capable of distinguishing colors. It's that they don't abstract, for instance, red, independently of a specific kind of rock or a specific stage in the life cycle of a leaf. The color of the rock or of the leaf is part of the entire gestalt they use to identify that object.

    Many of these same languages do not have words for “brother”, “sister,” or “sibling.” Instead, they have a much more complicated system of kinship terms that take relative birth order, relationship to the speaker and other factors into account. It's not that they can't understand “brother” or “sister,” it's that the concept makes no sense: it mixes people who are in, to them, very different social categories.

    The same thing happens among modern cultures. Russian, for example, has two words that are translated as “truth” in English: pravda and isvetsia. This leads to the amusing statement from the Soviet era that “there is no news in Pravda (the communist party newspaper), and no truth in Isvestia (the Red Army newspaper).”

    In ancient cultures this is much worse. Ancient Latin had two different words that translate to God in either Greek or English: one for the eternal gods, one for mortals whose deeds entitled them to godhood, including the right (indeed obligation) to be worshiped. This translation failure leads to bizarre misunderstandings of what some parts of the Gospels are about, for example, and probably influenced some of the mythology of the early Christian church.

  18. Hysterias also associate with toxic conditions.

    There is a strong correlation between an era of hysterias and the use of coal gas. Now this would be called Toxic Encephalopathy, my illness.

    …”the commencement of using gas for purposes other than illuminating during the 1870s; for cooking, for the heating of dwelling-houses, for making domestic hot water, “…
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_manufactured_gas#Legal.2C_regulatory.2C_environmental.2C_health.2C_and_safety_aspects_of_gas_manufacture

    “Information developed in the 1880's when people were having problems from coal gas plumbed into their homes for heating and lighting was ignored.”
    http://bcn.boulder.co.us/health/rmeha/rmehdefn.htm

  19. What's most mind-bending about this blog (and this post especially) is this: if I'm understanding you correctly, magic really is everywhere, commonplace, and part of everyone's daily experience. A mage is just someone who's paying attention to the aspect of the world called nwyfre, or the astral light, and knows some techniques for working with it.

    I see it now in the sexual tensions between people and in the particular thrum of hallowed places. At the summer church camp I work at, where you have both these effects plus a crowd of adolescents emerging into adulthood, plus the surrounding influence of a young and vigorous forest, I'm nearly knocked over by it if I don't carry myself carefully.

    But as you point out so succinctly, if you work within the religious orthodoxy of the day, whether it's Christianity or scientific materialism, everyone can pretend that 'magic' is just a cute word for the feelings kids experience at summer camp. Thinking about the astral light, on the other hand, has extraordinary explanatory power for what I've experienced there. My dilemma is that if I tried to explain it to my friends that way, they'd look at me like I was crazy!

  20. Dear John Michael et al:

    Circa 1927 Magus Incognito (William Walker Atkinson) worked out a series of what to me look like gender-irrelevant meditations on energy working that could fit almost any sexual preference. Assuming that a person or lodge is determined to link sexuality and esoteric work. The good Magus created a very flexible and inclusive set of paradigms for solo or lodge work, and I'm amazed that almost no one seems to have picked up on this.

    I suspect that Americans and Westerners in general are so touch-starved that any activity involving more than one body is perceived as sexual, whether or not that was intended.

    Some decades ago I had a student in a martial arts class run screaming for her car so she could get home and call her guru. She had sensed her body during a Nei Kung exercise, and needed her guru to re-assure her that if she kept following his prescription (less food, more meditation) she'd become entirely numb to the physical world and transcend it. At the point of anorexia she decided the what the guru was selling was inappropriate for her, and got professional help.

    Cracking open the doors of perception can have unintended consequences, especially if there are un-resolved issues within a person, and few folks make it to maturity without a few hidden panic buttons that a new meditative or magical practice will reveal.

  21. 'It’s always struck me as rather odd that so many people think that occultism is inseparable from sex. '

    Many people, Kubrick too.

    'one consequence of the Freudian revolution was that sex went from something nobody talked about to something everybody talked about all the time, and its importance came to be as overrated as it had previously been underrated. '

    If you don't know what's your patients troubles, it doesn't matter: it's always a penis (apocryphal Freud).

    “Sexualitis” is one of the scourges in Freudian Psychoanalisis (for instance: mysoginia, errr…stop!: let's cover the long listing with a curtain of embarrassment). However, his more unorthodox heirs as lords of the couch reacted against it, even de-sexualizaing Oedypus complex or negating it (Lacan). Modern analysts “killed their father” for keeping on mumbo-jumbo over and over, thanks to unwary people.

  22. “ They (Francis and Claire) were working magic in an occult sense. Since they did it in the context of the religious orthodoxy of the day, everyone pretended that it wasn't magic. “
    It may be that there is a good deal more “art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will” going on in the context of religious orthodoxy than is commonly noticed. It may be that there is a good deal more religion (often self-consciously unorthodox) laced through magic than is commonly noticed. One often perceives what one is expecting to perceive.

    “any shared emotion. That’s the real secret of polarity. The only requirement is that the emotion isn’t being expressed on the physical plane. … You can do it just as well with nonsexual modes of affection; you can do it with admiration; you can do it with a shared passionate commitment to a project or a cause, or what have you.”

    In this (strong share emotion) there are abundant possibilities. It would seem that shared commitment to a project or cause might express eventually in physical plane action manifesting magical power.

    In any case, how would polarity apply to the solitary practitioner?

  23. I'm not entirely sure that society 70 years ago was especially repressed compared to today. Certainly there were more sexual taboos then, but there also seems to have been a much greater ability to communicate love and tenderness. Watching documentaries about the period, especially during WW2, I'm often taken aback at how people during that era would send each other long, unguarded love letters that would openly express their feelings in a way that would be almost unheard of nowadays. Expressing vulnerability or genuine feelings is a very dangerous move in today's society, which is why so much of the culture is marinated in irony and other distancing effects. And if we don't have hysteria, we certainly have other psychological conditions that have replaced it.

  24. “MayHawk said…
    Unfortunately, to my knowledge there are no Magical lodges in my immediate vicinity (Port Hadlock/ Port Townsend on the olympic peninsula). So I am a lone practitioner working to complete the Ovate grade in the CGD.

    Steven”

    Have you inquired at the Unicorn HQ book shop on Rhody Drive next to Sonny's RV?

    Glenn

    Marrowstone Island

  25. (Deborah Bender)

    @John Roth–Is the Latin word you are thinking of for deified mortals “genius”?

    I was just thinking about the English word “belief” which lumps together notions or convictions derived from very different sources, which in some languages would get separate nouns. E.g., belief derived from personal experience, logic working on evidence, statements made by authority figures, emotion-driven concepts, and popular understanding. Discussions about religious belief versus atheism are often confused by failure to distinguish among different senses of the word belief, especially when one or both parties to the discussion are taking revealed religions as stand-ins for all religions.

  26. The power of polarity being shared emotions makes me think of my own personal definition of beautiful:

    Something is beautiful when two people can feel the same emotion about it. The stronger the emotion and the more people, the more beautiful.

    I love to go to museums and look at the same piece of art as someone else. Because we're strangers, we're unlikely to break the spell by actually talking about the piece.

    Also, do you know of any way for a solitary to practice polarity? The closest thing I can think of is a new way I learned to deal with anxiety. If I'm having a panic attack, rather than following the common advice of calming my mind to calm my body, I leave the energy levels where they are, consciously connect them to each other, and redirect the energy from panic to excitement. (It's worked so well that I'm a little upset I'm only learning it now.) Would this be an example of internal polarity?

  27. I vividly remember the first time I performed that energy exercise. I was reading the Druid Magic Handbook and actually stopped and was careful not to read even a paragraph ahead before I did the exercise.

    I was expecting tingling and half-prepared to dismiss the results as mere static electricity. When I felt like I was pressing against some sort of invisible gel, I was quite surprised and curious. When I then continued reading and you said that was the expected effect… well, I think that was the first moment when I really started thinking, “Hey, maybe there is something to this magic stuff.”

  28. Scotlyn, good. Magic is actually very simple, a matter of everyday experience — but it points to features of everyday experience that people in our society are taught not to notice. As for the ersatz deification of business interests, exactly; Max Weber was dead on when he derived capitalism from evangelical Protestantism. The worship of wealth is yet another civil religion, of the same sort as nationalism or the cult of progress.

    Max, I know these are difficult ideas. Several readings and some time for reflection will help.

    Lili, exactly — and yes, the adoration of fans for their favorite team has a lot to do with polarity, and with some other effects we'll be discussing down the road a bit.

    Inohuri, I was responding to your comment about an isolated energy remaining in one state indefinitely. Obviously everything exists in the real space between the notional extremes of perfect isolation and perfect interpenetration.

    Nano, no doubt. I don't tend to take Crowley as a good example of much of anything; he makes a better object lesson on how not to practice magic. Let's put it this way: if you start out your magical career wealthy, talented, handsome, charming, and well hung, and end up as a burnt-out drug addict in a small town flophouse with an estate worth fourteen shillings and a name that you yourself have made a laughingstock on three continents, you're doing something wrong.

    Sima, I've seen that claim made, but it doesn't jibe with the very specific discussions of hysteria in the clinical literature of the time; there were no doubt a lot of things lumped in with classic hysteria, sure, but the same thing happens today with any number of DSM diagnoses, and that doesn't disprove the reality of the conditions in question. As for conversion disorders, here again, when's the last time you saw a case of glove anesthesia?

    Cherokee, we'll talk about the benefits and drawbacks of magical lodge work in at least one upcoming post. It's a complex matter.

    Inohuri, that doesn't begin to account for the specific epidemiology of hysteria as it was discussed in the clinical literature of the time. If hysteria was a function of coal gas toxicity, for example, you'd expect it to be evenly distributed among people who were exposed to coal gas — and it wasn't.

    Dylan, exactly! You get today's gold star for getting one of the central points of this blog. As for the difficulty involved in talking to other people about these very ordinary, normal, constantly occurring phenomena: yep. That's why occultists tend to hang out together when they want to talk shop.

    Nwlorax, no argument there! I'll have to do a post on Atkinson one of these days. As for skin hunger, that's a crucial issue as well — I suspect one of the reasons nonsexual polarity magic is becoming more common is that it's a little more acceptable to touch and be touched these days.

    Spanish fly, good! Yes, Freudian theorists have been busy reenacting the Oedipus complex, just as so many Jungian theorists have been busy constellating Jung as the archetype of the Self.

    Brother G., the solitary practitioner doesn't do polarity work. There are many other ways to concentrate and direct magical power which don't require a partner — but polarity work does.

    Phil, it's precisely because our societies are coming to terms with sexuality after so many centuries that we have so much trouble communicating affection in a nonsexual way. It'll be a long time before that finally clears up.

    Tasha, you could think of it that way, but you can also simply think of it as an alchemical process, where the raw material of fear is dissolved and then recombined to make some more useful emotion. More on this as we proceed!

    James, it's quite a wowser, isn't it? That's why so many materialists freak out so comprehensively when they do it.

  29. @Deborah Bender

    No. The word for the immortal gods is “deus” and for the mortals that attained godhood by their deeds is “divus” or “diva.” The latter seems to have migrated into English in theater usage. You can see it in Augustus Caesar’s title: “Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus,” which translates loosely to “Emperor, son of the god Caesar, Augustus.”

    Christianity took the process of recognizing a mortal that had attained godhood over from the Senate lock, stock and barrel after Constantine, but it called them saints instead of gods. Pretty similar magical effects, though.

  30. I got no result from the exercise, other than the tingling from the friction. I suspect for a physical reason–I have damage from careless musicianship to both nerves in my right wrist–but I am curious if there is any other possible explanation.

    nwlorax, I think some of it may be that media pushes relentlessly the sexualization of everything, but especially all touch, and people have accepted that as normal. Hug your same-sex friend–that must be because you're secretly homosexual and attracted. Hug your opposite sex friend–must be secret attraction. There's no room left whatsoever for simply hugging a friend. I remember in my childhood that it was no big deal to hold hands with my best friend, right into our teen years. I'm not all that old. My children most certainly would not: if they did they'd be accused of having a romantic relationship–and they're children both chronologically and biologically!

  31. JMG,

    Concerning the palm exercise:

    I have tried a version of this exercise a few times previously and now again after reading your post. I could discern no effect beyond what may be imagination only. I could discern an effect though. I'm thinking these two facts could be significant.

    One problem here is how one can distinguish between reality and imagination. Recent research into perception has suggested that most of what we perceive is an act of imagination … so we are off to a bad start. [As I expect you know, we don't actually get most of our sense of our world from our senses. We get a little bit and our brains or minds fill in most of the details. Usually we do this quite well so that the whole of our perception of “reality” (the one we create/embellish from raw sensory input) is seamless. But sometimes we perceive the seams … and then we quickly paper these over.]

    Nonetheless, we intuitively understand the difference: as a minimum “reality” is an experience that can (at least theoretically) be a (more or less) shared perception about stuff we consider outside ourselves.

    Just as I could imagine a flow in and out of my palms while breathing, so I could perceive a pressure on my palms as I move them together afterward. Both are imagination assisted by drawing my attention to my palms by rubbing them, shaking them, slightly extending them, and finally focusing on them in acts of imagination. So what the exercise entails is some sense perception, a whole lot of imagination, perhaps with a subtle suggestion, resulting in a perception. Given what is known about how we perceive/create our reality, this should come as no surprise.

    I'm guessing you are suggesting more is (potentially) at work here than imagination alone. For instance, can one give one's “ball of breath” to someone else for them to hold and perceive without prior suggestion to the other person? In the hierarchy of sense perception, sight trumps touch, so the answer maybe “No” for the wrong reason. Then again, it works for individuals without seeing any “ball of breath”.

    If the answer is “No”, I think we are dealing with an imaginary (i.e. solitary) perception. If the answer is “Yes”, then perhaps we are dealing with a reality – a shared perception i.e. the “ball of breath” – being created by the imagination of only one party.

    The case of two people experiencing a reality created by the imagination of only one of them (setting aside the contradiction this implies as perception for the other involves imagination) is interesting; the case of only a solitary perception is trivial i.e. “OK, one's imagination works”.

    Your description of work within a magical lodge may give an answer of sorts. Ritual (magical or otherwise) is intended to (and generally does) create a shared perception of mood. To be non-trivial though, something other than just mood would have to be created and experienced … something like affecting the perception of someone not witnessing the ritual.

  32. (Deborah Bender)

    @Agent Provocateur–I've allowed many people to lead me through exercises and practices that start with, “Imagine that . . .” or “Visualize . . .” When I get a sensation or experience that has been suggested, I always want to know, “Was that just my imagination?” If I get any result, I want to figure out the reason. If it's a strong and distinct experience, it goes into the to-be-accounted-for file. If it's a weak perception, I'm inclined to practice a few more times to see whether sharpening my attention will make the effect more noticeable. I'm not satisfied with either “This stuff works; who cares what's actually going on?” or “That couldn't happen; therefore, it did not happen.”

    If most of the people in the room are reporting a perception and I didn't experience it, I weigh various explanations:
    Social pressure of the emperor's new clothes variety.
    That the other people have nervous systems that respond differently than mine–JMG alluded to this in his description of the exercise. People vary in their ability/propensity to see stuff that a scientific materialist would say isn't there, like disembodied spirits and etheric energy fields. On the second sight spectrum, I'm at the needs corrective lenses location; I see vague blurs if I know where to look, while other people describe details.
    That my nervous system would benefit from training. A few people are born with perfect pitch; many can be taught to distinguish flats and sharps. It took practice and repeated exposure before I was able to sense the magical energy of focused groups that JMG alludes to. I went from being completely oblivious while present at a famous event of this sort, to developing pretty accurate sensitivity (by accurate, I mean that other people with similar training and experience tally in their perceptions).
    That I picked up the information at a subconscious level. The other night I was in a small group practicing the detection of an energetic boundary by feel: a pair of people set it up and another person walks toward it with eyes shut. I did not consciously feel the barrier, but was observed to have a physical reaction when I crossed it.

    If I have a distinct, strong and repeatable experience, I'm inclined to credit more than my imagination. I've done a version of the hands exercise without the special breathing many times, and usually get the magnetic poles repulsion sensation. Whatever else it may be, it's definitely physical for me.

    I credit some anecdotal evidence as well. My social network includes a lot of people who do various kinds of distance healing on request. When a bunch of people are praying for/visualizing/sending healing energy to one person, I've often received secondhand reports, not of miracle cures, but of unusually rapid recovery that the doctor remarked was beyond his or her prior experience.

  33. Deborah Bender,

    Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful response.

    Your file system is similar to mine! Actually I have a whole shelf in my mental library dedicated to miscellaneous interesting phenomena that I can't fit into my current mental library filing system but am not prepared to throw out just yet. In half a century of living, this shelf has got rather crowded. I'm also beginning to see connections between these phenomena. As an example, the sort of shared &/or strong emotion or other mental connection JMG's essay referred to seems to be a theme for group mind telepathic phenomena, distance healing etc. With enough stuff on the shelf and some way to sort it, I may now have a way to file it properly.

    Basically I'm am interested in how reality works. The only way to get any distance along that path is to be open to whatever presents itself even if some paths may turn out to be dead ends.

    Your description of a “energy boundary” set up by one set of people while another set go about detecting it would certainly qualify as an example of the sort I was inquiring about i.e. an answer of “Yes” to my question. The same for distance healing by prayer etc.

    Re. your “If I have a distinct, strong and repeatable experience, I'm inclined to credit more than my imagination. I've done a version of the hands exercise without the special breathing many times, and usually get the magnetic poles repulsion sensation. Whatever else it may be, it's definitely physical for me.”

    As I indicated in my first comment, most of “reality” is imagination anyways so this is a tough call. An experience/perception is an experience/perception. It is valid on its own terms. For me or someone else to deny the validity of your or someone else's experience would be as rude as telling someone they should not experience a certain emotion when in fact they do. So in that sense the experience is real, imaginary or not. Perhaps we can say (for fun) such experiences are really imaginary or imaginarily real … or something else like… real on the imaginal plane

    The real key is if this experience can be shared in some way as your example of an “energy barrier” or healing by prayer. Then we are on to something interesting.

    Thanks again.

  34. Wow, my first ever JMG gold star! Add that to the file of unmentionable topics I seem to be accumulating by hanging around this blog.

    On that note, I'm intrigued by the suggestion that redirecting flows into non-obvious channels can have unforeseen benefits. I get that sexual abstinence can't lead to immortality a la Hiram Butler, but are there magical channels that can be unlocked only by a celibate person or group? And if so, what could that kind of magic look like?

  35. I first did a variation of the hands exercise a couple of weeks ago from my copy of The Druid Magic Handbook. I didn't read ahead, so I didn't know what the expected sensation was, which seems to discredit the notion of mere suggestion or imagination. I was fully expecting to feel a sort of warmth/tingling from the friction or something similar and easily dismissable (although I was hoping for more). Instead, I felt a very strong physical pushing and pulling sensation when I moved my hands apart and together, as if my hands were covered in warm, plush putty of some kind (that is a terrible description, but I can't improve it) that resisted being stretched or compressed. It was frankly shocking, me being a scientific materialist (at the time…now, not so much). The fact that it aligned with the experiences of others, despite the fact that I didn't know what those experiences were before I tried it, was also rather disconcerting. It was far beyond the sort of self-suggestion or vividly imagined experiences I have managed through practices such as hypnosis, guided visualization, biofeedback, etc., for what that's worth. I was excited enough by it to throw myself head-first into further exploration of magic, which I still have a rather hard time crediting, as I thought it was utter nonsense a month ago, not even something that was on my radar. (Actually, my face did a sort of sour persimmon thing every time I remembered that JMG was actually an Archdruid, since I liked The Archdruid Report so much and it pained me to consider that he might actually be serious about the whole magic thing…I ended up reading this blog largely to rationalize the perceived discrepancy, and ended up somewhere unexpected.) Anyway, the hand energy exercise experience was blatant enough to convince me very definitively that something was going on that was outside my understanding of how things worked, and that it was beyond the realm of auto-suggestion or imagination alone.

  36. Jen,

    One way to approach the phenomena is to ask the question “What is causing the sensation?” Please note that I'm not denying the reality of the sensation. The question is what is causing it, not whether it exists.

    Physical sensations of pressure are generally assumed to be caused by actual pressure (force over an area of skin with sufficient nerve cells to translate this pressure into electrical signals to the brain). For this to happen there is some deformation of the skin caused by the electro-magnetic force of an object on the skin (electrons in the object pushing against electrons in the skin).

    Conjuring up an actual object with mass takes a lot of energy (E=mc^2). This doesn't seem likely given the enormous energy required. Even some electro – magnetic force that would simulates a mass would require a significant amount of energy. Such energy has to come from somewhere. Information (such as a sensation)on the other hand generally requires little energy to be moved about. It still requires some, but not nearly as much as actual physical forces.

    Basically I've just ruled out the four know forces/fields known to physics (the two nuclear forces don't apply as these act over only very sort distances – so I considered only gravity and electromagnetism).

    So I'm reasonably certain there is no physical cause for the sensation.

    Perhaps there is some deformation of the skin caused by the mind itself (stranger things have happened – all the time: desire movement and you flex a muscle) or perhaps there is no deformation, just actual electrical signals to the brain anyways? Maybe. I don't know.

    In any case, I think we are still left with only the mind as the cause of the sensation. Even if there are electrical signals from the hands or only in the brain itself, the cause is still “just” the mind. So what we are discussing is information flow then more than mostly a physical phenomena.

    This sounds a lot like “imagination” to me. Again, this does not negate the reality of the sensation or its intensity. I've just been discussing the cause of these.

    The really interesting thing would be to create a sensation/experience from your imagination and have someone else experience this directly (as opposed to say reading something someone else wrote). I believe there may be reasons to believe this is possible. In such a case, “imagination” no longer sounds like explaining the phenomena away … something I'm trying to avoid doing.

    Again, I'm looking for an explanation for the phenomena, not to “explain it away”.

  37. Patricia Mathews: Thank you for mentioning Darkover. In the novels, a huge theme was the conversion of sexual energy into power raising in the tower system; those involved in that work were essentially blocked from expressing sexuality of any kind so they could funnel it into their psychic work (with massive ensuing damage if they tried to undo that blocking in some cases.) The idea was, energy is energy and can be “sublimated” (I think this is a Freudian concept) into psychic work, a theme that has been pervasive in some quarters.

    The word hysteria, by the way, is from the Greek word for “uterus”.

    Think about that….

    A worthy conversation to have. Thank you all.

  38. Agent, Jen, Unknown Deborah: I too performed the hands exercise after reading the first bit of JMG's Druid Magic Handbook (successful marketing strategy, anyone? 😉 and my first reaction was that it was an interesting effect of muscle tension caused by the sustained effort of holding my arms out in front of my chest for a solid sixty seconds, as recommended in the book. That still seems to me to be the simplest explanation.

    That said, when I think about how many other things I can now begin to explain by taking into account the existence of nwyfre or astral light as a third dimension of reality (after familiar old matter and energy), I think again about the nwyfre-between-the-hands exercise. It's only when I put it in that certain mental file alongside other ambiguous experiences I've had that it starts to look like evidence. It's the weight of that accumulating evidence, not any single proof, that has me rethinking everything.

  39. Agent:

    I think you're close to being correct that it's imagination. Imagination corresponds to what Hermetic philosophy calls the astral body. I think what the exercise manipulates is the etheric body, which is closely related to both the astral and physical bodies.

    My understanding is that the etheric is the level of the inner experience of one's body. Eckhart Tolle has a neat little meditative exercise to connect to your etheric body: close your eyes and “see if there's any life in your hands.” Connecting back to the subject of the post, it's also where sexual arousal is primarily experienced.

    So what I think is happening is that the feeling of pressure is occurring on the etheric level, and the muscles in our hands can't really tell the difference and are reacting as if they were facing physical pressure.

  40. Agent Provocateur,

    I agree with you that it seems unlikely that any of the four physical forces are responsible for the sensation.

    Where I differ with you (rather tentatively; my grasp of what's actually going on here is minimal verging on non-existent) is in the idea that it is solely the mind which is responsible for the sensation. I do understand that you're not simply trying to explain it away when you suggest this, but it still doesn't quite ring true to me.

    This is purely anecdotal, but the experience to me differed qualitatively from imaginal sensations and experiences that I have had in the past, even very vivid ones, although imagination certainly played a part in it (and actually, The Druid Magic Handbook suggested a variation in which imagination was used to intensify the sensation). I was trying to get at that through my mention of hypnosis, biofeedback, etc. in my original comment, but got sidetracked. For instance, I have self-hypnotized myself into the sensation that I could not move my limbs, to the point of actually trying to pull against the “restraints” and being unable to do so, but there was always a sense of it being…self-contained, as if one part of my mind was performing a trick for the other part of my mind (the same is true, by the way, even when working with a hypnotist who is ostensibly “controlling” the session). It's difficult to describe, but this felt more like encountering an extra-mind force of some kind, hence why it was so surprising. I certainly can't prove it, but it felt more than imaginary, and I mean that not in the sense of trivializing imagination, but simply saying that there seemed to be an additional factor involved that I hadn't detected before even in quite intense imaginal work, and that existed independent of my manipulation of it via mind or body (both of which it seemed to respond to).

    Going on my understanding of what JMG has said here and in his books, I would say that this “third factor” fits with the description of the astral light he's discussed here on his blog, or nwyfre, or perhaps qi or whatever you want to call it, and that it is indeed quite possibly a non-material…thing. Substance? Force? Information? I'm not sure exactly how to categorize it. But going purely on personal experience, a three-part explanation of body, mind, and astral light/nwyfre/life force/whatever accounts for the experience better than simply body/mind.

    As for other people being able to perceive one's workings with imagination and/or this third factor, I think that is a very interesting question and experiment that I have nothing valuable to say about yet, having been working with this for less than two weeks and in solitude!

  41. BoysMom, it doesn't work with everyone. I've known some people who never did get the effect, and others who had to hold their palms facing one another for a very long time to get much of anything.

    Agent, hmm. It seems to me that you're taking a set of judgments about what counts as real and imposing them onto your experience: this sensation could be produced by imagination, therefore it doesn't count as “really real.” That's what people are taught to do these days. What if instead you shelved questions about what the effect “really” is, especially when those questions covertly presuppose a set of beliefs about the universe that explicitly rule out the possibility of magic, and simply set out to figure out what you could do with it?

    Dylan, there are indeed. I'm far from an expert on that subject, as celibacy isn't something that attracts me at all, but I'll be talking about some aspects of that as we proceed.

    Jen, good. That's a reasonable response to the situation: you experienced something very definite that doesn't fit within a strict materialist worldview without a great deal of chopping and stretching, and so amended your worldview. I wish that response was more common.

    BTW, I'd like to thank everyone who's taken part in the discussion of the palm exercise for keeping it civil and friendly. I know this touches on some very loaded issues, and it's good to see such issues handled thoughtfully.

  42. BTW, the sexual repression of Dion Fortune's day, which apparently began in the 19th century, could easily have been a reaction to the sexually transmitted diseases of the early modern era. And of course it was pushed too far, on the grounds that if a moderate amount of gentility and prudery and delicacy were good, then see how much better we (the Edwardian era) must be for being so much more delicate, genteel, and dainty.

    So when World War I blew the lid off that one, powered by some of the earlier countercultural movements of the 1890s (look up THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE. It's a hoot!),it did so mostly for the avant-garde and the sophisticated. As Fortune pointed out, the provincial cities were a generation behind London, the countryside a generation behind Leeds et. al, and the back country a generation behind the countryside. THose went down a lifetime later.

  43. Jen,

    I understand what you are saying. Your experience is qualitatively different than other experiences that might be lumped in with it and “imagination” doesn't do justice to it as an explanation. The more traditional terms may be more appropriate. This is interesting because the terminology used does matter. I concede “imaginary” probably isn't the best term due to is connotations. I've also read JMG's “The Druid Magic Handbook” – it was at the public library … JMG has made the big time 😉 – so I do understand what you are referring to when you used the terms nwyfre etc.

    Thank you for the detailed response. It has helped my understanding of the phenomena quite bit.

    JMG,

    Re. “It seems to me that you're taking a set of judgments about what counts as real and imposing them onto your experience: this sensation could be produced by imagination, therefore it doesn't count as “really real.” ”

    I was conscious of this type of error but may have slid into the ditch with it anyway. Certainly it is a mainstream cultural assumption that if something is not physically real then it is not real at all. I'm not sure I hold that prejudice, but “imaginary” does have that connotation so its hard not to give the impression of holding the opinion if I use the term … its pretty much hard baked into the word. So I guess its probably best to not use the word “imaginary”.

    Rather than saying the sensation is imaginary, perhaps it is more accurate to say imagination is (or can be) an important factor in creating the phenomena. If this is so, I'd say its interesting. Its suggests a strong connection between imagination and spirit/prana/nwyfre/astral light. The image of steam bed and stream respectively comes to mind.

    Is that an appropriate way of looking at this?

    With respect to just getting on with doing the work, well I've been applying some of the more basic parts of your Celtic Golden Dawn system for almost a year now. Imagination certainly plays a role in the rituals and some of the exercises there. This is why I focused on the term. I also had in mind the association that the sephirah Tiphareth has with imagination. Its central placement and connection with virtual all other sephiroth suggests its importance.

    Sorry for being overly analytical; but how else can I understand what's going on intellectually? As I'm sure you know, there are two basic approaches to acquiring knowledge: theoretical and empirical. Experience (empirical knowledge) comes first ideally but ultimately these two tend to be iteratively linked: some progress in one type of knowledge often allows a subsequent advance in the other. So there is some use for purely theoretical knowledge.

    In any case, I'm certainly game to “set out to figure out what you could do with it”. I can't say I have quite figured out what I can do with “it” just yet despite having done some basic work towards that end; but its been fun. We shall see.

  44. @ JMG: Only loosely related to this month's topic, but you mentioned Aberdeen in the other blog, and that thing is better suited over here. I visited Aberdeen this month. Nice country and nice people.

    What impressed me most were not even the ruins and the destilleries, but some trees at Tolquhon castle. Yew trees, the ones I like best. Anything magical I make for myself just has to be yew. One of them was at least a thousand years old, I guess, the eldest living being I've ever met. It was like several yews merged into one. Just been looking up to the branches, seeing endless patterns of runes against the sky.

    The other was a younger yew tree, forked at ground level, standing completely isolated. One half was flourishing, the other was dying. It was as if Hel had decided to become a tree.. “Hel's tree”, I called it. The presence with that tree was impressive, felt like a rotating energy field.

    Should you ever visit people in Aberdeen, I strongly suggest that you visit that castle. I guess that with your background, it may be even more touching.

  45. JMG,

    I have been reading your other blog for a few months now (being familiar with your name for years), but this is the first entry on this blog I have read of yours. I enjoyed it just as much! 🙂 I have been studying various spiritual paths for the past few years, mostly pagan traditions as they make the most sense to me. I have a question for you regarding polar energy use in ritual.

    I have a myriad of DSM diagnoses I could fit into, essentially I am very emotionally labile. If I get angry, I get full angry. If I get sad, I get full sad. Happiness is full happiness, and my libido is chronic and extreme (the only constant). Thus, I experience extreme emotions. When I am in the depths of one, my arms are vibrating, hands radiating, head sounds like a bee-hive; completely physically overwhelming. The emotion is usually on the despair spectrum, unfortunately.

    If *such strong negative emotions were used in ritual, would that taint its affects? You wrote about mutual animosity being just as strong as sexual energy, so I imagine there is possibility. Seems like it would need to be carefully controlled as not to produce negative affects? Or is it more along the lines of individuals who summon the energy (N/S), then those who direct it (E/W)?

    Time to dig into the older entries!

    Best,
    Callum

  46. To Mega Therion ain't no role model that's for sure. I don't think I would have liked him very much either but I do love an iconoclast from a pure randomly chaotic pov.

    There are some very fun, well fun to me of course, exercises in his “how to see fairies” book by Ramse Dukes (Lionel Snell)

    As with everything your mileage may vary. At the very least one could try a few of the exercises.

    If I recall correctly dear arch Druid, Druid practice doesn't have a “dark knight of the soul” which I understood to be that moment when the practitioners BS (belief system) no longer vibes with the experiences being encountered. I'm I recalling that properly?

  47. Thank you. I know a certain woman that I am very sexualy attracted to. She is also attracted to me. That is pretty obvious.
    However, we have personal reasons for not having sex with each other .
    Next time she comes over to my place for a beer I might see if she is interested in something of this magic.
    T.L.

  48. Yeh the mentions of Frances and Clare led me to their namesakes that star in the recent popular t.v show ” house of cards ” which is all about the obsessive acquisition and misuse of power , and all the difficulty and negative unintended consequences that flow from same , very ironic .
    JMG by the way has written an excellent book some years ago on magical lodge work , which he very originally and cryptically titled ” inside a magical lodge ” ha ha ha , it is one of his best i reckon .
    I think polarity magic for the solitary practioner is indeed possible , and this can be achieved by closely identifying oneself with the cycles of the zodiac superimposed over the seasons of the year , symbolically overlais with tarot major , minor , court cards etc .
    You will find that these energies gently ebb and flow back and forth between “light” and “dark ” , that is , conscious and unconscious energies , though it may take some years of study meditation reflection and living close to the land when possible before that dusty , rusty door swings open for you .
    As for Crowley , he is an excellent axample of what happens when you dabble in magic without making any effort to understand any personal internal contradictions you may harbour beforehand . Ironically he does seem to have some ability to initiate , but in the sense of a lighthouse standing on a rocky cape , steer towards him you'll end up shipwrecked , his is a cautionary tale !

  49. Hi JMG,

    Thank you for considering that very complex matter and I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject.

    Just as a note, I am still considering and meditating on those sorts of “group” matters quite deeply here and will share insights as I have them.

    You know what though, one insight occurred to me recently is that people leading these community groups don't want to be the bad guy and set strict limits on the groups focus – that error allows groups to be hijacked by anyone who can make enough noise. In avoiding that problem of setting boundaries they also avoid the “limit” problem which if they actually had to address it would cast all of their own previous personal choices into question.

    It is really like a cyclical problem with no solution and I always get this mental image of a dog chasing its tail.

    I do hope that you address the group problem of boundaries and limits in a magical lodge context as that would be fascinating to contemplate. Have you ever written any books on such matters that you could point me to?

    PS: I spotted two wombats out and about last night – one of which had ripped a hole in my chicken wire which was protecting some new native plantings and the other wombat was a little young un munching on the early spring herbage.

    Two wombats the night before meant seriously unpleasant weather today and it even snowed this morning. Brr!

    Cheers

    Chris

  50. @ Callum: Just my two cents, but getting some stability should be the first thing to work on. The problem isn't putting your emotions to work, I guess, but doing so in a controlled way. Some grounding work maybe. Or breath meditation.. just sitting or lying there, concentrating on the breath. If thoughts and emotions come up, just watch them and don't go into them. Let them pass by.

    That way, you should get some control of your thoughts. Since thoughts carry emotions along with them, you get an indirect emotional control. It's a bit like navigating a ship – the small force of the rudder controls the big force in the sails. No rudder means no course, so it might crash into the next reef.

  51. Hi JGM & All;

    Although I'm not an occultist or practitioner of magic, I find this interesting and will definitely try this exercise.

    I have 2 questions:
    1) in the lodge – polarity exercise, after the magic is created, after the exercise is done, when they're all at the Chinese restaurant chatting, Is the tension gone from the two participants? e.g.: with the two women who hated each other, did they feel a calm or relief from their hatred, (for awhile at least?)

    2) Most importantly, and for this maybe someone can direct me to an earlier post or further reading: What is it for? Does the lodge discuss at the beginning where they will direct this magical ball of energy they're going to create? Is it just to see if they CAN create it? If it is for something specific, how does that work? Do they visualize sweeping it out of the door and towards it's target?
    I mean, I understand someone like Callum, who has a built-in need, an action or function for created magic to go into: A job for it to do, as it were, that is primal and necessary; but what 'job' does a lodge have for the magic to do? And if it's just kind of arbitrarily chosen, wouldn't that diminish it's potency by quite a lot? So I guess my question is what is the whole point of practicing and creating this magic?

    *Incidentally, Thank You, Callum for sharing. I will share this with my husband who has similar issues with strong and often depressive emotions. Your technique sound very fruitful.

    **@Agent Provocateur: As an artist, I understood your meaning of the term 'imaginary'. What comes to and from our imaginations is definitely real, it's just not tangible. Don't know where it comes from, but it comes from somewhere. Searching for and prying at those cracks in perception JGM mentioned is IMHO what makes being an artist fun!

    Thank You,

  52. I can be added to the role of people who did the exercise and got a strong affect. I also read along as I did each part, and, not reading ahead, was quite startled at how strong it was. I was expecting just tingling, maybe a little crackling sensation. Provocateur, you must have done it wrong!

    At the same time, it surprises me that some people react with discomfort, or the need to deny, or even to ascribe it to imagination. And all because it apparently seems unexplained by their understanding of things. It can't be physical so it must be imaginal…of course it is physical! It is a physical sensation induced by physical motions.

    Occultwise, I'm not sure what it is supposed to show. A way of connecting with the astral light and making it palpable? That would be great, although we probably don't have any way of knowing at this point just how it works, and therefore what its cause is.

    But I would deny that the astral light is nonphysical, anyway. At least, I need a better understanding/explanation of what physical and nonphysical mean. I'm not sure there's a difference.

  53. @ dealach – I agree. My life is multitudes more stable than it was in my recent past, though the birth of my wife and I's second daughter (my first baby, her second) has been a hurdle I am working on. My general process for those really tough times is to fall back and let them purge themselves. Trying to allow them to pass through my consciousness without dwelling on them. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. I want to know what I am struggling with, as to better understand and thus cope with it, but if I get caught on the dwelling aspect… Anyhoo, I have found allowing it passage to be better in my long term then seeking silence. That follows after a while, and is a wonderful, pristine silence. ::sigh::

    @ Caryn – I appreciate your words, but cannot in good faith accept accolades (not the best word, but it'll have to do) for my description. At this point, when I have sensations like those I described earlier, it is an out-of-control feeling. I identified with JMG's description of the physical experience of energy and am probing. 🙂

    My wife and her family in general have long noted my empathetic tendencies, and I haven't denied it. However, my brain struggles greatly with allowing myself to experience the unknowable. I experience significant physical sensations of intuition fairly often, and am frankly terrified to acknowledge that they are more than an after-affect of my brief, but thorough tryst with hard drugs. Serotonin syndrome and all that fun neurological malfeasance. 😛

    Perhaps, with some further plumbing of the depths, the negative energy your husband and I experience can be put to some use other than our seemingly pointless suffering!

  54. I have had a heart chakra opening relating to a female. This is quite transformative and due to yoga training opening energy channels. Since it is only unidirectional and asexual it can be socially ignored with care. Marriage is a different matter as you stated built up energy is released through arguing, sex, etc. Too much energy is hard to live and not transferable permanently from my experienc, i.e. my wife feels my energy in lovemaking but it goes away quickly. Permanent awakening requires own work. I do not understand why another person should click open my energy like a catalyst just by passing by. I assume aura, chakras, perhaps personality factors involved. Magic is on astral plane, i.e. bioelectric energy and aura extends somemeters, physical contact is superfluous. It is strange not being in control of energy body in presence of someone but not unique at all. Takes discipline and work to plan around it. Your magic lodges developing this on purpose I find interesting phenomenon. I sort of stumble across such things by accident in daily life or through energy work, tai chi, meditation, yoga.

  55. (Deborah Bender)

    @Ed Boyle–I am not the master here, but if someone is teaching you how to open up, I hope they are also teaching you how to shield.

    Most people don't let their auras spread out several meters when they are standing in a crowded elevator. They suck them in. OTOH, if you have a cat on your lap . . .

    I had to take classes to learn how to monitor my aura and exert my will over how much it extends. Not a big mystery, more like hygiene and good manners, but one of those things some of us get trained early in life to not pay attention to.

  56. Onething (Dylan, James, et al.),

    r.e. Onething's “… you must have done it wrong!”

    This sounds familiar … and more germane to the themes of this month's post … mostly from ex-girlfriends ;). Along those lines: chaos mages have their own palm exercises of a more onanistic bent.

    Chaos magic theory seems to dispense with the notion of the spirit/nwyfre/astral light altogether as a premise (but not necessarily as a conclusion). This then brings up the question of how they account for the phenomena being discussed. I suspect they generally just don't bother trying … much like the vast majority of practicing quantum mechanics who use that theory for practical results and mostly don't bother with interpretation too much.

    Just to be clear: I did experience some push and pull (err … not the chaos magic type) in the exercise, it just wasn't that marked to my mind.

    r.e. Onething's “… of course it is physical! It is a physical sensation induced by physical motions.”

    Yes. What is it that you are touching? Is that physical? I eliminated physical “realities” (the four forces known to science) so “it” (the thing you are touching) is not physical. This does not mean its not real … even if “imaginal”. Dreams are real in a person's “dream world”. They just aren't real in “waking world”. We seem to be dealing with a reality that is just crossing from one level/world to another of level/world of reality. My last comment hinted at some models of reality that allow for this. So did James's last comment.

    I think JMG introduced the exercise as a way of directly experiencing the spirit/nwyfre/astral light. As Dylan suggests, by itself I don't think it constitutes proof of the existence of the astral light for me, but it is interesting. I'm in agreement with Dylan's “It's the weight of that accumulating evidence, not any single proof, …”

  57. (Deborah Bender)

    @Agent Provocateur et al.–I also agree with Dylan's remark about the weight of the accumulating evidence, not any single proof. What we are talking about here, IMO, is the overthrow of a scientific paradigm ala Thomas Kuhn, and no single proof is adequate to do that.

    I hope that what I write next is neither beating a dead horse or getting ahead of our host.

    My view, and the view of some of the practitioners I associate with, is that we are discussing a force or form of energy, or at the very least, something that behaves enough like a force for “force” to be an analogical image akin to a rubber sheet representing gravity in relativity theory. As I understand it, physics and chemistry over the past 150 years or so have ruled out it being one of the four forces known to science, because it doesn't behave like them, and (to a lesser degree) because existing scientific instruments don't reliably pick it up. I say to a lesser degree because no effort remotely comparable to the time and money spent chasing evidence of neutrinos and other subatomic particles has been spent on detecting this force (or these forces).

    Personal experience and anecdotal evidence have convinced me that it isn't imaginary in any sense of the word except the view taken by Buddhists and some other schools of philosophy that ultimately there is no division between inner and outer. This force or energy has elements of subjectivity, but it also is capable of producing effects observable by people who know nothing about it.

    I and others (some of whom are professionally employed in scientific and technical fields) think that the force is real, is not supernatural in the sense of operating outside the laws of nature, but that science in its current configuration does not have much that is useful to say about it.

    I attribute the difficulty that science has in observing the force or getting anywhere in research about it is that Western scientific inquiry into consciousness is at a primitive stage. The force is not wholly subjective but it is connected to consciousness in some way, and the scientists of today lack a theoretical apparatus to begin to tackle it.

  58. Dear John,
    Just writing to express how much I enjoyed this particular article in part because I got to try a bit of Druid magic! I had much the same experience as @Jen; a powerful sensation of having something physically solid but squishy between my two hands. My hands also remained tingly for quite some time afterwards. When I tried the exercise a second time about half an hour later, nothing happened on the second try. This was even more impressive for me then if I had gotten a repeat of the same experience. Would this not suggest that some form of energy was involved and perhaps it had been expended and not yet replenished by the second attempt?

  59. Patricia, that was certainly part of it. The historical trajectory of erotophobia is a very complex thing, and deserves a more thorough history than it's gotten so far.

    Agent, I made the comment I did largely because you suggested, if I understood you correctly, that if the sensation you got wasn't one of the four known forces of physics, it had to be imaginary. That's exactly the kind of Procrustean forcing of experience into a dogmatic container that I get from rationalists all the time. The hypothesis of the astral light is that there is a realm of real existents that is in some sense between the physical realm, where those four forces operate, and the noetic realm, where the imagination and the other activities of the mind operate. The consistent modern habit of erasing the possibility of that intermediate realm is one of the things at which this blog is taking aim.

    Daelach, I did indeed, but it wasn't that Aberdeen. Aberdeen, Washington is a port town on the Pacific coast, and that's where my father's family is from. If I ever get to the Aberdeen in Scotland, I'll certainly pay a visit to that castle!

    Guermo/Callum, if you were a student of mine, and wanted to get involved in magical lodge ritual of the sort that uses polarity, I'd start you out on a course of daily practices: meditation to balance the mind and get some capacity to control and direct the passions, and basic ritual work to clear your energy body of gunk and give you some experience with directing energy. Then it would be a matter of finding other lodge members who could work with your labile emotional energy, stabilize it in lodge, and channel it into the work at hand. It wouldn't necessarily be a problem — everybody has their own quirks when it comes to magic — but it would take some work on your part to handle your energies constructively.

    Nano, I've never heard of a Druid going through that. Of course we don't put a lot of energy into defending any given belief system as true, so that may give us a bit of a pass.

    Toro, might be worth a try.

    Kutamun, you can certainly do that, but I wouldn't call it polarity magic. It's an equally effective way of working, but it's not the same.

    Cherokee, the only thing I've written on group work so far is Inside a Magical Lodge, and if I had to rewrite that now I'd be a lot clearer on the role of limitation! I plan on doing a book on temple rituals for the Celtic Golden Dawn system, which will contain some of that, but that's a few years off yet.

    Caryn, the answer to your first question is yes. There's a definite release of energy if the working goes well. As for your second question, when a magical lodge plans a working, the first questions to be settled are about what the working is for. There's always a specific purpose to which the energy is directed. Exactly how the energy flows out toward the target varies from one mode of ritual working to another; in an initiation ritual, for example, different areas of the lodge space are charged with psychological and emotional patterns using the energy, and the energy is also focused on the initiate at certain points in the work to open up channels in the energy body, and so on, while in other kinds of ritual it's directed to other ends by other means.

    Onething, good. I tend to use the word “nonphysical” in a specific and rather wry sense: “not included in the theories of modern physics.” Does that clarify things a bit? 😉

  60. Ed, what you've called a heart chakra opening would be described in different ways by people working with other esoteric philosophies. Exactly how one chooses to make sense of it, though, is less important than recognizing that it happens!

    Agent, I didn't introduce the exercise as an attempt at proof. I used it as a way to allow people who were interested in what I was saying, and wanted to get some sense of what I was talking about, to have a direct experience of the kind of force under discussion. Of course it's possible to discount the experience; on the other hand, it's also possible to bracket the issue of explanations and just work with it, using the techniques and conceptual apparatus of whatever system of magic you're using, and see where it takes you.

    Mark, yes, indeed it does suggest that — and Eliphas Levi among others would agree with your analysis.

  61. Hi JMG,

    Thank you. It is a tough subject and more so, because of peoples mindsets than the realities of the subject.

    I've been thinking about nature magic recently – the sort that provides for fertility and diversity in the landscape. I've been wondering about the biodynamic systems for a very long time and they're good, but they're pushing product and to my mind that is sort of weird because nature magic should be performed with the things and resources to hand (and it perhaps shouldn't be a catalogue of products!).

    Anyway, much work needs to be achieved still on practical fronts here before I can relax a bit. I'm always a bit nervous about the summer and that focuses the mind to a certain level which drowns out other concerns and hobbies. The summers here are not to be taken lightly!

    Cheers

    Chris

  62. Hi JMG,

    It seems to me that polarity is a very flexible concept. It can even be used without any explicit knowledge of magic. This makes it easily adaptable to non-magical situations.

    So should you wish to switch over to the dark side: Just write a business book based on the concept of polarity. Polarity could easily become bigger than mindfulness in Silicon Valley.

  63. Tried the ball exercise a number of times (different days and ways etc.) with no effect. There were no distractions and I did it with a relaxed open mind and with full intent (but not overdoing it either). Kind of a bummer. I find the idea that it works for some people and not others explanation not very satisfying especially since I am one of the others. There must be more information regarding what kinds of people or circumstances are more conductive to this effect. From the descriptions it seems like this is a passive etheric kind of energy/stuff that is being controlled by the person and does not involve a secondary intelligence but maybe this description is too binary and simplistic.

  64. This was a VERY interesting and informative article and (to me at least) explains a LOT of things going on in the “non-occult” world. In the huge corporation where I work, we are compelled to use branding phrases when interacting with the public that are meant to make them associate the corp with happiness and well-being. I have very strong negative emotions when forced to use these, but now I wonder if my negative reaction makes these dark thaumaturgies work better! Can I redirect my emotions to truly benefit the customers and not just link them to the corp (the corp-intended effect)? Any suggestions welcome, folks.
    Could it be that what goes on in marketed music/rock concerts is a form of polarity sex magic? It's pretty explicit with modern performers, but if you think about concert clips of the Beatles, there's definitely some unresolved sexual feeling there! 🙂
    Then there is the love/hate relationship between movie directors and actors (ex., Alfred Hitchcock) and ballet instructors and dancers– often not pleasant for them but definitely achieves a change in perception in accordance with will.

  65. JMG,

    Many thanks for your earlier response. I’ve been slowly digesting the post as a whole, as well as your comments on Freud.

    Would it be reasonable to understand ‘polarity’ as being akin to narrative tension? This tension in a story might be created by the ‘will they, won’t they’ of the leading characters in a romance, but the literary world would be seriously impoverished if this was the only kind of polarity. Of course, there are other kinds of conflict which can produce great stories…though perhaps not than many in all.

    I suspect that musical composers, story tellers, and many other artists understand where such tensions lie and how they may be exploited.

    As Lili mentions, sport employs similar forces, but it’s the conflict between opponents that is the central polarity, isn’t it?

    Learning to recognise and work with polarity ought to be productive!

  66. Interesting. I'm trying to orient myself on certain aspects of this post. When I think of polarity in regards to magic, I think of the kind of energy generated by polemics and those kind of tiresome arguments. The older I get the less use I have for polemics and the more I appreciate conversation (flowing together) as opposed to controversy (flowing against one another). Polemics create a kind of electrical energy that can certainly motivate one to action, but in a very confining binary way “I must show them they are wrong. Those evil evildoers of evil.” This tends to agitate the system. It can cause anxiety and agitation followed by a drained feeling.

    Having said this, I realize this is not the kind of energy you are describing. Well, not entirely anyway. It seems discord gets used in ritual workings, but you started off talking more about people who feel a more positive connection. Words can be tricky things. Anyway, I'm curious to hear you expand on the difference between the way these energies are used. Seems like a difference between 2 (opposition) and 3 (tertiary fusion etc.).

  67. Thanks for the exercise. I've made a habit of taking five minutes and rub out tension not only in my hands, but also my feet as part of the meditation before performing the L.B.R.P. I would heartily recommend it, for the reasons already stated above.

  68. @ PhysicsDoc

    The very desire of wanting something to happen can be enough to sabotage the process. And of course each failure simply reinforces the situation.

    Here is an contemplation that might help before trying the exercise. Borrowed from the Buddhist and rewritten in ordinary terms. Call it the 4 thoughts that calm the mind.

    Impermanence: Contemplate that everything is impermanent including all your possessions, everyone you know, your own existence, and everything you interact with.

    Gift of Existence: Contemplate that you have manifested a material existence and only from that position in reality can you pursue a spiritual or magical life.

    Interconnection: Contemplate that everything including yourself is connected with everything else thru out the entirety of reality. There is nothing that exist in and of itself.

    Joy and Sorrow: Contemplate that all manifested reality partakes of Joy and Sorrow, Shadow and Light. The only way to eliminate Shadow is to extinguish the Light. The only way to banish Sorrow is to eliminate Joy.

    Take say 3 minutes on each one. Explore them in depth not just superficially. Then see if you can approach the exercise without any desire for anything to happen and without any fear of failure to have an experience.

    If you have the experience then you have had the Joy, if not you have had the Sorrow. Accept the results with equanimity and let it go. Return to it another time and do the exercise again. If you persist you will have an experience which may be the one described or may be completely unique to you.

    Steven

  69. Cherokee, I'd noticed that about biodynamics — like the rest of Steiner's legacy, it's been turned into a set of formulas, which to my mind is antithetical to what the man actually taught. A really rich and adaptable nature magic is something that hasn't yet evolved, though there are projects in that direction under way.

    Dadaharm, no doubt — and no doubt it would become as utterly corrupt as mindfulness has become once Silicon Valley clamped its slimy hands on the concept. No, I'll pass.

    PhysicsDoc, it may be unsatisfying, but that doesn't make it untrue. There's a very large personal factor to all these things, and a lot of what takes place in the process of magical training is a matter of finding out what mix of strengths and incapacities each individual student has, and selecting practices to capitalize on the strengths and bridge over the incapacities.

    Emmanuel, there are certainly ways you can counter the evil magic your corporate employer wants you to use, but be aware that the result might impact your job performance. For example, whenever you use one of those catchphrases, you could concentrate silently and intensely on the concept “this is a lie.” That will be transmitted nonverbally, by body language and quite possibly other means as well, to make the customer aware that you know what you're saying is manipulative crap — but of course that won't encourage the customer to buy the product.

    Yes, by the way, rock concerts are all about polarity magic; so are the more emotional sort of church services, and political rallies run by people who know what they're doing. Hitler was extremely skilled at playing the rock-star game, and bouncing energy back and forth with his audience. He always had the SS get a bunch of middle-aged women (the “varicose veins brigade,” they called them) to sit in the first couple of rows; they functioned like the battery in a car, providing the initial current to fire things up and get the polarity flowing.

    Sima, exactly! Narrative tension of any sort consists of making the reader expect some particular emotional fulfillment, and then holding off on giving the reader that fulfillment. In a well-written weird tale of the H.P. Lovecraft sort, for example, the fulfillment is a a frightful revelation of some sort, and the art of the tale consists of keeping the reader wholly in the dark about what the revelation is while bringing it closer, and closer, and closer, until the unhuman footfalls stop right outside the door and the knob begins to turn…

  70. Greg, polemics are usually a sort of misdirected polarity that's not under the conscious control of the polemicist. People who need to rant angrily about this or that are usually trying to avoid dealing with some other issue. I call this the Anita Bryant Effect — did you ever read the embarrassed and apologetic essay she wrote, years after she'd given up gay-bashing, in which she explained that she'd been so hostile to gay people because her marriage left her sexually unsatisfied in the extreme, and the thought of gay people having as much hot sex as they wanted was unbearable to her? In my experience, that's generally what lies behind the habit of ranting endlessly about the evilly evil evilness of those evil people over there; the people in question represent, to the polemicist, whatever part of his or her own life is too painful to think about directly.

    Someone afflicted with that habit who wanted to do something more productive would have to start by coming to terms with what was actually going on — in Bryant's case, the unfulfilled sexual needs that were driving her behavior — and then decide whether to fix things in a direct way — say, by finding a more capable partner or partners — or to redirect the energy deliberately in a constructive way, into polarity magic, or artistic or literary creativity, or what have you. The important thing is that it be done consciously, on the basis of clear self-knowledge.

    Sven, you're welcome. A future sequel to The Celtic Golden Dawn will include exercises that take this same effect in a variety of different directions.

  71. JMG,
    I hope I was not giving the impression that I did not think the ball exercise/phenomena was real just because it did not work for me or happen when I tried it. I am not applying a scientific approach to this although my curiosity makes me want to understand things hence my question of whether this is an active or passive phenomena. I am also not considering this from the binary viewpoint of is it real or in my head. Anyway just wanted to clarify my thoughts a bit. Are there other exercises or rituals tailored more for my brain wiring? I would consider myself strongly materialistic in background and training but have shed at least consciously the belief that that is all there is.

  72. With regard to ranting and misdirected polarity, I think this ties in with what Gurdjieff called the “abuse of sex”, by which he meant not ordinary sexual perversions, but the use of the libido for various types of unbounded behaviour. This is what he had to say about it:

    “The energy of the sex centre in the work of the thinking, emotional, and moving centres can be recognised by a particular ‘taste’, by a particular fervour, by a vehemence that the nature of the affair concerned does not call for. The thinking centre writes books, but in making use of the energy of the sex centre it does not simply occupy itself with philosophy, science or politics – it is always fighting something, disputing, criticising, creating new subjective theories. The emotional centre preaches Christianity, abstinence, ascetiscism, or the fear and horror of sin, hell, the torment of sinners, eternal fire, all this with the energy of the sex centre……Or on the other hand it works up revolutions, robs, burns, kills, again with the same energy. The moving centre occupies itself with sport, creates various records, climbs mountains, jumps, fences, wrestles, fights, and so on.

    In all these instances, that is, in the work of the thinking centre as well as in the work of the emotional and the moving centres, when they work with the energy of the sex centre, there is always one general characteristic and this is a certain particular vehemence, and together with it, the USELESSNESS of the work in question. Neither the thinking nor the emotional nor the moving centres can ever create anything USEFUL with the energy of the sex centre. This is an example of the ‘abuse of sex’”.

  73. JMG,
    I’m going to have to go and read some H.P. Lovecraft, but I’m interested that you frame that tension without reference to characters. Various people have claimed that there are only a certain number of story plots. Some claim there are dozens, Joseph Campbell famously wrote about the monomyth. But someone that springs to mind in relation to polarity, and in relation to one or two questions above, is Arthur Quiller-Couch. Apparently, he suggested that there were seven types of story: man vs man; man & woman; man in the middle; man vs society; man vs nature; man vs god; man vs himself.

    Ayn Rand, (my knowledge of whom extends to reading the following line on Wikipedia), claimed that ‘man vs nature’ is not a plot because nature has no free will and can thus make no choices. I wonder whether, in this case, the old gal might have got close to a truth: In the post, I think you’re suggesting that ‘man vs man’ and ‘man & woman’ amount to pretty much the same thing – polarity. But as soon as you multiply the people on one side of the equation, say, man vs three men, either the three men fight as one, forming a single willful entity, or the three individual opponents cease to be meaningful agents in their own right – if our hero overcomes multiple opponents, the opponents’ importance is greatly diminished to the point that it really becomes an internal struggle for our hero – it becomes a test of courage, determination, and sheer will. This is then man vs himself. Man vs society, man vs god, man vs nature, all amount to much the same thing. So, in much simplified form, we have two stories: man vs man/woman and man vs himself. From what I understand of what you’ve written both here and on the other blog, it sounds as though much magical training is really about that inner struggle.

    With regard to the earlier point about glove anaesthesia… A friend went for a brain scan last week. After six months of apparently suffering numbness and tingling in one hand, recent dizziness and fainting persuaded him to go for a check up. He’s just had a large brain tumour removed. Obviously, we’re all pretty anxious right now. He’s conscious, but without any feeling in either right hand or right foot. He’s the third person in my wider circle of acquaintances to have been diagnosed with a brain tumour in the past year.

    Needless to say, the odd anecdote doesn’t disprove your claim, and I certainly wouldn’t claim that a brain tumour is the only possible cause of a loss of sensation in the hand, but I wonder whether, without the scanning equipment now available, Freud might have seen my friend and decided that excessive masturbation was the cause. Perhaps other aspects of my friend’s personality might have confirmed to the great doctor that his patient’s development had been arrested at the, ahem, ‘manual stage’.

  74. PhysicsDoc, as far as I can tell — and this is based purely on personal experience with students — it's like being colorblind; most people get the sensation but some, with the best will in the world, simply don't. There are very broadly speaking three ways to perceive the nonphysical, and they parallel the three primary senses of sight, hearing, and touch: people see things, hear things, and/or feel things that aren't physically present. Just as with the physical senses, these can be stronger or weaker in any given person, and occasionally one of them is absent. As for what might work better for you, that's a hard question to settle over the internet! It would depend on your personal response to a variety of different practices and exercises — there are a *lot* of different ways to perceive and shape the nonphysical, and again, different people are better or worse at their own peculiar set of options.

    Phil, fascinating. Which of G's books is that from?

    Sima, I'm not sure I'd flatten out Quiller-Couch's options quite so relentlessly, and I certainly wouldn't follow Rand's advice — notice how she's forcing nature into the usual rationalist straitjacket and insisting that nothing nonhuman can have volition. Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is a good counterexample; it's partly the old man vs. himself, but it's also the old man vs. the marlin, who is an important character and engaged as such by the old man. I won't even get into all the stories of man vs. deity in which the deity is at least as much an active participant as the man!

    As for Freud, you're missing a crucial detail — he and other Freudian therapists routinely cured people of glove anesthesia and other hysterical symptoms by getting them to come to terms with the rejected sexual feelings underlying their condition. Also, one of the things that led Freud to posit a psychological origin to glove anesthesia is that the paralysis didn't make any sense in terms of which nerves innervate which parts of the arm and hand — presumably this was not true of your friend.

  75. Brother Greer and PhysicsDoc,
    As the other person here who didn't feel anything from this exercise, I know my previous encounters with the supernatural have been aural and/or visual. Perhaps that is relevant. Also that I never initiated anything consciously. This whole experience in magic, from my perspective, is for the purpose of trying to get some sort of comprehension of or handle on what's happening anyway.

    But that makes me wonder, since you only mentioned sight, hearing, and touch, can some people smell magic? What about synesthesia, does that apply?

  76. A bit late to the party, but for some reason my thoughts strayed to this topic during my evening meditations last night.

    The thought that popped into my mind was the ubiquitous use of sexual imagery to sell products of every sort. Is this the same process as polarity in lodge magic, or is it something different? It seems to me that, in advertising, the target's libido is aroused in such a way that it has no means of satisfying, and is then redirected toward– a case of beer or a gym membership or whatever is being sold.

    But are there other consequences of keeping much of the population is a permanently state of frustrated arousal? Can men walking past billboards be used as “batteries” in the same way as Hitler's middle aged ladies? If so, by whom, for what purposes?

    I doubt I'm the only person who has experienced the sensation of a toxic film leaving the body after retreating from the city for an extended wilderness trip. I imagine that a sort of psychic sludge would build up anywhere too many humans congregate for too long, but– now straying into speculative territory– I wonder if the buildup of residues caused by the various aspects of modern life and appearance of the sort of noncorporeal beings that might feed on those residues leads to modern cities being particularly toxic.

  77. JMG, I hope you’ll forgive my mention of Satan’s little helper. I’m no fan either. But I’m delighted you reached straight for The Old Man and the Sea. That was one of the stories I was thinking about as I wrote. I considered the conflict as primarily man vs himself, and am still inclined to that view but, in my haste to find what I was looking for, rather overlooked the fact that the marlin certainly has a personality as a worthy adversary. And of course there’s literally tension in the line. I suppose the Rands of this world would claim that we’re merely attributing human character to the fish, but that seems quite meaningless in this context. Perhaps, there is only tension in the hunt when the prey is a true adversary. On man vs deity…point taken!

    Reading about Freud’s patients is what made me deeply skeptical about his claims (but I hope skeptical the appropriate sense). I’ve not read much about his followers. I shall have to dig a little deeper. Thank you for stimulating further investigation, as usual.

  78. Steve, your meditation seems to have gone down an interesting track. I'm going to hazard a guess, with a good dose of late-night discursive imagination.

    If industrial society were indeed shaped by intelligent design (think nonphysical beings here) then turning trees and minerals into consumer waste would be only the outward manifestation of a deeper process. The real game would be to build up a battery bank of adult males in a “permanent state of frustrated arousal” so as to channel their energies into greed, aggression, destruction, etc., while systematically repressing feminine energies to facilitate unidirectional current flow. In that case there would be a parallel between the worldwide peak of physical energy and a hypothetical peak of human energies/desires. That psychic peak would be the big payoff for whatever nonphysical parasites had encouraged the whole process. Creepy.

    One more reason why, if there's one great innovation from the twentieth century that survives, I hope it's the feminist movement. Rebalancing the relationship between the sexes is good news for everyone.

  79. Dylan

    One thing I've been seeing is that there's a (very approximately) 400 year cycle composed of five of the 80 year cycles documented by Strauss and Howe. If this is the case, the industrial revolution, which started in the mid 1700s, is approaching its pull date. These things are, as far as I'm aware, arranged from what JMG has occasionally called the theosphere. How it's done is something that baffles me. Maybe what Hawaiian Huna calls “po aukuma,” (sp? – it's been a while) or “the company of high selves” has something to do with it.

  80. JMG,
    I found your reply to Guermo/Callum encouraging, as I'd come to the conclusion that my own history of PTSD, addiction, anxiety/panic disorder and a chronic neurological illness pretty much disqualified me for the study of magic. Now although the addiction has been under control for a long time and the anxiety has been greatly reduced and stabilised through an assortment of practices, I can ill afford something that would freak me out to the point of needing to call someone at three in the morning. I find the SOP (and the LBRP) rather daunting, which is why I've been holding off joining the AODA, but now I wonder if there is a gentle way to work up to it, build confidence and stamina. A way to clear the gunk out of my energy body does sound appealing.

    For the moment I'm happy enough chewing my way through Hadot's “Inner Citadel” (actually “Die innere Burg” in my native German to be more precise), but I would appreciate it if you could provide some perspective. It would be a waste of energy to pine after something the wise would counsel against, but also a shame to miss out on something that might be achievable if pursued in the right way.

    Thank you.

  81. (Deborah Bender)

    @Dylan–The feminist movement as an organized sociopolitical movement originated in the first half of the nineteenth century among female antislavery activists.

  82. @ John Roth– There was a Renaissance occultist whose name I can't think of, but I believe he was one of Cornelius Agrippa's teachers, who saw the world as being governed by the planetary archangels, rotating every 3-400 years in the same order as the days of the week. (I.e. Sun/Michael, Moon/Gabriel, Mars/Kamael… though I don't think he used the same set of archangels as contemporary Cabalists do.)

    @ Dylan and John on this topic– I've read that Descartes, who surely helped lay the philosophical foundations for industrial society, believed himself to be inspired by angels. I think that he encountered them in dreams or visions, and they led him to his beliefs about dualism and the mechanical universe. I'm not sure about Bacon, but Newton was also an occultist, and John Dee helped lay the foundation for the British Empire while making contact with hitherto-unknown and rather frightening “angelic” spirits.

    I sometimes interact with Christian Gnostic groups and literature, sort of as a way to keep open a link with the traditions in which I was raised. When they go on about the world having been created by an evil demiurge I'm not really interested, but when I think of “the world” as “contemporary industrial culture” I think it's probably just true.

    @ cloudrider — I started practicing magic while going through a very rough time which included struggles with addiction. The book that I began with was Modern Magick, by the late Donald Michael Kraig. He doesn't begin with the LBRP, but with a month of somewhat gentler exercises that I found very helpful. You might give it a try.

  83. @Unknown Deborah: I stand corrected as regards the origins of the feminist movement. I wouldn't want to stretch the bounds of the conversation or our host's patience with historical inaccuracies.

  84. Sister BoysMom, I've never met anyone who experienced magical energies by way of smell or taste, though for all I know it does happen. As for synesthesia, my sense (pun not intended) is that that's basically what we're talking about here — the difference being that while ordinary synesthesia takes one sense and transmutes the stimuli into the experiential phenomena of another (as, for example, I perceive musical notes as having tactile qualities of shape, weight, and spatial movement), magical experience takes magical phenomena and transmutes them into the experiential phenomena of one of the physical senses.

    Steve, there's certainly a lot of sleazy polarity magic being used to sell products. The possibility that this results either deliberately or accidentally in the usual consequences of mishandled polarity somehow had not occurred to me, but of course you're quite right that that would follow. Hmm! That'll need some thought and study.

    Phil, many thanks.

    Sima, nah, I've mocked Rand mercilessly in my other blog so she's fair game for discussion. I tend to think that all fiction worth reading combines, at bare minimum, a conflict between the central character (who may or may not be “man”) and someone or something else with a conflict internal to the central character. If you don't have the outside conflict you don't have a plot, just a series of more or less pointless events; if you don't have the internal conflict you don't have a character, just a bendable action figure going through the motions.

    Cloudrider, that's a very difficult question to answer. Ceremonial magic generally speaking puts a lot of strain on the psyche, and many teachers actively discourage anybody with any psychiatric diagnosis from messing with it at all. I'm not sure that's necessary, but care would certainly be called for. For what it's worth, the SOP is a lot less strenuous than the LBRP, and might be worth trying: once, then after a good long interval, again, and gradually working up the frequency of practice while keeping a close watch on your condition. Meditation would be crucial, of course, and so would any other activity that decreases your stress level.

    Hadot's not a bad place to start from, for that matter! The old Greek and Latin tradition of philosophy as a set of spiritual exercises is well worth reviving, and a sustained practice of that sort would also be worth pursuing in this context.

  85. Hi JMG

    I appreciate your discussion with Guermo/Callum and Cloudrider on magical practice and mental balance, as this is something I had hoped to ask about too. I have my own issues, about which I've corresponded with you in the past, but I never mentioned that one thing that kind of put me off GD-influenced magic somewhat, when I was looking into it originally, was the insistence from many quarters that if you weren't really really grounded and highly intelligent and stable and healthy-minded you'd just blow your head off with it, so BEWARE. Robert Anton Wilson and Crowley come to mind. More specifically I remember Israel Regardie in The Middle Pillar (I think), and some interviews I read, talking about how he believed several months psychotherapy of any sort was a minimum preparation for safe practice.

    What's refreshing about your writing is that you get into the meat of this stuff without making it seem quite so forbidding or impassable. Although I suppose you've also been talking about the potential imbalances in the GD system, and the lack of emphasis on meditation to smooth things out. At any rate though, you seem to be counselling appropriate caution and common sense when there is any doubt, rather than fear and trembling. Which is helpful.

  86. @ Steve Thomas – Thanks for the tip.

    @ JMG – Thanks, that has settled my mind. A sustained practice of philosophical spiritual exercises and discursive meditation is what seems to be developing naturally for me at the moment. I have some experience with buddhist flavoured mindfulness meditation. Discursive meditation seems to require a good bit more effort, but the times I've tried it I've been pleased with the insights gained on my meditation theme, and also noticed that my thinking was clearer for some time afterwards. I will also familiarise myself with the SOP and try it some time in a relaxed way when I feel particularly stable. If I manage to get the hang of it I would consider applying for membership in the AODA. Daily practice of the SOP is a requirement for membership if I understand correctly?

  87. Yes, and Dion Fortune's advice that you have to be in good physical health to practice magic effectively is/was really daunting. But then she came up with that lovely gymnastics metaphor – that the average person,starting late, could find it hard to be a trained gymnast, but would nonetheless benefit from some of the exercises in mundane life. (My daughter did gymnastics in school. No, some of that is not for me. But yes, the warmups and stretching are quite valuable.)

  88. Rumighoul, glad it was helpful! The thing is, I have yet to meet an occultist who's really really grounded and stable and healthy-minded. In this society, at least, people don't get into magic if they're well-adjusted and comfortable with their lives. People get into magic because they're misfits, tormented by a sense that what matters most to them has been amputated from the world. For that matter, I wouldn't call Robert Anton Wilson, or Regardie, or (gods help us) Crowley, really really grounded and stable and healthy-minded — though they were tolerably intelligent.

    Cloudrider, no, daily practice of the SOP is required for advancement beyond the Candidate level — not for membership. That said, there are sharp limits to what you can get out of AODA if the ritual work isn't something you can do.

    Patricia, one of the things that got lost somewhere in the twentieth century is the recognition that not everyone who's interested in occultism is going to get into all-out ceremonial magic. It used to be remembered that out of a hundred students of occult tradition, maybe ninety-five of them will find study and meditation, and maybe a bit of group ritual or a bit of divination, to be the summit of their occult endeavors — and there's nothing wrong with that at all. Study and meditation are a valid path in and of themselves. Fortune knew that, and had various options for members of her magical lodge who weren't suited, or weren't interested, in intensive ceremonial work. So did the original Golden Dawn — that's why the Outer Order did study, meditation, a bit of ritual, and a bit of divination, and that's all. Nowadays, by contrast, many magical lodges have an “up or out” policy — if you're not advancing through the grades, they chuck you out the door. That seems profoundly unwise to me.

    Come to think of it, this would make a very good and timely subject for a post here. Hmm…

  89. JMG, as regards that subject for an upcoming post, yes please- now that I'm hooked by the idea of magic, my question has become, 'so how does this fit into my daily life?' So far, nowhere, and your reply to Patricia about ritual magic not being everyone's slice of pie makes sense to me. Right now I have no real reason to practice magic; trying to observe magic is more than enough for me.

    That said, I have been practicing the Sphere of Protection (a truncated form, without the Calling of the Elements) for a few months now as a general spell of protection from unfriendly forces. I don't know if performing it that way has the power I hope it does; I do know that afterward I usually feel better, refreshed and more grounded. I use it as a form of prayer, which is something I haven't been able to do for a long time.

    I realize that as a writer you aren't ultimately responsible for the spiritual care of your readers. This makes the generous conversation that develops here that much more appreciated.

  90. @ JMG: Thank you. Because that is precisely the level at which I have settled, but this minimal level of practice is doing me a world of good!

    One note: this may or may not be magic, but a friend found himself raked over the coals by a group for behavior he was entirely unaware of. One bit of wisdom I had absorbed long ago from Suzette Haden Elgin, and passed on to him, was “When confronted with something you do not understand (especially if it hurts), assume it's true and *ask yourself what it could possibly be true of.* And (from another source – a radical pamphlet from the late 60s, to be exact) “Everybody does what they do for a reason. First see the reason. And you can't dismiss it with “Because s/he's a (term of insult. The pamphlet started with “B**** and Wh****, severe cussing for that day.) FIRST SEEK THE REASON!” It set my friend's feet on the right path, and I was thanked for it. And I had entirely buried that wisdom under the stresses of a bad summer of decline!

  91. (Deborah Bender)

    Our discussion suggests to me that different systems may exacerbate different kinds of psychological problems in susceptible people, coming about from the practices the system relies on.

    JMG made a comment after one of his previous entries that he's observed particular difficulties among people who pursue Buddhist meditation for a long time.

    Wiccan style meditation and magical work cause ego inflation in some people and sub-clinical paranoid delusions in others. Ego inflation is a fairly common early result from ritual practices that involve identification with a deity. I was affected by this, although I had enough self awareness not to make a total fool of myself.

    Paranoid views sometimes come about when a person who may have formerly been a scientific materialist is taught that everything is connected and that pure thought can make changes in the world outside one's skull, without guidance about the limitations of these effects. It also may result from doing a lot of magical spells for ego-driven goals, because magical work in modern witchcraft employs dwelling on mental images and sometimes on deliberate temporary cultivation of emotional states. If a practitioner starts with an emotionally unbalanced view of the world and his place in it, spellcraft that employs these mental techniques can reinforce the imbalance.

    People are more susceptible to these problems if they aren't studying with an experienced teacher or as members of a group of emotionally mature people who have common sense. Some Traditional guidelines on teaching these methods amount to “don't try this at home.”

  92. Hi JMG,

    Exactly, the entire concept has gone astray and left something else – marketable – in its place. A bit of a shame really as I reckon he may have had some interesting things to say. Nature magic should work with what is to hand, otherwise it becomes subverted.

    I had a lovely conversation today about the birds and the bees. Sorry, that was an unfortunate and bad pun (Hehe! Naughty, Chris – but given the topic here this month, it seems entirely appropriate!). On a serious note, a guy I know was today asking me about the chickens and the bees here. So, instead of answering his questions directly, I wove two separate stories about the lives of chickens and bees, but intertwined the common thread of complexity, limits and expectations. I'm fairly empathetic and can tell when people are zoning out, but I held his attention and he asked further thoughtful questions at the end of each story.

    So I was hoping that you could assist me with the question that has been bugging me all afternoon since that conversation: Given your fiction writing endeavours, I assume that it is a safe bet to say that magic can be woven into a narrative form, but the thing I was wondering was how does ritual relate to magic when it is delivered in the form of a narrative? I keep coming back in my thoughts to the sort of Dreamtime tales that talk about the past, present and future all wrapped into a nicely woven and memorable narrative, but the ritual I have little idea about. Seriously, that topic is probably bigger than Ben Hur, but given my interest in nature magic, it is probably more important to me than I can guess.

    There is probably something in it because after all I remember the Lorax, although again I'm not sure of the wider efficacy of that particular spell.

    This blog makes my head spin! Thanks for the mental challenge.

    Oh by the way, some of the most boring people that I know are exceptionally well grounded. Nuff said!

    Cheers

    Chris

  93. Chris has just raised a question that also interests me a great deal: the relation of magic to ritual narrative, i.e. theatre. All plays are magical to the extent that they portray action to effect change in an audience; and playgoing conventions (the ritual theatre, the immediate suspension of disbelief verging on light trance, the raising of a shared emotion) certainly help promote the conditions for a working. That being said, it's a smallish minority of plays whose construction indicates magical skill or intent per se… and I wonder, from the perspective of dramatic craft, how and in what ways magic might contribute to the art of theatre.

    This month's topic supplies one area: it's a basic principle of scene construction that two or more characters will each have a desire or objective that both relates to and conflicts in some way with the other, and the forward motion is generated largely by the shifts of energy that result from the interaction of these smaller and larger polarities. There is also a basic player-audience polarity, which can be felt in a crude form if you've ever seen a play in which a character directly regards the audience without speaking. Polarity magic is basic to theatre, so knowledge of its techniques should be more or less directly applicable to dramatic craft.

    There are academic studies of magic in theatre– Renaissance drama drew heavily on Art of Memory, alchemy, and conjuration– but I wonder if there are any practical works on craft, either from the magical or theatrical direction, that discuss techniques born of combining the two arts? Equally I'm eager to see what insights a discussion in this learned community might turn up.

    One of my magical aspirations is to someday have the practical knowledge and skill to develop a system out of the works of Marlowe/Shakespeare and write one or more books to share it.

  94. (Deborah Bender)

    Stuart, you might be interested in Coreopsis Journal.

    Coreopsis: Journal of Myth & Theater is published semi-annually by the Society for Ritual Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the ritual arts community through the advancement of arts and scholarly research in the fields of spirituality, consciousness, healing, performance, and visual media. We support work that advances freedom of spiritual practices globally, the scientific study of spirituality and the human brain, and beauty in any media that inspires a spiritual sense of wonder, awe or connectedness.

    https://www.facebook.com/Coreopsis-a-Journal-of-Myth-Theatre-893367417343248/timeline/

    http://societyforritualarts.com/coreopsis/

    http://www.academia.edu/11114684/Call_for_Papers_Coreopsis_Journal_of_Myth_and_Theatre_2015_16

    “Special Publication #2 (2016?):
    The Ars Rituale
    The Art and Science of Ritual Construction, Ritual Theatre, and Sacred Performance Creation – edited collection-
    [couldn't copy and paste this, but you can get to it from the link immediately above]

  95. The discussions of theater and narrative in the recent comments made me think of the other kind of magic, namely stage magic comprised of tricks and illusions. Do some magicians use the effects of magic as discussed in this Blog as part of their illusions, or are these entirely separate activities? I would think there is a link either intentional or unintentional but I have not seen that discussed or mentioned anywhere. Interestingly there are magicians who go out of their way to debunk the supernatural (see Houdini and Randi for examples)by using their skills. Then there are the claims that some modern magicians like David Blaine and Criss Angel use supernatural entities to do their tricks. Other than that I have not seen a discussion on the intersection of the two magic's.

  96. PhysicsDoc, the question of what interactions exist between stage magic and magic is a field I've spent a few years researching. Chinese shadow puppet theatre supposedly originates from a grieving emperors request for a visitation from his dead wife. Similarly, Phantasmagorica performances in France pre-date small group trance mediumship by at least a century. Mediums would fold in many of these props to their public seances.

    Good spiritualists are aware of the performance aspects of a Sitting. Good actors from traditions of theatre such as Noh and Balinese plays sometimes perform in trance, with Noh master Zeami describing nine different stages of performance that he linked to states of consciousness.

    Margaret Coldiron did a fascinating book on Noh and Balinese theatre masking traditions. Expensive, but wonderful study. Within Southern Siberian groups (The Jurchen, Ulchi and Nanai) the shaman recognizes two different performances. One for the family, the other for the discorporate entities, happening simultaneously. Singing into back of the drum is for the spirits. Pounding it is for the family, to crudely put it.

    Lodge rituals of the Odd Fellows sorts can be a fascinating set of experiences. Each office could be seen as a different sort of consciousness, with initiations corresponding to stages of learning or life lessons. My sense is that good ritual will encompass, describe and extend the stories and meanings of the symbols of an Order, providing fresh materials that the initiate can return to again and again without duplicates.

    Dr. Leung Ting researched and wrote two magnificent books on deception and training in Kung Fu. “Skills of The Vagabonds” was the first work, with “Beyond The Incredibles” as the second work, complete with a talisman for the reader. Ting describes the real and not so real tricks of Beggar and street magician Kung Fu in China, as it was and is done. Brutal street fighting techniques plus sleight of hand is a very powerful combination.

    A favorite aphorism of mine in Chinese Martial arts studies-“One hand lies, one tells the truth.” Sometimes only an expert can know the difference, and they rarely have an incentive to give away secrets that might be life saving.

  97. Thanks nwlorax for the interesting references, I will look these up. Martial arts although not magic in the sense I was thinking of, also seem to be able to achieve in some cases effects that are hard to explain. The channeling of Chi energy in these instances is a form of magic. It seems as you mention that some of these arts also incorporate stage magic tools such as sleight of hand techniques.

  98. Dylan, as a writer I'm not responsible for the spiritual care of my readers, but as a teacher of occultism I'm responsible for encouraging people to get as much benefit and suffer as few problems as possible as a result of my teaching, and as a certified occult geek I love to talk shop! The effects you're getting from the Sphere of Protection, btw, are pretty standard; it's not the sort of ritual that has dramatic effects, though they're surprisingly powerful and cumulative.

    Patricia, that's very good advice. Suzette Haden Elgin — now there's a name I haven't heard for a very long time. Thanks for the blast from the past.

    Unknown Deborah, not just Buddhist meditation; Hindu mantra meditation, and any other kind of meditation that focuses on emptying the mind of thoughts, tends to produce certain reliable problems, notably the inability to think one's way out of a wet paper bag. You're certainly right, though, that every system has its problems, and is probably not a good idea for some subset of people. The same is true, for that matter, of dogmatic materialist atheism!

    Cherokee, that's an excellent question, and the answer is that in a very real sense, all magic is a form of storytelling, and all storytelling that's any good is a form of magic. Telling a story changes the consciousness of the listener, in accordance with the will of the storyteller — that's magic. Many traditions of magic use explicit storytelling — the recitation of traditional myths, for example — as a magical tool; in Finland, for example, an old-fashioned folk mage who wanted to cure a cut from a knife would chant the runo from the Kalevala that dealt with the creation of iron, and so on. I'll stop there, because there's at least one complete post and probably more than one in there!

    Stuart, I'm glad that Unknown Deborah could answer that one, because that's not a field I know anything about!

    PhysicsDoc, similarly, I'm glad that Nwlorax could field that one! In case my readers haven't noticed, there are plenty of subjects related to the occult that I haven't studied. No human being could learn enough in a single life to be able to say something useful about every subject related to occultism.

  99. [sorry, I was just over the limit, so split into 2 comments]

    JMG, I was interested to see your views of Buddhist and Hindu mantra meditation, and I think I would refine that view somewhat, if not disagree with it.

    Firstly I have no experience in Buddhist meditation, however I have practiced meditation as part of following the Advaita Vedanta tradition for around 20 years. When I first came across the technique, like the current mindfulness fashion, it was certainly found to quieten the incessant mind, and I would say for a long time, the work seemed to be to practice holding the attention single-pointedly on what I wanted to focus on (in my case the mantra). The other aspects of the practice that became more important later did not really get a look in. Certainly as someone who grew up in the modern media age of tv, advertising etc, this first step of giving some conscious direction and discipline to the mind is probably essential.

    With the experience of these early stages of the practice I can see why it has a reputation as a technique for emptying the mind. However as it develops and I have come to understand its purpose more I do not think this is what it is for.

    Advaita Vedanta, as I have experienced and studied it, has its roots in a perspective that there is a single oneness and unity at the foundation of all dimensions of the universe and experience. As you have pointed out in many of your writings, this is very different from monotheism, and as the Hindu religion shows is very much compatible with a polytheistic cosmology. You write about the One that cannot be understood or fully experienced, and this is probably much closer in kind to the idea of unity underlying Advaita Vedanta as I have come to understand it. The leap that Advaita Vedanta makes is that the Brahman (the cosmic consciousness) is in its essence the same as Atman (the individual consciousness) and that the One can in some way be connected with if this identity can be fully realized. [It is notable that the Corpus Hermeticum Libellus I, also has a similar idea of merging back with Nous (the Father)]

    When understood in this light, then the mantra meditation has a very specific purpose, which is alluded to in some of the texts about mantra meditation. When I was given the mantra I use, it was explained that its purpose (I assume there can be some variety in purpose) was to come to know myself.

    This is easier said than done. It raises from the fundamental question of what the subject/object relationship is. So much of modern culture has become fixed on the analysis of the nature and interaction of objects, and usefully so in many cases. However the study of the subject is less well known. What is the nature of the point of observation? What is it that watches the world, observes thoughts in the mind or feelings in the emotions? How can you study a subject by objectifying it? Logically it's not possible.

    [continued next]

  100. [continued from previous comment]
    The Advaita Vedanta mantra meditation has a purpose, in my experience, to take you to as pure an experience of the nature of this point of conscious observation as possible, where it is clear of the usual identifications of ego (myself as a role). Over the years the impact of this practice has been that those identifications become less binding and defining. I once believed myself to be a shy person, now I don't. This becomes possible because I have now a deeper experience of 'Self' to refer to.

    So in summary, I don't think it's about emptying the mind, it is about experiencing the Self, and for Advaita Vedantins at least, attempting to come to an understanding of the One through that process.

    I appreciate that the discursive meditation that you have referred to also has a purpose to help clear thinking and is probably very well suited to systems analysis. It is something I am playing with.

    I conclude by saying that I hope I can think outside the paper bag, and certainly many members of the Advaita Vedanta community of which I am a member are some of the finest minds I have encountered. My experience of mantra meditation causing inability to think is not borne out in experience, actually the opposite. They are well adjusted, non-binary, thoughtful people who are able to see beyond the orthodox perspectives.

    MCB

    P.S. I am thoroughly enjoying your blog and the other one, and have done for years. Wonderful work.

  101. @JMG: Suzette has been in memory care for many years now.

    She also had the excellent idea of teaching “proper” English to her Ozark student as a second language exactly the way UNM teaches “Spanish for Heritage Speakers” to students from Northern New Mexico, whose native Spanish has been evolving in its own direction for the past 400 years or so. No more “This is NOT proper, you ignorant hillbillies!” from snotty non-speakers of the local brand of the language! [Yes, indeed, we do have the Spanish equivalent of hillbillies in Northern New Mexico. It's part of the richness of our many flavors here.]

  102. The latest New Scientist had an article on the 'recent rediscovery' of music therapy, which they consider untried since 'data is not the plural of anecdote', even as they recognize that every culture but that of our own industrial age has known about and used the therapeutic qualities of music. They call for a large, comprehensive, scientific study on the subject, but there is also good if scanty information about what sort of music is best for what. The qualities of 110 hertz, frex.

    Any priest could have given them chapter and verse on the subject, I believe. So could a fair number of musically inclined witches, many of whom have been covered on YouTube (sometimes without attribution except 'traditional' when I know the name of the author.)

  103. Okay then, here are a couple of shop questions for the occult geek. You supply some cautionary notes in one of the later chapters of the Druid Magic Handbook to the effect that one shouldn't use the exercises described too often without including the standard calling of the material elements from the Sphere of Protection.

    If I've been practicing the SoP without invoking and banishing (Elemental Cross and Circulation of Light only) is there a danger of becoming unbalanced? And am I actually warding off unfriendly forces through my simplified practice?

    I'm interested in the protective properties of the ritual, and although I haven't encountered any serious dangers since beginning practice, I wouldn't want to be leading myself into a different kind of danger.

  104. MCB, that makes perfect sense to me. Whatever negative effects on thinking mantra meditation might have would be more than counteracted by the discipline of studying Vedanta philosophy — I've read enough of that to know that it's not for the intellectual lightweight! Any well-established spiritual system will have tools for countering the potential negative effects of its preferred suite of practices. The difficulty comes when people pick and choose, and don't do the complete system.

    Patricia, actually, “data” is the plural of “anecdote.” How do we know that meteors fall, earthquakes happen, etc.? People observe them, and report their anecdotal observations. As for music therapy, don't worry, they'll forget all about it as soon as the scientists notice that they can't get grant money from the pharmaceutical industry for studying it.

    Dylan, have you gone on to any of the more advanced exercises in the book? If not, it's not an issue. The point is that you need to have worked with the elemental summonings and banishings before you proceed to the Grail working, and the other advanced techniques in the book. Doing the Elemental Cross and the Circulation of Light together is a valid practice in its own right — you just want to add in the elemental workings before you proceed further.

  105. JMG, that explanation makes sense as regards advancing through ritual practice in the order that it's taught. I wasn't wanting to rush ahead (or even go much further than the basic Sphere of Protection for now).

    I've still got a burning interest in forms of magical protection and the entities one might want protection from, but maybe this is a topic you don't want to move into right away in this forum.

    I often ask myself, am I adequately protected? But it's almost a catch-22 question, since the fear of the unknown is the thing most likely to draw the unknown and unfriendly. My Sphere of Protection practice and cultivating a calm and steady mind seem to be working well, so I'll stick with that for now.

    Looking forward to a fresh post and a new thread of comments.

  106. I am not sure of the protocol for once another blog post has been published, but I will leave this here as it applied to a comment earlier.

    JMG,

    Thank you for your reply! I have been meaning to get on here and say that for far too long. I have thought on your words often (and many others you have written past and present).

    You will see more comments from me, with what frequency, I wish I could say.

    Best to all.

  107. Dear Archdruid, do you know of any novels that relate in a fictional way the extent of magic, and what can realistically be done? Or have you written such a work yourself? You have mentioned the incident where you and your fellows drank a drink and it tasted differently to each – like their favourite food or drink. I'm guessing, however, that there are limits to what you would reveal on a personal level, hence my asking about fictionalised experiences.

  108. Oh man, I did the basketball thing and nothing happened! — I was rather hoping something would happen. I'll try it again tomorrow. Does it matter if my eyes are open or closed?

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