Conjuring in the House of Mirrors

The last two posts here on The Well of Galabes have sketched out a rough history of the ways that ideas about the sources of magical power have changed over the last two and a half millennia in the western world. That sketch could have been expanded to the size of a good-sized book by widening the focus in space and time, to cover the equally complex evolution of occult philosophy in other parts of the world and in all those millennia before the ancient Greeks got into the story. The wider focus has its lessons to teach, to be sure, but we’ve covered enough ground to make the points that I want to discuss here.

The first of those points is simple and straightforward, and flies straight in the face of one of the most deeply rooted prejudices of contemporary occult thought. The prejudice in question is the belief that there has to be one and only one true occult philosophy that all real initiates have taught since the dawn of time. I’m thinking here particularly, though by no means only, of the Traditionalist movement, which has been having one of its periodic revivals of popularity in recent years. Traditionalist philosophers such as Julius Evola claim that all valid spirituality has its roots in Tradition—always with the capital T—and like to draw a hard line between the teachings they like, which are in accord with Tradition, and those they don’t, which are either mere misguided goofiness or the products of the sinister forces of Counter-Tradition, which plays the notional role of Satanism to Traditionalism’s One True Church.

So far, so good—but what exactly is this Tradition? Read Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World or any of his other major works, and when you get past the dogmatic posturing and the denunciation of rival views, what you’ll find is exactly the same sort of freewheeling pastiche of concepts from early 20th century popular culture that Evola himself condemned so savagely in other occult writers of his day. If you know your way around such intellectual pop-culture standards of the time as Friedrich Nietzsche, J.J. Bachofen, and especially Otto Weininger’s hugely popular though now forgotten Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character), you already know more than you think you do about Evola’s ideas. While Evola’s books are worth reading—even, or especially, if you don’t share his fondness for jackboots and stiff-arm salutes—his ideas are anything but timeless Tradition. Quite the contrary, they represent a specific, personal, historically conditioned take on things.

That’s true, in turn, of all the other contenders for the title of Timeless Wisdom of the Ages. If any one small-t tradition has a claim on that status in the Western world, it’s Neoplatonism, and that’s just because the Neoplatonists played so large a role in occultism from late Roman times through the end of the Renaissance. Even so, there’s nothing timeless about Neoplatonism; it evolved and adapted, flowed and changed, absorbed and was absorbed by other teachings over most of two millennia. Check out the esoteric teachings of China or India, and you’ll find exactly the same thing: not a petrified idol but a living, flowing movement of ideas in history.

The irony here, and it’s a rich one, is that exactly this point could have been learned from a good many of the small-t traditions of Western esoteric spirituality, Neoplatonism among them. As Plato himself pointed out in no uncertain terms, it’s crucial not to mistake eternal realities for experiential phenomena or vice versa; no matter how carefully it’s drawn, no circle is the Circle, the transcendent principle of which every existing circle is an expression; nor does the ability to draw a more or less exact circle depend on being given access to some privileged lineage of circle-drawing. The same points are just as true of spirituality; no tradition that has to put up with the inconveniences of actually existing is or can be identical to the ageless wisdom that stands eternal in the heavens; nor do historical lineages confine that wisdom which, as an expression of the living Spirit, notoriously “bloweth where it listeth.”

That’s the first point that unfolds from the history surveyed in the last two posts. The second is, if anything, even more controversial: that this living, flowing movement of ideas in history isn’t headed toward some one and only one true occult philosophy of the future.

The notion that human knowledge progresses toward some kind of perfection in the future is hardwired into most contemporary thinking. It’s an important expression of the faith in progress that provides the modern world with its established religion. Like every other established religion, it raises a sprawling superstructure of faith on a very modest foundation of fact: in this case, the broad general tendency for certain kinds of technical knowledge to build up over historical time. Human beings know, for instance, a great deal more about how to grow vegetables than they knew ten thousand years ago, or a thousand years ago, or even a century back; surviving agricultural handbooks from Roman times contain some very useful tips, for example, but a competent organic gardener these days knows quite a lot of things about enriching the soil, countering pests, and the like that Roman gardeners simply didn’t know.

That tendency isn’t inevitable or invincible. History is full of examples of technical tricks that were lost, for a time or forever. An entire technology of gearing and mechanical computation, best known by way of the famous Antikythera mechanism, vanished at the fall of Rome and hasn’t been completely recovered yet; the famous “Baghdad batteries” among other anomalous remains show that electricity was discovered in ancient times, and then lost until the eighteenth century. (I’ve long suspected that a careful study of the literature of alchemy would turn up a fair amount of basic electrical knowledge if it were carried out by someone solidly familiar with the relevant chemistry and physics.)

For that matter, nobody nowadays has any idea how ancient Hindu blacksmiths made the famous pillar of iron in Delhi that’s been soaked by thousands of years of monsoons without ever showing a spot of rust, or how the Inca managed the astonishing stonework of Cuzco and Macchu Picchu. Knowledge can be lost, knowledge has been lost, and there’s every reason to expect that, when today’s industrial societies are pushing up metaphorical daisies in the graveyard of dead civilizations, a great deal of what passes for common knowledge these days will vanish forever.

The history of magic shows both processes—the tendency to build up an ever larger accumulation of knowledge, and the temporary or permanent loss of large parts of that accumulation—at least as clearly as any other field of knowledge and practice does. If anything, where magic is concerned, the losses are far more striking than the buildup. Ancient Egypt had, by all contemporary accounts, an immense body of magical ritual and technique, but almost all of it vanished long ago, leaving scholars and occultists alike to puzzle over the fragmentary remains. The ceremonies of the ancient Greek goetes, the rites and lore of the old Druids, the rituals of the Eleusinian mysteries, the incantations of the Neoplatonist mages, the practices of folk wizards across early medieval Europe: all of it is gone forever.

What we have, when we look out over the wreckage of the Western world’s magical past, is a vast wilderness of ruins, in which the occultists of the last few centuries have traced out a few pathways and raised up a handful of modest shelters out of the fallen fragments of ancient temples. Here and there, inscriptions are still readable, and it sometimes happens that those of us who go digging in the ruins are able to clear the debris from another such inscription and add to the slow recovery of knowledge. Of the overall plan of the site we still have no certain conception, though there’s no lack of speculation on the subject, and too many dogmatic claims; whole regions of the ruins remain unexplored, and their relationship to the better-known portions can only be guessed at; as often as not, when new discoveries get made, they don’t add to the existing body of knowledge, but rather replace some part of what we thought we knew, which then has to go out with the trash.

Even if magical knowledge were cumulative, in other words, we’re nowhere near the point at which some kind of unified field theory of magic could be put together. So much has been lost, so many whole fields of occult philosophy and practice still have to be recovered or reinvented from scratch, that even if such a theory was possible, we’ve got centuries of hard work ahead before enough of a knowledge base can be amassed to bring such a project within reach. Still, that far from minor difficulty simply sets the stage for a much more serious difficulty, which is that magical knowledge isn’t cumulative; it’s not the kind of knowledge that moves toward one best answer.

In his brilliant little philosophical handbook A Guide for the Perplexed, renegade economist E.F. Schumacher pointed out a crucial distinction between two classes of problems, which he called convergent and divergent problems. Convergent problems are those that have a single right answer, and inquiry into convergent problems naturally converges on that single answer; the longer you pursue the work of inquiry, the more the data constrain the range of answers that will fit, until—in a phrase made famous by Sherlock Holmes—having excluded the impossible, what remains is the truth. Convergent problems are the natural fare of modern science; they’re what the scientific method is meant to tease out of the murky haze of data, and the successes of modern science have encouraged a great many people to think that all problems are convergent in nature.

The difficulty with this confident belief is that it doesn’t happen to be true. There’s another class of problems, which Schumacher called divergent problems: problems that have no one right answer. Divergent problems are by and large problems of value, while convergent problems are problems of fact. Put another way, convergent questions ask about the properties of perceiving objects, while divergent questions relate to the properties of perceiving subjects. Thus the convergent problem asks, “what is the world?” The divergent problem asks, “what should I do about it?”—and for that latter question there’s no one answer that applies in all cases and to all those who ask it.

It’s become popular in recent years for rationalists of a certain stripe to insist that convergent problems are more important than divergent ones, or even that those branches of knowledge that are subject to convergent solutions are the only kind of knowledge that matters, while those that present divergent problems are somehow illegitimate or irrelevant. This is nonsense—popular nonsense, at least in an age of fashionable abstractions, but nonsense nonetheless. What you should do for a living and whom, if anyone, you should marry are divergent questions; the answers that emerge from inquiry into them differ necessarily from one person to another; but how you answer these questions has a far greater impact on your chances for a happy and productive life than any merely convergent question.

Philosophy, now that it’s succeeded in spinning off the quantitative sciences into orbits of their own, has finally gotten most of the way back to its original purpose as a set of tools for responding to divergent problems. It’s a routine gibe of rationalists these days that philosophy isn’t “real knowledge,” since it doesn’t progress. This is precisely the same sort of idiocy as denouncing a hammer because it ‘s not a very good saw. Philosophy doesn’t converge on a single answer, which is what rationalists mean here when they talk about progress; it diverges along with the problems that it studies, so that it can provide the widest possible range of options for individuals who are trying to make sense of their own intuitions of meaning and value, and apply those to the task of living a happy and productive life.

Two completely different philosophies can work equally well, in turn, because there’s an inherent feedback loop that comes into play any time you turn sustained attention on your own sense of meaning and value, or any other property you have as a perceiving subject. That feedback loop, interestingly enough, is the same one that Erwin Schrödinger discovered when poking at quantum particles: you can’t observe the phenomenon without changing its behavior. Adopt any philosophy that doesn’t clash unbearably with your basic intuitions of meaning and value, and that philosophy will reshape those intuitions in its own image. The value of a humanistic education, in turn, is that it provides the individual with the necessary breadth of raw material—philosophical, literary, artistic, cultural—to transform those basic intuitions into foundations for the rare but necessary quality we call “wisdom.”

Occult philosophy is a branch of philosophy, not a quantitative material science. That may seem too obvious to need stating, but the repeated calls for a definitive theory of magic make it clear that some people, at least, don’t seem to have gotten the memo. What differentiates the various systems of magic from each other isn’t that one is “more advanced” than the other, or for that matter “more traditional;” it’s that they unfold in a divergent manner from different postulates and different cultural frameworks, and thus appeal to different people. What’s more, the feedback loop mentioned above slams into high gear once magic enters the picture, because the technical methods of magic reshape the activities and content of the mind far more powerfully than the practices of ordinary philosophy do.

One interesting consequence of this last detail is that every theory of magic provides a precise and accurate description of what magic can do—for those people who adopt that theory of magic. That’s just as true of the rationalist theory that magic is superstitious nonsense, by the way, as it is of the most rarefied theurgic Neoplatonism or the most up-to-the-elbows-in-mud sort of robust folk sorcery. The rationalist believes that all magic is mere superstitious nonsense; his whole philosophy of life supports that belief, and so if for whatever reason he attempts to perform magic, the results he gets will be precisely those you would expect from mere superstitious nonsense.

What’s more, if someone else casts an effective whammy on him, his perceptions of the situation will continue to support his belief that magic is mere superstitious nonsense; he’ll simply slam facefirst into a series of random disasters, in which he’ll be able to see no pattern or meaning whatsoever. Now of course this means, among other things, that he’s very sharply limited in terms of potential responses; since magic doesn’t exist for him, he can’t very well dispell what’s been tossed at him, turn it back on its sender, or do any of the other things that less rigidly restrictive theories of magic permit as a matter of course. Of course that’s exactly the point; the philosophy you accept determines what you can perceive as well as what you can do, and if the thing you value most is living in a completely material, rational, magic-free cosmos, that price might well be worth paying.

The same principle, in turn, applies to every other theory of magic. Since magic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, the particular approach to magic that you embrace will have profound effects on what you perceive in the universe around you, and what you can do in response to the things you perceive. If you believe, like most chaos magicians, that gods and spirits are simply forms established by the human imagination, then it’s probably a safe bet that the only gods and spirits you’ll meet are those that your imagination has created. (If you insist on imposing that view on them, after all, why would any other kind of god or spirit be interested in talking to you?) If you start instead from the presupposition that gods and spirits are real, independent, conscious beings, your chances of encountering those gods and spirits who do in fact act like real, independent, conscious beings—and who thus know things you don’t, for example, and can teach them to you—go up sharply. The same principle applies to every other dimension of magical theory.

Nor is there any Archimedean point from which it’s possible to dive into, and back out of, all other magical systems—a claim that some chaos magicians have made from time to time. If your theory of magic defines, say, the existence of deities as a feature of a worldview into which human beings can choose to enter and leave, then you can have that experience, too, but the deities you’ll experience will be the kind who can inhabit a worldview created by you, and the realm they inhabit will be a worldview rather than a world. Embrace a more traditional view of deities, and you may just find yourself encountering something a good deal more robust, not because you’ve created it but because you’ve opened yourself to interaction with it, and encouraged it to open itself to interaction with you.

The operative mage is thus to some extent—but only to some extent—conjuring in a hall of mirrors. It’s crucial to be aware of the ways that magical theory constrains magical perception and action, but it’s at least as crucial to recognize that the things we don’t perceive can still exist. A commonplace of occult theory has it that the magical universe is more complex and multidimensional than any human mind can possibly grasp, and so every mage, and every magical theory, chooses a handful of the available options and works with those. That limitation, like most limitations, is a source of strength, not of weakness. Some of the best martial artists you’ll ever meet are those who know just a couple of punches, a kick or two, and a few blocks, but know each of them very, very well.

Magic works in the same way, and this offers a solution to the implied conundrum explored in the last two posts. Where does magical power come from? Every one of the places from which the magical systems we surveyed draws it, and infinitely many more beside. Does magical power come from outside the human mind, or from within it? Both, of course. Magic is everywhere; magical forces surge and flow through every atom of matter, every cubic Angstrom unit of space, every picosecond of time. It’s purely a question of where you, yourself, as an operative mage, want to tap into the flow of power, and what you want to do with it—and that, as already hinted, is a divergent problem rather than a convergent one.


  1. Looking at the martial idea from another angle, might it be argued that understanding of principles underlying specific moves takes a martial artist from being very good to the ability to freeform based not on a purely technical level of technique but the thing[s] that result. i.e. the result you want determines the technique not the other way around?

    Many techniques can achieve the same ends, practicing just a few to a high level of use is very effective, stepping from there to understand what is happening with a technique opens up options when it is understood that it is not so much the nature of the block that is important but what underlies the block and what elements you tap into to perform it. A purely mechanical approach takes you so far, but to grasp how it works and the relationships is what differentiates the proficient from the superlative practitioner.

    Like seeing the little old guy place a young buck on his backside with subtlety and minimal movement when compared with the use of brute force and gross movement of a musclebound hulk. Both might achieve a similar result, but the path there is quite different and there is more to consider than just a state change from standing to being on the ground.

    So, martial like magic can cater to all sorts – some systems are straight some are circular and some use other approaches – from brute force to subtle mechanics, the trick could be in keeping your options and perceptions open and not falling into dogma. Just because one method works does not mean there are not other ways to travel.

    Your description of magic opens up a new way of thinking about my own practice:
    “Since magic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will…”

    For example, in my study and practice, a great emphasis is placed on understanding and working with emotional energy and how this manifests and effects other aspects of thinking and being. That without building foundations, there is a risk that you climb a house of cards.
    Working with the concept that emotional energy is not just abstract but that it is possible to take the energy as it manifests, and put it through an 'internal washing machine' and change it to something you consider more useful for your purposes. I guess it might be described as 'internal magic' in that a practitioner's first efforts at causing change in consciousness are directed at oneself. A bit of a case of putting one's own house in order before thinking of going around trying to decorate other people's places.

    Do you use any specific techniques to explore creativity and open mindedness and inner development?

  2. God Created The Integers ” as Stephen Hawking likes to say ..
    Yes well on that basis i suppose the morphogenetic quantum field from which all things emerge is just another more modern or perhaps recapitulated magical tradition with its own Hierophantic ” Quantum Magicians ” . I like their observation that the more closely you attempt to confine a sub atomic particle the faster it seems to move and attempt to escape , something which has no doubt frustrated dogmatists of all stripes for millenia , the persistent tendency for the exact opposite of their strident formulas to manifest .
    Of course we also have gravity / strong/ weak force / electromagnetism which seem to mirror the traditional 4 elements , coincidentally i'm sure . Is the Quantum Field itself electromagnetism? , are humans themselves quantum probabilities manifesting as informational strings emerging from said field ? Why do my ears ring when i encounter other ” non manifest” beings in the field , eg during intuition , synchronicity and deja vu ?
    I just finished your excellent “After Progress “, which left me somewhat shaken but not stirred , when you take the dear reader through Nietzsches Stoic ” groundhog day ” philosophy , contrasting it to the religion of Progress belief of the linear nature of time , discovering them to be two poles of the same beast in drag , the dear reader almost expired at roughly the same time as Nietzsches horse . (” The Rock by Lake Silvaplana” ) Perhaps Nietzsche was the first mind to discover relativity after all , but not the first mind to be able to hold the awful tension of such knowledge , ( thanks Albert E ) .
    Lack of imagination and a rational mindset is no bad thing though , when it comes to people who start tinkering around with magic without really understanding what hidden personal quantum probabilities may lie waiting in their own magical didgeridoo , to roar into life when irradiated by the forces evoked or invoked . In such cases reason might be all that stands between the unwary operator and insanity …
    A lot of Jungian Analysis is aimed at increasing the range of quantum probabilities able to be perceived and applied (“evoked and invoked” ) by the analysand to assist them living a happy and productive life .
    I seem to remember some wise advice ” invoke the higher ” , evoke the lower ? …and ” better to leave those worlds alone until you can handle this one ! ” ..
    Apocryphally , Kuta '

  3. “i.e. the result you want determines the technique not the other way around?”
    Not sure I expressed that very well!

    Trying to say something along the lines of linear not being the only way of looking at things and that things are more complex than they might seem.
    i.e. it is more complex than 'step 1, step 2, step 3, result', and also not a case of reverse engineering where I know the end result and just put something together to have achieve that result.
    Instead it might be described as a case of the start and end points co-existing and there being multiple paths; and that unintended consequences may result from taking what looks like the most obvious and direct path.

    The closed thinking that seems so popular is one of the odd aspects of reality, and the fact that any suggestion that we might need to question base assumptions is often met with incomprehension if not outright hostility does not make sense. Although I suppose from a fear based state, it does make sense because people often don't like the unknown and would prefer holding on to an illusion than face the idea that we might not understand much of what is going on, or that what is going on is actually a dead end route. The certainty of the illusion will continue to make sense right until the moment of unexpected and unseen collision shatters the hall of mirrors and lets in the winds of change to blow away the smoke.

    If we are in a car driving along a road, then having an engine, steering wheel, forward and reverse gears, brakes etc might make it seem like we have all we need to maneuver and get somewhere. And of course, if there is a problem with the engine, we can fix it and carry on. Plus, with GPS we can't get lost.
    Unfortunately, what this ignores is the possibility that not only might we be on a road to somewhere other than where we think, but we would have a more rewarding journey if we were in a boat travelling along the river and that the road should actually be returned to being fields and forests and the car turned into wind chimes.

    A recent example – my partner's father typed in a beauty spot destination in his sat-nav, unfortunately he added an 'e' on the end and ended up on a city council estate. Not only the wrong town, but wrong county. Even though he knew which county he should be going to, he followed the sat-nav instructions anyway and did not wonder about the direction and so went to the wrong destination. The next day he turned off the sat-nav and used a paper road-map.

    Sorry if rambling – lots to chew on in this latest post.

  4. Teach it Brother!

    A long time ago in an occult shop in a less-than-fashionable neighbourhood, I was taught exactly this. For the price of a few sticks of handmade incense my neophyte self was able to sit for many an hour on the old leather couch, browse through many a 'traditional' tome and, if I posed my questions in just the right way, the owner would share his experience of whatever matter was piquing my curiosity that day .

    His answer to any question would always begin with “it depends”. Of all the learning I took away from that time, I think that was the most important lesson.

    Excellent post sir, much needed in a time that the next round of students of the occult seem to be getting caught up in the same old sticky webs of dogma as every generation before them.

  5. Congratulations for answering two of my questions and at the same time opening up many more 🙂 For a post which explains that there can be no unified theory of magic, it does a good job of hitting a truly broad level of understanding. Your posts achieve that level of clarity, where it brings complex and stimulatingly fresh insights while leaving the reader thinking to herself “this was so clear, I should have guessed it myself !”.

    Just one theoretical question : if indeed a wide variety of magickal phenomena can account for so many distinct traditions, and yet still coexist on a level of being that the human mind is too weak to grasp… then there must be quite a few instances where one very devout follower of a certain tradition accidentally has to face contact with a manifestation which is best understood and accounted for by another tradition unknown to that person… Then what happens ? It would be interesting to understand the evolution of spiritualities under this light, as to how “accidents” in the fabric of spiritual relationships can shape a certain tradition as a whole.

  6. The non-dualist tradition in Vedanta and Buddhism posits only one reality, with many apparitions, phantasms, mirages and sundry projections and misperceptions. These include the sense of an individual self, an “I” and its concomitant, the rest of a world, a “not-I”.

    A red flower or a green leaf on a pitch-dark night has neither color nor visual form, but sunlight assumes the colour and form and carries it to the perceiver. Yet sunlight in itself manifests no such colour or form. Indeed at night, with sunlight streaming past the earth into space, it still appears dark.

    That is why the Realtiy that is the Perceiver of all perception is called the Void (Sunyata) in Buddhism: the Perceiver is imperceptible. The Void, but it is also the Plenitude.

  7. What you are saying makes complete intuitive sense to me, just as there is no one true version of Christianity (just as an example of a religion) and experience of god and the world is different for Catholic and Protestant Evangelical; the system determines the religious experience–until it doesn't and then the experiencer may need to find a new system?

    Meanwhile, on a more practical plane (?!), as I continue to practice the Sphere of Protection, I've been finding the envisioning of the spheres whirling in back of me to be most interesting and challenging. I'd never thought about trying to “see” behind myself before, so that a three dimensional (four dimensional because moving) shape with me inside could be fully visualized.

  8. From one of the great Holy Books of our age:

    With our concept making apparatus called “mind” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about- reality are mistakenly labeled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently. It is only the ideas-about-reality which differ. Real (capital-T True) reality is a level deeper that is the level of concept.

    We look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids. A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. ….

    Western philosophy is traditionally concerned with contrasting one grid with another grid, and amending grids in hopes of finding a perfect one that will account for all reality and will, hence, (say unenlightened westerners) be True. This is illusory…. Some grids can be more useful than others, some more beautiful than others, some more pleasant than others, etc., but none can be more True than any other.

    DISORDER is simply unrelated information viewed through some particular grid. But, like “relation”, no-relation is a concept. Male, like female, is an idea about sex. To say that male-ness is “absence of female-ness”, or vice versa, is a matter of definition and metaphysically arbitrary. ….

    The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered.

    Reality is the original Rorschach.
    I am caught between exhilaration and cackling hilarity at the discussion of these ideas as serious considerations, because so many people dismiss my favorite holy book out of hand. (Because great wisdom, or useful concepts, cannot be displayed in Courier New with small cartoons on the side, apparently.)

  9. Or put together with the utmost simplicity;

    “The tao that can be written is not the eternal Tao,

    the name that can be uttered is not the eternal Name.”

  10. I've recently been looking at the writings of the cognitive-scientist (and Idealist) Donald Hoffman. He notes that our interface to the true reality is by necessity obscured, because evolution favors narrowed, even deceptive perception over truth.

    Seems in like with your ideas here, in a roundabbout way perhaps – you might like his essay Peeking Behind the Icons as it (IMO) resonated with your own first post of this excellent blog:

  11. Now that I'm all the way to the end I have something else to add. This post really challenged me to ask myself a question I don't think I've ever asked in words before – “What is it I actually believe about magic?” Very thought provoking. Here's what I came up with, and I'm eager to see if others have anything to add:

    Things I believe about magic

    1. It exists.
    2. It can make changes in reality that do not have a direct causal relation to the action performed.
    3. It can bring you into contact with non-material intelligences with personal agency and their own agendas. Some of these intelligences are benevolent; some are malevolent; some are indifferent; some are incomprehensible.
    4. It is capable of expanding an individual human intelligence and personality beyond the confines of bodily death.

  12. Gobsmacked is, I believe, the appropriate term having read your piece.

    A couple of months ago I asked a question about the place of Advaita in all of this and you gave me an answer about different paths leading up different mountains which set my mind reeling. It took me rather a long while, but eventually (or so I thought) I managed to comprehend that answer. Something, however, still niggled and that was firmly put to bed by this month's post – a real Aha! erlebnis. The point you made extremely clear (and for goodness sake, I knew this) was that we can only experience that which fits within our expectation, so, for instance, an out and out materialist sees nothing of the magical world. Linking that with Schumacher's book “A guide for the perplexed” (really glad you mentioned that book) and his idea of convergent and divergent problems, drove the point home. I am very grateful and my world has been substantially enriched thanks to you.

    At the moment I am re-reading Rudolf Steiner's “How to know higher worlds”. I find that quite a bit of what he says accords with your own writings. So far you haven't mentioned Steiner is that likely to change?

  13. Earthworm, sure, but in my experience that state is much easier to achieve by way of intensive work on specific forms. The martial artists who learn a handful of techniques very, very well pass through the mastery of those techniques to a grasp of the whole galaxy of potentialities hidden in a single punch, or what have you. As a later post will discuss, the same is true in magic, and has a lot to do with the importance of repeated practice of formal rituals. As for your question, that's a subject for about three posts!

    Kutamun, I disagree with Hawking. The integers are reflections of human neurology; what the gods create is pure uninterrupted wholeness.

    Earthworm, and that's another matter entirely — the relationship between map and territory, and between a whole-systems view of things and the sort of linear rule-following procedure that so often causes problems with the GPS!

    Wildcucumber, with me it was a matter of sitting in a cluttered living room sipping cup after cup of Chinese tea, and having my clumsy generalizations taken apart — sometimes with as little as a raised eyebrow. An experience worth having!

    Jean-Vivien, good! Yes, that happens fairly often. The result depends on the resources available in the tradition. In the more rigid and dogmatic traditions, such as modern scientific materialism, it's common to (a) pretend that nothing happened or (b) come up with some justification for cramming what you experienced back into a known category. Less rigid traditions usually have some kind of wiggle room built in to allow for the fact that reality doesn't necessarily follow any given set of concepts.

    Robin, yes, that's also a model that works.

    Adrian, it's an interesting experience, isn't it? One of the many benefits of the SoP is that it teaches a more complete proprioception — you become aware of your body as a presence in three-dimensional space, surrounded by other presences in space. That has practical value, alongside its other interesting features.

    Elf, seeing that I became a Chaplin of the Legion of Dynamic Discord in 1983 — yes, my nose print was duly mailed to the California State Office of Furniture and Bedding — I'm not inclined to disagree. (Fnord!)

    Dammerung, well, yes.

    Princess, thanks for the recommendation; I'll check Hoffman out as time permits.

  14. Dammerung, a nice clear summary. Most of the world's operative mages throughout history would have been inclined to agree with you, for whatever that's worth.

    Hereward, you're most welcome and thank you. As for Steiner, I've been reading, digesting, and thinking about his work for a couple of years now, with more to come; some of his works impress the stuffing out of me, others make me roll my eyes. When I've finished digesting The Philosophy of Freedom (or whatever they're calling it these days in English translation), which to my mind is far and away his most interesting work, I'll be better able to respond.

  15. The idea that magic is everywhere and we can choose how to harness it makes perfect sense in light of a recent popular book I read.

    It's called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, from Japan. It's about keeping your house in order, a seemingly mundane topic. The word “magic” is in the title, but I took it to mean the popular sense and thought nothing of it. In the course of reading, however, it became apparent to me that this woman is a mage.

    The way she guides people to untangle the emotional and psychological aspects of their relationships with their stuff and their past, the way she expresses gratitude and empathy with the items that support her life, and the way she ritualizes her interaction with her personal space — her method amounts to nothing less than using your household as a way of changing consciousness in accordance with will.

    I think it might be interesting to your readers who are putting LESS into practice.

  16. Sometimes the changes of consciousness may be uncomfortable and unsought. Beyond the small-beer of prose may flow the strong spirit of inspired utterance.

    As reported in the Sixteenth Mount Haemus Lecture, some earlier druids attained the Awen, likened to the Biblical Holy Spirit.
    'The Awen is central to an understanding of The Mind of the Druid. The word is derived from the Indo-European root uel meaning 'to blow', and it is related also to the Welsh word awel meaning 'breeze'. In bardic usage, there is a clear relationship between it and the early Christian approach to the Holy Ghost, seen as the fiery wind that unlocks the tongue…
    Giraldus Cambrenesis in the 12th century gives us a vivid account of the Awenyddion, whom he describes as being possessed by a spirit that makes them roar and twitch and speak in incomprehensible ways. It gives them vivid dreams and visions, or they may feel as though the milk and honey of paradise is poured on their lips…lett the hawk fly att him, which (he dreamt) gott into his mouth & inward parts, & suddenly awaked in a great fear & consternation: butt possessed with such a vein, or gift of poetrie, that he left the sheep & went about the Countrey, making songs upon all occasions…'

  17. Hi JMG:

    You've mentioned chaos magic a couple of times recently, and I wanted to share some things that might interest you.

    My first magical experiences occurred while dabbling in chaos magic, at a time when I was a hardcore atheist materialist. The surprising result of this dabbling was that I had an experience with a Primal Goddess deity (originally experienced as Shakti but now conceived in more Western terms as related to Tiamat and archaic goddess forms from prehistory). I didn't believe in this entity at the time, and I certainly hadn't made any attempt to communicate with it!

    There was no apparent direct connection between my magical practices (typical sigil work and servitor creation) and that experience, so I can only surmise that my practices opened up some kind of door that allowed this experience to occur. You might compare this event to St. Paul's experience on the road to Damascus; it totally blew apart my materialist dogmatism and sent me down a rabbit hole from which I have never returned.

    This experience opened the way for me to be able to work with all sorts of entities and spirits with an open mind, without having to pretend to know what they were, and without needing to define them as mere aspects of my psyche. Over time, I no longer saw myself as a “Chaos Magician (TM)”, but just a magician with an open mind and an ability to utilize a wide range of sources in a creative and syncretic fashion (hopefully without bastardizing them or picking and choosing like a consumer shopping for groceries).

    I am fairly certain that my experience with chaos magic was not uncommon, and that, in fact, one of the reasons that “chaos magic” is a lot less important in the occult scene now is that many chaos magicians dropped the “chaos” part. I also understand that from the very beginning in the chaos magic scene, there was a split between those who wanted to reconcile magic with scientism, and those who simply wanted to take magic in creative directions and were perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that the universe might indeed be full of deities, spirits, and various intelligences.

    Therefore, while the self-proclaimed pope of chaos magic has taken a very hardcore materialist stance, it would be a mistake to think that all chaos magicians buy into this. It only seems that way because the individual in question has branded himself as being synonymous with all of chaos magic, and because many who came out of that scene no longer use the label of “chaos magic”, which became limiting where it had originally been liberating.


  18. Masterfully written.

    Sigh. This business of the lack of human progress, though, seems to me more than just some incorrect expectations. One thing I've noticed is how closely aligned the Abrahamic worldview is with its supposed opposite of Darwinian evolution in that both seem to accept a very short, recent timeline for human blossoming/civilization. I don't buy that. Human beings are just way, way too smart and advanced and different to have just hung around for some few hundreds of thousands or millions of years and then all of a sudden, around the globe, started farming and building.
    I think this planet has been beset with periodic catastrophe (much as was told by the Egyptian priests in Plato's tale of Atlantis). I don't know how else to account for our situation, which goes much deeper than the falling of civilizations. A species such as ourselves with no real knowledge of its own history. Such a blank that people can believe that we were created suddenly 6,000 years ago. I.e., that we have no history.

    It's kind of an uphill battle this way. We're like a 35 year old who suddenly finds herself walking down a street in a city somewhere, with total amnesia.

  19. One of the Krishnamurties said “Truth is a pathless land.” It took me some time to get that, as I was much younger at the time. When people desire easy answers, they prefer to accept a limited and dogmatic view. Then, indeed, as mentioned above, sometimes they run into trouble with situations that don't fit the model. At which crossroads, they must decide to grow or to discount the event.

    I've got some friends that I have tried to pass on to them a couple of rather inspiring things written, which have ideas that while strongly based on Christianity and its scriptures, dwell in more philosophical territory and lead (by the hand!) one away from more rigid and negative interpretations. But, nice as they are, they rejected the ideas within, with very little real analysis, as they just did not jive with the scriptures as they have read and understood them.

    You can't put new wine into old wineskins.

    Now, the gospel of Thomas says that while there are many bridegrooms standing outside the door, only those who are solitary will enter. Hmmm, since there are many of them, obviously this solitariness means something else.
    I think it means the one who has come to the point of trusting in the living Spirit and not limiting himself to little worldviews.

  20. The last Kunstlercast also verges on magical experience, because James interviews a former adept of zen Buddhism, who has always been fascinated in walking in darkness. That person experienced a totally unexpected spiritual contact, and as a result developed an almost magickal theory of our exposure to darkness.
    I feel that it fits into what Jim calls “the reenchantment of America”… it seems that the personalities from the Peak Oil scene are generally more inclined towards a spiritual view of reality. Maybe when you stop worshipping technology and innovation, you need to find some other meatless chums to fill in the vacant positions.

  21. Well, sounds like E. F. Schumacher is going on my reading list.

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking piece. The notion that “magical knowledge isn't cumulative” is an eye-opener of a statement. Yet another manifestation of the myth of Progress obscuring my perception, I suppose.

    I have found (in my very limited experience) that it takes some care to avoid automatically approaching magic as it were something in the nature of an “alternative science”. Which is probably a sign of how pervasive the materialistic/scientific perspective is in the culture at large today. In my case, that tendency is exacerbated by a history of reading too much fantasy and science fiction, and dabbling with role-playing games, which often represent magic as just one more physical system that can be modeled with a set of deterministic rules.

    The insight on how a choice of system will have some feedback on the practitioner's perception of the result is interesting too, but the “magical knowledge isn't cumulative” is an idea that I feel like almost certainly has implications I'm not seeing, yet, and those are always the kind of ideas that hook my attention.

    Thanks again, I'll be wrestling with this one for a while.

  22. Aw, rats. I was afraid you'd say something like this. For my poor brain brought up on rationalism, “major facets of the universe are divergent problems” is way, way, waaaaaay more terrifying than a universe infested with inhuman and uninterested intelligences. I positively welcome the latter – give me your angels, your demons, your nature-spirits, your gods, fairies, dryads, salamanders, etc., etc.! The more full-to-the-brim the world is with life, the more comfortable I am in it. But a world where things are not only uncertain, but uncertain in their uncertainty; where not only can you not know a particle's momentum and position both simultaneously, but you can't even know if “momentum” is the kind of thing that particles have, or if “particles” are the kind of things that can be described by “position,” because it's value-systems all the way down…a world where truth can only be found by making arbitrary choices…*shudder*

    I know this isn't a counter-argument, it's not supposed to be a counter-argument, it's an immediate emotional reaction. This kind of a worldview is going to take some digesting.

  23. John, interesting. Anything done with intention can become a magical working, to be sure.

    Raven, true, except that prose needn't be small beer!

    Unknown, oh, granted. That's why I use the label “chaos magic” to indicate the dimenisons of that movement that haven't, as you say, dropped the “chaos” part out of it.

    Onething, good. The way history has been rewritten in modern times to turn it into a short and linear story of progress — that's a huge issue, and one that probably deserves a post or two here, as the occult traditions did some interesting things with deep history.

    It was Jiddu Krishnamurti, btw — and he was quite correct. Those who aren't comfortable with pathless lands thus have a more than usually complicated relationship with truth!

    Jean-Vivien, or maybe when you stop engaging in technomasturbation all the time some meatless types show up to see if you're interested in having a social life that includes them.

    Ipsifendus, by all means put Schumacher on your reading list — the guy was brilliant. As for the noncumulative nature of magical knowledge, yes, it has vast implications, many of them quite practical. Enjoy the hunt for them!

    Mark, thank you for taking that point as seriously as it deserves. Yes, it's hugely challenging; you'll find, though, as you probe at it, that it's also a door into freedom and immense possibility.

  24. “… I disagree with Hawking. The integers are reflections of human neurology; what the gods create is pure uninterrupted wholeness.”

    I'm so glad you said that. Whenever I've encountered the idea that “the universe is made of numbers,” I've felt someone was trying to put something over on me. Terence Mckenna used to suggest that the universe is made of language, or code. It just feels so wrong; I neither believe it, nor do I want to believe it. Whereas the analogy of Being with music that you referenced not that long ago is one I can resonate with.


    A few days ago a family member told me that while dozing she'd either dreamt or seen – she wasn't sure which – a red fireball that explosively radiated flames of energy, then vanished This was a few hours after I'd been doing some short rituals that happened to go exceptionally well. Have I been stirring things up on the planes? I don't know.

  25. “Anything done with intention can become a magical working, to be sure.”

    This seems to me like real keeper. I fancy it might even be the most important magical kick or punch one could strive to master to its full potential – or one of them.

  26. Val, the notion that abstraction is more real than the experiences from which it abstracts — that numbers, language, etc. are more than the particular gimmickry that one species of social primate uses to grunt and hoot about what they notice about the world — has become a point of fracture between me and a lot of the older philosophers I admire; I simply don't buy it, and I'm coming to see it as a ghastly mistake with even ghastlier consequences. More on this in a future post, or more likely a future book or two. As for action with intention, expect a post on that fairly soon!

  27. JMG,

    Your response to Val reminds me of what you've said about Cthulu.

    These are two areas where this new attitude breaks with the old assumptions of what is “normal.”

    Abstractions are abstract. That makes them less real.

    Tentacles and rising from the deep are not attributes of our bogey man.

    A better candidate would be a DARPA whiz-kid blinded by cleverness, conspiring to find new ways to destroy life.

    These are important leverage points!

    While I'm here, thank you for all you bring to these trying times!

  28. JMG
    I too have been recently dipping into Schumacher's A Guide for the perplexed I thought highly of Schumacher many moons ago – appropriate technology and all that.

    I found this post all-round useful. In the past I have experienced being 'spellbound', and the strange networks of collusion and taboo that can keep not just me but whole groups or sub-cultures, often work environments, from sufficient reality check. It can feel a bit like being trapped in one of Tolkien’s spider webs.

    Overt magical systems can be a special kind of web unless they encourage a broader take on this very wide world where the wind will list as it may?
    PS“… when we look out over the wreckage of the Western world’s magical past …” reminds me of the famous ‘ninth thesis’ by Walter Benjamin, which has figured in our discussions before, I think. The Angel of History and Klee’s drawing are here:

  29. @Mark Hedden wrote,

    ” “…major facets of the universe are divergent problems” is way, way, waaaaaay more terrifying than a universe infested with inhuman and uninterested intelligences. I positively welcome the latter – give me your angels, your demons, your nature-spirits, your gods, fairies, dryads, salamanders, etc., etc.! The more full-to-the-brim the world is with life, the more comfortable I am in it. But a world where things are not only uncertain, but uncertain in their uncertainty; where not only can you not know a particle's momentum and position both simultaneously, but you can't even know if “momentum” is the kind of thing that particles have, or if “particles” are the kind of things that can be described by “position,” because it's value-systems all the way down…a world where truth can only be found by making arbitrary choices…*shudder*”

    Excellent, great stuff. Wish I had written it.

  30. JMG,

    Great stuff. Thank you for so clearly articulating these perspectives and concepts.

    From my studies and experiences in shamanistic healing, there seems to be a great deal of overlap with magic. Intention. Spheres. Worlds. Meatless beings with a multitude of agendas. Practices. Meditation.

    For the shamanic cultures or societies, it seems that dogma may not have set in too much since they were always or at least mostly oral traditions that continuously evolved over the years, centuries, millennia, and depended upon circumstances, practitioners, level of talent, etc.

    Maybe once writing developed, priesthoods (and dogma) developed, which play different roles than shamans, though both practice magic. However, an indigenous shaman probably would not say they are practicing magic, just doing the obvious to help bring healing, balance, and harmony.

    Best regards

  31. JMG,
    I'm enjoying contemplating philosophy as “a set of tools for responding to divergent problems.” Years ago at a convention, I'd heard someone describe philosophy as “the study of topics for which we have no systematic method of study,” and that seemed mostly accurate but missing something. I think you've pegged it.

    It combines well with magical knowledge not being cumulutive… in my own tradition (Anderson Feri), many teachers explain to students that there is no “drop out of one teacher's classes, and pick up from that point with the next teacher.” They'll have to start from scratch with a new teacher–sometimes, start *worse* than beginners, while they unlearn habits and processes the previous teacher taught, that work fine with Feri but not their new teacher's approach to it.

    So many would-be mages want magical training to be like a university, a set of focused courses with the end result of A Skilled Mage; they don't have (because our culture works hard to deny) the concept that the question, “How can I be the best mage I can?” is divergent–there is no “right” answer, no single path to that point, because it's no a point; it's a range. Or a set of possibilities.

    Some who have noted it's a range, insist that therefore there is no way to be doing it wrong. I've occasionally pointed out that there is no “right way” to cook an egg, but there are plenty of ways to apply heat to an egg that don't result in food. Lacking a single definitive answer doesn't mean all answers are correct.

  32. A pair of thoughts, after a bit of digestion:

    * Of course, I've always been aware that logic and reason, like Chicago, are built on a foundation of swamp and sand. You ultimately can't prove any of the basic axioms of logic, mathematics, or scientific induction, but have to accept them on – well, if not quite “faith,” then something pretty close to it. It's just, when probing uncomfortably at that underlying oobleck, before now I've tended to throw up my hands and say “well, look, if we don't use logic, what the devil else are we going to do?,” when of course the philosophers, occultists, and mystics have been able to successfully build their own cities, some flourishing, some ruined, on the same soil. “Oh, right,” I say now, “if not this, then one of the other things.”

    * On over-valuing abstractions: Even sensory experience is, in its own way, an abstraction, isn't it? That has consequences, doesn't it?

  33. “Val, the notion that abstraction is more real than the experiences from which it abstracts — that numbers, language, etc. are more than the particular gimmickry that one species of social primate uses to grunt and hoot about what they notice about the world — has become a point of fracture between me and a lot of the older philosophers I admire; I simply don't buy it, and I'm coming to see it as a ghastly mistake with even ghastlier consequences.”

    I think this break is what made your thought on magic accessible to me at a time when hard core materialism was my cred. I couldn't have said this before today, but back then I operated under the assumption that the reality of abstractions, so to speak, was the other team apart from materialism. Idealism was the term they used in school. Idealism always seemed to face the problem that there were so many different idealisms and not all the branches seemed to be growing toward the same star.

    Since getting into philosophy I have toyed with The concept of idealism through Plato's cave… figuring that a fella fresh out of the cave isn't going to have a better go at 'seeing true reality' than the guys who never lived in caves that the allegory was poking at. Always seemed that the cave and the veil of maya, all those sorta stories are about people confusing the map with the territory, and yet many paths that flow out from these traditions seem to make the same mistake transposed into a different level of logical typing.

    The most interesting thing about Plato's Cave is that it seems to have been used as a instruction manual for the way we structure modern life… TV, class rooms, many jobs, even driving after a fashion. Looking at the lights change on a surface.

    An idea I picked up from you, more or less, is to think of this stuff not by positing some supreme reality, but to think of the set of human senses and powers of perception and experience to be more flexible. That flexing being a very large part of the practice of a magic user; though certainly not exclusive to magic. Hunters hone certain senses, farmers others, logicians, mushroom collectors, astronomers, carpenters, readers, connoisseurs of great tobaccos all these sorts of people and many besides can be distinguished well by what sort of sense flexing they have done. Even abstractions are a sort of experience, one can be blind to them, or able to see them but poor at judging there 'extent'. It's challenging to be deft with abstractions generally, but with some practice one can come to know certain abstractions as well as a carpenter knows his level and measure. A common weakness of mind is a deficiency in being able to sort out the difference between universals and generalities; let alone asking 'how general'.

    When I hear about religions experience, enlightenment, or folks that are ascended to truer level of abstraction it works for me to take that as reports of experiences from folks who have senses I don't, at this time anyway. But just as a blind friend can expect me to talk about what I can see yet cannot expect me to therefore have an advantage at seeing what things would be like to a “perfect” sense, I can take a spiritualist or religious friend as a good source of accounts for what else is out there but not as an absolute arbiter of what could be out there. That's the use of abstractions that chaps my hide the most, when they are used to report what could be out there, and always at the same time what cannot be; at that point one is staring at the far side of the horizon.

  34. JMG, heckuva post, thank you! You've confirmed my suspicions about magic and given me a lot to think about. (It's not been my practice to practice magic intentionally, but I've been a musician for a little while and know there's a lot going on there, and I do my best in the kitchen.)

  35. Dear, JMG
    For publication only if you see fit.
    In the upper left drawer of an antique slate-top desk sits a stack of documents. Atop this stack is a stone and upon this stone is a symbol.
    I ritually burn the following sigil…
    The border means, “With gratitude, I pray for…”
    The curly braces mean, “for.”
    The small circles mean, “of.”
    The intension of this sigil: With gratitude, I pray for Inspiration for the readers and authors of the information of the documents below [the symbol on the stone].
    Several of your ADR posts are beneath the stone already as I felt no compulsion to ask your permission.
    The Well is different.
    With great respect, I request permission to involve you and your readership in this ritual.
    Thank You!

  36. Hi JMG,

    Dissensus is the order of the day! I've heard those sorts of claims too surrounding “Tradition”, and they seem to me to be a bit, well, insecure.

    Too funny: “it’s crucial not to mistake eternal realities for experiential phenomena or vice versa”. People make the exact same mistake now about progress with the same level of religious fervour too. It is a bit unseemly, really, especially when those views don't comport with my view of the realities of this world. Just sayin…

    Of course, it seems common sense to me that ideas are built on past structures. They build, but do not head in any particular direction and perhaps there may even be an argument that they are a closer match to evolution in that they are affected by the adaptions necessary for the times. How could it be otherwise?

    It may surprise you but, I have seen and touched that pillar in India and it was awe inspiring. They suspect a very high grade ore with low oxygen content was used, but no one really knows for sure. It is a real achievement and I doubt we’ll look as good in a thousand years’ time!

    I'm not name dropping either, but I have stood at the Dawn gates in Peru over-looking Macchu Picchu and waited for the sun to rise over that long dead city. It was a bit eerie really and was very hard to not be aware of our own fragility. Interestingly too, those that walked in were given the benefit of seeing the city early in the morning whilst it was quiet, whilst those who took the train and bus, well, let’s say it was a bit busy for them…

    We lose as much as we gain, because I believe entropy is part of the natural order. At the end, even when nothing else is left for humans, even our magic will pass and that is the right way about it. The universe will be a richer place for our passing experience and I suspect that the greater whole is somehow not lost.

    I thought at first that your essay revealed a degree of personal sadness for what has been lost, but then I could see that your sheer curiosity and wonder at that world is that which has prevailed. I feel a bit like that too as I'm trying to unravel the secrets of the ecosystem here. It is a very slow and incremental process and occasionally there are many wins, but sometimes not much at all is gained. Still, it tells a story.

    Now speaking of effective whammy's: I must respectfully ask you whether you have cast a hex on me, as ever since the dreaded “watertankgate” (no, like the war, don't mention the water tanks! ;-)!) I've had so many things break here in quick succession this week that I'm seriously apologising for ever mentioning anything that pragmatic again. Please, a bit of understanding for my ignorance would be appreciated? PS: I didn't really like where that conversation went either on the other blog and it only confirmed in my mind that people up your way are seriously itching for a fight. It is a little bit scary from my perspective.


  37. But of course, who would possibly want to be limited to the resources of their own imagination. I have learned so much from you over the years and it shapes my day to day life. Thank you for the work that you do and I will carry that flame for you as well here.

    That is an easy one – my efforts flow into the forest here. It needs the help after almost two centuries of European abuse and misunderstanding. Still, it is not a lost cause and there are positive signs everywhere.

    Please lift the hex though as I am sincerely sorry.

    PS: I only receive the Well of Galabes on the 22nd – living in the future as I do – and last night had a serious drama with one of the dogs that disappeared into the depths of the forest. I'd written him off by the time I went to bed, but back he appeared at 1.30am – like a dirty, cold, wet and bedraggled tip rat. Still, I'm glad the forest released him from his idiocy… Anyway, the point of the story was that instead of being able to enjoy your essay for this month, I was trudging around the surrounding forest in the cold trying to track him down. Mate, it was very cold and very dark last night and there was no way I was climbing down into one of the many wombat holes around here.



  38. Good post as always, and it’s always just as nice to read the thoughtful comments that people post in response. I loved the way in which you wrapped up the last three months of posts in that final paragraph. I myself consider the source of power to be the very flows and tides of everything within that “undifferentiated wholeness that the gods create”, as mentioned above. It’s helpful to have the things you know intuitively put into concrete language by somebody else.

    As for the fallacy that abstractions are more real than that which they attempt to describe, I concur. Didn’t the pythagoreans end up convincing themselves that the universe ways made of numbers? The way I solve that is, while I do indeed consider that which occurs on the spiritual/mental levels of being to be more “absolute” than their expressions as interactions of phenomena on the lower/more concrete levels (“real” isn’t really a good word, since it implies the belief that some experiences should “count” and others shouldn’t), I take extra good care not to confuse those realities and my perceptions thereof with the, as you said, gimmickry for grunting and hooting about them. It seems to be much easier to fall into that trap when trying to describe things outside the realm of time, space and form, and I suspect some of the reason for it is that it is difficult for many (if not most) people to experience those things directly for themselves, and they deal with that by clinging like grim death to the abstractions. From there it’s only a small step to the pursuit of abstraction as an end and a truth in itself, and that is sadly also the most effective way to block out any spiritual/mental knowing and perception. It actually takes you in the opposite direction, which certainly isn’t a healthy direction.

  39. jean-vivien said: “there must be quite a few instances where one very devout follower of a certain tradition accidentally has to face contact with a manifestation which is best understood and accounted for by another tradition unknown to that person… Then what happens?”

    JMG said: “In the more rigid and dogmatic traditions, such as modern scientific materialism, it's common to (a) pretend that nothing happened or (b) come up with some justification for cramming what you experienced back into a known category.”

    Let’s just say I have a friend who was sucker-punched by just such an experience a few years ago. Without any substantial resources in her tradition to help her deal with it, or any acceptable way to communicate it with friends/family, she experienced the ‘freedom and immense possibility’ JMG mentioned, then intense existential isolation, and from there went downhill into more materialistically acceptable forms of ‘mental illness’.

    Now that things are better we’re trying to understand what the heck happened. When I first read the December post to this blog, with its tantalizing ending, I’ll admit that I felt real fear mixed with my excitement. Tangling with disembodied intelligences is not child’s play, as we have learned the hard way.

    I was hoping I could furnish my friend with a ‘map of the unknown’ or localized theory of magical experience, but what I take away from this post is that magic is so complex even JMG has no complete and coherent theory of it. Which frustrates or at least alters the aim of my rationalist project, but adds to my confidence that this conversation is headed somewhere nuanced and real- kudos to JMG once more.

    That said, I do need to know as I continue my research, how’s a lowly apprentice to avoid malevolent entities or crippling isolation traps? Any tips or insights are welcome.

  40. The prejudice in question is the belief that there has to be one and only one true occult philosophy that all real initiates have taught since the dawn of time.

    I think this is partly rooted in the fact that occultists seem to really, really enjoy bitching.

    This appears to be a common vice among the spiritually high-minded. In his last autobiography, Christopher Isherwood detailed the incredible cat-fighting that went on between the various Vedantic swamis that he knew in California. It was worse than anything you would overhear in a hairdressing salon.

  41. Thanks for explaining this. As a neophyte mage I've been reading through your New Encyclopedia of the Occult, to learn what some of the technical terms mean and to better understand what I'm practicing. It soon became apparent how many different occult traditions there have been and are. It helps to know that there isn't a sort of hierarchy of traditions, that they are divergent rather than convergent. I feel I've chosen the right tradition for me and this post clarifies why that is.

  42. Hello there JMG,

    I’ve been reading both your sites for a while and a few of your books and I have a question that doesn’t need to be published on your blog.

    I have purchased your book “The Celtic Golden Dawn” and am confused about what’s being said on page 32 and the “Summoning Ritual of the Pentagram”.

    How many pentagrams are being traced – 4 or 5?

    Am I to start at the very top as the illustration suggests or the “eastern quarter” which I take to be point on the right?

    I draw maps for a living so in my head East is on the right – not at the top – but perhaps I’m reading too much into things!

    Any assistance will be a appreciated – thanks in advance.


  43. JMG & All
    The journey to abstraction and back?

    I notice a change from paleolithic art to neolithic art. (Greek art is something else.)
    Understanding animals does not produce 'photographic art'; rather it feels like, well … understanding.

    Abstraction however can take you interesting places – even to mind-exercises that some see as bending the brain (Andrew James Cochrane Irish Passage Tombs; PhD Thesis). Others see 'maps'. Go back then to the Valley of the Boyne*, or to Gavrinis** or a 4 mile jog from my house to Routing Lynn***. I have always loved books and maps and still pore over them: perhaps they are portals?

    ** Google ‘Gavrinis art rock images’

    Phil H

  44. JMG “What’s more, the feedback loop mentioned above slams into high gear once magic enters the picture, because the technical methods of magic reshape the activities and content of the mind far more powerfully than the practices of ordinary philosophy do.”

    I certainly hope that is the case. I have been studying and doing the Ritual work for the Ovate Grade in “Celtic Golden Dawn” now for a little over 5 months. I started on the program last Winter Solstice. Having been a Buddhist practitioner (in the Tibetan tradition) for 18 years I realize that 5 months is just barely long enough to become proficient in the Ritual practice but far to short to expect any dramatic results.

    I haven’t sensed for the most part any real difference between Invoking and Banishing except in a most subtle sense on occasion. The 1 time I had a strong sense of difference was when I had a hit of Cannabis before doing the Ritual. My problem with that is not knowing if the difference was really there or because I was a bit buzzed. (maybe both?) In spiritual work I do not want to wind up fooling myself. Do you have any feedback on the use of drugs when doing Ritual work?

    One thing that seems to be happening is a feeling coming over me at times that the world and everything in it seems to be alive and aware. Not just the trees, flowers but the inanimate as well. Occasionally I hear voices in the wind. Not all the time but now and again this feeling comes to me. Sometimes lasting just a few moments sometime for hours and once in a while a complete day. I am hoping those feelings are valid and real (what ever ‘real’ is) because it pleases me to feel that my environment and everything in it is alive and conscious.

    I suppose I hope for validation that this indicates that changes are occurring in my consciousness.

    I haven’t yet done the self initiation because I found I need to go back and get some of the knowledge committed to memory.


  45. Hi JMG,

    Hmmm, apologies but after many of my recent troubles were negotiated through with a bit of hard work and some resources, maybe there wasn't a hex on me after all but merely a series of misadventures that turned out OK in the end? Dunno. And perhaps things could have been much worse had a hex been in place? Seriously, the sprocket on my chainsaw disintegrated at one point over the past few days, amongst other disasters… Some people have gone out of their way to assist me rectify matters which was a very pleasant experience and I was very grateful for.

    Mind you, ignoring all of the many crazy things that went wrong here in such short succession, of the other three additional incidents where I was very recently ripped off, two have been resolved definitely in my favour and one I had to simply let go. Such incidents grate on me but sometimes it is wise not to escalate matters and knowing when to pick a fight and when if you win, you'll lose is perhaps an aspect of wisdom?

    Because I have had to fight my own fights over the years, I'm very careful about which ones to engage in so as to avoid a sound drubbing. No one needs that…

    Things appear to be picking up! Yay! But then if you do and try a whole lot of things, then some of them will not work out and that is life after all.



  46. “nobody nowadays has any idea how ancient Hindu blacksmiths made the famous pillar of iron in Delhi”
    I may speculate that maybe it has something to do with cow-dung, I noticed that I left an iron tool in cow-dung and then the cow dung burned with the iron in it, and the part that was in the cow-dung was not rusty red.

  47. “The same points are just as true of spirituality; no tradition that has to put up with the inconveniences of actually existing is or can be identical to the ageless wisdom that stands eternal in the heavens..”

    I really like this thought, indeed how excellent and eternal our ideas would be save for that inconvenience! Ha!

    I have studied Plato for some 25 years now, and in some ways have achieved a mastery over a few simple lessons: a punch or two and handful of blocks. But the more I read the more I realize how deep the loss has been, how much of the subtlety of his thought requires access to a world entirely alien to our own. For example, so much of how we communicate relies on a shared sense of humor, and some elements of humor are very contingent, so we are left to guess and practice the simple lessons.

    Ray, couple things to consider about the cave. First, the only thing real in the cave that can be perceived by a prisoner are the prisoners themselves, particularly their own being. Second, always keep in mind that the ascent from the cave is presented as a hypothetical. Finally, and credit to Seth Benardete for this perspective, the movement of the Republic as a whole is not the story of a descent to the Piraeus, but as thwarted ascent to Athens. Good luck!

  48. I found my own practice and thoughts going hopelessly divergent at a time in my life when I need a solid, basic simplicity almost amounting to minimalism. Of course, Wicca can be as formalized and elaborate as the classical Gardnerian, clear on down to “The wing-it school of magic”, so I have had to keep circling back to the basics and my own private mantra, K.I.S.S. “Keep It Simple, Sister.”

    Golden Dawn, like many other schools, gets into complications as well, but some are useful for solitary practice and some are not. I do like what Dion Fortune said once about lay people trying solitary practice, that “the exercises of a gymnast, done on this basis, won't make you a gymnast, but they will improve your health.” Blessed are they who have found a pantheon and a path, whether Asatru or Voudon or whatever. And the message I keep getting in meditation is to use what I have, go back to what I keep coming up with over and over again, and stick with the basics. For what it's worth. Even the nice neat summary in a pretentious little mass-market Secrets of High Magic volume (which, incidentally, is a *very* good little summary of the basics, and rather pretty to boot.) Though I'm not going to start messing with alchemy at my time of life, which Saturn seems to be ruling right now.

  49. Antonio, you're welcome and thank you. Funny you should mention Cthulhu; I'm up to my eyeballs in a writing project right now that uses Lovecraft's imagery in a way that he certainly wouldn't have approved.

    Phil, exactly. When you don't know what's going on, magic can all too easily become an entrapment; it's only when you've gotten some level of mastery, and a good dollop of reflective self-knowledge as well, that the spiderweb stops being sticky and you can climb it up into the clouds.

    Valekeeper, you really do need writing to have dogma, which is probably why shamanic traditions avoid it. That may be one of the reasons the old Druids insisted that spiritual teachings should not be written down?

    Elf, that's a good metaphor! I routinely have to explain to people that whatever they've learned in some other system doesn't count, except to the extent that it's taught them how to learn and practice; different systems of magic really are different, and thinking that mastery of one confers mastery of all is like insisting that if you're good at grilling a steak, why then of course you know how to make a meringue pie!

    Mark, good. I'd point out, first, that saying “logic and reason aren't universally applicable” is not the same as saying “logic and reason shouldn't be used at all,” and second, that while sensation is indeed an abstraction from the “buzzing, blooming confusion” of the world out there, and that does have consequences. it's an abstraction that has been through millions of years of debugging via the remorseless beta testers of natural selection, and works pretty well. Abstract reason is much more recent, much less bug-free, and much more prone to a variety of blue screens of death.

    Ray, exactly. To me, spiritual experience isn't moving toward a higher level of abstraction — quite the contrary, I see it as the opening up of an unfamiliar mode of experience (thus the tendency of mystics to say that what they experienced can't be described in words). I should probably do a post on my take on the Cave metaphor as we proceed…

    Horse, formal magical practice isn't for everyone. Good music and good food are wholly valid ways of straying onto the same territory!

    Shawn, thank you for asking. You have my permission.

    Cherokee, good heavens, no. I don't lay down messes on people, to borrow a turn of phrase from hoodoo; there's always a blowback, and it's far more entertaining to watch those who deserve to be miserable — and I don't include you in that list, btw! — generate ample misery for themselves without any contribution on my part. If you think somebody's aiming something at you, use the experience as a learning tool; try to perceive the direction and nature of the pressure; make it an object of perception so that you don't confuse its promptings with the workings of your own mind, and explore ways of exerting an inner counterpressure against it. There's a lot that can be done by that sort of simple counterpressure, and then there are other things — I trust you're using the Sphere of Protection to get things back into balance.

    Sven, good! I've been putting a lot of thought recently into how the old Pythagorean sciences (number symbolism, sacred geometry, music/harmonics, and astrology/calendrics) can be understood from a point of view that takes experience as primary and identifies abstractions as properties of the subject rather than the object. It can be done, but it's going to take a serious revision of the small-t traditional approach.

  50. Dylan, I'm sorry to hear about your friend! That's not an uncommon thing in a society as idiotic about spirituality as ours, but it must have been very difficult to go through. As for advice for lowly apprentices, regular practice of some basic protective ritual (such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram or the Sphere of Protection) and of some form of meditation that fills and focuses the mind rather than emptying it is essential; so is some source of helpful advice from people who've been there and done that — membership in an organization can do that, and so can participation in a forum like this one.

    Phil, okay, I've got to find that Isherwood bio. Funny! I can tell you for a fact that the same sort of silliness is common in the occult scene, though fortunately not universal.

  51. SLClaire, glad to hear it. The sheer exuberant diversity of the occult traditions is one of the things that very often baffles beginners, so you're in good company.

    Olga, yes, you're reading too much into things. There are four pentagrams. You draw each of them starting from the top point. The eastern quarter is the direction you're facing when you draw the first one; you draw the others facing south, west, and north, in that order. Does that help clarify things a little?

    Phil, I'll have to check out that thesis — it sounds interesting. Of course maps are portals!

    MayHawk, I don't recommend combining drugs with magical practice. As Dion Fortune comments, drugs “unloose the girders of the mind,” but do nothing to tighten them back up again afterwards, and so those who use them in ritual generally go around rattling like cheap motor-cars thereafter! One thing that can be helpful in getting a sense of the effects of invoking and banishing is to try to shed any assumptions about what those effects “ought to” feel like. Simply pay attention to how the space feels, and how you feel, after you do one, and after you do the other.

    Cherokee, I'm glad the incident of the disintegrating sprocket ended safely! (Hmm… “The Incident of the Disintegrating Sprocket” sounds like a Sherlock Holmes story.) More generally, glad to hear that the parade of hassles has drawn to a close. A good astrologer might be able to examine your chart and tell you when to expect those.

    Eduard, did the tool stay rust-free for years afterwards? That's the thing about the pillar in Delhi; it's ancient, and year in, year out, doesn't rust.

    Redoak, true enough. Spengler talks somewhere about the immense cultural gap that separates us from the Greeks and makes even the simplest principles of their thinking opaque to us.

    Patricia, there are times when “use what you've already got” is the best possible advice, and if you're in such a time, go ye henceforth and do that thing.

  52. Heidegger also has deep concerns about our access to Greek thought, as he only allows historically mediated experience. I prefer your moderation concerning these intellectual positions. Historicism, positivism, rationalism, they can be very exciting interpretive systems, but are far too attenuated to align with the rude requirements of actual existence. I think the limitations of the systems have more to tell us than their applications.

    Here's one vote in favor of a future post on the image of the cave! 🙂

  53. JMG, thanks for the tips. I will check out the protective rituals you mentioned when I get a chance. I've been eyeing your Celtic Golden Dawn book but haven't wanted to begin magical practice unless I can commit to one system. I might dip into it to learn the Sphere of Protection and Lesser Pentagram, if that's an appropriate way to use a book of magic?

    In the meantime, Patricia's “use what you've already got” approach sounds practical. I've learned a couple of basic punches and blocks just from being drawn into the invisible melee (love that metaphor). And I think I know what you mean about focused meditation that fills the mind rather than emptying it.

    Otherwise my research consists mainly of going back over friends' and my own experiences with a more open mind than previously. Reading continues to assist this opening of the mind, including your Encyclopedia of the Occult and this wonderful blog. The biggest lesson so far has been the simple affirmation that this stuff is real. Which goes against what my generation has been taught, and is empowering when it's not vertigo-inducing.

    I'd echo Sven's comment about how enjoyable it is to read the comments here. Anyone else with advice on spiritual self-defence, I'm all ears.

  54. JMG,

    The Isherwood bio is “Liberation: Diaries Vol.3”

    It also includes the moment where he arrives at a book signing delighted to find people queuing around the block, only to discover that they are actually there to meet the porn star Linda Lovelace, who is signing books at an adjacent table.

    The perils of being a writer, eh?

  55. What do you mean, the Eleusinian Mysteries are lost? Why,they are very straightforward. To comprehend the true and abiding nature of existence, you simply need to gr… ow, my arm hurts, ugh… can't breath.. *gasp*



    [and the rest is silence…]

  56. About “in the beginning, God created mathematics…” pro and con…

    Math is not actually a convergent discipline. It is really quite divergent. There are a whole suite of different conceptualizations of the quantitative world that take utterly different approaches to representing the same thing; or indeed need not be viewed as actually representing anything in particular. Language, concepts, notation, and computational methods can be entirely different and mutually incomprehensible if you are not schooled in each.

    Speaking of hoodoo, JMG, saw your buddy Byron earlier this month. She told an anecdote or two about you…

  57. Bill Pulliam said:

    “Math is not actually a convergent discipline. It is really quite divergent. There are a whole suite of different conceptualizations of the quantitative world that take utterly different approaches to representing the same thing; or indeed need not be viewed as actually representing anything in particular. Language, concepts, notation, and computational methods can be entirely different and mutually incomprehensible if you are not schooled in each.”

    Oswald Spengler made the same point in the Decline of the West, and discussed it in great detail. He noted that every Culture has a system of mathematics that is proper to that Culture and reflects its spiritual worldview.

    An interesting fictional example of this phenomenon would be the Cetans from Stars Reach, who have a radically different system of mathematics and find simple addition and subtraction very hard to do or even comprehend but instinctively understand calculus, because their minds work in radically different ways than our own and they have a system of mathematics based on flows and ratios rather discrete numbers.

  58. Redoak, no argument there. I was taught that you don't actually know how to use a tool unless you can name three ways to misuse it; in the same way, I suspect that actually being able to use any philosophical approach effectively needs to start with a good clear sense of where it doesn't work.

    Dylan, yes, you can do things that way. If you want to use the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram from The Celtic Golden Dawn as a basic protective ritual, use the summoning form every morning and the banishing form every evening for four to six months, then learn the Central Ray exercise and practice the banishing Pentagram Ritual and the Central Ray exercise daily thereafter. If you'd prefer the Sphere of Protection, you'll need to get that from The Druid Magic Handbook instead — it's a different ritual from a wholly different system of magic. It should be done once per day. Either way, that basic protective work is essential!

    Phil, I haven't sat next to Linda Lovelace, but yes, writing has its perils! Many thanks for the details.

    Bill, funny. It's not nice to mess with Mother Demeter… As for math being divergent, I confess that most mathematics goes right over my head, so I'll take your word for it. If you see Byron again, say hi!

  59. Hi JMG,

    I have the impression that there is an elephant called self-deception standing in the magical house of mirrors. That elephant will only leave the house of magic (or at least become smaller), if it is clearly perceived. As far as I know, the only defense against self-deceptions is being aware of them.

    It looks to me that self-deception has a very close and intimate relation to magic. To make that more clear, I define self-deception as a change in consciousness in accordance with unconscious will. Self-deception works best when one is not aware of it, so the will must be unconscious. Moreover, the aim of self-deception usually is the closure of one's mind to prevent further change from happening, whereas magic in my view should be aiming at making the mind more open.

    The way self-deception relates to magic seems to be similar to the relation between the psychological shadow and the person. Maybe one could even say that self-deception is magic that is performed by one's psychological shadow. That would imply that every worldview or magical system has its own particular shadow of self-deceptions.

    A simple example: A good christian believes in humility, tolerance, etc.. At the same time this christian knows that he believes in the one and only true god. So he feels himself to be morally superior to non-christians.

    This line of reasoning might not be completely true, but I think it makes some sense. Consequently, I think that a minimum requirement for a good magical system is that it is aware of the common forms of self-deception that come with the system. Preferably it should even tell you how to deal with them.

  60. Raven, funny. I studied the Russian language in high school, and am fond of bears, but that's about it.

    Dadaharm, good. Self-deception is only one of the elephants in the magical hall of mirrors — the place has more elephants in it than an old-fashioned Barnum & Bailey circus — but it's one of the big ones, no question.

  61. Hi JMG,

    Thank you for that and I really appreciate hearing that. It has been a source of additional and unnecessary complexity in my life recently.

    Always there is much here in this discussion for deeper consideration.

    You know what though, things could have been much worse and I still never found where that sprocket actually flew out of the machine at many thousands of revolutions per second… So maybe, I was actually quite lucky. It is not like it was hardened steel or anything like that! Ouch.

    However, the machine has broken down again, but this time with a broken clutch spring. Oh well. It is a very high quality bit of kit too, despite the recent set-backs.

    As an interesting side note, I have been dealing with the issues here as they arise on the physical plane because that is where they seem to be affecting me at this point in time. I hadn't considered the use of the protective sphere or meditating on the source of the drama. I truly don't know any competent astrologers around here and certainly haven't gone out of my way to annoy anyone at all recently.

    However you have raised some very interesting issues because it had never occurred to me that the Golden rule applies to magic as well as the material plane. Interesting, so I've been meditating and cogitating on that and it appears to me that the Golden rule is actually a limit as well as a useful guide for living. Very wise. Actually very astute.

    So that perhaps also suggests that change comes best from within or is that a misinterpretation of your comment?

    I may have mentioned that my mother was something of a sociopath, so from a very young age I got to observe the real world effects of attempts to dominate others. The blow back that you mentioned is a real world effect, it does happen in many subtle and some not so subtle ways and people that try to dominate others may achieve some power only to inevitably have that power slip through their hands. It can be a very successful strategy initially but it does have a finite and sometimes quite unpleasant shelf life. Yeah, I reckon that it is weird that they were all short too – there is something in that for sure.

    It became quite clear to me from a young age that it is an entirely different thing altogether to lead people which is what I've always tried to achieve when working with groups – which is why the no-business meetings really annoy me. Is it correct to assume that magic works best when it is performed on yourself?



  62. Hi JMG,

    Blame the home baked (and made from scratch too) wood fired pizza for this next one:

    So I was munching away on the very yummy pizza, trying unsuccessfully to shoo away several hungry dogs and then it occurred to me:

    If the Golden rule is more or less effective across several planes, then surely that hints at a level of connection that is quite awesome to consider.

    Is this one of those topics that scientists would roll their eyes and say: Move along now lad, nuffin going on here? And they'd be very, very wrong?

    I think your blog is starting to make my head spin…



  63. Cherokee, excellent! You get today's gold star for getting two of the central points of occult philosophy — which, precisely because they're so central, an astonishing number of people never get. Point #1: every action you take, via magic or any other means, has effects that radiate out through the whole cosmos, and inevitably circle back around and affect you, for good or ill. If that wasn't true, magic wouldn't work at all — but because it's true, the much-maligned Golden Rule is a very good basic guideline. I also favor what I call the Raspberry Jam Principle: magic is like raspberry jam, you can't put it on anything else without getting some on your own fingers. Harming or manipulating other people, whether by magic or otherwise, is a bad idea precisely because your actions thus create a world in which people are more likely to be harmed or manipulated, and that's going to swing around and clobber you in due time.

    Point #2, which partly follows from this and partly feeds into it, is that the most effective way to work magic in most contexts is to work on yourself. That's true even of the most pragmatic sorts of goals. If you want to be loved, use magic to make yourself lovable; if you want to be rich, figure out how your habits and ways of thinking differ from those of people who get rich starting from an impoverished background, and use magic to change those; if you want to be powerful, identify the sources of weakness in yourself and use magic to eliminate them. Trying to manipulate the outside world is much less effective — a weak person who gets power by some chapter of accidents is probably going to lose it in short order, for example, while a powerful person can always find ways to rise to a position of authority and respect.

    More on all of this when we get to the discussion of magical ethics!

  64. Hi JMG,

    Thank you and I am honoured by your response.

    It is going to take me a little bit of time to absorb the knowledge and insights into my worldview as it is quite fresh still, but already your response has started to change the way that I look at the world. It also raises some very alarming further questions in relation to the current use of thaumaturgy in our society. Oh my.



  65. JMG & Bill
    Not my strong suit either, but Roger Penrose helped (see Kurt Gödel’s Theorem). I guess EF Schumacher is wrong, but I have been dipping recently into Guide for the perplexed and he does a whole take on ‘convergence’ and ‘divergence’ – “Two types of problem”. He places abstract problems like in mathematics, squarely with physics, chemistry, astronomy, as convergent problems, where “life, consciousness, self-awareness” are not there to “complicate the issue”. And, again quote, “The moment we are dealing with the Higher Levels of Being, we must expect divergence, for there enters to whatever small degree, the element of freedom and inner experience.”

    FWIW my thought so far includes the notion that ‘maths’ is a useful approach to the problem of ‘proof’. I emphasise the idea that proof is ‘a problem’ (see Penrose), but maths can help because it demands self-consistency when reasoning from assumptions. I still like the notion of estimating the number of sand grains on the beach that so impressed the King in the long ago. (Smile).

    And Mother Demeter?
    We enter into the territory of Grief with a capital G, do we not? Somebody seems have tied that down someplace, some time, to a story about temporising with Hades so that the loss might not be total?

    Phil H

  66. Another field that has become quite divergent in recent decades is physics, though not by choice and they are not happy about it at all. No matter how many TED talks and popular books Brian Greene does on the subject, a growing consensus in the field is that String Theory, the darling of the late 20th Century that was going to explain everything, has explained nothing and is a total bust. As for what comes next, the field as a whole is at a loss, with ideas swirling in every direction. To go with that, they have had to confront the apparent fact that they have no idea what 95% of the universe actually is. “Dark Energy” is a fudge factor that resurrects the cosmological constant, what Einstein himself described as his greatest mistake. What it might actually “be” is utterly unknown. And “Dark Matter,” which is 80% of the “matter” out there, remains totally unobserved, seemingly unobservable, by any means other than the observation that SOMETHING is producing a gravitational attraction far stronger than what can be accounted for by observable matter, and is responsible for the large-scale structure of the entire universe.

    Though a couple of theories get the most attention in popular press, there is (as always) a lot more dissensus out there than it appears at a glance. The “business as usual” hypothesis, that dark matter is just a new type of ordinary matter, is being held entirely on faith, as efforts to conclusively detect this particle have yielded nothing. An earlier experiment claimed detections, but later more precise and sensitive examinations have repeatedly been busts. I expect in the coming decades the “WIMP” (Weakly-Interacting Massive Particle) will spiral down the same drain that string theory is currently gurgling in.

    But in the larger void, there are real physicists hypothesizing other explanations that would go in entirely different directions. Some even go so far as to posit that these “Dark” effects actually are a bleed-through into our observable 4D space-time from processes happening in additional dimensions of space-time which are otherwise not directly observable. Some have even proposed that this higher-dimensional structure of the universe could created “hidden valleys” in which complex structures and processes might occur, with our “dark” side being the small (physical) effects that to seep through into our 4 dimensions. Recent observational results are showing that on the scale of galaxies, the Dark Matter and the “ordinary” matter are not always concentrated in the same region, suggesting the dark matter interacts with itself in ways that to not directly affect ordinary matter.

    Does any of this sound familiar? Replace “hidden” with its synonym “occult,” and see where that leads you…

    Of course these are only some of the many ideas that are shrieking through theoretical physics, unleashed in the void created by the realization that, far from being on the verge of a Theory of Everything, we are in fact staring at Utter Ignorance of Nearly Everything.

  67. “Divergent problems are by and large problems of value, while convergent problems are problems of fact. Put another way, convergent questions ask about the properties of perceiving objects, while divergent questions relate to the properties of perceiving subjects. Thus the convergent problem asks, “what is the world?” The divergent problem asks, “what should I do about it?”—and for that latter question there’s no one answer that applies in all cases and to all those who ask it.”

    That different values lead to different solutions based on the same information is the first lesson I teach my students in environmental science. After all, the solutions to convergent problems will lead to different results when analyzed using different value systems. I repeat that lesson several times throughout the semester as I explore the political and economic dimensions of environmental issues. For example, different schools of economic thought reflect different value systems, something the economists themselves seem to forget. I'll be returning to that lesson today when I lecture about environmental worldviews; I never fail to get an uncomfortable response from my students when I contrast a human-centered perspective from a nature-centered one. After all, we are not going to save the planet, as it will do just fine without us. Instead, I tell my students that the point is to allow the planet to support us. That's not all. I have my students identify the values expressed by the people interviewed in the movie Food, Inc. as well as the actions they took based on them All of that seems to work, as my students are certainly more aware of what they are doing to the environment. As for the connection of my personal experience to magic, then if “magic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will” and my words and deeds are causing changes in my students' consciousness in accordance to my will, then I've been practicing magic of a rudimentary sort in the classroom all these years and wasn't even aware of it!

  68. I had a friend years ago who was a very good chemist and who was also experienced with gold refining and assaying. He did quite a bit of reading in the alchemical literature and was quite strong in stating that they did virtually exactly what we do today in refining gold, with the exception of not having the modern surfactants (detergents) used to separate gold from rock ground to dust in many mills today. Their diagrams showed knowledge of using electrochemical potentials to do some sort of electro-separation or plating, he was not sure, as the details were missing (things like hoses from tank to tank are shown which would have been filled with chemical salts). They thought in terms of transmutation rather than separation, as the atomic theory was not current with alchemists back in the day. There was even evidence of some things like taking gold amalgamated in mercury and making mercury fulminate out of it–you could slowly roast things at low temperature and there would be mercury vapor given off with no explosion. If some housebreaker tried it, they would surely die a horrible death from the explosive release of mercury vapors in their face, and probably broken glassware would injure them visibly as well. Don't mess with wizards!

    Beginning in the seventeenth century, the literature gets confused with spiritual alchemy creeping in, and not everything translates well into modern chemistry. Many of the persons regarded today as originators of that spiritual alchemy movement seem to have been more interested in the gold than in spiritual development–he and I tend to side with Waite on this issue, and disagree with Paul Case who interprets their writings spiritually.

  69. “Far from being on the verge of a Theory of Everything, we are in fact staring at Utter Ignorance of Nearly Everything.” It's good to have you back, Bill… ^^

  70. Thanks Bill for the succinct and useful précis of frontier Physics theory – I have not been following it closely. Dead-ends can constitute a kind-of useful knowledge perhaps, but I don't think the theorists have actually undone the more 'solid' (now there's a word!) work in Relativity and Quantum mechanics?

    As our host writes in his intro to After Oil 3 “[A sense of kinship with water molecules] is not going to make water behave any differently than it does today….” and goes on to quote “solid thermodynamic reasons” why there are limits to the use of algal biodiesel. Indeed, we are often very sensibly reduced to the 'practical'. But I am looking at an essay on Blake's epic Albion, which I find even more difficult to get my head round.


  71. You spoke this month about the degrees to which belief can enhance or inhibit varying aspects of magical practice, and asserted that there’s no “Archimedean point from which it’s possible to dive into, and back out of, all other magical systems.” That kicks off a few thoughts and questions. The first is the challenge posed by the paradigm of 21st century materialism we inhabit right now. It seems to me, that if worldview can shape magical potential and magical experience, the consensus worldview of the over-culture can shape the challenges and opportunities faced by the mages of any era’s occulture. When, regardless of what we do in our lodges, groves, and ritual circles, the world we have to inhabit day to day reduces magic to superstitious nonsense, how does that affect the power of what magic can achieve?

    Another aspect of modern society that presents opportunities, but also a few challenges of its own is the collapse of anti-blasphemy laws across the West over only this last 50 years. That’s one of the things that opened the door to the rise of the neopagan movement, and various forms of Western polytheism, and it’s opened doors that haven’t been open in a very long time. That’s also left schools of magical philosophy that still haven’t yet found their footing. You’ve discussed before the tendency of six different Druids to have 10 different answers when asked about the gods. And as modern Western polytheism and other worldviews that fall outside the typical Western paradigm search for that footing, a variety of theories of the divine emerge even within the same tradition, some drawing on other cultures for inspiration, some drawing on psychology and the sciences, others making slight tweaks to the existing Western traditions for accommodation, and still others delving into the writings of other civilizations and attempting to adapt them to make sense to the modern Western mind.

    Together all of that makes it nearly impossible to have a completely consistent worldview. If someone sometimes interprets gods as real, external conscious beings that pre-existed humanity and chose to inhabit names and faces given them by humans as an effort to communicate, sometimes as concentrations of life force given life and power by human belief and worship, sometimes as the living spirits of natural forces, sometimes as emergent properties of a living cosmos, sometimes as exalted egregores given power by human interaction and storytelling until they awake, sometimes as varied aspects, faces, and voices, of a single divine power, and a variety of other ideas as well as symbols, thoughtforms, and quirks of brain chemistry to accommodate the pressures of the materialist overculture… When I encounter a being, or achieve a magical effect, I don’t really know what’s actually happening or why. I just know what it feels like. If doubts or explanations pop into my head during ritual, or during journey work, or doing a magical working I quietly push aside questions and theories about what’s happening and why. Outside those times though… when I’m meditating on an idea, or when I’m going about day to day activities, those other doubts and concepts still exist, I contemplate and read various ideas, and hold onto a few for a time, discard others, and accept that what’s going on is probably some combination of a few different things, but my beliefs rarely stay the same from day to day.

    So on what level does that house of mirrors that the magician conjures in exist? And what forms those mirrors? Is it within the over culture, within the specific occulture or magical tradition one chooses to work with, within a person’s individual belief system, or all three to varying degrees? And if there are contradictions between or within any of these, how does that affect the magical experiences and interactions one has?

  72. Bill P-
    Your account of the state of physics research makes me unreasonably happy. I got along fine with high school physics-predicting motion and heat energy and so on of objects near to hand made sense to me- but I found college physics to be akin to counting angels on the heads of pins. All the confident theorizing about other dimensions and vibrating strings and what happened in the quadrillionths of a second after the big bang left me shaking my head- “How could you possibly know that?” Those theoretical stories sounded very akin to the creation myths I was learning about in my anthropology classes, but my science friends didn't like it when I brought up that comparison. They in turn shook their heads at me- obviously I couldn't grasp the brilliance of these theories, or couldn't hack the math. (That part was true enough.) I gave up on physics after a couple of semesters, figuring that it must be true- I just didn't get it at this level. I guess it's wrong for me to seek ego-salving in the disarray of the (overreaching?) theoretical end of the field, but there it is…

    And Pinku-Sensei, I couldn't agree with you more about the magical nature of effective teaching. Not In the Disney sense, but in the sense defined here. All the more reason why teachers should be encouraged to thoroughly examine their own assumptions and intentions!

    –Heather in CA

  73. “…the most effective way to work magic in most contexts is to work on yourself.”

    I shall certainly commit this to memory, for purposes of putting it into practice.

    I have a hypothesis about karma. It seems to me that those who are consistently up to no good – the Dick Cheneys of the world, and his ilk – generally get away with their misdeeds for a very long time, and are even abundantly rewarded for them. For these people the arc of justice is long (and I wouldn't want to be standing where they are when what went around finally comes around). But if you're a fairly decent person, yet fail to resist the temptation to do something you know you shouldn't (or fail to do what you know you should), then karmic consequences are apt to be a good deal snappier. “The universe holds me to a higher standard,” as one woman I know of said: a generally sound person, she'd been caught stealing pencils from the office, when her conscience-free workmates got away with it on a regular basis.

    BTW, I just ordered a copy of “The Celtic Golden Dawn,” & am looking forward to cracking it. I'm hoping it deals with telluric as well as solar or celestial energy, but I figure I'll find out when the time comes.

  74. Hi JMG,
    You mentioned engaging in a meditation practice that fills the mind, as opposed to emptying it. Is there a particular practice you'd recommend?

    A few months ago, I began meditating daily, but I use a Zen-inspired technique, which is all about emptying one's mind.
    It's useful for slowing and calming my thoughts, and it's been instrumental in breaking me away from spending so much time on the Internet. But I don't particularly care for the Zen Buddhist worldview, and I don't know that the practice makes me happy, so much as makes city life a little more tolerable.

  75. Phil Harris — “but I don't think the theorists have actually undone the more 'solid' (now there's a word!) work in Relativity and Quantum mechanics?”

    Relativity remains what it always was, an internally consistent conceptual framework directly descended from classical mechanics that works with a deterministic universe. But Quantum Mechanics “works” purely in a utilitarian sense — it explains observations with a very high degree of accuracy, but as far as the underlying concepts and “meaning…” Hoo Boy! There are dozens of different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, none of which can actually be distinguished from the other experimentally, and about which physicists have been disagreeing for about a century. The widely accepted “Copenhagen” interpretation (often represented as “fact” in undergraduate classes just to sidestep the issue) pretty much boils down to “The equations work so we don't ask why or how.” So it is not an interpretation at all, it is a non-interpretation. I suspect with the large-scale structure of the universe, the “dark” side of matter and energy, etc., we may have come to another limit where convergence on an “answer” that both works empirically and is satisfying and widely accepted conceptually will never happen.

  76. JMG,

    About your reply to Cherokee and the golden rule- how does it explain how who doh arm others live their entire lives without being affected badly by it, or even benefitting from it , or at least not suffering in any proportion to the harm they caused? People behave horribly and live out their days as happily as anyone else. I doubt they're all suffering g the effects in silence.

    If the golden rule or karma really worked then there would be justice, or at least something close to it, on this plane, would t there. But you said in world full of gods that the books plainly don't get balanced here. If you believe on reincarnation I suppose that resolves it. The circling back of effects would work over lots of existences or something. Is that the answer?

  77. I learned early on in my physics studies, somewhat to my dismay, that physics does not lift the veil. There is no sudden insight of the inner workings of things. Physics is the ability to describe certain aspects and patterns in the universe using the language of mathematics. This is no different for classical physics even Newtonian physics than for Quantum Mechanics (QM). The problem is that for QM there is no ready made mental picture of “reality” that matches the mathematics, so all we are left with is the mathematics. The reason is that QM is applied to elements of the universe that are outside our evolved mechanisms of perception. One thing to note about physics is that Newtonian physics is still valid in the regimes where is has always worked, and the same is true for Relativity, QM etc. So there my be some new mathematical description that explains dark matter or dark energy or it may be that some phenomena defy mathematical description. My feeling is that for things we can physically, and objectively measure or observe (which I think applies to dark energy and dark matter) there is likely a mathematical description.

  78. @mallow

    This is one of the reasons I'm a student of the Michael Teachings: the answers to “the problem of pain” fall out of the system quite naturally, without having to take the Olympic-level broad jumps of logic that most systems do, including the more simplistic notions of reincarnation and karma. A fair number of occult teachings include similar material – I sometimes think Michael is teaching a cleaned-up version of neo-Platonism from the causal plane.

    The Negative Golden Rule – don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to yourself – is a pretty good rule of thumb to avoid negative consequences. Does it work every time for everyone in all circumstances? Of course not.

  79. Cherokee, good. Quite frankly, there's good reason to be alarmed.

    Phil, oh, granted. A revival of the Eleusinian Mysteries with new stage settings might be timely.

    Bill, good point, but I think there's a difference being missed here. When Schumacher talked about divergent questions, he wasn't talking about people asking different questions or coming up with different speculations about how to approach an answer; he was talking about different answers. Physics has those — is a photon a wave or a particle? — but I'd be more convinced that physics has strayed into divergent questions if it turned out that string theory and one or more of its rivals produced equally good models of the cosmos, and you could basically take your pick. That's the case regarding genuinely divergent questions: what is the meaning of life? If physics has gotten to that point — and it may have; I don't claim to be up to date in the intricacies of current physics — a massive watershed has arrived for the scientific endeavor.

    Pinku-sensei, of course you were practicing magic. Everyone does, all the time; the point of magical training is learning how to do it consciously, effectively, and in harmony with your conscious intentions rather than whatever subconscious scripts you happen to have absorbed from your upbringing and culture.

    Steve, fascinating. They may also have used electricity directly, generating it with simple metal-acid batteries (the Secret Fire?). Did your friend ever publish any of this? It would be worth seeing something of that kind in print.

    Phil, if you ever find Blake easy to get your head around, you probably should have your head examined. 😉 Thanks for the essay link!

    Eric, an excellent set of questions for meditation, worth at least a month of daily practices. You could probably get a book out of the results, too!

    Val, there does seem to be a law of the conservation of moral momentum, doesn't there? I wonder if Dick Cheney would experience drastic effects on his life if he suddenly, for some strange reason, did something ethical. As for The Celtic Golden Dawn, it discusses the telluric as well as the solar current, but the whole GD tradition is solar in focus; the book of mine that really gets into the solar and telluric currents is The Druid Magic Handbook.

    Cliff, indeed there is. It's detailed at some length in my book The Druidry Handbook; one of these days I need to write an entire book on it specifically, but that hasn't attracted a contract yet.

  80. Mallow, I was speaking in terms of magic specifically. Of course people do plenty of stupid and nasty things on the physical plane, and some of them appear to suffer no consequences. (Not all by any means; consider the nastier people you know and I bet you'll be able to identify some who got clobbered by the consequences of their actions — I certainly can.) Magic has the odd effect of speeding up payback; if you do nasty magic, you tend to bring nasty consequences down on your head in fairly short order, and vice versa.

    PhysicsDoc, glad to hear that from you. I don't think it takes anything away from the beauty and importance of science to recognize that scientific theories are simply the way the nervous system of a particular set of social primates models the ultimately incomprehensible behavior of nature.

  81. Oscar Wilde once opined that “a good deed rarely goes unpunished” and I have seen countless examples of altruistic acts that backfire.

    This isn't necessarily karmic – there are good deeds that are nevertheless still unwise deeds, especially where strangers are involved.

    So I would amend the Golden Rule to “treat others how you would like to be treated yourself, with an appropriate level of caution.”

  82. JMG, Do you have some sort of negative opinion of mind-emptying forms of meditation, or just that they are good for different things?


    I certainly think that some form of reincarnation and/or other planes of continued and prior existence are interwoven with this one. The more I ponder karma, the more I can see how it might be a fairly complex system. It occurs to me that if every time someone did something wrong, they were immediately smacked by an obvious come-back, or, for that matter, if one performed and open-hearted and natural act of compassion and immediately got a $50 check in the mail from Aunt Louisa, this would defeat the purpose of learning wisdom, i.e., it is way too simple and would negate the free will decision to modify behavior via more subtle internal promptings.

  83. Phil, oh, granted — moral virtue without wisdom is not a good thing.

    Onething, I've practiced it, and find it lacking in certain ways. The thing I've noticed over and over again is that people who do a lot of mind-emptying meditations may be very spiritual, have profound experiences, and become genuinely nice people, but a fairly large percentage of those I've met couldn't think their way out of a wet paper bag if you handed them instructions and a good knife. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  84. JMG: “Phil, if you ever find Blake easy to get your head around, you probably should have your head examined. ;-)”

    If you're willing to have your head twisted further, Scott Preston's The Chrysalis devotes several posts to Blake, especially Albion and the Zoas (along with some other folks that have been mentioned here at the Well and on TAR).

  85. With regard to the conversation on physics-
    I'm reading “The Dream and the Underworld” by James Hillman. In it, he mentions how in post-Alexandrian Greece, the location of the underworld was moved from being simply underground to the entire opposite hemisphere of the Earth: “The word subterranean… referred to the whole celestial hemisphere curved below our earth and which, like Hades, must necessarily be invisible from our perspective.”

    I thought immediately of dark energy and dark matter – how it supposedly composes 95% of the universe and affects the movement of galaxies, and yet scientists have essentially no idea what it is. At least no ideas that can be proven.

    I know the comparison would drive a scientist right up the wall, but I feel like I see these echoes of ancient mystical thought in modern science fairly often.

  86. Re: “…solar and telluric currents …”

    John Michael, I know that you stated early on that the Astral Light is not energy; I'm guessing here that these currents are also more astral than energetic.

    And yet, I'm struck by the usage of energy-derived terms to describe some of what you're writing about. (For example, in the discussion of “avenging angels”: “a blob of life force”, “protective energies”, “the salt absorbed the spare energy”.) Perhaps it would be worth a post at some point clarifying the differences and relationships between the two concepts.

    Actually, while it's not central, I'm definitely curious about how a blob of life force becomes transformed into material, chemical substances that foul the salt. I guess it's an example of my general curiosity about the interactions among the different planes (hmm…, “interplanar ecology?”)

    (This is my second attempt to post this — if the prior one got through, just delete this one.)

  87. JMG,

    Do go on. I guess Zen would be a mind-emptying practice, but then, if one concentrates on just one thing, a mandala or counting breaths, well, I had thought of that as more or less the same thing, just a tad easier to have something for the mind to chew on, a technique to reduce the number of thoughts from a chaotic zig-zag of gazillions, down to zero or one.
    So, what is a mind filling meditation? A Repeated prayer as in Way of a Pilgrim?
    How would this influence one's ability to think? And, what percentage of people think much, anyway?

  88. Cliff: In a very real sense physicists have no idea what even the most basic phenomena are let alone dark energy or matter. They have simply figured out the mathematical patterns and symmetries that underlie some phenomena. Take gravity for instance. Newton figured out that gravity could be considered a force that travels through empty space which has certain mathematical patterns and symmetries (e.g. the force between two bodies varies as the inverse of the square of the separation distance between the bodies). This does not remove the mystery of what this force actually is. Einstein's General Relativity has a different mathematical model that describes gravity not as a force at all, but as the result of the curvature of the space-time continuum (of course the concept of curvature to a 4D space including time is a bit of a mind bender). Maybe this is a little more of a mental picture of what gravity is, but I think on closer examination it is also just a better mathematical model of the patterns underlying gravity, not a description of what gravity actually is. Of course this gets into philosophy (ontology)a bit more than I like. Also like JMG said the discovery of these patterns and symmetries is still a beautiful aspect of science and physics.

  89. I've mentioned this before…

    I think physicists collectively and individually tend to have a bad habit when presenting their theories to the public. This is their overuse of forms of the verb “to be.” Most other sciences do not run so headlong into the metaphysical complexities of this simple little verb. When a biologist says that birds “are” small flying dinosaurs, or a chemist says that a rock “is” mostly oxygen, or an MD says that your femur “is” broken, she is using “to be” in a sense that involves few philosophical conundra. Not so when a physicist says the universe “is” a 4-dimensional surface where time “is” the 4th dimension. Einstein didn't say “is.” He said “can be represented as” (or words to that effect). What Physics Doc described about the nature of basic theories in physics is taken as implicit and obvious to other physicists. But not so among the general population. So when Brian Green espoused in his books, interviews, TED talks, etc., about how elementary particles “are” vibrating strings in umpteen dimensions, he conveyed a sense of understanding about the true nature of reality (I think he even used words like that) that is at best misleading and at worst downright fraudulent. Pop Science journalists of course eat this stuff up.

    One of my favorites in this arena is the concept of energy in physics. Fundamentally when you dig into it, you have to realize that “energy” is just a bookkeeping trick. It is a number that, if you calculate it according to these simple prescribed formulae, has the VERY useful property of following cearcut and rigorous rules, which lets you make all sorts of exceedingly accurate predictions and calculations about the behavior of matter. But what “is” it? It's a number.

    So while physicists understand that these descriptions are just shorthands for their symbolic and abstractified models, the great masses (even those with doctorates in other fields) generally do not. They hear factual declarations about the nature of reality. Which at its most fundamental level, is just as impossible for a physicist as for a metaphysicist. As long as we are working with our “glorified monkey brains” there will always be another layer of that onion between us and “The Truth.”

  90. Bill: The 1st law of thermodynamics does have a kind of book keeping quality to it where new forms of energy seem to be introduced so that the books balance. I have always considered the second law of thermodynamics to be the more significant law due to the limits it puts on phenomena in the physical world. In defense of the conservation of energy principle it is related to time shift symmetry (again a mathematical pattern) which just says that the laws of physics are invariant with regard to time (hence the term law, although it is an assumption). I totally agree with your observation of popular physics books and explanations. BTW how did a post of comments on Magic and Occult Philosophy take a turn into physics world? I did not start it!

  91. Onething – I'm definitely no expert in discursive versus zen meditation, but I've done both and there is (for me) a big difference. The “mind filling” of discursive meditation is really more of following an idea into new and different forms. I can gain an understanding of the assumptions of my day-to-day thinking. You don't follow all your thoughts – like if for some reason I think of a work related issue whilst doing discursive meditation, I go back to my last thought on the idea I was meditating on. I've faced some very serious issues about myself by using this method (along with using the Sphere of Protection and OBOD Bardic Grove rituals to deepen my focus and open myself up to all that is around me). Without this meditation I could not have seen how I was treating others – about how I need to change and not make others change. It's been quite an amazingly rewarding experience.

    In some respects this isn't entirely dissimilar to my experience with Zen – for instance if you break your concentration on breathing, you go back to breathing starting at 1. Except in Zen I didn't have my assumptions about others & life slap me in the face like a cold mackerel. On my “best” days of Zen meditation, I felt relaxed and focused. But for whatever reason, I couldn't let go of these trained emotional responses.

    I suspect one's mileage may very on each approach – partly due to one's disposition and culture.

  92. Regarding “basic phenomena” and physics / physicists, I happen to get a digest of forthcoming lectures at Imperial College London. The lectures cover a wide range of subjects, not only physics. I have just seen the flyer for this one, which sounds interesting although too far for me to go and I would not understand it anyway. The Intro few sentences are as follows:
    “According to the Standard Model, the elementary building blocks of nature are not particles but quantum fields, a fact that is crucial for understanding the early Universe.

    With the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, particle physicists have now found all the elementary particles predicted by the Standard Model, effectively confirming the theory. However, with open questions still remaining about the quantum field aspects of the theory…”

    Well… so far so good as the saying goes. (Smile)
    Blake, however, seems to have rejected 'Nature' as a concept and talked about “Newton's sleep”. As another chap said: “We are such stuff as dreams are made of”


  93. MP-

    You may have assumed that I know what discursive meditation is, but I don't. It sounds like contemplation, or a decision to think about one topic at a time?

  94. Why are we on physics? Well, in a blog dedicated to contemplating and analyzing the ways that the Mind constructs the World, of course Physics as a mental construct is quite relevant!

    And specifically this month, with the discussion of Shoemaker's hypothesis that studies of “inanimate matter” tend to be convergent and approach a central answer… well Physics is one of the principle examples of the study of “inanimate matter.” And I think is is not widely comprehended the degree to which the intellectual constructs of physics are symbolic, abstract, and even artistic, rather different than Shoemaker's idea of direct rational processes converging on a solution. How often are the theories of physics judged by whether or not they are “elegant?” All the time!

    Now about energy a bit more… I think “energy” is perhaps the first great abstraction-accepted-as real in the study of physics. We all learned it so long ago that I think we forget how non-intuitive it really is. After all, what on earth do units of mass times area divided by time squared possibly even mean? Why does the same object moving twice as fast have four times as much kinetic energy, not twice as much? Because if you define energy in this way then it has all those really useful properties of conservation etc. And how are some invisible properties of a “boulder sitting high upon a mountain,” a rushing river, a piece of firewood, and the sunlight possibly all the “same thing?” Because the math works. And it works in fantastically elegant, beautiful, and predictive ways. But it is still just a big abstraction, a concept, a calculated entity. Sure, so is mass. But energy is one level of abstraction farther removed from mass. And then mass-energy became yet another level removed still. And, from an intuitive perspective, it is worth noting that the things that “ordinary people” intuitively call “energy” more often than not have little or nothing to do with what physics calls “energy.” The same is not true of more basic ideas like “mass,” “distance,” “time,” etc.

    And we made every one of these things up.

  95. Bill and Phil: As abstract and mental a construct as physics is, I still believe that the math captures patterns or properties of an objective reality. Energy, for instance, including all the great examples you mention Bill, captures the ability to do work or apply a force over a distance. This is why it is so useful a concept in engineering. A long time ago I got into an argument with someone regarding the mass energy equation E=mc^2. The other person said it was a purely defined made up equation by Einstein. I pointed out that any other variation of those parameters or some other equation would not accurately capture the energy released and work done in a controlled or uncontrolled nuclear reaction, implying that this equation captures a very significant and unique mathematical pattern of the universe. Regarding elegance in physics this usually refers to the idea that a theory should not be any more complex than is absolutely required (e.g. a minimum number of adjustable parameters etc.). I know this is hard to believe looking at modern theories with their undecipherable mathematics. Maybe we have reached peak physics where the complexity starts to outweigh the benefits. I do love the almost contradictory nature of Quantum field theory where “Nature” or … chooses what's behind both door number 1 and door number 2, because it can.

  96. onething – sorry for being obtuse! The best way I can describe it is this:

    Before meditation, you select a topic you want to think about. Too big and it's not helpful. So, for example, this morning I decided to meditate on the qualities of the earth element that I would like to emphasise more in myself. So, I meditated on pragmatism. To start meditation, I sit in a chair and I relax myself and my body. It helps that I do some ritual beforehand – this starts the process even before I start thinking about my meditation. In my mind I enter my meditation space – which for me is my Sacred Grove (a lovely wooded grove with a bonfire). For me meditation is a very visual experience. I would imagine for others it may not be. I then have some other ways of relaxing further whilst I'm there. I then start to ponder the issue. This morning in my meditation on pragmatism I ended up in a hall in a castle – the Hall of Wisdom. This was after I had contemplated what is pragmatism and wisdom came up as a natural extension. I followed my thoughts to some interesting conclusions about wisdom and form and what this means in my daily life.

  97. Doc: “As abstract and mental a construct as physics is, I still believe that the math captures patterns or properties of an objective reality.” An *objective* reality? Or the particular reality constructed by the minds of beings who evolved swinging through trees and throwing projectiles? I will grant you that the concepts of physics constructed by these minds do apply beautifully to the particular conception of reality that these minds also construct. Whether any of these concepts would be useful or even the tiniest bit comprehensible to the mind of an intelligent sea anemone is an entirely different matter.

  98. There has been some mention here of prayer as a form of magical
    practice, malefic or otherwise. The most successful magic I've done so far seems to me to be a form of enhanced prayer. My MO has been to perform the Golden Dawn system's lesser opening ritual, to (optionally) invoke an appropriate planet by its hexagram, and to make my prayer or request in a carefully phrased and emphatic way. I then close out the ritual in the usual way.

    The notion I have about this (possibly dead wrong) is that by performing the ritual, I'm so altering my state of awareness as to be (hopefully) operating at a level or two higher in the hierarchy of the planes than when in a “normal” state of consciousness, giving my thought a better shot at penetrating to a level from which it can re-descend to influence events in the material plane – or something like that. Otherwise I suppose I might as well just mumble my prayer over my breakfast cereal. Anyway, I seem to have had good results in one important case, some time back.

    I've also made talismans, by Golden Dawn and other methods. So far they seem to be a complete flop, so I'm leaning toward doing more of what I've just described, possibly advancing to a more complex ritual level. I'm not sure, but I'm getting the impression that averting evil in a manner that leaves my situation unchanged is more readily achieved than attaining some positive good that materially improves it.

    *** ***

    I'm very glad to learn that meditation doesn't have to be of the mind-emptying variety. I've been exposed to the latter, and I just hate it.

  99. Bill: One more rebuttal and I will let it go. When I think of objective reality I mean something like this. You made a reference to kinetic energy which is proportional to the square of the velocity of an object. The energy released if you are unfortunately hit by something moving at 60 mph is 100X greater than something moving at 6 mph. It is hard for me to imagine that something like this can be altered by a force of will or consciousness (I bet many people throughout history have wished it were possible) and therefore represents an objective aspect of reality which physics can capture (i.e. understand the mathematical pattern which in this case is a simple power law). But as you mention, this element of reality is very relevant to a tool using primate and possibly completely irrelevant to something like an intelligent sea anemone. An interesting thing to think about I agree.

  100. Bill,

    That's the point isn't it?

    How do we navigate within our own givens without falling into the trap of believing ours is the only way?

    Nassim Taleb's concept of heuristics instead of laws; Rupert Sheldrake's “Habits of Nature” instead of “Laws of Nature.” These are ways to be able to use tools, like mathematics or physics, without being driven by our tools.

    Seems to me that this is a fundamental problem with technology as a belief system too. Scientism and Progress™! come about from not being able to make this sort of distinction.

    What's so fascinating about looking into the Well of the Galebes is how this project continually pulls at our assumptions.

  101. Bill: I think I am starting to see your point. Things like distance, time, etc. and their combinations are somewhat arbitrary and unique to our human perception of the universe/reality. It was actually very useful and liberating in my early physics education to realize that many things in physics are defined quantities. For instance acceleration is defined as the time rate of change of the velocity vector, and force is defined as acceleration times mass. Mass times velocity is momentum which is a conserved quantity related to the space-translation symmetry of the universe. In this sense the conservation of linear momentum is not defined since it relates to a symmetry property of the universe which could be different (and might be in some other universe). Of course picking out and focusing on this property of reality is again probably unique to our brains.

  102. Doc: Bingo. Like a Labrador Retriever and her tennis ball, we are innately fixated on objects in general, and objects in motion in particular. And much of our physics was build around studying the motion of objects; quite understandable considering our own innate cognitive and perceptive orientations. We built everything out of moving objects, we even tried to build atoms out of teeny tiny tennis balls. But then along came Schroedinger and his cat, and suddenly the objects became something else entirely. Quantum equations predict the behavior of these “somethign elses” just as well (better actually) than Newton's Laws predict the behavior of tennis balls. But most of us consider them weird, incomprehensible, “unreal,” and we just say “well yes but the math works even if we can't understand how or why.” But it is just our own brain that considers a bouncing tennis ball to be “simple and intuitive,” and the two-slit experiment to be “strange and other-worldly.” A being than consisted of plasma waves in a stellar interior would find the notion of a bouncing ball bizarre and incomprehensible, and the “atom” would be an exotic state of matter acheived only at unimaginably low temperatures.

  103. Val – “Otherwise I suppose I might as well just mumble my prayer over my breakfast cereal.” Over the years, make that decades, I've found that ritual does something to our daily consciousness .. difficult to put into words, to use a modern analogy I suppose one could say that we become adept at having the (seemingly) two or more programs run simultaneously. It becomes a matter of attention, then, so that one really can mumble one's prayer over breakfast.

    It wonder if it depends on whether we are trying to manipulate the external or to align the internal towards the goal? I've mostly worked in the latter way. I think everything about magical work is subjective, so of course YMMV.

  104. Greetings all

    JMG wrote (sometime ago!) ” The integers are reflections of human neurology”

    Quite right, but let's us not forget that human neurology is itself a reflection of something else and that reflections of human neurology are not necessarily sets of arbitrary signs only meaningful to that species.

    Numbers could still be reflections of fundamental aspects of what structures the unobservable universe / reality behind everything our senses detect.

    The issue of numbers is probably undecidable.

  105. Bill, PhysicsDoc,

    I've enjoyed your combined exploration of the fundamental assumptions of physicists and their consequences — very much in the spirit of Korszybski, that our host invoked in the first post. A few thoughts:

    It reminded me of my reaction on reading somewhere something like “the universe obeys the laws of physics”. This made me wonder (tongue in cheek): what did the universe do before the laws of physics were passed?

    PhysicsDoc: “I still believe that the math captures patterns or properties of an objective reality”. If you mean “the math captures” in the same frame of mind as “obeys the laws”, I disagree. If you mean “the math is like a map which is useful to improve our understanding of the part or aspect of the territory it's applied to” then I'm willing to agree.

    Bill: “We built everything out of moving objects…”. In reaction to materialism, which seems to ignore the inconvenient parts of quantum phenomena, and seems to foreground matter at the expense of energy, I've been toying with “energism”, which turns materialism on its head. In this “ism”, the universe is composed entirely of energy fields. What we call “particles” are “actually” just places where the energy fields become tangled and knotted. In this view, the construct of the ether, and the problems it caused for physics, would never have arisen. In this view, the universe isn't mostly empty, it's entirely full.

  106. Bill, Doc, Dwig- If you all had been teaching my undergrad physics, I might have stuck around for another semester or so!
    –Heather in CA

  107. Dwig, thanks for the Blake link!

    Cliff, interesting. Then in a slightly later iteration of Neoplatonism, the underworld became the cone of shadow that extends from the earth through space away from the sun — part of the mapping of the spiritual cosmos onto the astrological cosmos that played so important a role in later Classical society. I'm not too sure how that would relate to dark matter, though. (For what it's worth, I see “dark matter” as the current equivalent of all those epicycles that had to be inserted to make the Ptolemaic system fit astronomical reality, before it broke down completely.)

    Dwig, I like the concept of interplanar ecology! Exactly how the salt turned colors and dribbled discolored liquids down into the bottom of the jar is an interesting chemical question, the answer to which I don't pretend to know. The exact nature of the solar and telluric currents is another — as is, of course, the exact nature of the electron, etc. In all cases what we've got are mental models that more or less correspond in practice to an incomprehensible universe.

    Onething, the kind of mind-filling meditation I do is called discursive meditation, because it takes the form of an interior discourse. You take a theme — a concept, a symbol, a sentence from a book that inspires you, or what have you — and after the usual opening steps of balanced posture, relaxation, and breathing, you call it before your mind, hold it there for a while, and then begin to think about it. You find a single train of thought that seems relevant, and follow it all the way out to its end; if your mind strays from the theme, you bring it right back to the theme, in the usual way. It has most of the same benefits as mind-emptying meditation, but it also teaches you to think clearly and consciously, and it has another advantage: an enormous number of the symbols and symbolic texts of the world's spiritual traditions are meant to be unpacked using discursive meditation. Here's a text from a sacred scripture, or a traditional image, or the like: what does it mean? Discursive meditation is how you explore it. There'll be an extended post on that subject in the not too distant future.

    Bill, excellent! Korzybski's “is of identity” distorts thinking in physics just as much as it does in other contexts, agreed.

    Phil, I suppose it's just my particular philosophical bias, but it seems to me that as long as people are trying to equate the universe with some human abstraction, they're missing the boat.

    Val, no, you're not dead wrong — quite the opposite. It's a standard interpretation of prayer (standard, that is, in esoteric circles) that the point of it is precisely to raise the level of consciousness above the grubby realms where our species usually hangs out, and come, if not quite into the presence of the gods, at least to a point at which their influences aren't quite so obscure as they tend to be here in the muck. One thing, though — don't despise mumbling prayers over your breakfast cereal; blessing food before you eat it is a classic and effective practice.

    Karim, good! And of course that leads straight into one of the big questions of philosophy: just how much does the fact that we're part of the cosmos, and derive our neurology by the same processes that brought everything else into being, bring the world as portrayed by our neurology (integers and all) into meaningful relation with the cosmos “out there”? In focusing on the disconnect, I'm basically trying to head back toward the middle ground after centuries in which the embarrassingly simpleminded epistemology of western science has encouraged people to confuse their mental images with the cosmos those images so imperfectly represent — but that tendency, too, could use correction and balance.

  108. Hi JMG,

    Trust me, I am alarmed!

    But then, today a further idea popped into my head and that idea is this: For blow back to occur then that also suggests that there is some sort of movement of nature towards an equilibrium. I'm not suggesting that that is going in any particular direction other than a sort of seeking a stable state that the energy and resource inputs can sustain at that point in time. That may be a very local equilibrium too which may vary from place to place. Little wonder that spirits are to be found in different spots.

    When I was a youngster, I used to enjoy a British sci-fi show called the Tomorrow People and they had this super nifty trick of jaunting (teleporting) from one location to another at will. A very handy trick. It probably hadn't helped that I'd read Tiger, Tiger either (also known as The Stars my destination – Alfred Bester). Because I was so young (and people please don't laugh!) I sometimes concentrated really hard and tried to replicate that trick but to no avail. No matter how hard I tried to produce the effect, I always ended up in the same place and time that I started in. It was a useful exercise though because I cottoned on to the fact that for a change on the material plane to be effective it had to be effected through yours truly and generally on yours truly.

    The funny thing about equilibrium at the farm here is that nature and equilibrium are a dynamic thing and the more energy I chuck into the ecology, the more complex the system becomes. I suspect that the reverse would also be true, in that if I drew down on that energy then the overall system would get less complex as a result? Dunno. I have a suspicion that magic may operate in this fashion too? The reason I write that is because in the far distant past I have accidentally drawn down too much on my energy reserves and responded to that situation by reducing the complexity around me until I could regroup effectively using the experience and then grow from there. It is nice to know where your limits are.

    A mate of mine used to joke many years ago that the only reason people lived on the edge was because they hadn't fallen off yet! hehe! Very amusing!



  109. Myriam, interesting article. I did some clicking around after reading. It seems Willoughby Brown, one of the researchers quoted, is or was conducting a study called “The Dark Night Project”, or “The Variety of Contemplative Experience”, interviewing people who have been traumatized or incapacitated by experiences encountered during meditation.

    Her professional websites seem to be fairly scientific and palatable to Westerners, although a dark side of meditation is a pretty unpalatable thing to consider given how popular meditation and mindfulness are these days. No indication of the hypothesis that opening oneself to the unseen could enable unseen agents to act with a freer hand on one's subconscious.

    All very interesting. I'm continuing to enjoy walks in the forest, but paying attention to what I feel and what I allow myself to be open to. Birding has taught me how many invisible eyes may be watching me at all times- a useful metaphor I think.

  110. Myriam, very interesting. I imagine this is part of the reason for our host's insistence on daily practice of a basic protective ritual as a complement to meditation.

  111. Cherokee, oddly enough, while I never watched that series, I tried the teleportation trick a few times in my misspent youth, without effect. As for equilibrium, good — certain esoteric traditions refer to equilibrium as the Royal Secret, for reasons I should get to one of these days.

    Myriam, I've encountered those claims before, and they seem quite plausible to me. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful technique, but in traditional practice it's done under the direction of an experienced teacher and in the context of a monastic lifestyle that includes a range of other spiritual practices. Pull it out of context, and yes, you can get problems. Discursive meditation is not only easier and more productive for most people in Western societies, it's generally safe to practice on one's own.

    Graeme (if I may interject), why, yes, that's another of the reasons why a basic protective ritual is so useful!

  112. Hi JMG,

    Hehe! I'm glad that I'm in good company attempting that trick. Wouldn't it have been cool if it had worked? It was very disappointing at the time that it didn't actually work. Oh well.

    You do know that you are getting to be rather good at the cliff hanger?

    I have absolutely no idea why it may be called a Royal Secret but am intrigued. Equilibrium seems an obvious concept to me because that appears to be a way that nature works in practice. You are providing the links between magic and nature and the rest sort of falls into place with a lot of hard contemplation and meditation added to the hands on work and observations from the farm and nature here. It is not an easy journey, but it is certainly fulfilling and interesting and no where near as quick as I initially thought that it would be!

    No stress, when you are ready, I’m sure you’ll get to it, but rest assured my brain is actually ferreting away at the problem right now. Mind you, I reckon we as a society and the ecosystem are in for one big bill once our energy sources can no longer keep equilibrium acting in our species favour.



  113. I always precede meditation with a Lesser Banishing Ritual and then a brief moment to address and thank Gaia and Pan and, if called for, one of the secondary Powers like Minerva or Bast, or in one case, dear San Rafael (a healing for a friend's husband – that worked! OR at least, helped.) And either a physical or chakra rundown, “touching base”. For what that's worth. Though the meditation often comes out more free association than discursive, it has been very worthwhile.

  114. On equilibrium — Back when I was still in academia, the usefulness of the term “equilibrium” in ecology was sometimes debated rather hotly. To many ears, “equilibrium” implies “stasis.” But ecological systems (like all living systems) are far from static. One of my doctoral committee members, Dick Wiegert, used to like to say that for a living thing, equilibrium = death.

    So you try qualifying with “dynamic equilibrium,” of course. This still conveys the idea of a system that dynamically fluctuates around a central point of equilibrium, and that when perturbed will always trend back towards that point (often overshooting, then oscilating back, etc.). But it is not clear that this is really the way ecosystems work, either. When you hit a forest with a major disturbance, it is true that some properties immediately begin to trend back to their predisturbance condition. But others don't. And it depends on what you hit it with. If you hit it with chestnut blight, for example, it never returns to its previous state because a keystone species is now permanently absent.

    “Equilibrium” in natural systems is also associated with old romantic ideals of the “balance of nature,” which though they are still very much alive in the poetic imagery of nature that many people posess in their heads, are not a good description of the world as it is. Change is the only constant, as they say, and when you think you may have an equilibrium, understand that its stability is likely quite limited in time and space, and the world will soon enough begin shifting in some new direction dragging you with it whether you are prepared or not.

  115. I've had a couple of encounters with entities, one really frightening, one hilarious. Many years ago, someone who was into Eastern mysticism and a long time practitioner taught me to meditate. After a few months under his guidance, I had an experience which frightened me rather badly. I was lying awake in bed, and felt a very malevolent being swoop down on me, trying to enter and take control. I struggled to fend it off, paralyzed and terrified, and eventually, it went away, but it scared me enough that I stopped meditating.

    About six months ago, I began the Sphere of Protection, intending to begin seriously studying druidry. Life has swamped me with a lot right now, so I'm not able to do much more than that, but one evening a couple of months ago, when I was relaxing and doing what I do to enter into the proper frame of mind to do the ritual, I “saw” in my mind, and felt at the same time, an entity coming to meet me. I saw her (if I had to pick one, I would say it was feminine) trying to squeeze through what seemed a very narrow opening, distorting itself to fit through (at least, that's what I “saw” and felt in my mind.) Then it “stood” there, in front of me. I could feel her presence very strongly, though it wasn't malevolent. It was neutral, almost curious.

    It was my reaction that in retrospect was hilarious. A completely uncontrolled reflex on my part, I found myself fiercely saying, over and over, while violently jabbing my finger at it “You'd better be good (meaning not evil), you'd better be good.”

    She simply watched me for a bit, then faded away. I haven't been bothered by anything since, either good or bad, so I'm assuming she went and told the other entities “Meh, don't bother with this one…she's nuts.”

    I'm not sure what the proper greeting ought to have been. However, I am given a constant stream of books coming my way, on magic and other related topics, which I hope to have time to read before too long, that seems as if someone is guiding my training, so to speak.

  116. Hi JMG,

    This blog is seriously making my head spin with all sorts of different ideas floating to the surface. The proverbial penny dropped this morning though and Blind Freddy whispered into my ear: Nature is magic and Magic is a part of nature. How could I have been that dense to not see that clearly before?

    Oh well, slowly learning bit by bit – one win at a time! ;-)!



  117. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for the explanation. Yes, it is a complex topic and you've brought some additional and also very relevant perspectives to the discussion.

    A lot of the systems here that rely on the diffuse energy sources provided by nature have a storage capacity far greater than what I generally require. That is because nature throws extreme weather events (system shocks? Dunno) most years which alters the quantity of stored diffuse energies available for my use. All of the time I have to be pretty careful with my usage (water, electricity, firewood, food) to a degree that would horrify most middle class people in industrial societies used to the larger centralised systems.

    I have a rule of thumb which says that if I'm able to meet my requirements (which is an arbitrary concept) without undue strain on the natural systems around me then the system is in equilibrium. The birds and animals in the forest do the same thing as they are limited by Liebigs law of the minimum and they may temporarily occasionally overshoot their resource base to eventually be culled back by that lack.

    However, if I bring in more compost here and make water available for the birds and animals, the available energy goes up and so do the populations. The same is with the solar power system. More PV panels = more available energy.

    The problem is entropy sneaks in and degrades all of the systems, so overall the available energy from my systems gets less every year so the equilibrium point has to adapt to that.

    However, the forest systems are a bit more resilient to entropy and they can recycle the energies with less losses. But still from my perspective equilibrium is something that is measured between one point in time and another. Dunno really though as it can vary with the observer too. The Kookaburra's would have a different perspective on the matter to the Wren's for example. I don’t reckon that equilibrium has any one strict meaning and may vary strongly with the observer.

    Dunno, but this blog gets me looking at the world in different ways.



  118. JMG wrote “Phil, I suppose it's just my particular philosophical bias, but it seems to me that as long as people are trying to equate the universe with some human abstraction, they're missing the boat.”

    Well, yes of course – the boat home seems to have sailed a while ago.

    We are left stranded in the architecture of the West amid its later extravagant fructifications. However, maths – and I am no mathematician – perhaps can be seen as a form of ‘discursive meditation’; just ongoing over many generations, holding to a proviso for logical consistency and invoking an evolution of notation; written down in order to be intelligible? It is collegiate and can help provide a sensible way to test thought, if that is what one wants to do, in the world of ‘stuff’ – and is usually necessary to test boundary conditions or limits. It does not necessarily ‘belong’ to the West, nor does it need a substrate of high income.

    I see Einstein and the others strolling in the sanctuary of Princeton: some of them survivors, victims. At a personal level where perforce we must all live, I guess discursive thought has value also because of its collegiality. It seems that reflection and good conversation is an antidote in small part not just to the normal tragedies of personal life, but in this example also a saving grace amid the dark tragedies of the West as these became global in the first half of 20th C.

    The Universe seems to have changed. Stars evolve elements and blow them into time and space, and star dust becomes biochemical molecules and so on… all with wonderful self-consistency it seems. And then come dreams and imagination where we wander with poets and other singers and visionaries, and Blake says that Albion (according to some interpretation the personification of the architecture of Western thought no less,) sleeps with bad dreams. I know the feeling over the years.


  119. Moving from Physics to Poetry:

    @JMG…the notion that abstraction is more real than the experiences from which it abstracts…

    This seems to dovetail nicely:

    They say that reality exists only in the spirit
    that corporal existence is a kind of death
    that pure being is bodiless
    that the idea of the form precedes the form substantial.

    But what nonsense it is!
    as if any mind could have imagined a lobster
    dozing the under-deeps,then reaching out a savage and iron claw!

    Even the mind of God can only imagine
    those things that have become themselves;
    bodies and presences, here and now,creatures with a foothold in creation
    even if it is only a lobster on tip-toe…

    from Demiurge, DH Lawrence

  120. Hi Cherokee Organics
    It is interesting that in classical equilibrium thermodynamics, entropy (2nd law) acts to increase disorder, reduce complexity, and limit the amount of energy available to do useful work, features we usually associate with death and decay. In modern complexity theory, however, entropy is seen as an important and necessary dissipative mechanism. Many processes in nature are driven, non-linear, dissipative systems. The driven part is usually traced back to the sun which delivers a constant stream of energy to the earth, the dissipative part is due to processes associated with entropy (e.g. friction), and the non-linear part is due to the fact that these processes are often far from classical equilibrium. It turns out that in these kinds of processes, complexity and order can spontaneously and naturally emerge, features we normally associate with life.

  121. Chris — I know exactly what you mean. The more you build, the more you must maintain, the more resources go into maintenance, fewer resources available for additional building. You realize this is PRECISELY the setup for JMG's model of Catabolic Collapse, just on a smaller scale. You can throw more energy inputs at it, but eventually you have too much infrastructure and inadequate resources to maintain it, and the system just degrades.

    At the scale of a household, I think we can ward off the collapse by consciously limiting infrastructure growth to that which has proven to be readily maintainable with the resources on hand. If (making something up out of the blue) the goats are taking too many resources to keep fenced, keep fed, keep watered, keep healthy, keep sheltered, well then it is time to get rid of the goats. Nobody NEEDS goat milk, cheese, meat, etc. to live, there are other alternatives. And while there is still a functioning cash economy, you can buy some of that from your neighbors who have prioritized differently than you.

  122. Chris again — about the notion that came up earlier about having been “hexed…” I think there is basically the equivalent of “weather” in the subtle realms, along with what seem like collective “moods,” even “social movements.” These things are hard for us to definitively perceive, and they are not *necessarily* personally directed at us or “about” us any more than a windstorm is “about” us. But liek the windstorm, they definitely can affect us, strongly.

    I also worry that as the climate systems continue to go out of whack that the nature-associated “meatless beings” will be less inclined to cooperate with us in our endeavors. And who can blame them!

  123. @PhysicsDoc, Chris

    About order emerging from dissipative systems: is Ilya Prigogine the thinker to look into on that subject? I've come across him recently alongside the tantalizing suggestion that his findings may, under certain circumstances, contradict the second law of thermodynamics. Sounds too strange to be true…

    However, I'm picturing the sun dissipating light and heat energy, a fallen tree dissipating biochemical energy, and a wayward seed providing the information that boosts those dissipated energies back into an ordered state. This would allow complexity and order to 'spontaneously and naturally emerge' without violating the Second Law, since the seed never recovers the full energy of its nurse log. Is that the basic idea?

    I'll admit to having no formal background in physics, but since being introduced to 'the thermodynamics of civilization' by a professor friend (and ADR reader) I've been fascinated by that handful of laws that say so little and yet so very, very much. It seems it took several dozen tinkerers a century and a half to carve out the handful of basic laws we live by today, and that it wasn't until the existence of the steam engine that they could be formally observed and proved. Energy as a 'bookkeeping trick', in Bill's words, can't be corralled and quantified in natural systems, which have don't have the strict, quantifiable boundaries that mechanical systems do.

  124. Thanks John so much for putting it so clearly. I especially liked “it’s… crucial to recognize that the things we don’t perceive can still exist” and “Magic is everywhere… every atom of matter… every picosecond of time”.

    It's good to finally read something that affirms possibility and potential, and the inestimable value of diversity of tradition and disposition. There are indeed differences of complementarity of magical practice for particular people in particular places, and there are also differences of effectiveness of practice for a given person at a certain time and place. It is anything but a small world.

    Thanks again for your work on this blog.

  125. Chris
    You sent me back to some old-time science I still find useful: “Chemical Equilibria”.

    Living creatures can be described, I think(smile), as among other things, partially closed systems of chemicals that in response to ‘signals’ can drastically vary their ‘at-any-one-time’ rate of input and output, and hence vulnerability to Liebig Minima. The net result is always dissipative – hence the pre-requisite for that Solar Engine and its high temperature light, and for global-scale material recycling as in hydrological and carbon and other cycles. (In terms of the individual I think for example of spores or seeds that can hunker down for years.) It is in this domain that living complexity contributes to its own environment, both internal and external.
    Quote from ‘Study Aims’:
    “Identify a system, an open system, a closed system and the environment of the system.
    Define a state of equilibrium.
    Describe the mass action law.
    Apply the mass action law to write expressions for equilibrium constant.
    Write the equilibrium constant expression for any reaction equation.”

    Personally I think that there are human means, both domestic (in the home environment) and mental means – for want of another word – for conserving, even hunkering down, that help preserve sufficient continuities.

    The contribution of complex feelings seems to me to be very under rated – bring in all the dramatic personae, wombat and Sir Scruffy, Blind Freddy et al. I quote from the Pope’s encyclical on Climate Change: “A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.”


  126. @JMG: “Pinku-sensei, of course you were practicing magic. Everyone does, all the time;”

    I think that's what all your readers asking you if there was magic in music, art, and cooking were driving at. It's analogous to something I try to get across to my students that all of us can do science and nearly all of us have. Most of us just don't know it. It took reading you for me to realize that I was doing magic while I was teaching science and there was nothing contradictory about it.

    “[T]he point of magical training is learning how to do it consciously, effectively, and in harmony with your conscious intentions rather than whatever subconscious scripts you happen to have absorbed from your upbringing and culture.”

    Thank you! You've just pointed me to the kind of magical training I should undergo and it's one I've known about and dabbled in since the turn of the millennium–the Enneagram. Done right, it's all about uncovering and dealing with one's subconscious scripts to change one's consciousness to become more effective as a matter of mental and spiritual health, not just a personality typing system. One of the prescriptions for my personality type is regular exercise, so the gym membership my wife got me is now part of my magical training. Who would have thought?

    I have one last point before you post your next essay as the Sun moves from Gemini to Cancer.

    “What we have, when we look out over the wreckage of the Western world’s magical past, is a vast wilderness of ruins, in which the occultists of the last few centuries have traced out a few pathways and raised up a handful of modest shelters out of the fallen fragments of ancient temples.”

    What you wrote makes it look like the West is starting to leave a Dark Age of its magical tradition. If so, my response is that you've tied the project of your two blogs together. On this blog, you're looking at the aftermath of a Dark Age. On your other blog, you're looking ahead at one. Now I wonder if the difficulties you've had with salvaging Western magic from its ruins is informing your project of preparing people for the Dark Age of technology to come. Maybe that's something you should answer in a future entry; I certainly don't expect a lengthy answer here and now.

  127. as far as sex is concerned I can get along with D.H. Lawrence without the occultism.And as far as occultism is concerned I can get along with Rudolf Steiner without the sex.But that said Iaught think you are one of the most intellectually interesting bloggers on the internet.Along with Jim Kunstler and steve Ludlum you have taught me a lot about the so called civilisation we inhabit cheers KHAMM

  128. Having woken up this morning with a streaming cold the idea that I might use my nose blowing to magical effect is an exciting one and definitely a silver lining to my condition. Galenic medicine saw phlegm in the head to be exudates of an over/under heated brain so using the technique to banish unwanted thoughts would seem especially appropriate…

    This series just gets better and better, I'm a firm believer in that you can't properly understand a subject without understanding it's history and this ticks all the boxes.

    Have you noticed that those authors who do write about the 'Grand rite of the Hand Shandy' almost alway do it from a male perspective? I've no doubt the technique is just as effective for women but it seems to have a particular allure for men. Maybe they needed an excuse so as not to worry about losing their eyesight or growing hair on their palms…

    Your question at the end of the essay to me seems to be suggesting that our experience of reality as concrete is mediated by our left hemisphere (language, structure etc) and by bypassing this for a more right hemisphere experience we get nearer to the 'true' nature of reality as something infinitely more fluid.

  129. Hi JMG and all,

    I've been quiet lately, but never miss reading a post as soon as it's up (for both blogs).

    Today I just have three offerings of thanks, and a question.

    First, to JMG, my continued gratitude for your work. You helping many of us to wake up.

    Second, to John N., thanks for the recommendation on Marie Kondo's work from several months back! I read it in two days and will be putting my house in order, as it were. I see now that my accumulation of stuff is hindering me in all kinds of ways, not least my magical work.

    Third, my thanks to mighty Thor, who spared our plane during a storm two nights ago and allowed us to land unharmed at Hong Kong airport.

    My question relates to the ideas of vocalisation being more magically effective in languages we don't understand, due to out mind not being abstracted by the meaning of the words. Is this one of the reasons for regular practice of rituals? For myself, I find that with regular practice the words in the ritual start to lose meaning, much as if you chant or repeat the same word over and over, the abstract recognition circuits start to disengage and it just becomes sound.


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