The Scope of Occultism, Part Three: Occult Philosophy

Over the last two months, we’ve discussed the operative methods that have been central to occultism in the modern Western world:  those that survived from the Renaissance and before, on the one hand, and those that have been introduced since the modern magical revival got under way.  The discontinuity that fell between those two—the loss of most of the older occultism during the two centuries between 1650 and 1850—still casts a long shadow over occultism today, and there are few places where that shadow remains more opaque than the theme of this month’s post.

I discussed in a post late last year the way that occult philosophy, as distinct from occult practice, more or less got shoved into the trash with the rise of pop Neopaganism at the dawn of the Eighties. To some extent, that was simply the working out of a set of cultural patterns that have been in play since the dawning of what historians still like to call the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment. (We can talk some other time about why those far from neutral terms still remain popular among historians who are acutely uncomfortable with such judgmental labels for historical periods as “Dark Ages.”)

For the last three centuries or so, self-proclaimed intellectual rebels in the Western world have by and large moved in lockstep along an utterly predictable trajectory. With embarrassingly few exceptions, they claim they will overturn the status quo, and then simply take the status quo one step further in the direction it’s already going, while angrily denouncing ideas, beliefs, and practices that most people had already stopped taking seriously. This oddly stereotyped routine has its virtues; in particular, it tends to decrease the overburden of social hypocrisy. By the time the sexual revolution of the Sixties happened, for example, a very large fraction—quite possibly a majority—of postpubescent Americans engaged in sex outside of marriage, but the social shibboleths of the time required them to pretend otherwise. By the time the Sixties were over, that pretense was no longer necessary.

For what it’s worth, I tend to think that this was a good thing. Not all products of the faux-revolutionary fervor of modern pop culture are anything like as productive, though.  When the founders and followers of pop Neopaganism and other soi-disant cutting edge occult movements of the Eighties and Nineties insisted that old-fashioned occult philosophy was a waste of time and should be abandoned in favor of an approach to occultism that centered on practical technique, many of them were rehashing talking points that were used to shout down occultism back in the seventeenth century, and the rest were by and large merely channeling today’s blind faith in progress: if it’s old it’s got to be worthless, right?

The unending attempts to find a scientific basis for magic come straight out of the same thinking. The theory is that magic has to be brought “up to date” by giving it a theoretical basis that real scientists consider acceptable, and once that’s done, real scientists will start taking magic seriously. Of course it doesn’t work that way, for a telling reason.

The foundations of modern scientific thought were specifically set up to deny the possibility of magic. There were good pragmatic reasons for that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when science as we know it was still basically a branch of occultism—when astronomers such as Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler cast horoscopes to pay the rent, and chemists like Robert Boyle were basically alchemists who had given up on the Great Work and were trying something easier for a change. Early scientists who dreamed of having the social status that wizards generally lacked in those days, not to mention a much lower risk of being hanged for witchcraft or burned at the stake for heresy, had a strong motivation to set up the groundrules of the scientific enterprise in such a way that they could prove that all those astrolabes, retorts, and books full of cryptic symbols were perfectly innocent.

That’s why, for example, it became a fixed dogma of scientific thought in the seventeenth century, and remains one to this day, that every material phenomenon must have a material cause. That doesn’t happen to be true, of course—every time you lift a fork to your lips, a material phenomenon has had a mental cause—but it’s an essential part of the firewall between science and magic. That’s why so many scientists have wasted so much breath and so many reams of paper coming up with labored arguments to prove that mental phenomena don’t exist, that it’s sheer illusion that makes you think that there’s this thing called “you” that decides to lift that fork, and so on endlessly into the night.

The old crusade against magic isn’t simply hardwired into the basic presuppositions of science, though; it’s still a live tradition in scientific circles today. Some of my readers may recall a long-defunct ad campaign for a soda drink that called it “the Un-Cola.” In much the same way, scientists and believers in what we may as well call scientism—the ideology that defines scientific claims about the universe as absolute truth, and the only kind of truth that matters—define themselves, sometimes quite overtly, as “The Un-Magicians,” the people who don’t believe in magic, astrology, and superstitious nonsense like that. They’ll do this even when it involves making the most fatuous statements about matters of fact—in a later post, when we talk more about astrology, I’ll have a funny story about that.

That’s why the quest to make magic look respectable by fitting it out with a foundation of scientific theory never gets anywhere: on the one hand, it’s rather difficult to build a scientific theory of magic when the core axioms on which science rests are set up to make magic impossible; on the other, even if you manage the trick—and it’s actually been done—scientists and believers in scientism are so committed to an identity that excludes magic that they’ll literally do anything they have to, no matter how absurd, in order to distance themselves from magic.

That’s one of the reasons that the study of occult philosophy matters, by the way. If you think about the world in a way that excludes magic, and then try to practice magic, you’re going to have a hard time getting results. If you learn a different way of thinking about the world, one that makes ample room for magic, magic becomes easier. To give it credit, the pop Neopaganism of the Eighties and Nineties tried to come up with its own informal version of occult philosophy; unfortunately—as I noted in a post a while back—it borrowed way too much of that from fantasy fiction, with predictably unhelpful results.

There is, of course, another option, and that’s to make use of philosophical teachings that were devised by working mages to make sense of their own experience of practical magic and the other branches of operative occultism we’ve discussed over the last two months.

One of the things that has to be grasped in making sense of occult philosophy is that the obvious differences—the divisions between schools, traditions, and movements within the broader realm of Western occultism—don’t matter anything like as much as most people expect. There are a bunch of labels.  There’s Hermeticism (or, occasionally, Hermetism), which derives its name from the hybrid Greek-Egyptian figure Hermes Trismegistus and its original impetus from a collection of Greek dialogues that were supposedly written by that worthy.  There’s the Cabala, variously spelled—Hebrew, like the other Semitic languages, is notoriously hard to transcribe into the Latin alphabet, which is why no two news media spelled the name of the late Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi the same way—which surfaced in the twelfth century in Judaism, and drew more heavily than most of the others on the Jewish scriptures.

There’s Rosicrucianism, which popped up in seventeenth-century Europe and was pretty heavily Christian in its first incarnations, then very quickly turned into a label for “whatever you want it to be” once the catchy symbol of the Rose Cross began to attract people who didn’t recognize its Lutheran roots. There’s the granddaddy of them all, Neoplatonism, which can trace a pretty straightforward line of descent back to classical Greece. There’s Theosophy, which uses Sanskrit terminology, and a whole panorama of movements that spun off Theosophy in one way or another and as often as not replaced the Sanskrit with something more homegrown—and these are just the more common flavors.

None of that actually matters that much, because every one of these systems contains some set of fairly simple variations on the same common themes.

A Cosmogony of Emanation. That’s a fancy philosophical label for the idea that the universe as we know it came into being as an emanation—an outpouring of force, if you will—from a transcendent source: that is, a source that stands outside of all phenomena and can’t really be described in any of the terms we use for phenomena. Don’t confuse this source with God in the usual Biblical sense of that vexed word; the source we’re talking about isn’t a person—nor, by the way, is it a nonperson. (You can repeat this for any other distinction you care to use.) Those systems of occult philosophy that use Biblical symbolism generally draw distinction between the God of the Bible and the transcendent unity behind that divine personage: in the Cabala, between the Greater Countenance and the Lesser Countenance. Those systems that don’t have Biblical luggage use other ways to talk about the relation between the transcendent source and the divine being or beings that humans reverence.

A Cosmology of Levels. “Cosmogony” talks about how the universe came into being, “cosmology” talks about what it looks like once it comes into being. Every system of Western occult philosophy I know of understands the cosmos in terms of different levels, modes, or planes of being—the terms differ—with the world of matter as we know it being one of these. The theory is that the outpouring of force that brought the universe into being created the levels of being one at a time, from least material to most material, with—you got it—the world of matter the last formed, densest, and furthest from the source. Different systems describe the levels differently; even so simple a question as how many there are is a matter of some disagreement, though that’s more a matter of symbolism than anything else.

Subtle Connectedness. These levels and modes and planes of being aren’t like the “other dimensions” of bad science fiction, places just like here but with dancing penguins in tutus or what have you. They’re as different from each other as the shoe on your foot is different from a shoe you picture in your mind’s eye, and if you ignore that and treat either as the other, it doesn’t work well. “The planes are discrete and not continuous,” says a useful axiom of magic. That said, there are subtle connections linking the planes together, and under certain very carefully arranged circumstances, action on one level can have consequences on a different level. (This is the fundamental axiom of magic.)

Macrocosm and Microcosm. This concept gets a lot of heat from believers in scientism. The idea here is that everything in the cosmos came into being by the same process that brought the cosmos into being, and shares the same levels. Yes, that includes you and me. Human beings aren’t outside the order of the universe; we were emanated into being along with everything else—note that “creation” in the occult sense is a continuing process, not something that happened at 9 am sharp on an autumn day in 4004 BCE—and all those levels of being? We’ve got them too. Our material bodies are our expression of the materiel level, and so on up the levels; for convenience the different levels are often described as “bodies,” so you’ll read discussions of the astral body, mental body, etc.

Metempsychosis. This, on the other hand, is the one that gets the orthodox in an uproar. The word is a fancy philosophical label for the variety of reincarnation that isn’t limited to human bodies. According to most versions, we’ve all been here before, in an almost limitless variety of forms and bodies, and we’ll each be here again until we reach a sufficient level of development to head onto the next step. The interesting thing to me is that you get this even in devoutly Jewish versions of the Cabala and devoutly Christian forms of Rosicrucianism and Christian Hermeticism. Why? My guess is that it’s because regular practice of certain very common kinds of meditation taught in occult schools quite often stirs up apparent memories that, whatever their actual source, certainly look and feel like memories left over from some previous life.

Cycles of Time.  Evolution isn’t a straight line, and our species isn’t its endpoint. Human history isn’t a straight line, either, nor is modern society its grand finale in any sense. Species and civilizations rise and fall with the same inevitability that individuals are born and die, and according to many modern versions of occult philosophy, yes, there were civilizations on this planet in the distant past, not all of them human, that did the same kinds of things we’re doing now and went under in due time. Oh, and grand apocalyptic transformations that put an end to history, along the lines of the Rapture, 2012, or what have you? They’re vanishingly rare in occult writings, and those that do appear are generally regarded with some mix of embarrassment and rolled eyes.

A Crowded Cosmos.  If you want to make most people in today’s industrial societies back away in a cold sweat, get them to imagine that they aren’t the most intelligent, powerful, and (ahem) important beings in the universe. I think one of the reasons we have such a fetish for machinery, and for the kind of artificial surroundings that don’t respond to us in any way we don’t specifically request, is exactly this terror that something bigger than we are might be looking at us. If any of my readers share that attitude, occult philosophy is going to give you nightmares. Those systems that draw from Jewish and Christian sources talk about angels and archangels, those that draw from other sources talk about gods and goddesses, and no few equate the two sets of terminology. All those levels of being I mentioned a few paragraphs back? They’re inhabited, and some of the inhabitants compare to us the way we compare to pond scum. In the crowded cosmos of magic, human beings have a very modest place in the overall scheme of things; the universe emphatically does not revolve around us.

Individual Attainment. This means, among other things, that the universe is not going to solve your problems for you, or give you a pass on the awkward features of being human. You get to deal with all that yourself.  Metempsychosis means you get as much time and as many tries as you need; screw up in this life, you’ll get other chances later—though this also means that you’re going to face that problem over and over again until you get around to dealing with it, and the habit of dealing with it is part of your character. (Memories don’t pass intact from one life to another, but character does.) When you were a single-celled organism, you got to face the challenges of being a single-celled organism, and those unfolded certain latent potentialities in you; now that you’re human, the same rule applies—and it will apply when you’re something far more complex and interesting than a talkative social primate, too, which you will be in due time.

The Way of Initiation. Sooner or later, you’re going to figure out how to do the human thing capably—if you’re like the rest of us, it’ll take you plenty of tries, but eventually it all does work out and you can move up another notch. Still, you can speed things up a bit, or more than a bit, by pursuing certain studies and performing certain practices that focus your awareness on the world and yourself in unusual ways, and make it easier to figure out a bit more of what’s going on and what you can do about it. That’s what occult training is for.  It’s not easy, and it’s also not mandatory, but if you want to wake up to the wider cosmos and then help other people do the same thing, occultism is an option. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Brother blah blah blah at Post Office Box mumble mumble mumble for a free informative brochure and application!

So those are basically the chapter headings of modern occult philosophy, the broad current of occult thought that burst onto the scene after Eliphas Levi’s time and got shoved into the dumpster—temporarily, I hope!—with the pop Neopagan boom of the Eighties. At this point, though, I suspect that most of my readers have precisely one question on their mind: is this true?—or, to put things in something like their usual phrasing, do I actually believe that any of this is more than hogwash?

This is where things get interesting.

Every theory about the nature of the universe is a set of value-laden narratives that focus on certain human experiences to the exclusion of others, and draw connections and divisions that have much more to do with our ingrained habits of thought than they do with the world “out there.” As Thomas Kuhn pointed out a long time ago, this is as true of scientific theories as it is of every other kind—the whole point of the scientific method is that it allows us to check some kinds of theories against some kinds of experiences over and over again, and so produces theories that usually work in practice. Neutrinos, quasars, the Cambrian era, the laws of thermodynamics: these are all invisible, notional realities we’ve constructed because they make sense of certain kinds of repeated human experiences—and exactly the same thing is true of the invisible, notional realities discussed in occult philosophy.

If you study paleontology and learn all about the Cambrian era, and then go prospecting for trilobites, what you know about the Cambrian era will help you make sense of what you experience when you split open a bit of Cambrian shale and find the fossilized remains of a long-extinct sea critter there. In exactly the same sense, if you study occult philosophy and learn all about the astral plane, and then take up the practices that will allow you to perceive it (or, more precisely, realize that you’ve actually been perceiving it all along but were taught not to pay attention), what you know will help you make sense of what you experience. Further than that, despite assorted claims of absolute truth for this or that set of opinions, no theory will actually go.


  1. Hi JMG,

    Wonderful summary. When I go through your list of common themes, each point feels intuitively true, as though these were things that I have known all along.

    “ . . . it became a fixed dogma of scientific thought in the seventeenth century, and remains one to this day, that every material phenomenon must have a material cause. That doesn’t happen to be true, of course—every time you lift a fork to your lips, a material phenomenon has had a mental cause . . . ”

    But wouldn’t the scientific materialist just argue that this thought was composed of electrical impulses in the brain, and is therefore a material cause?

    “. . . it’s rather difficult to build a scientific theory of magic . . . and it’s actually been done.”

    Though your point that such theories never go anywhere is well taken, I’m still curious to read about them. Where might I find more information on such theories?

    “If you want to make most people in today’s industrial societies back away in a cold sweat, get them to imagine that they aren’t the most intelligent, powerful, and (ahem) important beings in the universe.”

    This reaction is so strange and alien to me–I can't imagine how somebody could feel that way. I, for one, have a hard time imagining something more wondrous and exciting. For me, the idea that such beings exist engenders an intense desire to contact them and know more about them—though I’m sure that's a risky prospect! Such beings are to me now, in my adulthood, what dinosaurs were to me as a young child–something fantastically and eminently cool, which should be approached with a healthy dose of fear and reverence.

  2. Interesting exposition.

    A minor nit. Tycho Brahe, aka The Prince of Astronomers, was a Danish nobleman who was owed a stipend by the Danish crown. It gave him the island of Hven and a very large living because it was cheaper than what it would have owed him if he had taken up his inheritance as a Danish noble. It's been said that his budget, in terms of the Danish budget, was comparable to that of NASA. I don't think NASA ever employed a dwarf and a tame moose, though.

    Kepler, on the other hand, was appointed Imperial Mathematician (ie astrologer) by the Emperor Rudolph II, and had been hired to reduce Tycho Brahe's observations to a form that could be used for more accurate epmerides. Both astrology and astronomy were his day jobs, when he didn't have to take time off to defend his mother against a charge of witchcraft. He succeeded in all three endeavors.

  3. To those skeptics I love pointing out the fact that their observation that the world is not magical could be the magical manifestation of their intent to see no magic.

    Most effective skeptics could be described as powerful disenchanters.

  4. I take it the astrology/science comment has something to do with CSICOP and their STARBABY experiment, the only experiment ever run by such a group because the results caused such cognitive dissonance for those involved?

  5. Wow, I might nickname this post “Truth Distilled.”

    “The theory is that the outpouring of force that brought the universe into being created the levels of being one at a time, from least material to most material, with—you got it—the world of matter the last formed, densest, and furthest from the source.”

    This is an idea that I came to myself over time, thinking about some of the things that I was reading and my general ponderings, and it is surprising difficult to rewire one's brain and worldview to accommodate it. Everything in our society trains one to think oppositely to this, even if you actually believe in a spiritual realm.

    In the end, what I came to was that this has to be true. One example is biological life. As I've spent quite a bit of time reading about evolution and intelligent design, I was astonished at the immense subtleties that are the building blocks that underlie a cell. This big world up here where we perceive stuff, is actually composed of a very tiny world, and the same is true of nonliving matter, for that matter. So, I extrapolate from that a direction of manifestation.

  6. There exists a magical theory of science but not visa-versa.

    I believe science to work only because magic does first.

    That being said, the findings of the scientific method are extremely powerful archetypes to incorporate into ritual.

    I, the consciousness, invoke the four fundamental forces and four fundamental states of matter daily.

    Eight in a circle with one in the center.

    I believe that configuration sounds familiar.

    A comment on philosophy…

    I believe that the success of the workings of those who know none of the philosophy is almost wholly dependent upon the continued existence of those who do know the philosophical roots of the art.

    I predict the power of neo-pagans will begin to diminish greatly as nature recycles the most learned of us. Perhaps it is already happening.


  7. As someone with a PhD in physics, having studied the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics, I get that fingernails on the blackboard sensation whenever I see some efforts to explain the world of the occult as some sort of quantum theory–it ain't and never can be! You have to go back to the ancient Greek five fold classification of knowledge to sort of understand why–that is the easiest way I know to put it. There is a formal logical structure to physics, in fact it is a mathematical law that there is a (Boolean) logical structure simply in any ordered set. The physical notions of causality (causes come before effects) is enough to make all modern science in one way or another equivalent to formal logically based knowledge–the ancient Greeks would have analogized to Aristotelian logic but we are freer today.

    The medieval scholastics would have emphasized faith, another of the Greek types of knowledge. Otherwise youmight have the local church officials gathering kindling.

    Today, a modern occultist would probably emphasize what is pretty much like what the Greeks called pistis, i.e., a combination of carefully thought out knowledge based on the word of trusted sources or perhaps personal experience carefully analyzed. You don't have to know astrophysics to know the sun will come up tomorrow. The formal logical based sciences deal with repeatable things in nature, while the occult not require repeatability in any strict sense. Different schools and practices seem to be capable of similar results. My point is that the light of the spirit operates differently from the light that comes on when you flip the switch on the wall! One of these days I intend to pursue the “illogical” bases of knowledge further, having only time for a hobby interest in it for now. I think it is the defiance of formal strict logical structure that makes the occult incomprehensible to most modern scientists. That is because it defies logical understanding. They lack the sophistication to understand that there are other paths to legitimate knowledge besides formal logic.

    By the way, the intellectually troubling things people read about in quantum mechanics are usually relics of the old days. Schrodinger's Cat that is both dead and alive at the same time was put forth as a devastating criticism of a once popular interpretation of quantum mechanics for a time advocated by Niels Bohr, for instance, and not intended to be taken literally by any one, ever! Misunderstandings of such counter examples is common even among physicists, but does nothing to add to the credit of occultists either.

    I may have to go reread my copies of Levi's book. I enjoy this series immensely too!

  8. It seems to me that the last few points of occult philosophy that you describe has resemblances to the myth of progress that you've critiqued so thoroughly on your other blog? The main difference seems to be that the progress happens of the other planes rather than on the material plane. Do many of the traditions you're summarizing have much to say on why being whatever I'm supposed to be after being human is better than being human and why it's a goal that I need to strive for, and what is better about being human than whatever I was before?

    You state, “human beings have a very modest place in the overall scheme of things; the universe emphatically does not revolve around us”. I'll agree completely with that statement, but I don't understand how the rest of what you're saying fits with that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like this system still places humanity at the top of all organisms with physical bodies on Earth right now, even if equal or greater importance is given to beings on the other planes, and possibly physical beings in other parts of the universe or Earth of the past or future.

    I've tended to think giving humans a more important place in the cosmos than animals, plants, fungi, rocks, and rivers is a function of the human ego, and simply not being able to understand fully what it's like to be something else and therefore thinking what human attributes are more important or “higher” than those of other beings in nature. From reading your writings on The Archdruid Report, I imagined you thought similarly but since reading this blog Im wondering if I might have been mistaken. Just as a lot people have a tendency to see the human culture they belong to as better and superior than others, people seem to want to put themselves at the top of a hierarchy of the other creatures on Earth. Being a human, the world I experience is human-centric, but if there is a cosmic hierarchy, what are the chances that our species is the one on top of all the other physical species on Earth right now, with only nonphysical beings above us. Couldn't some of the creatures we consider lower have attributes that we can't even begin to understand with our limited understanding?

  9. One more thing I thought of,

    You wrote, “The idea here is that everything in the cosmos came into being by the same process that brought the cosmos into being, and shares the same levels.”

    You also wrote “All those levels of being I mentioned a few paragraphs back? They’re inhabited, and some of the inhabitants compare to us the way we compare to pond scum.”

    How can both of those statements be true? If everything shares the same levels, then wouldn't everything share the physical level as well? Then, how can the inhabitants on the other levels exist without a physical body?

  10. Another great article. I've recently become very interested in a book I've seen recommended – A Place for Consciousness by Gregg Rosenberg.

    It's not occult at all, but this explain how consciousness is what drives causation. I'm hoping it might the kind of thing that can bridge the gap for people who feel drawn to some esoteric practice but have that materialist hurdle to get over first.

    I suspect those kinds of books can help drive an esoteric revival over time. 🙂

  11. I have copied these into my handbook of shadows, with proper attribution right below the header. Thank you for laying out these principles so systematically and clearly.

    I gather the Transcendent Source is not the Deists' Watchmaker God, who actually sounds like a lesser being with some of the attributes of the greater, rather as a line drawing is to the living being in front of the artist.

    We humans are neither the greatest nor the least of the beings in the cosmos, but are we somewhere in the middle?

    I think the lessons I'll end up taking into the next incarnation are those created by a lifetime of fumbling and bumbling, engaging mouth before brain is in gear, and all the rest. I can only hope it will prove helpful in the next round!

  12. Regarding the final few paragraphs, I find it interesting that there are certain areas in life where there are multiple, mututally-incompatible interpretations of what's going on, and yet all of them seem to work in their own ways. The various interpretations of quantum mechanics is one area; the various schools of psychotherapy another; the endless debate between monotheism, hard polytheism, soft polytheism, archetypal polytheism, etc. still another.

    That we humans expect the various noises and marks we've invented to coordinate with each other to have some sort of essential relationship — as opposed to a loose, ramshackle relationship — to a reality so much vaster than us, is kind of strange when you think about it.

    Regarding your seventh point, when you say,

    If you want to make most people in today’s industrial societies back away in a cold sweat, get them to imagine that they aren’t the most intelligent, powerful, and (ahem) important beings in the universe.

    that hits pretty close to home, and it's helped me to clarify a particular hang-up I've had since I converted to a more pure form of the religion of Progress about 10 years ago. (I was blessed/cursed with a quite conservative Mormon upbringing in the Deep South, which has given me some material for comparison/contrast.)

    What I've noticed is my reflexive distaste for the sort of pieties Christians make — here in Alabama, a frequent comment whenever two friends among the older generation is something like “God is good to us” — and not just when that gets taken to absurd lengths (e.g. statements implying that Yahweh cares who wins the Iron Bowl). While a good bit of that may be lingering resentment at my former faith, I see now that there may also be a sense of second-hand embarassment that these people are putting something else ahead of humanity.

    I might want to stop that.

  13. As usual JMG, a fascinating summary of occult thinking! On the concept that beings develop and improve with repeated tries and then go on to the next level; Would you call that a form of evolution?

    I am about 2/3 of the way through “My Big TOE (Theory Of Everything) by Thomas Campbell. He describes a universe very similar to yours, but in terms of 'evolution,' 'progress,' and 'profitability.' Do you (or any of your readers) have comments or contrasts between the 'Big TOE' approach and mainstream occult philosophy?
    So far, the 'Big TOE' literature seems to get to the same place you do, JMG, but the author comes across as a bit of a know-it-all. You have a lot of knowledge but handle it with humility. I trust that approach more.
    Keep up the good work!

  14. JMG, could you give an example or two re the current attempts to bring magic in line with “respectable” modern science? Electromagnetism or some such is cited? Positive reinforcement or similar pop-psychologies? It's been my take that magic is indeed a “science”, that is, it's a cause and effect interplay of real, existing forces, energies, etc., that as yet are unacknowledged by mainstream scientists. Miracles, for example, are not just violations of natural law (and thus considered scientifically impossible) but rather are the result of a “higher science” imposing itself on material, natural law. 

    A dimension of dancing penguins in tutus? Well, I am secure in the belief that if somebody really wants to take their place in a chorus line of tutu-attired penguins, then they'll have a special niche in the astral plane where they can do just that. 

  15. Oh, I forgot to add my guess to which “funny story” about astrology you'll be bringing up. My guess is that “Objections to Astrology: A Statement by 186 Leading Scientists” article in The Humanist… the one that read like a Papal Bull, was so authoritarian that Carl Sagan of all people wouldn't sign it, and which got the basis of astrology completely wrong. What's more, according Paul Feyerabend, when reporters tried to follow up with some of the signatories, many of them admitted they didn't know the first thing about astrology.

  16. I am reading sri aurobindo's epic pem Savitri. His basic idea is to try to make religious and spiritual evolution harmonize by maintaining that dumb matter desired to return to its maker, became ever more conscious. We are the latest, best design and still working upwards.

    I read the book Zealot about Jesus. Was he just doing magic, saying mumbo jumbo, putting mud on eyes? Was it miraculous? Moses a magician or pharao? Who defines difference between miraculous work of God and magic?

    I also just read 'misquoting Jesus' about new testament text criticism. In the first few centuries people would make text changes to emphasize their beliefs. Some thought jesus was nonmaterial, others that he was just human and gnostics that he was both separately(christ possessed jesus body at baptism, left it at death, 'abandoned'him). This might seem irrelevant but I think we want to see in our gods what we hope of ourselves, grecoromans had very human characteristics, jesus was made in luke to never get angry, nor have fear of death unlike in mark where he was angry, fearful. Are we demigods, material creatures or is our body just illusory, maya? This is what dioketen, adoptianisten and gnostics argued. Orthodox doctrine became both godlike and human simultaneously. Suits me fine.

    And yes I have read some stuff on how they try to prove ESP capabilities with testing sensitives, and some have developed quantum theories of enrgy body, which apparently solves the problems of planes. Quantum math and theory works on mental, astral, buddhic planes, just as on material. Wave/particle relationships, string theory. All of that lives distinctly separately on each plane and can describe the phenomena of say feeling my chakras, seeing auras, levitation, bilocation. This would probably solve the problems of miracles/magic, explaining connection between jesus robe being touched and his losing energy and a woman being healed. All quantummechanics.

    Recall studies from 60s with LSD and people 'remembering' being snakes. Regressive hypnosis can get really weird.

    Progress exists to me only in the karmic sense. I do my yoga, my chakras buzz more and I hope that I attain a golden/diamond/rainbow body before I get old so I don't have to repeat the birth-death cycle again and again. All in God's hands? I check out my indian, jyotish horoscope and see that kundalini awakening was scheduled when I started to experience it, look up rahu ketu, dragon head tail-eclipses for info on this. Others havepolitics or sport or engineering as life plan. Esoteric spirituality is not easy in everyday life, though manageable if you eat right and sleep enough. Thank god I don't talk with elves. Seeing auras and healing people would be cool but apparently that takes work. Perhaps it is just an ego trip, detrimental to main goal. If jesus was a healer but used it to overthrow romans/high priests and take their place then he missed his calling, got executed. Wishful thinking of followers tookcare of the rest.

  17. Hi JMG,

    It makes a fair amount of common sense to me.

    The thing I'm left wondering about is whether it is an attempt to know part of the Universe that we inhabit and ponder our existence all through the limited set of senses that we have available to us? Dunno. It is deep, no doubts about it.

    I sort of view our species as one that is pretty clever – out of a bunch of pretty clever companions – but has basically seized control and overshot its resource base. When viewed that way, well it doesn't seem that clever really, so arguments about scientific prowess sort of get lost on me. And who knows what civilisations of other species were in the past and will be in the future? My money is on the rats, or perhaps the racoons, they both seem frighteningly intelligent.

    I'm still reading Tolstoy, but he is slightly losing me on the current chapter as he uses his previous research methods to look at humanity as being slightly better than the average animal. It is a mechanistic mindset and argument that doesn't quite gel with me, but I'm still diligently reading his words when I get the chance here and there… Most of the animals I come into contact with seem very alert and conscious of themselves and their fellows, so I don’t buy his argument as it doesn’t stand up to close observation. Mind you, he is probably a product of the time and I’m staring back into the past to see the views that were held in the early 1980’s.

    The one thing I'm absolutely sure of, this life thing is short isn't it? It is my gut feeling that somehow our ancestors lost the fight to keep nature at the core of their belief systems and instead replaced it with humans. It was probably quite an adaptive method of viewing the world, but like most systems it has diminishing returns. Just sayin…



  18. “every material phenomenon must have a material cause”

    Interestingly, in (non-Buddhist) Chinese thought (yin-yang/five elements) this is also the case, but unlike in most western thought you can still have gods and dragons in a purely materialist worldview. There's a few texts I've read in Classical Chinese which discuss how gods, for example, are comprised of qi 氣, though their appearance is unpredictable. Elsewhere the predictive capacity of astrology (the Chinese had their own system separate from the rest of Eurasia) is explained by the substratum of qi in the world: what happens in one area resonates elsewhere, like how if you strike one bell the next one to it also rings, though with a different sound.

    Qi of course would be described as 'energy' in English, so it would qualify as 'material'. The non-Buddhist Chinese worldview was very much focused on heaven and earth as humans experienced it, though not to the exclusion of gods and invisible forces. They had almost no ideological hangups over such things (there were a few Atheists), and Chinese history was always full of strange and mystical experiences, so their materialist worldview accommodated what would be regarded now as 'superstitious'.

  19. A couple of comments come to mind after this post.

    First, as you pointed out, there is a tendency towards lineal thinking in peoples concept of evolution. I have just read a book on the history of myth in which there was a telling quote:

    “As soon as human beings had completed the evolutionary process, they found a longing for transcendence was built in to their condition.”

    So we've completed it have we…oh sorry 'they' have completed it. Good for them. Must suck to plateau from there all the way to eternity.

    Second, regarding the inability of humans to see other beings as “as valid” compared to themselves brings to mind another book.

    I have in my collection a book–I think it's a Reader's Digest or some equivalent type release–titled, 'Intelligence in Animals”. In it there is a story about a horse that could count. Not only count but give answers to complicated sums by tapping out the figure with it's hoof. Well, a whole load of scientists got involved to test if this was possible. And the horse seemed to get it right every time. Could it be, the horse was actually intelligent by human standards? Not to be outsmarted, the scientists tried one more test, and had the horse and the horse's owner in separate rooms while the questions were given. The horse failed them all. How could that be? In the end they came to the conclusion that the horse had been listening to it's owner's heartbeat and stopping it's hoof tapping when his heartbeat got to the answer level of excitement. That's not counting. That's just pleasing an owner.

    So the scientists then also concluded that the horse wasn't intelligent after all! Because coming up with that required no creative input whatsoever from the now beyond a doubt unintelligent horse!

    Phew! Sleep easy now in the knowledge that we are the supremest of all.

  20. I'm always a little bit surprised by how hard it is for many people to understand the concept that our tiny, finite brains, cannot possibly discover “the Truth” about our universe – that the best we can hope to do is a description that works for us. Whether or not it's “True” in some ultimate sense is a meaningless question to ask, since verifying that would require that a person be able to occupy some position, as it were, outside of the universe, which is an impossibility. All knowledge is situated, and all of ours is situated in our tiny little brains. How well do any of us even understand the other members of our families, or our friends and co-workers who we interact with on a daily basis? Why then do we assume that we might be able to determine the true-Truth about beings that are as far-removed from us as a fully-grown adult is from a fetus? The appropriate question is not, “is it True?” but “does it work?”

    For the commenters who are having a tough time with this concept, I suggest reading Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger series.

    For me, the model that I've adopted as the best at explaining my personal experiences, and the most practically useful in my life, is what I call the dramatic-model or dream-model of the universe. It's a particular take on the emanation theory that sees everything, all levels and dimensions, as equally the “dream of God” – God in this case being the numinous, featureless, ground of all being, the “pure consciousness” underlying everything. You and I bear the same relation to the Divine as a character in one of our dreams bears to us. Our dream characters (including our dream representations of ourselves) are simply bits of our consciousness that we've split off and pretend to have no control over. In the same way, we (“we” being literally everything) are nothing more that parts of that underlying consciousness-that-is-the-foundation-of-all-things, that are pretending to be separate entities.

    There is, in this understanding, no particular need to do anything in particular, as all motion is only apparent…but on the other hand, there's no reason not to do anything, since all action is only a dream anyway. The point behind occult practice, to my mind, is an attempt to become a lucid dream of the divine. But just as even in lucid dreams there are particular rules that still constrain the dreamer (at least in my experience), in the dream of existence – even a fully awake, lucid existence – there are rules that must be followed. But to think that even the most accomplished among us could figure out why these rules are what they are, or what the nature of the reality-dreaming consciousness is, has still not come to grips with the fact that reality is much, much bigger than they are.

    Model-agnosticism is the only rational methodology here. Or, as John Lennon put it, “whatever gets you through the night is all right.”

  21. Perhaps metempsychosis would explain the complaints of certain Cetaceans and Cephalopoda regarding those dreams/hallucinations in which they “remember” being primitive tool-using land-bound bipeds with minimal cognitive/linguistic abilities, lacking any significant understanding of analog realities or whole-awareness. It is a crowded cosmos.

  22. Metempsychosis is, I think, one of the two great fault-lines that remain even within modern occult philosophy, at least so long as one takes it to be a universal fact of all life, or all human life. Even in the 19th century, occult philosophers were not of one mind about metempsychosis. Similarly, among the 19th-century Spiritualists (who were close cousins to the esotericists of their age), this was a burning question throughout that century.

    A more nuanced view of metempsychosis, that bridges the chasm between those who affirm it as a universal human experience and those who deny it altogether, might be that some of us experience it, while others do not, but simply cease to exist (in any form or sense of the word) after they die. Whether this is a choice the individual human makes upon dying, or whether some other being imposes it on a human, or whether it might even be a wholly random thing — that we can leave open for now.

    The other of the two great fault-lines has to do with the nature of the inhabitants of all those levels of being. Many, perhaps most, of those levels seem to be inhabited; but the total number of levels appears to be enormous, and it is possible that some of them are uninhabited, or even inimical to life is any sense of the word. Also esotericists and mystics have argued in the past whether the inhabitants of some of these levels are basically predators, who feast on the inhabitants of other levels. If this is the case, then these predators may be one reason why some humans do not — cannot? — undergo metempsychosis, but wholly cease to exist. They have been devoured.

    The esotericists in my own family, in the generations before me, argued these questions among themselves, which is why I raise them in this context.

    Beneath these two ancient disputes among occult philosophers and esotericists lies a deeper, harder question. Is the cosmos, in all its levels of being, a unified and fundamentally harmonious structure; or is is also riddled with discord and conflict? Is it basically a benevolent cosmos, or a malevolent one, or a cosmos locked in am endless, perfectly matched tug-of-war between benevolence and malevolence? If the Deities are many, are they nonetheless in agreement about some set of fundamental priciples that we might term “moral” or “ethical”? Or do they agree on nothing of this sort, nothing at all?

    Myself, I incline to the unpopular, uncomfortable side of these three big questions. Some people undergo metempsychosis, others do not, but wink out of all existence upon death. Some levels are inhabited by predators, and some of those occasionally eat some of us and end our existence. And there is nothing at all, not even one principle, on which all the Deities agree. Beyond all the Deities, there seems to me (as it seemed to Empedocles) to be an endless dance of love and strife, with neither prevailing.

    Of course, your mileage may vary. But I have come to trust most deeply as a guide to Truth, that which makes me the most uncomfortable.

  23. On describing occultism in scientific terms–

    Something I've noticed reading old-but-not-that-old occult texts is all the attempts to describe occultism in terms of the science of the day are always the parts that feel the most dated. I'm thinking of every time Dion Fortune uses the word “magnetism,” among other things.

    Similarly, though I'm not a physicist, every time I hear a new ager say the word “quantum” I get the same nails-on-chalkboard feeling James Jensen describes.

    Actually, to James Jensen– If you used your knowledge of both physics and occultism to write up an essay on why magic has nothing to do with quantum mechanics, I would probably repost it liberally, every time I see the “Q” word.

  24. Echoing Ozark here about the progressive aspect of metempsychosis, which indeed is VERY widely believed in the modern world. I wonder if tribal animistic societies generally see this as a “progressive” process? I have a sense that the answer might be “not so much.” My experience watching Mongolian cinema (a small but very interesting genre which comes from peolein the 21st cebntury who maintain traditional animistic beliefs) suggest that they do not see it as progressive, but as more weblike. In one film (“Cave of the Yellow Dog,” I think) Grandma is explaining to Grandson that a human lifetime is as rare as a grain of rice landing on the head of a pin and balancing there, and that your next lifetime would almost surely not be human. They seem to view it as a meandering through creation, not a progression.

    Not addressing whether it is “true” (What is Truth?), just whether it is a view widely held beyond Indo-European and Semitic cosmologies.

  25. I am a bit confused about a couple of your points. It seems to me that most of what I've encountered in occult philosophy (specifically anthroposophy, but also more pop occultism) seems to take the idea of reincarnation and individual attainment and place them in a progress-type narrative, which is at odds with the idea of cycles of time. If we are all getting “better” over the course of lifetimes then doesn't it stand to reason that the cosmos as a whole is also “going somewhere?” I am not sure how to reconcile those two. I guess this is where ideas about great leaps forward in consciousness must come from.

    For what it's worth, cycles of time make sense to me, and I don't hold to a progress narrative, but at the same time I want whatever magical work I do to serve the larger world, not just my own personal development – that feels self-centered and insignificant.

    Am I missing something?

  26. Patricia Mathews –

    I think that if Disneyland is your idea of heaven, then you'll create it for yourself on the astral, same way somebody like televangelist Pat Robertson might project a traditional “streets of gold” heaven for himself. You'll get bored with it after a while, though, and want to move on.

    Hey, maybe we can just visit Walt's astral version – while he was incarnate, Walt imaged his theme park in such fantastic detail, it's got to exist as an archetype on the astral. 

  27. I've been reading My Big Toe for a couple of years and find it hard to get through. Much of what he says I like and agree with, but his style of repeating and going in chaotic circles makes it hard to follow. His ideas about time were the most interesting to me. What I find tiresome is his computer-geek interpretation of the universe in computer terms, and find his idea that we live in a virtual reality somewhat dubious. However, I'm not sure that is very important.

  28. Regarding people being horrified that humans might not be the smartest and most important creatures in the universe, I find an odd parallel (and it's not the only one) between the Judeo Christian take on that and the modern materialist one. In the end, I don't think it comes primarily from egotism, but rather the recoil from having to deal with a universe that is not simple, not having a narrative of reality that is small enough to handle.

  29. Greetings JMG,

    I find myself in the rare position of disagreeing with you on a certain point:

    “it’s rather difficult to build a scientific theory of magic when the core axioms on which science rests are set up to make magic impossible”

    The only reason I have any interest in occult magic is that it stood up to my skeptical doubts at a time when my beliefs (confused as they were) offered no guidance.

    I don't agree that a scientific mindset makes magic impossible, only unprovable, and my greatest frustration with scientism is the deathly fear it has with distinguishing the two.

    Instead of encouraging doubt or experimentation, scientism requires A Priori Empiricism: the self-contradictory practice of using unrelated scientific explanations to dismiss phenomena you can't or won't investigate. You commented on this tendency when you discussed Carl Sagan dismissing the “light” seen by the dying as an artifact of birthing memories.

    I would argue that it's the axioms of scientism, not science that see magic as impossible. Science provides no philosophical foundation for magic and this is actually a strength. I have no problem practicing magic without certainty about the nature of the forces I'm using, the events I'm diving, or the entities I'm conversing with because it ultimately doesn't matter. How a thing works is ultimately much more important than whether it fits comfortably into my current worldview. Furthermore, cross referencing accounts of phenomena from irreconcilably different religions is comfortable with this approach, and something you've even encouraged.

    The downside is admitting that I can't prove what I've experienced to anyone else. I'm okay with that. I don't need to confer with a building full of people to realize that an experience I had was completely real. There is a tiny Venn Diagram circle of provable experience, and it is dwarfed by an infinitely larger circle of possible experience.

    Most people freak out when their life experience dips away from the provable, into that much larger circle. Some run to scientism, which says it's all an illusion, some run to orthodoxy, which says it is a sign from God, and some run to a community of mages, witches, or druids, who give a much more reasonable perspective, but I have found all of these to be limiting.

    Just being comfortable in that vast space of uncertainty (not needing an immediate, singular explanation) gives you many more tools you can use to make sense of your life. This is a scientific perspective had aided me in my own explorations.

  30. Bill,

    “Grandma is explaining to Grandson that a human lifetime is as rare as a grain of rice landing on the head of a pin and balancing there, and that your next lifetime would almost surely not be human. They seem to view it as a meandering through creation, not a progression.”

    I have a slightly different take on that. I recall musing some years ago, since I find the teaching about hell ridiculously negative and unlikely to be true, and since there seems to be quite a lot less of such negativities in Buddhism and perhaps Hinduism, and since I think human societies have certain patterns of behavior that repeat in different contexts, I wondered what manifestations of that would occur in Buddhism? I used to hang out with the Hare Krishnas, and found that there was a lot of hellish teachings around karmic punishments, which might even be metaphors for something true, but they were so exaggerated that they were little better than the Christian hell. Eventually, I came across at least two more teachings in Buddhism that were similar to the grain of rice thing. This is not to be particularly critical toward Buddhism. It is more that I was pretty sure they could not have been spared, and they are not! What it's about is the idea that a human lifetime is very, very hard to get, and you must have a human lifetime from which to attain enlightenment. So you wait a million years to get one, and what do most people do? Why they squander their lifetimes not pursuing enlightenment. Tsk, tsk. It's just another guilt trip.

  31. @Breanna
    Think of it more like a spiral that can go up or down: Things would be damn boring if we could be sure that everything progressed only in one direction.

  32. Metempsychosis (not related to other psychoses like schizophrenia – I think) is a vexed subject because the various theories are like the fabled blind men trying to describe an elephant. Using the system in a recent version of the Michael Teaching, I can honestly say that yes, we reincarnate, no, we don't reincarnate; sometimes we reincarnate in special circumstances, we never incarnate as animals and we have a long history of incarnating as less complex forms of life until we chose to incarnate in a sentient species. It depends on which specific piece of the theory I'm looking at.

    It looks complex, but there are a relatively small number of moving parts, at least if you don't want to get detailed about each part.

  33. Breanna,

    The way I understand reincarnation, each “Grand Cycle” goes through the same series of steps on the way from and back to the Tao. This is part of the Tao gaining experience by a process of fragmentation and then merging. There is progress in this limited sense, but whether it's progress toward anything specific or comprehensible isn't something that's knowable.

    I don't know about “cycles of time.” Civilizations are born, develop through a series of stages that JMG has been discussing on the other blog, and eventually die if they haven't been killed in midlife. This is, to me, no more or less cyclic than the notion that people are born, grow through describable stages and eventually die of old age unless they die of other causes first.

  34. Chris, of course! There are all kinds of convenient dodges that believers in scientism use to flatten everything out into the physical plane, and that's one of them. As for scientific (or pseudoscientific) theories of magic, it's been long enough since I've tracked those that I'd have to do some digging; a web search using the search string “quantum magic” might get you somewhere, though.

    John, of course you're right about Tycho, though he also cast horoscopes — if you were an astronomer in those days, you generally did.

    Shawn, true, and “disenchantment” can be taken here in any number of senses.

    Richard, no, though that's certainly another good example.

    Onething, “truth”? As I see it, human beings are incapable of knowing truth. The best we can do is come up with a model that more or less seems to work — and what I've presented here is simply one such model.

    Shawn, that's an interesting hypothesis. In my experience, the ability of Neopagans on average to exert magical power seems to have been declining for some time now, but I'd put that down to the increasing prevalence in the Neopagan scene of people who are just there for the parties.

    Steve, oh, granted. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, books such as The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters were all the rage; they claimed to show identities between quantum physics and “Eastern thought,” which amounted in practice to equating some fashionable notions about physics with a grab-bag of cherrypicked scraps culled from Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist teaching, jumbled together as though they were all the same thing. Even at the time, I was not impressed.

    Tidlösa, thank you.

    Ozark, nah, it's not a matter of striving to be better. It's a matter of ripening into potential that was already there. An archangel is no better than a human being, and a human being is no better than a blue-green alga; they're simply different modes of experience you get as the process of incarnate existence unfolds the potentials of the soul. As for whether human beings are more important than other living things, the immediate question is “important to whom?” Importance is a value judgment, not a statement of fact. In a very real sense blue-green algae are far more important than you and me, since they play a far more crucial role in maintaining life on earth.

    It's possible to read occult philosophy in a progressive mode, and a fair number of twentieth century writers did so. Nothing requires that interpretation, though, and the majority of writings and teachings explicitly reject notions of progress in favor of a cyclic cosmology in which souls, species, worlds, and universes are born, go through their life cycles, and return to their source.

    As for the role of the material plane in beings of (metaphorically) higher levels, good — I should have inserted something about that. Remember the basic idea that the universe comes into being from the top down, so to speak, with matter the last and densest form of manifestation? Not every current of creation goes all the way down. Living things with physical bodies, such as you, me, and the dust mites on your skin, have a full set of levels all the way down to physical matter; there are other beings whose densest bodies stop at the etheric level, and so on. They aren't better or worse than we are, for not having physical bodies — it's just one of those differences.

  35. Steve Thomas,

    Actually, to James Jensen– If you used your knowledge of both physics and occultism to write up an essay on why magic has nothing to do with quantum mechanics, I would probably repost it liberally, every time I see the “Q” word.

    Well, thank you, but I actually know very little about physics per se. I actually failed college physics because I couldn't do the trigonometry. (I think I'd do better if I took it today. Plus I'd go for the calculus-based version.) My interest is in the philosophy of physics, not the mathematical formulas. With that in mind…

    My beef with the “Q” word is that it's invoked as if it automatically proves whatever system of magic/mysticism the speaker/author wants to peddle. My favorite example these days is in Wayne Dyer's Wishes Fulfilled, in which he says something to the effect that quantum physics shows that the source of everything is “something akin to your imagination.” How he managed that particular leap is beyond me.

    What makes it so tempting, I think, is that there is one particular place where I think physics and magic are related, and that is at the quantum level. As JMG commented in Mysterious of the Living Earth, New Agers have a tendency to pick up profound truths by the wrong end, and this one of those cases.

    The real relationship, I think, is this: in trying to stretch the tarp of mechanism over the whole of Nature, scientists ended up tearing the tarp. That tear is quantum physics, and its a hole through which the magic and mysticism inherent in Nature can shine in quite brightly.

    And that's it. That's all that you're going to get out of the “Q” word in the context of magic and mysticism without talking nonsense. Nothing about quantum physics proves any particular doctrine, like the Law of Attraction or the Cabala or what have you.

    Now, there are some similarities between certain features of quantum physics and certain features of magic. Take entanglement, which is pretty blatantly QM's version of the Law of Contagion: two things, having been in contact before, later can affect each other at a distance.

    Here's where I think New Agers and even some serious occultists often get things exactly backwards: entanglement is to my mind an effect, not a cause, of the Law of Contagion. That is, entanglement happens because the Law of Contagion is correct, not the other way around.

    This is all, of course, quite speculative, but it seems to me that a “magic-first” metaphysics does a lot less damage to either magic or science than the other way around.

  36. JMG and Ozark, if I may:

    Remember the basic idea that the universe comes into being from the top down, so to speak, with matter the last and densest form of manifestation? Not every current of creation goes all the way down.

    Aren't there other senses in which we can view the universe as coming into being bottom-up, or “edge-inward” from both top and bottom, or “middle-outward”? If so, how does that change how we view the non-physical beings?

    I'm reminded of the comment in Learning Ritual Magic about Kether and Malkuth being seen as the poles of a battery, or your contrast in the Druid Magic Handbook between the Wheel of the Year, which has a source of power below, and the Tree of Life, which doesn't.

    Perhaps I'm conflating two different things.

  37. Bill – 

    Rene Guenon, the French philosopher/esotericist, believed that a discarnate human soul had precisely zero chance of being born again into a human body, this for the following reason (if I can recall this correctly) – the Universal Being, or God, stands beyond time/space constraints and experiences His infinite levels of being at once. We humans, and indeed all living entities that have manifested in Creation, are atoms in the Body of God, and thus are constrained by some form of time/space – we and all living entities can experience only one level of being at a time ….. even though we, as a portion of the Universal Being, do in fact occupy all levels of being. 

    As the Universal Being's commission, so to speak, is to manifest all Possibility, it would be useless, even contradictory, for an entity to manifest on the same level of being twice. So, in your next incarnation, you may manifest as an angel, deva, a sponge on Rigel 6, the governing intelligence of a star ….. anything but a human. 

    This is a sleek, elegant perspective, but intuitionally I've got a prob with it. It just seems to me that our divine commission is to uncover and share our highest creative abilities to the point whereby we become co-creators, partners, with Universal Being. This is a long process, obviously, and we screw up mightily on the path, thus the need for reincarnating in human bodies – because a mistake on the mundane, material level can only be understood and corrected on the human level. 

  38. Certain 4th dementional entities still get a kick of us talking meat bags. Meat talks! Is what their kiddos say. Or so I've been told. 😉

    Fun with models!

  39. “”truth”? As I see it, human beings are incapable of knowing truth. The best we can do is come up with a model that more or less seems to work — and what I've presented here is simply one such model. “

    This seems a bit strange to me. Ignoring that I happen to agree with your points, certain questions seem binary to me. For example, is there a consciousness that is not the body and that can survive the demise of the body, yes or no? to be sure, it might be different than we expect, but one or the other must be true.

  40. On the idea of humans being different, not better… I have thought about constructing an exersize/lesson/something in which people are taken through human evolution in reverse: starting with humans and continuing all the way back to the first microbes. At each step the focus would not be on what the more “advanced” lifeform could do, but a look at how each ancestral form had abilities that we no longer do — climb trees, breath water, live purely off simple chemicals in the environment and synthesize everything else needed for life, etc.

    Human language is an interesting thing, seeming to come from the union of astral and material, jumping over the etheric (to use one common system of conceiving of planes). Indeed we get all tongue-tied when we try to speak of the etheric, but people will babble on for hours about the angels.

    In a conversation over dinner with some friends the other night, discussing ideas of past and future lifetimes… one of our friends describe that back in the last century she worked with a remote viewing group. One thing they group worked on one time was death. When they compared notes, it seemed the consensus vision was that the soul has multiple aspects, and the aspects do different things after death. To tie in again to this same language, perhaos one could imagine equating these aspects of the soul to the various aspects of the person in the various planes? Perhaps the astral body carries the “past life memories” into other astral bodies (minds), while the etheric body does something else entirely and the physical body rots or burns. That could reconcile the seeming contradiction between believing in both ghosts and reincarnation…?

  41. @Bill Pulliam
    You really got me thinking in a different way there. There is something just out of reach of my consciousness that clicked with me.

    On a logical basis, if one accepts the idea that the immaterial is not tied forever to the material, then on death, at the very least there are two aspects of ourselves, as you say, that go their separate ways, never to rejoin again, or at least not in the same form.

    One might also argue that the material is the manifestation of thought and therefore our form in our next reincarnation in the material world cannot be anything other than what it will be and that whatever material cells make up our new reincarnation, it matters not in the least that they are not the same exact cells as the ones from a previous one. Could we say the same about what you call our etheric aspect, and what is the difference between that and our soul? Or is an “etheric” being not an aspect at all but simply a description of position.

  42. Hi Bill,

    Sorry to hear about the code words for suicide used in your part of the world. Those ages are a very difficult time for males because its my belief that their narratives are fixated on impossible goals, whilst at the same time they are facing the reality of increasing irrelevance and I see those memes playing out in plenty of my friends. What is your take on that viewpoint? You seem rather matter of fact about it – and please that is not a judgement, but an observation, because I feel much the same way.

    My dad cleared out when I was very young and that sort of gave me the freedom to think my own thoughts, so perhaps my worldview is a bit maverick.

    My take on your observation about communication is that it isn't limited to humans. Plenty of animals communicate verbally and the chickens (for one example) readily communicate with me and with each other. I take the time to understand them. Please don't laugh, but they'll tell me when a wedge tail eagle is flying about the place before I've even spotted it by making a sort of burr, burr, burr call.

    As a gentle suggestion, perhaps the otherworld is beyond our ability to describe in human language. I mean it is an environment beyond our ancestral heritage after all.

    Incidentally, no one that I've come across speaks of angels down here.



  43. JJensen — the problem with all these discussions is that there are very few people who understand both Quantum Mechanics and Magic. I don't think QM is where physical models ripped, I think it is just where they reach their limits of comprehensibility. It is pretty much universally accepted among physicists: don't try to “understand” QM or extract any meaning from it, just use it. Don't think about philosophical implications,you're a physicist not a philosopher. Just manipulate the equations and run the models, because they work, there's no “why” there to explore. And QM predictions are highly successful, and the phenomena have massive universal macroscopic effects (like the semiconductors that run the device you are reading this on). hat's all you need to know, you are taught starting in High School Physics class, don't try to read any more into it than that.

    And of course precious few Magicians can understand differential equations with complex numbers, so there's the end to real understanding from that direction, too.

  44. Archdruid,

    Not to get too Dungeons and Dragons on you, but are the different planes similar to those described in high fantasy. Where in there are elemental planes like fire, earth, wind, water, and then celestial planes and etc…?

    Also, glad to see you posting responses again. I've been having some really intense dreams this past week. Kunstler challenged me to a martial arts match in one to test my manhood. It was weird.



  45. Bill Pulliam,

    Good points. Still, my tearing metaphor was specifically about the mechanistic model, not physics in general. QM isn't compatible with the billiard ball model of the universe. My understanding is that that model really did have to be thrown out after QM got wide acceptance, except for those who embraced some very ad hoc interpretations made specifically to force QM back into the mechanistic model.

    Consider, for example, the many-worlds interpretation which brings back some level of determinism at the cost of postulating near-infinite parallel realities that are constantly being created practically ex nihilo, and which has some very disturbing implications if true (look up “quantum immortality”; also consider that the answer to the question “Why didn't you kill someone this morning?” has nothing to do with free will or even your character: you did kill someone this morning, just not in this timeline).

    Not trying to understand QM is pretty much my preferred approach. Still, I think there is some connection to magic etc. The Stoics, for example, came up with the notion that atoms “swerve” (do not behave completely deterministically) because otherwise free will would be impossible. QM seems to me to have shown that, indeed, particles do “swerve” — which doesn't itself show anything except that certain other things are possible.

  46. Princess, interesting. I'll put it on the get-to list.

    Patricia, I'm not sure the Deist's Watchmaker God is anything but a dodge for atheists who want to avoid the label. No, the transcendent source central to modern occult philosophy is eternally present and eternally emanating the rest of existence; it didn't pack up and go away as soon as it finished creating things — since creation is never actually finished.

    James, good. Very good. I don't have that reaction — when somebody says “God is good to us” around me, my immediate reaction is “Yes, and pretty bad to us too” — but I can see how your reaction might unfold from some remnant of our culture's common anthropolatry.

    Emmanuel, it's rather a stretch to call it evolution, since biological evolution doesn't tend to move in any particular direction, and the development of souls over many lifetimes does seem to move from simpler to more complex forms over time.

    Will, there were once a lot of books trying to use quantum physics to explain magic — it's been long enough that I don't remember the titles — and the late Isaac Bonewits' Real Magic redefined magic as parapsychology back in the day when parapsychologists hadn't been excommunicated from the Church of Science. As for penguins in tutus, I doubt that — the astral plane is no more required to cater to our expectations than the physical plane is.

    James, no, though that's a good one. Do you know that some astrology schools have their students read that, in order to convince them that people who criticize astrology literally have no clue what they're talking about?

    Ed, the one thing I really find unconvincing about Aurobindo's ideas is precisely his capitulation to the Western mythology of progress. Onward and upward forever? I simply don't buy it.

    Cherokee, yeah, the last chapter of The Quest for Merlin is a bit of a letdown. Common enough, really, when a writer has been dealing with things way out there on the fringe, to see that sort of final scurrying back to safety. Oh well!

    Jeffrey, a case could be made that one of the things that cripples modern Western science's ability to make sense of the world is a too narrow sense of what counts as matter and energy (not to mention space and time).

    Dau, no argument there. Of course you're quite right; we haven't “completed” any kind of evolutionary process, any more than Australopithecus afarensis or your favorite blue-green algae is the completion of evolution — we're all in the flow! — and the frantic attempts of humans to find some way to insist that only humans can be as smart as humans is really quite quaint, all things considered.

    Diptherio, the idea of the world as the dream or the ideas of God has ancient roots — the Middle Platonists were deep into that, and of course they were far from the first. I treat that as one of many possible models.

    Brother G., quite possibly so!

  47. Robert, I'd gotten the impression that it was mostly the Spiritualist influence that rejected metempsychosis, but I'm quite prepared to be wrong. As for the moral standing of the cosmos, I didn't get into that in the post because my views on that are somewhat idiosyncratic. I don't share your belief that what's uncomfortable is more likely to be true, as — from my wholly personal perspective, granted — that seems to give as much unwarranted importance to human likes and dislikes as thinking that the cosmos must be what human beings like. Rather, like H.P. Lovecraft, I'm an indifferentist — I don't think the cosmos cares about our preferences in the least, and is no more set up to thwart us than it is set up to favor us, or for that matter to notice us.

    Morality is a similar issue. To my mind, morality is a set of rules human (and quite possibly other) beings have come up with in an attempt to stand each other's company. The cosmos is not moral — when a landslide crushes a school full of children, it's not being wicked, and when the sun breaks through the clouds, it's not trying to make a pretty sight. If you will, morality belongs to microcosms. Are gods and goddesses moral? Most of the world's mythologies argue the opposite case; the deities of most of the world's religions are centers of overflowing life and power that manifest themselves irrespective of human moral notions. I've always rather appreciated the fact that whatever else pagan gods do, they don't preach.

    So I'd agree with you that there is no moral principle on which all the deities agree. I'm far from sure I agree about some souls becoming nonexistent on death, as I haven't seen any evidence to support that claim, and while there are certainly predatory beings on the inner planes, the question of what exactly they eat has been answered differently by different writers on that topic. Still, your mileage may certainly vary!

    Steve, yes, I've noticed that also. I've got some old Rosicrucian books from the 1920s that are full of what was then cutting-edge science, and it makes them look hopelessly outdated.

    Coboarts, ah, but aren't you also being moved to your actions by other causal chains — and in that case, hasn't the entire universe known from the beginning of time what changes you will try to make, and what the results will be?

    Bill, what I've gathered from non-Western cultures is that linear narratives of progress are basically not found outside our culture, except where they've been imported. There's a delightful board game from the Indian subcontinent, for example, which exists in Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist variants, and is related to “Snakes and Ladders;” each player is a soul trying to reach enlightenment, your moves are determined by a throw of the dice, and your trajectory through the realms of existence is anything but a straight line! The mere fact that there's a goal doesn't mean that you're steadily advancing toward it…

  48. Breanna, the way it was explained to me was to imagine a river flowing over a rocky bed. Here's a place where the water swells up in one particular way over a submerged rock. The swell of water stays in the same place, but the water is constantly changing. The swell over the rock can (and in actual rivers, very often does) shift in a cyclical pattern, this way and then that way, but that doesn't mean that the rock moves with the water down to the sea.

    The water is the current of souls; the rock is the thing we call “human existence” — one phase that a certain current of souls passes through, on the way from earlier phases to later phases. A million years from now, if there are still souls that need the particular set of experiences we call “human existence” to ripen in their particular way, there will still be something closely akin to the sort of life we're living right now waiting for them, so they can have the type of experiences we're having now, including the experience of living through cycles of history — even though at that point, you and I may be doing something very, very different, having had a million years of other lives in other forms. Does that make a little more sense of it?

    Onething, I read it, and found it unconvincing and uninteresting. Still, that's a personal value judgment; if others find it useful, I'm glad to hear it. As for the parallel between the Christian and the “secular” (that is, Progress-worshipping) dread of things bigger and smarter than we are, no argument there, though I think simple human egotism also has a lot to do with it.

    Aurok, I think it's quite possible to construct a scientific understanding of nature that leaves ample room for magic. My point is a historical one — that by and large, this hasn't been done, that the founders of the scientific revolution did their best to exclude the possibility of magic from the world as understood by science, and that most modern scientists do the same thing at every opportunity.

    John, well, I can't speak to the Michael Teachings, as I've only glanced at them; my studies have focused elsewhere.

    James, no, you're just noting one of the places where some of my magical writings veer well away from standard occult philosophy!

    Nano, I'm still trying to figure out if “dementional” is an intentional pun or one of the best typos I've seen this decade!

    Onething, one or the other may be true, but we have no access to objective information on that point — or, frankly, most others. All we can do is put together models that seem to explain the fragmentary evidence we've got, in the cold awareness that the cosmos is probably far more complicated than we are capable of understanding.

    Bill, it's actually a standard element of occult theory that different aspects of the whole self do different things after death. To use one taxonomy, the physical body rots; the etheric body is shed, hovers around the physical body for a while, giving rise to ghost stories, and then gradually disintegrates; the astral body dissolves into its component parts, which return to their sources and are recycled; the mental body reincarnates; and the spiritual body was never part of linear time in the first place and remains eternally what it is. So your friends were very much in line with the tradition!

    Varun, not really. Again, the difference is like the difference between the shoe on your foot (the physical plane), the shoe as an image in your mind's eye (the astral plane), the abstract idea of a shoe (mental plane), and so forth. I hope you triumphed over Jim in your astral fight! 😉

  49. If the Source is eternally present and eternally creating, then why would it end with the material plane? Or does the material plane have so many possibilities it is still unfinished?

  50. JMG, thanks.

    >> As for penguins in tutus, I doubt that — the astral plane is no more required to cater to our expectations than the physical plane is. << I was thinking of it not so much as a catering to expectation, but, per Swedenborg, Yeats, and others, as a involuntary playing out of a soul's interiors on the astral, which would include wish-fulfillment desires – this in order to exhaust earthly desire so that a soul may eventually move on. I think that when psychiatry actually works, something of the same principle applies – the patient is nudged toward greater awareness, and the awareness itself helps to dissipate mental/emotional entanglement. I don't know this is for a fact, of course, but it makes an intuitional sense to me.  Enjoy vacation, evade tornadoes!

  51. JMG,

    James Jensen said: ” . . . or your contrast in the Druid Magic Handbook between the Wheel of the Year, which has a source of power below, and the Tree of Life, which doesn't.”

    You replied: “no, you're just noting one of the places where some of my magical writings veer well away from standard occult philosophy!”

    Is this to say that – to use terms from the Dolmen Arch course – standard occult philosophy has an Awen but not an Annwn? Or is the distinction more between Solar and Telluric? Does standard occult philosophy primarily describe Solar-centric traditions? What changes would need to be made to the standard kit to fit it more comfortably to traditions like those found in The Druid Magic Handbook and the Dolmen Arch course?


  52. Reflecting on occult philosophy, the fragmentation of pop Neopaganism and the pagan umbrella, and so on… I’m beginning to hone in the relationships between one of the major conversations that frequently pops up among those people I know in my communities who are serious about occultism, and the broader conversation of this blog. One major piece of residue that seems to have crystalized into a lasting structure as the neopagan bubble dissolves is the emergence of public polytheist temple traditions which have emerged from the shroud of occult secrecy into the sunlight to become not occult, but simple cults in the tradition of the temple cults of the ancient world. In occult/alternative spirituality history, the closest thing I’m reminded of is the way that Unitarian Universalism as we now know it emerged on the other side of the messy dissolution of the American transcendentalist movement.

    You mentioned in your last essay on occult philosophy, the manner in which, starting in the ‘70s, operative magic outpaced occult philosophy, phased it out, and became the be-all-end-all of magical training. Meanwhile, modern Western polytheism emerged within the context of the occult boom of the ‘70s, became its own thing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is just now becoming a phenomenon completely separated from pop Neopaganism (Asatru seems to have been the trailblazer for all 3 steps, being both the first to emerge and the first to divorce itself from Neopaganism). What that means is that as these traditions emerged and evolved within an occulture that wasn’t overly interested in occult philosophy.

    At some point, over the last 50 years, however, in those corners of the occult scene that fostered modern polytheism, something changed and we tumbled into a different world. For those of us interested in making sure that as they emerge as religious movements of their own, polytheist traditions can also continue to host a robust occult undercurrent within them, that presents a unique challenge. While the older waves of occult philosophy have a great deal of depth and power to them, especially when applied within the broader religious and philosophical framework that they rose out of, it can be very difficult to make them function within the animistic, polytheistic framework a lot of today’s magical communities work within. A lot of the existing occult philosophical religion depends on things like hierarchical monotheism, monistic unity, or going back to the last major wave that emerged in the ‘60s, a psychological cosmology that projects the crowded cosmos onto the collective unconscious. All are powerful concepts when you open your mind to that particular framework, but none of them quite match up to the world a lot of us in this generation actually seem to be inhabiting.

    Meanwhile, the lore that’s left over from the cultures we’re drawing inspiration from tends to be fragmentary, and difficult to frame into an effective occult worldview on its own terms. There’s a lot of work going on right now to work through the philosophical structure of traditional Western Occultism and reframe certain elements into something that works in the animistic and devotional polytheistic traditions of the 21st century, and can lead us down that path towards deeper mysteries. It seems then, like one of the challenges we currently face is not only re-learning traditional occult philosophy, but building a new occult philosophy that matches the terrain the magic and ritual and lore we’ve been working with has led us to.

  53. Thanks for your comment Archdruid! The question of destiny versus free will has been important to me for a long time. As we flow forward along the perception of the arrow of time are we building the future or is it set? Can one step outside of the flow that contains our lives/perceptions and look at the entirety from beginning to end? That is why it seems to me that the future is aligning the past or that it is all already there. In Isis Unveiled Madame Blavatsky makes a statement that compliments your answer “… the future exists in the astral light in embryo, as the present existed in embryo in the past. While man is free to act as he pleases, the manner in which he will act was foreknown from all time – not on the ground of fatalism or destiny, but simply on the principle of universal, unchangeable harmony, just as it may be foreknown that, when a musical note is struck, its vibrations will not and cannot change into another note.”

    So, I'm currently reading Dion Fortune's “Cosmic Doctrine.” It will take additional reads as I learn more, but it speaks to me. I also had a special experience while on Glastonbury Tor, but it was nothing of the caliber of her's. My path has taught me to flow with a will that drives me more certainly than I could, at this point, drive myself. I don't want to be that guy who dreams of money and ends up counting notes at a bank… But, at some point, if I am to fulfill the potential of this life, as it seems, I should learn how to direct the flow as it involves me. Of course, that is why I'm studying the occult sciences. Thanks for the time you take with us!

  54. (Deborah Bender)

    Eric S., please accept some “attaboys” for the analysis in your post beginning “Reflecting on occult philosophy”. I see what you are seeing.

    You wrote, “While the older waves of occult philosophy have a great deal of depth and power to them, especially when applied within the broader religious and philosophical framework that they rose out of, it can be very difficult to make them function within the animistic, polytheistic framework a lot of today’s magical communities work within.”

    I noticed this problem in the 1970s when I took up religious witchcraft. It's not unusual for witches to combine some monist leanings with relationships to particular deities and an animist underpinning to personal magic. That is all right in itself but when combined with vague and incoherent philosophical theory, it's a problem, especially for group work.

    “For those of us interested in making sure that as they emerge as religious movements of their own, polytheist traditions can also continue to host a robust occult undercurrent within them, that presents a unique challenge.”

    Blessings on your work. Apart from possible benefits to my own practice, a robust occult undercurrent in polytheist traditions would be partial protection against temple cults becoming scams or tools of the ruling class.

  55. JMG,

    To go back to a point you made last month, and tying it you what you closed with “if you study occult philosophy and learn all about the astral plane, and then take up the practices that will allow you to perceive it (or, more precisely, realize that you’ve actually been perceiving it all along but were taught not to pay attention), what you know will help you make sense of what you experience”;

    I am thinking about some of the occult schools which (as you've mentioned previously) tended to discourage operative occultism. I'll try to situate your Schopenhaurian operative occultism trinarily between what seem to be two opposite and less desirable outcomes from such discouragement of the practical. I'm thinking on the one hand of Gurdjieff's apparent enduring pessimism about the “mechanicalness” of the everyday conciousness and its extreme difficulty, almost inability, wake up to the will, and on the other of Rudolf Steiner's resolute optimism (and rejection of Schopenhauer) at the innate human ability to sense spiritually the reality of what you term the irrational will residing behind sensory “reality”. Both schools, the 4th Way and Anthroposophy, seem to put the brakes on pursuing “phenomena” or practicing magic though certain concessions seem to be made for things like telepathic breakthroughs in conciousness in the former and for limited acceptance of “white magic” (but not “black”) in some arenas in the latter.

    What comes to mind is the apparent tragedy of Ouspensky's last days when he seemed to regret his persitence at holding to his master Gurdjieff's masochistic and pessimistic process of 'self-remembering', at the expense of developing his own profound ideas that grew out of the romantic occult mysticism of his youth. On the other hand, I think of the ossification one can encounter in some anthroposophical circles that seems to grow out of the approach you identified last month of “[sidestepping] it by claiming that absolute truth about the cosmos can be obtained from some nonrational source” – in this case Steiner's clairvoyant perceptions. (Granted, as with everything one's mileage varies, and maybe Ouspensky got what he needed for his stage in his journey… but speaking here philosophically and generally…)

    It seems that your interpretation of what many term the “pessimistic philosopher” is more nuanced and lies somewhere between the occult perspectives of Gurdjieff and Steiner. Gurdjieff who seems to have embraced the pessimistic interpretation (whether he actually read Schopenhauer I imagine is anyone's guess); Steiner who seemed to have reacted against the pessimistic viewpoint of his contemporaries in favor of embracing his own spiritual insight; is Levi's interpretation of the Schopenhauerian revolution then… more robust, or more balanced, or perhaps more wild?

    As always thanks for the journey, and enjoy your vacation!

  56. Another fascinating post. On metempsychosis, I hope you'll be talking about the research of Professor Ian Stevenson into reincarnation at some point. He's proved it, beyond much of a doubt, using the scientific method. The interesting thing is that his methods were so robust that people prefer simply to ignore it, rather than tackle it head on.

  57. Peter Wilson — you're a bit generous in your description of Stevenson's work. For one thing, the actual Scientific Method of falsifiable hypothesis testing would be very hard to apply in the sort of research he did (and even if it could be, hypotheses are never proved, just supported). And he did receive some direct and strong critical review during his time.

    But I will say he did not try to force either science or conventional religious beliefs onto the phenomena he observed. And his conclusion that living people are connected to the experiences of those who are not alive now is actually consisyent with the beliefs of most people on the planet, I'd expect.

  58. What amuses me about reincarnation is that people generally assume that the “arrow of time” applies in these situations as well — you connect to experiences from those who lived before you, but not those who have not yet lived. But why would this necessarily be true? The Eternal realms are by definition outside of time, why would they be so constrained? Even the popular reincarnation-based comedy “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” escaped this constraint (as a punch line, near the end).

    And while we are addressing unidirectionality versus bidirectionality…

    Isn't it quite possible that the arrow of causation in the Cosmogony of Emanation could also be viewed from either direction, and that a Cosmology could be conceived wherein the Material plane begets the other planes proceeding outward/upward rather than inward/downward? Indeed a bidirectional cosmogony is rather easy to imagine as well, wherein all of the levels coevolve simultaneously in the ongoing Creation? Certainly this is consistent with Magic, wherein we tweak the physical or mental and the effects progagate through all planes, and reverberate back amplified

  59. Huh. All of these, with the possible exception of “Macrocosm and Microcosm”, are also part of traditional Buddhist thought. Western Buddhists often go out of their way to sanitize it for modern tastes, explaining the “crowded cosmos” and “cosmological levels” as purely psychological metaphors.

    That's not actually too difficult, as traditionally those levels and some of their inhabitants were both real things and psychological metaphors. I suppose this is an example of “quod est inferius &c.”, but I've never seen it stated as a general principle.

    Interestingly, in my experience metempsychosis doesn't get this treatment as much; while it's de-emphasized with beginners, enough serious practitioners have had those apparent past-life memories that people aren't willing to reject it out of hand.

    I have seen Buddhists draw a distinction between the “reincarnation” of Other Leading Brands, which allegedly involves a unitary, eternal self that gets reincarnated, versus Buddhism's “rebirth”, which involves various bits and pieces going separate ways; it's really interesting that that detail is standard in occultism as well.

  60. On metempsychosis in Judaism: I hear that in contrast to Christianity, Judaism traditionally didn't have very strong opinions about what happens after death, so that the Kabbalah's reincarnation theories were never a point of controversy with devout Jews (whereas emanation, for instance, very much was). I may be misinformed!

  61. Bill, I didn't mean to imply that Stevenson used the scientific method of falsification of a hypothesis, in so far as we've come to understand it since Popper. I meant simply his methods of rigorous and logical analysis, which even to the arch-skeptic, are pretty difficult to easily rebut. I don't believe you could study reincarnation with any hypothesis testing, although people are scraping at the edges of it now in a wide variety of fields, and more of this sort of work is getting published in reputable journals. Things are definitely opening up.

  62. Sorry, one more thing, some of the comments above are focusing on the slow development of souls through countless cycles of birth and rebirth, which is pretty consistent with Mahayana Buddhism. However, I do note that Vajaryana Buddhism offers, or claims to offer, an accelerated pathway for people to beat those cycles, and opt-out, to “achieve” nirvana, or whatever that may actually be. It's probably oneness with the greater countenance…

    I've always wondered about that in a two-fold way – firstly, is there arrogance and egotism in assuming that you can achieve that in one lifetime with a particular set of human practices?

    And secondly, traditional western occult practices don't seem to contain anything as advanced as the Tibetan practices, particularly on death and dying, but this may be simply because the Tibetan literature didn't become translated or well known in the West until after WWII (although Evans-Wentz published a bit earlier).

  63. Ok, I have to ask- what does “nonperson” mean, if not “anything that is not a person”? I'm just stumped on the terminology- isn't everything either a person or not? Is there some meaning, either for “person” or “non”, that I'm missing?

    Forgive the focus on what is probably a non-essential point, although it merited at least an aside in JMG's carefully considered writing. I'm sure I'm revealing my limited binary thinking here. I actually have no problem with the concept of a source of the universe which I have no way of really understanding; I'm very comfortable with this eternal mystery. I guess I'm just distracted by this “not this, but not not this either” construction.

    –Heather in CA

  64. Bill,

    “What amuses me about reincarnation is that people generally assume that the “arrow of time” applies in these situations as well — you connect to experiences from those who lived before you, but not those who have not yet lived. But why would this necessarily be true? The Eternal realms are by definition outside of time, why would they be so constrained?”

    aaannnddd you just blew my mind right there. I never thought of the possibility that the flashes and images I got could be from some point in the future.

  65. (Deborah Bender)

    @Grisom–The variety of classical Reform Judaism I was brought up in gave no attention whatever to the afterlife, nor did it explain what the prayerbooks meant by the soul.

    As an adult, I've gotten curious about the parts of Judaism that the Reform movement pruned away. Initial searches on websites hosted by other Jewish denominations confirm that there is mention of metempsychosis in the tradition, but it's not a prominent part of Jewish thought.

    There is a general bias in rabbinic Judaism against extended speculation about questions whose answers cannot be verified by experience. Speculation isn't forbidden but people aren't encouraged to expend a lot of energy on it, and theories based on speculation do not usually attain the status of doctrine.* For example, my understanding is that unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Judaism has no doctrine about when the soul enters the body, beyond the belief that it happens before the baby's head emerges from the birth canal.

    *This attitude reminds me of the answers the Buddha is said to have given to people who asked him questions about matters that he thought were irrelevant to attaining enlightenment.

  66. heather,

    One way you can understand “not a person, but not a nonperson” is “not a person, but not entirely dissimilar from a person,” or even “a person, but not a person person.”

    The basic idea is that our normal categories of thought do not apply correctly to things far removed from the context in which those categories arose. We can see a similar situation if we ask, “Is coffee a type of tea?” or “Is breakfast cereal a type of soup?” or consider the contentious question, “Is Buddhism a religion?” Whichever answer we give is going to be at least a bit misleading (or pointless).

    So saying “not an X, but not a non-X” is, among other things, a technique to avoid the kind of pitfalls of thinking that arise when trying to apply a mental category to something fairly foreign to it.

  67. Peter Wilson — to nitpick, Vajrayana claims to offer fast ways to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, and rejects Nirvana as the inferior goal of disastrously uncool people from olden times. I dunno what that means in cabalistic terms, either…

    The Buddha achieved Buddhahood in one lifetime* with a particular set of human practices, so I don't see why it'd be arrogant to think other people can!

    (* Arguably, anyway? I mean, Siddartha Gautama achieved Buddhahood in one lifetime, and his umpty billion previous incarnations achieved Buddhahood in umpty billion lifetimes. It depends where you start counting.)

  68. Deborah — Yeah, that's about what I had thought. I remember going to an interfaith thing and thinking the rabbi sounded remarkably like a Zen teacher; in hindsight it may have been that shared “bias against speculation” I was picking up on.

  69. Hi JMG,

    No need to reply.

    Thanks for that observation and it makes sense. The author made some startling observations and drew some fascinating conclusions from those. It was a really good book, perhaps what one may call it: an eye opener. Maybe someone else altogether wrote the conclusion? :-)! I have this mental image of the author being mugged whilst chimps completed the conclusion.

    The funny thing was that I hadn't even realised that I was reading the last chapter because the appendices were sooooo long and exhaustive. I read another book about Aboriginal land management practices using fire – that was for no real reason, considered to be a controversial book – and the author also had to justify their stance with massive appendices. The suggestion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is a real buzzkill to new ideas.

    Unfortunately, the realities of fetching water and chopping wood are a bit of a burden from time to time – especially at the end of a long hot and dry summer, but it does get easier with long term practice.

    Just one last thought, the indifference that you speak of accords with the lived experience (especially down here), but I fear that indifference a bit. It was not kind to the dinosaurs…



  70. It is somewhat interesting that reincarnation is so often a touchstone/test question for many occult discussions. To be properly occult, reincarnation/metempsychosis must be a key part of one’s secret knowledge. Rather like speaking in tongues or the “altar call” or the rapture are for certain flavors of protestant Christianity or atheistic materialism for certain woerlds that purport to be scientific.

    Given 7 billion humans on the planet at the moment, how far back before 1930 would we need to go to provide each of those 7 billion with one previous human incarnation? By the time we got a second “pre-incarnation” we’re back where population levels were low and life spans often didn’t allow for the development of those subtle bodies that only come into play in adolescence. Seems that one runs out of recorded history rather quickly to fit in vast numbers of previous lives before the pleistocene. Of course, populations were reported to be higher in Atlantis and Lemuria.

  71. Brother Guthlac — your reincarnation model assumes 1-for-1 “exchange” of discrete souls and a unidirectional linear model of time — past to present to future. These are features of our experience in the physical plane, but why should we assume they also apply in other planes? Especially when MUCH tradition about these other planes asserts that they indeed “function” very differently than does the physical?

  72. (Deborah Bender)

    Brother Guthlac, we all share common physical ancestors. Any reason why we couldn't share incarnations? I was that peasant woman living alone on edge of the forest after her family died, and so were several other people. Brand new souls generate to occupy the increased numbers of new bodies; they have equal and shared access to memories and lessons learned from past incarnations.

    That would be a partial explanation for the competing claims to have been someone famous in a previous life, but I don't see anything preventing it from also being true of the obscure and the forgotten.

  73. Brother Guthlac,

    Given 7 billion humans on the planet at the moment, how far back before 1930 would we need to go to provide each of those 7 billion with one previous human incarnation?

    Quite a ways, but there's no need to do that: for most of us, this may very well be our first incarnation as a human being. I assume that's true of myself. (Though if I could have my pick, I'd call Giordano Bruno.)

    However, also consider that many traditions, including Buddhism and the Jewish Cabala, allow that different parts of a person's soul can reincarnate into different people. In fact it's said that upon conversion to Judaism, part of a Gentile's soul is replaced by an unperfected part of another Jew's soul so that the convert can become truly Jewish and also help perfect the soul for its original owner.

    This of course challenges our modern notion of the unity and individuality of the soul, but it seems to be a pretty common part of many traditions. It may also tie into an issue in polytheism, which is that there does not seem to be any useful way to count how many gods there are because they blend so easily into each other. That's not just an issue of soft polytheism or interpretation graeca, either: consider how many of the gods of Egypt are aspects of other gods, including of multiple other gods.

  74. Patricia, all the planes are unfinished, if by “finished” you mean created once and for all. The process of creation cascades down through the planes throughout time, and what we call “matter” is traditionally simply the point at which each current of creative influence finishes crystallizing into form.

    Will, if you want to suggest that penguins in tutus will show up when their presence is part of a necessary experience, I won't argue. It's the notion that people get what they want or expect that I tend to challenge.

    Alexander, good. Most occult philosophy of the sort outlined in this month's post is centered on the solar current, and if it recognizes the telluric current at all, that's identified as a secondary phenomenon. As for what kind of changes would be needed, that's a good subject for a book!

    Eric, good. Yes, exactly.

    Coboarts, also good. Eliphas Levi has much the same thing to say about the astral light, for what it's worth — of course Blavatsky may have been taking notes. 😉

    Harvester, that's a cogent analysis. I haven't studied the Fourth Way in any detail, so can't really speak to Gurdjieff's analysis, but to my mind one of the fatal flaws in Anthroposophy as it's usually practiced — and to some extent, as Steiner taught it — is precisely the tendency to conflate a set of representations of reality with reality as such. If I understand what you're suggesting, Gurdjieff's mistake is that of going to the other extreme and arguing that we're all lost in a wilderness of representations from which we cannot extricate ourselves, and to which we're doomed to react mechanically to the end of time.

    The tradition that starts with Levi, and borrows (knowingly or not) from Schopenhauer, argues that neither of these are true. Everything we experience is a representation — we have no access to objective truth about anything — but we aren't confined permanently to the specific modes of representation that human beings currently have, and directed effort in certain modes can shift us toward more complete, balanced, and useful modes of representing a universe in which we are ourselves a small but wholly integrated part.

    Peter, I think it's too broad a generalization to say that Stevenson proves metempsychosis; he provides good evidence, better than for any other option, but “proves” is a very strong word.

    Bill, no doubt, but there have been many, many cases in which apparent memories of other incarnations could be definitely traced to the past, and I don't know of even one that turned out to be “memories of the future” that were later confirmed — say, someone who lived during the Theosophical era and remembered details of an incarnation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. As for cosmologies that begin from matter rather than from spirit, of course — there are any number of them, including most of the popular cosmologies of our time. Carl Sagan's “Stardust” mythology is one example of many. Bidirectionality is less common, but of course it's an option. It so happens, though, that nearly all occult philosophies choose the spirit-down option.

  75. Grisom, occultists tend to point to the convergence of spiritual philosophies on a common set of basic understandings as evidence that there's more than wishful thinking going on here. I've studied Japanese esoteric Buddhist thought to some extent (my Japanese stepfamily are Shingon Buddhists) and found a lot of common ground between that and the occult teachings I've mostly studied, for whatever that' worth.

    Peter, but don't you have to build up a certain amount of karmic momentum to find your way to a Vajrayana teacher and take that fast path? You're right that Western methods are slower; the standard view is that it takes three incarnations of work in Western occultism to achieve the equivalent of enlightenment. That said, do you know for a fact whether or not you've put in one or two of those already? 😉

    Heather, good. You caught that. The point being made by such language is subtle: “person” is a label, and so is “nonperson.” Each label has certain meanings and connotations. The transcendent source of all things is beyond any connotation or meaning that can be expressed in human language, so neither label can be applied to it. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry about it; it will eventually.

    Brother G., I hope you didn't lift that talking point from one of those websites where Christians like to heap up supposed ammunition for assailing other faiths; that's the context in which I've seen that argument trotted out before, and it's a bad habit, not least because the talking point in question — like pretty much everything else that appears on such websites — is a classic bit of bad logic, and also shows that you weren't paying attention.

    I already pointed out the logical flaw in that argument in my post, when I described metempsychosis as “a fancy philosophical label for the variety of reincarnation that isn’t limited to human bodies.” Please reread that bit in quotes and then look at your comment, and you'll see the hole in your logic through which herds of hippogriffs could fly. The human population began climbing dramatically just a few hundred years ago. What else started happening a few hundred years ago? Steep declines in the population of most other species of large intelligent mammals: whales, dolphins, elephants, and so on down a vast list. Those souls presumably needed to find new bodies in which to incarnate, and just then, a whole lot of new bodies began to appear in another species of large intelligent mammal. Makes perfect sense, wouldn't you say?

  76. JMG — I suppose “past life” memories that came “from the future” could be hard to distinguish from prophecies, and be especially hard for the rememberer to interpret in their current time frame. One might even hypothesize that Revelations is simply a massive slew of “future past-life memories” and that John the Revelator had a “past life” that spanned some period of great war and upheaval in the future (not that his own “present life” didn't!).

    Of couse I am mostly just looking at these ideas inside out, upside down, and in funhouse mirrors in keeping with the spirit of your opening articles on this blog, which you reitterate in your penultimate paragraph this month.

  77. Separate topic but also perhaps relevant to the broad notion of metempsychosis you present…

    In the cosmological framework you present here and in your other writings (not that I have read anything close to all of them!! You are prolific), there's one widespread entity I have not been able to place: the ancestor spirit. They are very common in animistic and folk traditions. They are different than ghosts in that they persist indefinitely and manifest fully human intelligence, personality, and communication abilities. Most people's interactions with them (including mine) are primarily mental. They don't seem to fit within the traditional occult framework of entities very well.

    Perhaps it's an alternative path the mental body can chose to take, rather than reincarnation, depending on cultural norms and expectations? Or perhaps more likely, it's just a different conceptualization of the same (ultimately incomprehensible) phenomena that living people learn from the culture they live up in?

  78. Well, that stirred a flurry of response. Thank you to you all.

    Yes, Bill, I speak in terms of discrete souls. On the basis that, functionally, it works reasonably well to treat each featherless biped as a discreet individual in many cases. Generally they insert nourishment individually. Reproduction generally involves one individual from each of the two variant forms of the species. Something like “individual attainment” mentioned in the original posting seems to involve discrete souls. Yes, there are circumstances when it works to treat the individual human being as a synergetic colony of cells clumped as organs supporting the larger organism. Admittedly, individual thought is problematic at some levels – one point of this conversation around the Well. Is consciousness in any meaningful sense individual?
    Deborah: Shared memories, interesting. But my memories of events in which I personally participated yesterday are quite distinct from anybody else’s, even if we were all present and involved physically.
    James and JMG: That a very significant portion of today’s human population is trying this out for the first time and has an awful lot to learn through trial and error, error, error – that’s interesting and would address the mathematics. Also interesting to consider a back-and-forth curriculum for cross-training “souls” between tool-using and non-tool using species. I took seriously the option that human is not necessarily the peak or last life-form before graduating beyond the physical plane. As observed above, “ biological evolution doesn't tend to move in any particular direction, and the development of souls over many lifetimes does seem to move from simpler to more complex forms over time.”

    The “talking point” wasn’t lifted (directly or consciously) from anywhere but my own reflection. And my sister immediately questioned my restricting the consideration to only the human. The comment regarding numbers is just an observation of how physical realities that shaped 19th century speculation might resonate differently when we consider things from today’s (perceived) physical realities. Before 1850 recorded history had room for several more past cyclings of the then incarnate human population. Time frames in “yugas” that might have seemed astounding in the 17th century seem quite plausible today – except to young-earth creationists.

    My comment was less aimed at challenging metempsychosis than questioning the common binary that popularly pits it against one-time-around descriptions as if those are the only options. Also at the popular attitude that discounts any “spiritual” tradition that doesn’t make metempsychosis, or some other detail of the occult matrix, fundamental to the “program”. Cycles of time: Linear to a Raptured end-point or circles upon circles cycling – is there a ternary option that just keeps flowing and diversifying and growing in complexity? Emanation or Creation ex nihlo, another nice binary. Emanation is a lot less challenging to ordinary “consciousness”; might be good to be challenged occasionally.
    Individual attainment – what is individual? What is a “you”? I believe that it was ShankaraAdiShankaracharya who suggested that nobody incarnates – what to say reincarnates – except the Great Lord Himself. Yeah, Shankara wasn’t a “western” magician.

    I agree: “the obvious differences don’t matter anything like as much as most people expect.” And if one wants to find trilobites, a bit of paleontology could be useful.

  79. Patricia and JMG,

    Patricia, all the planes are unfinished, if by “finished” you mean created once and for all. The process of creation cascades down through the planes throughout time, and what we call “matter” is traditionally simply the point at which each current of creative influence finishes crystallizing into form.

    IIRC from Monsters, aren't demons held by some traditions to be beings from a plane lower than that of matter? Or are they just “outside” the currents altogether, explaining their ill-fitting nature?

  80. James M. Jensen II and JMG-
    Thanks for the patient efforts to clarify the person/ nonperson/ none of the above issue with me. I can understand the Trandscendent as something not understandable (now who's having fun with the terminology? 🙂 and thus too slippery for our Post-it labels for classifying Everything. I also enjoyed the opportunity to think about what made a person a person, or not. Always such food for thought here, both from our host and the commenters.
    –Heather in CA

  81. I find it interesting to note that some of these “big ideas” controversial to many adults seem to come naturally to my kids- for example, metempsychosis. When we were looking at pond water under the microscope, my daughter wondered aloud whether she had ever been a paramecium. She and I joked about how hard it would be to manage all those cilia and flagella we were watching whip around- we are both kind of klutzy, apparently still working on that aspect of existence. And when my son heard the idea that plants seem to have evolved the ability to photosynthesize by somehow ingesting Cyanobacteria and keeping them as organelles, rather than digesting them or killing them as invaders, he was fascinated. What was the relationship between those two first coexisting unicellular critters? Wouldn't it be great to go down in history as the plant cell that had that “idea”? We joked that probably everyone would want to claim to be the reincarnation of that worthy creature. The point being, they aren't yet stuck with the idea that humans are the end-all and be-all. I see one impotant part of my role as their parent (and incidentally their homeschool instructor) is to preserve that openness, that wondering nature, that imagination, and that apparent closeness to a clearer vision of The Way Things Might Be. JMG has commented elsewhere that children shouldn't be instructed in magic, and I certainly don't do that, but I'll admit to encouraging them to hold on to views of the world that will leave them less to “unlearn” in the hopes that as adults they also find this path.
    –Heather in CA

  82. When my wife was very young, she remembered being born and dying from when a cow stepped on her foot. The incident occurred in a village near by and her former parents came around and it was all pretty much acknowledged and forgotten. It seems if a death occurs early in a life a real quick rebirth is not unexpected.

    While reading M. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine (my first time through so far), I got the idea at some point (tried to relocate) that she spoke of a monad in the sense of a soul having an array of lives building its one combined experience. As it seems that I've run into some similar personalities repeatedly through my life, this seemed to make sense in the same way that ancient hunters revered the archetypal animal as representing all the animals of the species. So, following the thread on metempsychosis, I'd like to posit that there is a community of experiencers working throughout the population multiplied however many times the population increase supports – sort of like one tribe behind all tribes. Not that it really matters, but it is fun to speculate.

  83. Re matter-to-spirit cosmologies – Ray Kurzweil's Singularity theory is a gem. It's like a perfect reverse-engineering of the Godhead to God/Creation to matter to evolution schematic.

    Singularity theory goes: matter to evolution to eventual super-Artificial Intelligence (which is basically God and Parousia). Actually, the Singularity enthusiasts aren't so sure about the Parousia aspect – they're not convinced that the super AI God won't size everything up in a millisecond and obliterate everything. But it will be a God, the end-point of evolution. 

    Re possible incarnation in the past – unsure, because while time and space may be considerably more flexible in the Subtle Worlds than on the material plane, the Subtle Worlds are still an element of Creation, which is a limiting of the Formless and Timeless into time and space. Thus in the Subtle Worlds, time, however flexible it may be, is still “forward-moving”. Sense of time in a dream, eg., may quicken or slow or seem to compress, but it is still present. Only the Godhead is outside time and space. 

  84. Found this poem and thought I'd share it:

    When we allowed
    science to convince us
    that there is no soul
    or intelligence in matter,
    the Earth's physical forms
    became only cemetery markers
    showing where spirits once moved
    through the world.
    The autopsy
    of the material world
    then began in earnest.
    Its dissected parts
    litter the landscape
    and we walk, depressed,
    among lifeless statuary,
    only accidental lifeforms
    on the surface of
    a ball of rock
    hurtling around the sun.

    The metal gate is unlocked.

    Other kinds of flowers
    nod in sunlight
    outside that wrought-iron fence.

  85. On the matter of reincarnation versus metempsychosis I keep an open mind. But I don't see too much of a problem with the math with reincarnation. Of course if souls graduate, and I sure hope they do (and if they do it would leave a few open slots) then there could be an influx of new souls. About that last I have doubts too because what would be a new soul and whence would it come? If we say it comes from the animal realms, that might work, but I'm thinking of the eastern notion that “that which is unborn cannot die.”)

    Souls must do something between lifetimes, and I see no reason other than Tibetan or Buddhist negativity (it being my thesis that all the belief systems of humans will have similar flaw patterns due to our cussedness) for a soul to experience the nausea of immediate reincarnation. I would expect there is much to do in integrating the lessons of a just-finished lifetime, and if we didn't get a breather from the utter craziness of this place – many lives go rather badly – I think we'd all be gibbering psychotics. We may have reincarnated at a very leisurely pace in the past, perhaps stepping it up now as we have the opportunity/necessity.
    As to the person/nonperson thing, this is another area that I gently mull over. For me the paradox revolves around that being a person requires a consciousness and most probably some sort of will, but being a person also requires that there is someone that you are NOT. I can't be me if there isn't a not-me. There isn't a cup without that everything else is not that cup. It's well and good to see that “it's all one” (which is why I call myself Onething) but within that one we have, shall we say, cells with each its own membrane and that membrane is fully concerned with maintaining the good function of that individual cell vis a vis the outside world.

    Now me, I don't think there is another option than ultimate unity, so it means our individuality is contained within this unity, which again is better understood in the east as not either this or that but “both/and”

    But how to think of this transcendent source of all existence if it fills all things, does not have that division from not-me? Then how can it be a person? Yet to have it be unconscious is somehow repugnant as well as probably impossible as consciousness is probably the ground of all creation. But it cannot be separate…from anything…there is nothing that it is not…is it an I? How does it apply its will?

    Those are rhetorical questions.

  86. Will — That Kurzweil stuff is not Creation as occultists use the term, it is Evolution, and a particular techno-worshiping High Church of Eternal Progress mythological notion of evolution. Creation in the occult sense is an ongoing phenonemon of every angstom of existence in every dimension and all planes. It is more like the way the flow of the river creates the waterfall, constantly, withevery molecule in every instant, never ceasing. This is not just some “JMG thing,” it is fundamental to the Qaballa and many other schools of thought. Existence exists because every moment of it is created by the ongoing eternal process of creation. It's neither a literal interpretation of the biblical 7 days, nor is it the Big Bang. Using the currently prevailing cosmological model (still standing though the scaffolding is getting pretty convoluted and strange in places…), the Big Bang would have been the moment the creation began, but it continues to this very instant. If creation stops, the universe simply ceases to be, winks out of existence, not even a *poof* to reverberate or any emptiness for it to reverberate in, just meaningless nothingness

  87. Bill – That's my take on Creation as well. I was just pointing out the Singularity theory as an example of a “ground-up” cosmology, one that has the quasi-meta twist of Man essentially creating God in the form of a super AI. 

    As I recall, sci-fi writer Frank Herbert wrote a series of novels back in the 70's – the WorShip series – in which a sentient computer is designed to power a starship. Once the computer is given the equivalent of an unconscious mind, it literally becomes the God that always was and will be. Good presaging by Herbert re the Singularity theory. It's still a steaming pile of aint-never-gonna-happen.

  88. Reincarnation seems to be getting a bit of a play.

    My own viewpoint on it is conditioned by my being a student of the Michael Teachings. Michael has a rather different view of the matter: when Essence has an incarnation, it conditions a fragment of itself so that it can maintain a symbiotic relationship with a human body on the physical plane, and it gives that fragment a copy of the total experience of all prior incarnations. The fragment is called Personality, the record of experience is called Soul. A specific Personality can reincarnate, but it usually doesn’t unless there are certain specific kinds of problems. Put another way, each Personality lives one life as a human being and then goes on to further experience on the Astral, eventually merging with Essence.

    What’s below is from that viewpoint.

    JMG: Correlation is not causation. The fact that there is a rough shift in the relative populations of humans and other animals is interesting, but it’s not relevant: the Design only incarnates as humans. There are apparently multi-species interstellar communities where it’s possible to incarnate in different species, but they’re all sentients. There are other reasons why we don’t cross-incarnate with the other sentient species on the planet.

    @ onething

    The MT says that there are a specific number of Essences (about 2 billion) in this Design, so the average amount of reincarnational experience will trend upwards, although there are shifts since not all Essences incarnate in the same time frame. It is not a steady state situation. Yes, Essences eventually “graduate,” that is, finish everything they care to learn from the physical plane, and continue on a path to eventual integration with all of Creation.

    @Brother G:

    Not that far back at all, since time is rather flexible. There are only about 2 billion Essences in the current Design; many of them have more than one incarnation at the same time. (I supposedly have twelve, in different parts of the world.) These are, indeed, interesting times, and not only in the supposed ancient Chinese curse sense.

    @ James M. Jenson.

    The percentage of 1st incarnations at the present time is miniscule. There aren’t that many Essences left that haven’t had at least one incarnation. It may be trending toward zero since Essences supposedly stopped making first incarnations in the ‘70s.

    @ Brother G.

    The issue of cyclic versus linear is interesting, but remember: a piece of a circle is a line. If it’s small enough, it looks like a straight line.

    @ Cobarts

    That’s one of the situations where Essence might recycle a Personality; it had things it wanted to do in that lifetime, so reincarnation into the same situation is an obvious way to do it if the child dies very young of a mischance.

    @ JMG – a side note. “Channeling” seems to be a form of what you called “invocational magic,” that is, it brings another entity into your body. Michael is a mid-causal being.

  89. I've been looking at occultism for about six months, and I just remembered that the archdruid (who I knew from peak oil) was genuinely involved in it.

    I'd say that “you were taught not to pay attention” to the astral plane is unfair. We don't pay attention to 99% or more of what we perceive. Different sorts of training may help us pay attention better to some things. To give an example, when I learned how to identify plants, I realized that most people remember almost nothing of a flower they saw half an hour ago. Most people remember size and color, and not particularly well, and that's as far as it goes. They won't remember the shape, not to mention anything about the leaves next to it.

    The same goes for the astral plane. Today, things get my attention that never did before. It can be a little unsettling to go down a street I've walked down for years, and suddenly notice things I never noticed before! But I don't think I was taught not to notice, it's more like there are only a few things we are hardwired to pay attention to, like fast movement and familiar faces, and everything else we have to learn.

  90. Dear Mr. Greer:

    I must say that I am enjoying this series on the Scope of Occultism, and found this month’s post on occult philosophy interesting. This series is giving me a lot to consider on how I should approach my esoteric studies, and how I might produce a balanced discipline. I too hope that occult philosophy will make a significant comeback within the alternative spiritual milieu as this round of pop spirituality wanes.

    Actually, I’m also interested in your comment on a crowded cosmos: “Those systems that draw from Jewish and Christian sources talk about angels and archangels, those that draw from other sources talk about gods and goddesses, and no few equate the two sets of terminology.” This intrigues me, because even though I identify as a practicing and devout Trinitarian Christian, in my Qabalisitic/Neoplatonic worldview I think there is home for the Pagan deities (my working theory is that they are akin to either the angelic hosts or the denizens of Faerie, if not something else entirely). Might I ask if you could point me in the direction where I can do my own research and speculation on the matter. I think Dion Fortune wrote an essay on the subject in Aspects of Occultism. Apologies for any inconvenience. Happy Alban Eilir in advance, and may the Boundless Mystery bless and protect you and your loved ones.

    “Christopher Kildare”

  91. Bill, of course! The thing is, any model of any part of human experience has to start from whatever evidence we've got; the evidence for recollection of lives in the past is fairly extensive, while that for lives in the future is not — and the track record for prophecies is by and large extremely dismal! I suppose you could argue that people are remembering lives in futures that got cancelled… 😉

    As for ancestral spirits, you're quite correct, of course. The western occult traditions didn't evolve in societies that revered ancestral spirits, so generally neglected the concept. I'd want to consult with Taoist occultists on that subject!

    Patricia, you're most welcome.

    Brother G., glad to hear it. I've had to deal with the canned-talking-point-from-website sort of argument often enough that I'm probably oversensitive to the possibility. If it's any consolation, Christians are far from the only people who resort to that — get an atheist going on astrology or homeopathy, and you'll get the same barrage of canned talking points riddled with logical fallacies and cheap rhetorical tricks.

    James, good! In Cabalistic tradition, the Qlippoth or demons are beings from an earlier phase of creation who remained unintegrated when that phase returned to unity, so they're outside the current creative process altogether, and sustain themselves by what amounts to parasitism.

    Heather, you're most welcome. You're quite right about children — they haven't yet been browbeaten into fearing any version of reality other than the one that gets forcefed to them by the schools and the media, so can handle such things a lot more easily than adults can.

    Coboarts, your wife's experience is surprisingly common, and yes, a very quick rebirth is supposed to be standard when an infant or child dies. As for the speculation, oh, granted, speculation is fun!

    Will, and of course Kurzweil is (knowingly or not) ripping off Teilhard de Chardin and Olaf Stapeton. It's a very common set of ideas, not least because it's very comforting to the human ego to think of ourselves as the cutting edge of a process that will eventually result in God.

    Onething, is the poem yours? As for reincarnation and metempsychosis, it's a common teaching of occult philosophy that new souls are coming into being all the time, and starting the long trudge upwards through what Druids call the Circles of Abred. What we call “lifeless” matter and energy are the outward expressions of soul-stuff that has not yet differentiated into individual souls, so there's no shortage of raw material, nor will be for quite a while to come.

  92. John, the vast majority of occult philosophies, including those I use as primary guides in my own work, disagree — they describe a continuity of souls from single-celled organisms through the human level and beyond, and provide ample reasons why this makes sense. As I don't follow the Michael Teachings, and I have a variety of reservations about accepting any set of channeled teachings at face value, quoting those Teachings at me is not likely to change my take on things, you know! Correlation may not be causation, by the way, but this is certainly a place where standard occult philosophy offers a simple, clear, cogent, and comprehensible explanation for a phenomenon that otherwise requires a lot of special pleading.

    You're right, of course, that channeling is a form of invocational magic, but it's a form that occultists have traditionally regarded with a certain amount of wariness, as it can be very challenging to know exactly what's possessing a trance channeler — and as Swami Beyondananda likes to say, “just because they're dead doesn't mean they're smart.” That said, if you find channeled teachings appropriate for you, by all means follow them; my point is simply that the tradition out of which I'm speaking in this blog is not generally in sympathy with channeled teachings, and by and large does not accept them as gospel.

    Maria, in today's American culture, children who see things their parents don't see are almost universally told that they're imagining it, and are very often punished if they persist in seeing the supposedly nonexistent thing. That's what I'm talking about here — the astral senses tend to be suppressed in most children because they are taught, by parental example often backed up by punishment, to treat astral experiences as daydreams at best, and nonexistent at worst.

    Christopher, Fortune's the author who comes to mind here, though I recall dimly a number of others whose names aren't coming to mind. The parallels between archangels and Pagan gods in particular can be very exact — St. Michael and Apollo have an enormous amount of symbolism in common, as do St. Raphael and Hermes (cf. especially the apocryphal Book of Tobit in this regard).

  93. Thanks for this classification of occult philosophy. It's a very clear and understandable introduction that allows one to make some progress coming to grips with the immense diversity of the subject.

    On a side note: where would you place sacred geometry in this scheme?

  94. As for ancestral spirits, you're quite correct, of course. The western occult traditions didn't evolve in societies that revered ancestral spirits, so generally neglected the concept.

    Ancestral spirits are also a huge part of a lot of the traditions that rose out of traditional Western occultism, with many of them placing the ancestors on par in importance with the gods themselves, calling them first in ritual, or even using them as guides and aids in various types of spiritual work. Perhaps that's another one of those places where practice and experience have arisen, but without a fully matured body of philosophy surrounding it quite yet. There are also those cases where certain deities themselves are in fact particularly venerated ancestral spirits, and of course, even in the Western tradition, there are whole pantheons of saints responsible for as many appearances and miracles as any deity. What’s interesting to me, is that in a lot of traditions that put an emphasis on ancestral veneration is that many of them place a very high importance on keeping the memory of the ancestors alive and forgetting or dishonoring the ancestors is surrounded by taboo. In my mind, in addition to the components of the self you’ve already mentioned, there’s also the part of us that consists of the imprint each of us leaves within the wyrd of the cosmos, the echo of our thoughts and emotions, our relationships, our actions, identities and legacies kept alive through stories and memories, enough to maintain a lingering presence and awareness of its own, but also distinct from that thing sitting in the driver’s seat behind our eyeballs making decisions and experiencing the world (which would be the aspect that passes on through the process of metempsychosis). It also seems like that entity can either be forgotten and fade away, be maintained as a family spirit, or in some cases given time and veneration even undergo apotheosis. That leads to a questions like: what precisely is the connection between the carpenter-turned spiritual teacher who was executed in first century Judea, and the powerful deity who has rocked the world for 2000 years, filled the hearts of mystics, and entered into a relationship nestling down into the hearts of generations of believers?

  95. JMG,

    So the gods of one era really are the demons of the next? By turning to a kind of vampirism on a cosmic scale they preserved their individuality at the cost of becoming something terrible… Fascinating.

    I've often wondered if souls eventually die. Such speculation is largely useless considering that the scale at which such events come into play is far beyond us.

    I've had the sense for a while now that I probably don't want to exist literally forever, though I certainly won't be done with existence after this life.

  96. Quote JMG: “[…] so they're outside the current creative process altogether, and sustain themselves by what amounts to parasitism.”

    As such, is it appropriate to assume these fellas get their juice partly from the various kinds of human interaction that is largely a manifestation of the negative powers they represent?

  97. I stumbled upon this almost by accident. There's a second edition of Circles of Power (ISBN 9780987520609), by a bankrupt publisher, Salamander and Sons. They are selling their remaining stock until 31 March 2016.
    I found this on an ended eBay listing, which said “This is the long awaited revision to the original book in which Greer remedied a number of complaints that occurred with the first printing, and added additional material for the update. I ordered this from the publisher Salamander & Sons.”, so I found their site and ordered a copy using a remailer service, since their international shipping is quite expensive.
    Mr. Greer, is there a site where one can track your released books? This particular edition is not on the Galabes sidebar, nor on Amazon.

  98. More on the “bottom up” creation and what I was really talking about…

    I was not talking about creating a new structure and a new cosmology. I was talking about imagining the existing occult cosmogonies with the arrows of causation reversed. Take for examble a Qabbalistic perspective. We have (using plain English terminology) the spheres and all their paths, connected at the top to the Source, the flow from the Source cascades down through the tree and finally reaches and creates the material world at the bottom. So just run the movie backwards. The Source becomes the Sink, and the flow begins in the material worlds and cascades upwards through the tree finally giving rise to and sustaining the Sink. If you take a linear algebra approach to the tree and its flows, and put them all in a matrix, you have just multiplied it by -1.

    Of course even if you kept the structure intact, but reversed the flow of causality, you would have to entirely rework all your concepts and understandings of it. Take as a metaphor the physical world and the Arrow of Time. If we reverse time, we have to redo all out physical laws as well. We now live in a universe where matter left alone tends to form MORE comlpex structires over time (entropy decreases rather than increases). Heat flows from cold to hot, amplifying rather than diffusing thermal energy gradients. But matter and energy are still conserved. What this does to Quantum Mechanics, I couldn't tell ya. Animals take in raw materials and excrete complex biological systems, becoming smaller with time. Plants, on the other hand, give off simple compounds and photons. Due to the natural tendency for increasing order, these photons travel directly towards the sun.

    It seems a bizarre world to us, but who is to say, if we actually lived in it, that it would seem any less logically consistent or comprehensible than our own?

    Again, just playing with perspective…

  99. Bill – thanks for rounding out that aspect of time backwards. I suppose that I might have thought of playing the tape backwards in terms of the experience of events without reversing the actual physical processes at work. Time is a great fascination, and I've gotten JW Dunne's books, “An Experiment with Time” and “The Serial Universe” to understand his perspective, but I'm afraid they're still down the stack before I have planned to read them. Although, perhaps I've already read them and need to find my way into the future anamnesis…

    On reversing the path from higher emanations to lower, isn't the idea of looking back along the path of involution regarded as a degradation or is that just being afraid to blow out a few thousand lifetimes on the karmic wheel 🙂 Really, I only know enough of occult philosophy to be dangerous at this point.

  100. I've been looking back at some of the past articles of this blog, and I saw that you joined the bandwagon of occultists that have to put down Harry Potter and/or Dan Brown's novels. The goal of those authors was clearly to make occultism better known generally, and they succeeded wildly. Maybe a bit of envy is at play here?

    Harry Potter may be far from the best book series for children ever written, and JK Rowling may not have a tenth of the talent of Tolkien, but Tolkien is dead, and somebody has to do the job of introducing magic to new generations. And in spite of my initial distaste for JK Rowling's prose, not to mention that I'm a tad too old to enjoy children's books, I found Harry Potter marked a path to follow in the easiest way by far if you wanted to bother checking things out, and gave it in an entertaining manner, and that has to count for something. Even if the Wizarding World doesn't look much like anything one is likely to encounter in any plane, this is supposed to be a school, after all, and we all know that schools don't look a lot like the real life of work. Your mileage may vary and there are many possible jobs, and a school cannot prepare you effectively to everything, so it may be best after all if it doesn't bias you to expect anything in particular.

    You seem to be hunting for a way to describe the astral plane to non-mages that makes sense to most people in the Western world, and includes useful concepts. I'm quite new to this, so I may have any number of misconceptions. I have an idea that could be off the wall, but you may like: Have you read anything from Lynn Margulis? She worked on the Gaia concept with James Lovelock, but she was a microbiologist. Her view of life on this planet was pretty radical: microbes do all that matters, and multi-cellular organisms, including us, are practically an afterthought. In a way, not that different from the idea that the physical world is the last thing to come about. You may not see a connection with magic, it's just a thought.

  101. (Deborah Bender)

    @Bill Pulliam–The emergent properties idea in some branches of science seems to me to be reversing the flow of causation. It appears to be a fruitful approach to some kinds of scientific inquiry. There has been speculation that consciousness is an emergent property of matter. Maybe this is a last attempt to save an inadequate paradigm, or maybe they are on to something, or perhaps both.

    Reversing Time's arrow is a cool thought experiment.

  102. What do the versions of metempsychosis that you work with have to say about such creatures as single-celled organisms that divide to reproduce and plants that can be divided at the roots, split from one being into two? Does the soul divide as well, or does one half keep the original soul and a new one comes into the other part?

    I remember as a child when I first learned about organisms that reproduced by dividing, I asked those questions then too, it poked a hole in the idea of the self that I took for granted before then, and nobody else seemed to understand my concerns, or thought they were relevant to people at all, but the questions lingered in the back of my mind. Since humans and the animals that are similar enough to us for us to consider them intelligent don't reproduce in such a manner, I don;t think many people think of its philosophical implications. If there were any known creatures with human sorts of intelligence that could reproduce like a cell or a rhizomatous plant, I'd imagine our concept of the self would be quite different. I do think reincarnation has some pretty good evidence behind it (Ian Stevenson's research being the best evidence i know of), but I also see a variety of interpretations that would fit with that evidence, not all of them involving souls that always remain discrete individuals for lifetime after lifetime. I also wonder if further extrapolation on Rupert Sheldrake's theories of morphic fields could end up with a different take on metempsychosis. Every time I consider ideas of souls, the self, and reincarnation, one question that always nags at me is, what about those dividing cells?

  103. Bill wrote in reply to Will
    “Creation in the occult sense is an ongoing phenomenon … It is more like the way the flow of the river creates the waterfall, constantly, with every molecule in every instant, never ceasing. This is not just some “JMG thing,” it is fundamental to [the Cabbala and] many other schools of thought. Existence exists because every moment of it is created by the ongoing eternal process of creation.”

    I did not know of the connection to ancient schools of thought. Your potent description points me further than any personal speculation.

    It might however still be fun to speculate where this goes. We ‘know’ – and it seems reasonable hard knowledge – that time/space are not separate phenomena, at least not on the macro scale, and I have previously speculated whether ‘events’ must be unique to their own unique space/time co-ordinates, or constellation of co-ordinates, and whether they can be said to be continually created or re-created in the instant. I have even wondered whether the co-ordinates of ‘thought’ or of an ‘imagining’ similarly are created / recreated, (“existence exists”) or on the other hand just ‘create’ and wink out. Perhaps they go out with a small ‘poof’ because they have existed in the ongoing creation of the material world?

    And what happens to ‘history’? I have this funny notion –although from limited experience – that the past can exist in its own right not just in the creative trajectories of the eternal present. Like you, if I have understood, I have some ‘experience’ of the ancestors and these seemed like the real thing.

    Forgive me if I have misunderstood you and JMG let alone the subtle thoughts of ancient schools. And my physics is not up to much.


  104. It seems that western occult and magical traditions today largely prosper in disturbed protestant soil. The mainstream of Christendom east and west up until the Latin Scholastic squabbles that spawned the protestant reformation/deformation and its counter-reformation response was (some might say “is”) woven through and through with “the granddaddy of them all”. In my ignorance all the dots around the circumference, whether Levi or De Gébelin or Col. Olcott or Rosicrucian or Masonic Golden Dawn or Druid Revival or even the old Boehme and Swedenborg and Dee, all suggest that a protestant niche depleted of the “granddaddy's” matrix is “ecologically” suitable. Is this more-or-less accurate?

  105. .out write to difficult too that's but ,backward run would sentence this of letters the ,it of think to Come .natural perfectly seem and universal be would time reversed A. sentence this of backwardness the notice you like not Surely ?they would, notice would nobody , reversed truly arrow time's if, Well, 


    Philip K Dick's novel, Counter-Clock World posits a reversal of time – copulation spells and end to pregnancy, the dead come back to life, libraries are full of disappearing knowledge, which makes librarians the most powerful people on the planet, etc. In the novel, people do notice the reversal of time, of course, which as I said,( in reverse) wouldn't be the case with a universal reversal of time. Btw, PKD was the most meta and theologically probing of sci-fi writers, a genuine visionary, albeit a bit cracked as many visionaries tend to be.

    I can theorize a reversed time, at least in relation to our universe – if all Existence, all manifestation, is dependent on the interplay and balancing of polar opposites – positive/negative, yang/yin, male/female – wouldn't it stand to reason that that our universe has its own polar opposite, without which it could not exist? The polar opposite universe would have been born at the exact moment our's was, but would run backward in time, at least from our perspective. From the polar opposite universe's perspective, it is we who would be billions of years in the past. 

  106. Pico Della Mirandola Scope Clause

    “you must think of god in this way, as having everything—the cosmos, himself, universe—like thoughts within himself. Thus, unless you make yourself equal to god, you cannot understand god; like is understood by like. Make your-self grow to immeasurable immensity, outleap all body, outstrip all time, become eternity and you will understand god. Having conceived that nothing is impossi-ble to you, consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything, all art, all learning, the temper of every living thing. Go higher than every height and lower than every depth. Collect in yourself all the sensations of what has been made, of fire and water, dry and wet; be everywhere at once, on land, in the sea, in heaven; be not yet born, be in the womb, be young, old, dead, beyond death. And when you have understood all these at once—times, places, things, qualities, quantities—then you can understand god. But if you shut your soul up in the body and abase it and say 'I understand noth-ing, I can do nothing; I fear the sea, I cannot go up to heaven; I do not know what I was, I do not know what I will be', then what have you to do with god? … And do you say, 'god is unseen'? Hold your tongue! Who is more visible than god? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him. This is the goodness of god, this is his excellence: that he is visible through all things. For nothing is unseen, not even among the incorporeals. Mind is seen in the act of understanding, god in the act of making36.”

  107. Will (!) you couldn't have captured better the difference between my time backwards flow of events idea and Bill's more thorough time reverse process explanation with your statement and midthought – “backward run would sentence this of letters the ,it of think to Come” The empire never ended…

  108. Coboarts – heh, yes. PKD believed that the Roman Empire never ended – all time from 70 A.D. up to the present is an illusion inflicted on us by an evil Demiurge, and that we are the generation to whom Christ told “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Because, you know, we are actually living in 70 A.D. 

    I'm not sure if PKD literally believed this – I suspect he seriously entertained the notion – but it does, I think, underscore a certain seduction to which spiritual visionaries can succumb, and that is taking metaphor and symbol, the language of Spirit, a little too literally. Famous example: Saint Francis literally rebuilding his local church by hand after being instructed by God to “Rebuild my church”. Of course, Francis eventually realized the broader scope of his divine commission. 

  109. Karim, that belongs in a separate post on the pieces that haven't yet been brought back in out of the cold. That one's in process, in case you were wondering.

    Eric, a huge question. I've suspected for a long time that in practice, the name “Jesus” refers to a very large number of different beings ranging from the divine to the demonic.

    James, there's a lot of speculation as to what the Qlippoth were in the universe before ours, but I don't know of anybody suggesting that they were gods. A more general sense seems to be more that they flunked and got held over a grade.

    Sven, why, yes, it would indeed be appropriate to assume that.

    Pseudorandom, that's because the Salamander and Sons edition never got released; the publisher went bankrupt before the book was shipped. For what it's worth, I have another publisher lined up to bring out a new edition of that, and also of Paths of Wisdom and my translation of Gerard Thibault's Academy of the Sword — more on this once I have release dates.

    Bill, did you ever read Brian Aldiss' SF novel Cryptozoic! by any chance? Toward the end, he plays with the idea of time running the opposite direction — people are born in car crashes and hospital beds, grow younger and younger, and finally die by sliding up a woman's birth canal to be absorbed by her body over nine months. You can make that kind of thing work, but it takes effort. Ironically, though, quite a few people half-reinterpret the Tree of Life in something like the way you have in mind, thinking of Malkuth as the root and Kether as the furthest branch, where it's traditionally the other way around…

    Maria, it's a very common cheap shot to insist that somebody who criticizes a financially successful novel must be motivated by envy, and/or is just “jumping on the bandwagon.” That's rude and it doesn't add anything to the conversation, of course, but I suppose if you just want to score points, it'll do. I have, as it happens, a detailed response to your comments on Rowling's books, but that'll be appearing here in a post — probably though not certainly the next one that appears here, as it's on a subject I've had in mind for discussion for some time.

    Ozark, the process of mitosis (cell division) involves the complete breakup of the internal structure of the cell, and the reformulation of the parts into two new cells. I've always figured that in the process, the former soul leaves and two new ones move in. Plants are a more complex matter — I'm far from sure that they're part of the same line of development that animals are; their souls seem to be much more collective. More on this in a future post.

    Brother G., not so. Eliphas Levi was a devout if unorthodox Catholic; France, Italy, Poland, and Latin America — none of which are particularly Protestant — have had flourishing occult scenes since Levi's time; and Russia and the other Eastern Orthodox countries, which are so far from Protestantism that I know Orthodox thinkers who can't tell the difference between Protestants and Catholics — also have long and thriving histories of occultism.

  110. Re- the carpenter-charismatic (Eric S comment) and JMG’s reply: “Eric, a huge question. I've suspected for a long time that in practice, the name “Jesus” refers to a very large number of different beings ranging from the divine to the demonic.”

    One of the tentative conclusions I take away from this blog is that it matters perhaps a great deal what ‘we’ – and I would include ‘non-believers’ like me – think about Jesus. Given the peculiar balance of the USA at this point in world events, then how ‘Jesus’ is playing in the minds of people has to be a big deal, very especially perhaps under the name inherited in American minds? (I admit to having seriously underestimated and unconsciously down-played the importance of different ‘Jesus’ agendas before getting more of the flavour of where you guys are dug in. In part I understand when you wish to take to the woods and fields and find sacred groves and benefit from the witness of collective plant souls.)

    Russia, the Russian mind is different? Well … – Red Army discipline seems to have held during the collapse (Yeltsin years) and Putin is a Christian – the Orthodox is not as JMG has remarked remotely ‘protestant’, and thereby Russia is Russia and just maybe has learned enough from Czarism to avoid some of the pitfalls of ‘sacred monarchy’? For what it is worth I was prompted just now to google ‘Czarism divinity holy’ and turned up this interesting enough 'Orthodox' viewpoint – a bit of a mishmash but it tries to put ‘progress’ in its historical place: “In the very simplest terms, we are living in a world hostile to the Christian Economy.” .

    Eagles come into it somewhere.


  111. Thanks John!

    I am eagerly awaiting this special post. I am quite fascinated by SG and I spend quite some time studying it.

    I tend to believe that it has much to offer to the student in terms of insights of the visible and invisible realms.

    Enjoy your break!

  112. Err … just to clarify my comment above on Russian Othodoxy: I understand that JMG made it clear that in his view Orthodoxy is very far from 'protestant' – so far that he knows some Orthodox thinkers who have difficulty in distinguishing Catholic from Protestant when they look at Western Christianity.I hope I do not misquote.

    And just to add that here in Britland some of us also try to find better balance in the woods and fields 🙂 even as we face our mixed Christian legacy with its sometime splits into sub-cult (occult?) appeals to demon values. Luckily the worst of American religious cults do not always travel too well across the Atlantic.


  113. Hi, JMG. Thanks for this most informative and stimulating post! As a person who has been steeped in Hindu mysticism for most of my life, but with only a superficial understanding of the western occult tradition, it was reassuring to find that the list of 9 common themes in this post are very familiar to me. Not as though this post will serve as a deterrent to me reading more western occult literature, but having this framework in mind already will help me a great deal in the future. And I’m sure that I’m not alone in this regard…

    On an unrelated (but still occult) note, I have a question for you regarding potential adverse effects of SOP “gone wrong”. I have been practicing the full SOP for several months now (and several more months working up to the full SOP) with no ill effects on my health. However, yesterday I mysteriously broke out with a severe case of hives (still continues today but less severe) over much of my body for no obvious physical reason. And I have only had hives once before as an adult — and at that time for a very obvious physical reason. Is there a chance that if I forgot to banish imbalanced Fire, this could be the result? I do not believe that I made such a mistake, but in the off-chance I did, it would be good to know as I try to solve my “hive mystery”. Thanks in advance for your sage reply!

  114. Oh yes, Phil, this is really so. In my academic life I was a Medieval philologist specializing in Slavic texts from the Eastern Orthodox sector of the Slavic world — as a complete outsider, since I'm not a Slav and I wasn't raised Christian at all. The gut reaction, not just of Orthodox theologians or philosophers, but even of Orthodox laypeople, to either Catholicism or Protestantism is usually, “How are either of these things remotely Christian at all?” Their Christ does not even seem to be Christ.

    The more intellectual Orthodox know that Western Europe was always a marginal area in the history of Christendom, at least up to the Capture of Constantinople in 1453 — as marginal as the ancient Christian enclaves in China. As a somewhat dispassionate outsider, that point of view always made far more scholarly sense to me than the usual unexamined presuppositions of Western Medievalists. The wider you can cast your historical net, the better you understand what is going on in any one part of the world.

  115. @ JMG,

    “Bill, did you ever read Brian Aldiss' SF novel Cryptozoic! by any chance? Toward the end, he plays with the idea of time running the opposite direction — people are born in car crashes and hospital beds, grow younger and younger, and finally die by sliding up a woman's birth canal to be absorbed by her body over nine months.”

    Surely you have seen this Woody Allen bit:

    “In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people's home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!”

  116. @ Phil Harris,

    “Luckily the worst of American religious cults do not always travel too well across the Atlantic. “

    Surely you realize that 'America' (in the colonial sense) was settled by religious cults from across the Atlantic? 🙂

  117. (Deborah Bender)

    @Robert Mathiesen–I wasn't brought up in a Christian family either. Apart from the unavoidable exposure to Christianity one receives from popular culture (including being taught to sing Adeste Fidelis and reciting the Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer every morning in school), I've made an effort to learn the history of Christianity and to keep current with its contemporary American manifestations. However, it appears from comments you and others have written that I probably know more about Sunni and Shia Islam than I do about the Orthodox churches. I know a few factoids such as that priests can be married but not bishops, they hold their services standing up, and don't use the Gregorian calendar.

    Would you happen to know of an introductory book in English or a website that would be a good start for me to understand the viewpoints, practices and beliefs of Orthodox Christianity?

    Anyone else who has a suggestion, feel free to chime in.

  118. “and Russia and the other Eastern Orthodox countries, which are so far from Protestantism that I know Orthodox thinkers who can't tell the difference between Protestants and Catholics — also have long and thriving histories of occultism.”

    Thank you, JMG, for bringing that into focus. Of course you're right. Anybody who's ever come across a “blue eye-ball” anti-evil-eye amulet would have to agree.

  119. Magic by any other name … the March 12-18th issue of New Scientist has an article on Wise Psychological Interventions, the next step after the well-known Nudge. An example of Nudge is asking drivers if they want to opt out of being organ donors, rather than asking if they want to opt in.

    The example give of a Wise Psychological Intervention was the British government's wartime effort to get people to eat what since then has been called “variety meats” but was then called “offal,” so that they could still get their protein while the troops got the meat. The name change – “rebranding” was their answer. The article then speaks of individuals using WPIs to change our own behavior, and warns against governments amplifying a Nudge into a Shove.

    The top article at

    If this whole thing isn't magic as JMG has repeatedly described it, I've never seen any.

  120. @Deborah Bender — When I was starting to learn about these things, I happened on Nicholas Zernov's _Eastern Christendom_ (1961), which I still think gave a superb introduction. A few years later Penguin published Tomothy Ware's _The Orthodox Church_ (1964?), which was heavier on the facts (and quite accurate), but also heavier on efforts to make the Eastern Churches understandable in Western Christian terms. I later learned that Ware had begun life as an Anglican, which explains the sense I had that his unconscious perspective on Christianity remained Western. (Ware is now a bishop in the Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos of Dioclea.) So I would still recommend starting with Zernov over Ware. Also, in Berkeley a number of my high-school friends were children of the emigre Russian diaspora, and hanging with them and their parents (and visiting their churches with them) taught me more than those books did.

    So while I was at UC Berkeley I tried to broaden my understanding of the Eastern Churches by getting to know warious fellow students and professors who were, e.g., Gerogians, Armenians, Copts, etc. etc. We were all friends, despite my own offbeat family religious background in old-fashioned California magical pantheism (as it had taken shape before Wicca and self-conscious New Pagan religious movements ever appeared on the scene at all). I was always fascinated by dead languages, especially as they were used in ritual contexts, so I approached all these Eastern churches in large part by learning at least the rudiments of their old liturgical languages and sampling the ritual texts that preserved these languages. This gave me a better “feel” for Eastern Christendom — as much as any outsider can acquire — than any amount of popular or scholarly books ever could. And if one has the stomach or aptitude for this sort of thing, I still think it is the best way to get a “feel” for the Eastern Churches.

    (It did puzzle some of these acquaintances of mine that I wasn't at all interested in converting, but mostly I just politely shrugged off their puzzlement. Indeed, almost everyone in the West who digs deeply into these Eastern Christian churches does so either because they were born into them, or because they are looking for something more satisfying than whatever they were born into. Me, I was just insatiably curious about these other worlds, not looking for anything that would satisfy any sort of inner spiritual hunger. I knew what I was already, and that was enough for me.)

  121. @Deborah Bender, again — I should have also mentioned that there also exist old Roman Catholic break-away hierarchies from most or all of the Eastern Churches, which still keep the old Eastern liturgies and rituals, and still (mostly) use the old sacral languages in which these liturgies have been preserved, but have placed themselves under Papal jurisdiction. For these, see Donald Attwater, _The Christian Churches of the East_ (1961). If Ware's book still views the Eastern Orthodox Churches through Anglican-tinged spectacles, despite his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, Attwater is Roman Catholic, and this is quite noticeable throughout his two-volume work.

    Also, to help orient yourself among the Eastern Churches, they basically fall into three main groups. There are the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which acknowledge Seven Ecumenical Councils, from First Nicaea in 325 to Second Nicea in 787. There are a good number of them, with varying degrees of hierarchical independence from one another, but a shared communion. Then there are the “Non-Chalcedonian” Churches, which accept only the first four of these seven councils, up to Second Ephesus in 449. Here belong the ancient Easstern Churches of Armenia, of Egypt and of Ethiopia, and most of the ones in the Middle East that use Syriac as their liturgical language. And finally, there is the ancient Church of the East (commonly called “Nestorian” in the West), which accept only the first two of these seven councils — if memory fails me not. — Our fellow-commentor who calls himself Nestorian should feel free to correct me here if I have gotten something wrong.

  122. (Deborah Bender)

    Robert Mathiesen, thank you for the book recommendations and also for explaining the sub-groups of the Eastern Churches. I knew a bit about the latter, but not in any systematic way.

  123. sgage wrote:
    @ Phil Harris,

    “Luckily the worst of American religious cults do not always travel too well across the Atlantic. “

    Surely you realize that 'America' (in the colonial sense) was settled by religious cults from across the Atlantic? :-

    Nice one! But what on earth has happened in the meanwhile? You have some strange soil over there and so many out of the way places it is perhaps not surprising to see strange growths. Oh well – I suppose we this side must accept some deserved blow-back!


  124. @ Deborah Bender, Robert Mathesson:

    I did a bit of searching on the net and turned up this article with a list of books:

    They’re a lot more recent.

    There’s also on the net. It appears to be very comprehensive, with links to a wide diversity of resources.

    Hope this helps.

  125. Speaking of astrology…

    I've started looking more deeply into astrology recently. I can cast a solar chart with an ephemeris and a slide rule, but for the life of me I can't find a good online source for calculating the Ascendant by hand. Wikipedia lists the formula to find the degree of the sky, but the answer I get just from converting that to degrees from 0 Aries varies from the result of using online natal chart tools by several degrees, making me think that the problem is the skew from long vs. short ascensions, and I don't know where to find anything on those.

    Anyone know of a good book on this subject? I'm actually somewhat concerned by the lack of knowledge of how to manually calculate a chart in the astrological community.

    Also, JMG, I was aware that astrology teachers assign the Objection to their students, since you mentioned it in a comment on another post. I'm looking forward to finding out what your particular funny story is.

    I'm sure there's no poverty of examples, given the sheer ignorance and irrationality of most skeptics. (Just tonight I ran across a “debunking” of astrology showing that people with a Virgo sun sign aren't disproportionately represented in mathematics – as if that were an actual prediction of astrology. The author immediately backed off and said he was just criticizing popular sun sign astrology – welcome to the club! – but that “real” astrology (quotes his) was just too darned complicated to believe anybody could have any good sense of what it all means.)

  126. Thanks to all for much useful info and promotion of understanding and Robert for your knowledge base.

    Where do religions, 'humanisms' and occult experiences merge these yeasty days?

    Having just acknowledged the global importance of problems with ‘Jesus’ cults and some of their appeals to demon values, I am beginning to see ‘The Enlightenment’ as the more serious elephant in the room and to bring to mind Alasdair MacIntosh After Value. On inspection, ‘Enlightenment’ values at least seem to have engendered serious problems.

    The American Constitution is a well known artefact of Enlightenment and with its humanist values put the cults in their place. Is the main problem these days that political actors and philosophies (diabolisms uncluded) seek to ignore it or to manipulate or subvert the rules? Perhaps Ayn Rand, whom I have never read, fits this latter category?

    In Britland ‘Enlightenment thinking’ was always constrained, but sometimes I think that modern believers are mostly writers and readers of the Guardian newspaper. They appear to be so wrong about so much in world affairs and to collude and propagandise as wildly as anybody else in modernity. This gets to me personally as I have been a G-reader my adult life. ;-(

    What is wrong with ‘The Enlightenment’ and how has it been subject to or been ‘turned’ by the various diabolisms? And how did it so easily become so violent? Forsaking insights as well as humanist rules and turning them into Empires might have something to do with it, but there seems even more fundamental stuff beneath the surface. Isn’t there always? And there is that bastard child ‘modernism’ and its fantastic premises?

    Enough – we are nearly at the Equinox!

    very best


  127. Thanks, John Roth. I would only note that “more recent” hardly ever is quite the same as “better,” when it comes to books — or almost anything. The second website that you cite strikes me as somewhat the better of the two, as it mentions Vladimir Lossky's work — a major plus in my eyes.

  128. (Deborah Bender)

    @Phil Harris–I happen to be reading a book that directly addresses the questions you pose. It's called Fault Lines, subtitled The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine. It's by Gus diZerega, doctorate in Political Science. The subtitle makes it sound like sociology, but it is primarily a book on political theory, intellectual history, and religion. The earlier chapters focus on developments from the values of the Enlightenment to secular modernity; what you refer to as diabolisms he calls nihilism. Although the author is American and is most interested in American culture and politics, he also discusses the different history of political thought in Europe.

    A quote from Chapter Four, “Like da Vinci's ideas about knowledge and love, David Hume's and Adam Smith's analysis of sympathy, and our Founders' views about inalienable rights, Darwin's approach represented a road not taken, one where value is located within the world rather than without it.” Di Zerega is a feminist and favors spiritualities that emphasize immanence and connection.

    The book is written for a general audience and is available as a trade paperback and (I believe) in an e-reader edition. Copyright 2013, Quest Books.

  129. John Roth,

    Thank you! I just ordered it and will be eagerly awaiting its arrival.

    Ultimately I intend to learn to do as many of the calculations as possible (so that I could compute the tables/ephemerides myself), but this will definitely help in the meantime as I brush up on the mathematics I paid too little attention to in college.

  130. @ Deborah
    Thanks very much for the recommendation of the book by Gus diZerega. I will try to read.

    Sorry I made a typo in the brain, as they say, when referring to After Value. The author was of course Alasdair MacIntyre. His kind of historical enquiry is very much in JMG territory and he explicitly acknowledges Vico. He has a good critique of modernity, and the “ruling elites of advanced modernity”, both liberalism and contemporary conservatism.


  131. @James Jensen

    Calculating ephemerides yourself? Yipe! It took Johannes Kepler 20 years of grueling work that he loathed to reduce Tycho Brahe's observations to the Rudolphine Tables, which were the first tables of planetary motion based on a heliocentric system that actually worked. [1] Of course, he had to take time out to defend his mother against a charge of witchcraft, deal with an intellectual property dispute with Tycho Brahe's heirs and then get it reprinted after the print shop burned down with the entire first printing.

    All modern ephemerides come from calculations by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It's impossible to get that level of accuracy by hand.

    [1] They worked so well that they drove the older Ptolemaic system ephemerides based on the Alphonsine tables off the market, and, not incidentally, forced everyone with a pretension to credibility as an astronomer to have some kind of opinion, on the record, about geocentricity vs heliocentricity. That did not exempt Galileo, who managed to put his foot in it with his response: the Dialog on Two World Systems.

  132. John Roth,

    Ah. I genuinely had no conception of the difficulty. I assumed I could start from a reference point in time, apply some (probably very complicated polynomial) formulas and get the approximate position at a point before or after.

    My main concern is with the fate of astrology (and astronomy) after computers and labs like the JPL are things of the distant past. There obviously is a way of computing it by hand, since this was done millennia before those things. The question is how much will survive as astrology possibly faces its next crisis.

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